travel tips 

Of all the cities we’ve been to on this recent South East Asia trip, I felt like Bangkok was the one I had to research and become familiar with most before we went. Because of its size both in scale and population, it's incredibly complex and not so user-friendly public transport system and the common knowledge of tourist scams (although we were never approached for scams once while here) - these were all things that made this city seem overwhelming at first. But this was also the place I was most looking forward to visiting, for its addictive atmosphere, some of the best street food in the world and of course - being the land of a thousand smiles, I was so looking forward to being emersed in the crazy, hectic and culturally rich city. Here are some of the tips I found which you may find useful when visiting Bangkok. 

 


BEFORE YOU COME

  • BE HERE ON THE WEEKEND| Unlike Hong Kong where it is best to plan weekday travel, in Bangkok if you love markets, you most definitely want to be here on the weekend. Floating markets only happen on the weekend and the famous Chatuchak market (the worlds largest outdoor market) is at the weekend also. 

  • One to watch | If you love food, then YouTuber Mark Weins might just become your Netflix replacement before your trip. He is based in Bangkok and has some incredible videos on Thai (and global) cuisine, and I have unashamedly watched every video in his Bangkok series. His videos have given me the inspiration to check out restaurants and street foods within this huge city that I never would have found on my own. Check it out his page HERE 

  • PLAN YOUR ACCOMMODATION | Bangkok is a sprawling city with congested traffic - it can take an extremely long time to get to a destination which doesn't seem that far on the map. We stayed in Chinatown which is not so good for the train system but we used taxis pretty much the entire time. I'm not sure if it was because we were visiting on the cusp of a public holiday, but the traffic wasn't bad at all. Sometimes a 1 hour peak hour traffic ride predicted by google maps took an easy 15 mins. A suggestion though, esp if you think you will use the trains a lot is to stay in close proximity to the main stations. These neighbourhoods are:
    Silom | it has both the MRT and the BTS train lines
    ASOK | Try and find a place in ASOK as it has the BTS right there
    Sukhumvit | is a great central location. This Airbnb is located in this area, see HERE.
     

 

accommodation 
Bangkok has some incredible Airbnb listings. Here are some of my favourite spots I found:

  • AIRBNB entire HOUSE (affordable) | A private 2 stories historical shophouse with a little garden patio. Newly renovated with a rustic Thai loft style. Situated on the Koh Rattana Kosin island, in old town Bangkok. 5 min walk to the famous Khaosan road, 15-20 min walk to the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha temple, $79 per night, link HERE

  • AIRBNB entire HOUSE (mid-range) | This is the perfect location for groups of up to 5, with 2 bedrooms, starting at $118 NZD per night. Located in the heart of Bangkok, surrounded by large public parks and shopping mall, Asok. 5-minute walking distance to MRT subway and BTS Sky train. Terminal 21 is just across the street . Room size is 80 sq.m. with 2 Beds 2 Baths, living room and gorgeous city views. Full-equipped pantry and free Wi-fi. See HERE.

  • AIRBNB room in a boutique hotel (mid-range) | With its minimalist design elements and floor-to-ceiling windows, everything is within reach in this wood-accented studio. Take a swim in the shared pool in a modern courtyard wrapped in greenery or recline in a sun lounger for an afternoon rest. This listing is for a room in a boutique hotel in the Langsuan Road neighbourhood (close to Lumpini Park), $126 per night, link HERE

  • AIRBNB loft (pricier) | Our accommodation while in Bangkok. A private room in a Chinatown townhouse, $146 per night, link HERE. They also have a second room (and are ranked as ‘Superhosts’ on Airbnb for it) which is larger, $171 per night, see HERE. They also run a bar/small restaurant on the ground level, see HERE.
     

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OTHER TIPS

  • IMPORTANT: There are TWO international airports here | The two International airports are Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK) - make sure that when you are departing that you go to the correct one as they are approx. a 40 min car ride apart!

  • MONDAYS in Bangkok | Mondays are a little quieter in Bangkok, a lot of museums are closed, and also a lot of street food stalls are closed as it is supposed to be a ‘street cleaning day’.

  • Where to exchange money? | Always exchange money out of the airport for better rates. ‘Super Rich’ exchange is known to be reputable with great rates. Each location has different rates, and you will need ID to exchange. See their website HERE.

  • What to include in your day pack? | Make sure to include; wet wipes and tissues as some eateries do not provide napkins on the table. Some public toilets, even at some temples do not provide toilet paper (they have a bidet instead). Also, pack hand sanitiser, a spoon and/or a fork if you are planning on eating a lot of street food because some stalls only package food to take home to eat, and if you want to eat on the spot, they might not have these utensils available. 

  • EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT COMMON SCAMS | Before coming to Bangkok (or any new and foreign place you may be travelling to), it is a good idea to research common scams to be street smart. You can read about reoccurring scams in Bangkok HERE.

     

TIPS FOR DON MUEANG AIRPORT
We flew into Don Mueang airport via Air Asia from Vietnam, and this airport mostly servers the lower-cost carriers. Suvarnabhumi Airport (known unofficially as Bangkok Airport) is the other main airport.

  • VIDEO TO WATCH | For an airport tips video about everything, you need to know, from arrivals to departures, to where you can get a sim card and a taxi, see this video HERE.

  • Exchanging money | You want to get enough to pay for a taxi and also a meal - or to tide you over until you get a chance to get to a money exchange place in the city where there will be better rates than the airport. $2000 Baht (Approx $100 NZD) should be plenty. If you don't have cash already to exchange, you can use ATM machines, and key in 1900 so that you get some 100 notes also, as opposed to getting 1000 baht notes. You will need some smaller notes to pay for the taxi and also the toll roads. If you need to, get smaller denominations by buying something small at one of the airport shops. Once in the city area, the SuperRich money exchange shops are the most reputable. See their website HERE for locations (most are around the main malls). One thing to note in the airport is that the money exchange counters all offer the same exchange rate, so you don't have to waste time looking for the ‘best’ one - they are all the same.

  • sim cards | All phone stores at the airport will offer you a similar rate, although Dtac has a slower internet speed. AIS and TRUE are good. See video HERE.

  • Metered taxis | Before you get a taxi, ensure you have smaller notes to pay for the fair and also the tolls too. I would advise taking the toll highway as it is less congested, meaning it’s faster! The fair to the city on a meter (traffic and destination dependent) should be around $350-$450 baht and there will be an additional 50 baht ‘metre service fee’ which will be added on at the end of your fair. The taxi metre will start at 35 baht so make sure it is ON and set to this. Passengers are required to pay the toll booths themselves along the way and these will cost around 70 baht (approx $3.20 NZD), so have money ready to hand to the driver. To get to the section of the airport which has metered taxis, as soon as you've gone through the exit doors after customs, turn left and head for door #8 which is at the far end of the building. There will be signs saying ‘PUBLIC taxi’s’. Here you will line up to give the person at the counter your destination address, and they will give you a passenger ticket. The taxi drivers will be waiting by this ticket area, and you can follow them to the taxi, but make sure to hold onto to the passenger ticket, and do not give this to the taxi driver, even if they ask for it. If for some reason there is some sort of issue, you will need this ticket to sort it out. If you are wanting to take the toll highway, you have to ask the driver to go this way, just remember you are the one who pays for the tolls. Depending on the time of day/traffic, it will take 30-60 mins to get to the centre of the city.

    If this public metered taxi line is too busy, you can also get a taxi in other areas of the airport, such as exits #3, #4 and also at arrivals etc, but in these areas, you might have to be a little savvier and persistent about a metered fare. After exiting customs, you’ll emerge near exit doors #3 and #4. Directly outside is the taxi’s who are known to try and offer a fixed price fare into the city for around 700 baht more than double the metered fare. The meter will always be cheaper so INSIST that they turn it on. If they refuse, or if give an excuse that it may be broken etc, simply walk away and approach the next until you get one who is happy to oblige. Have your hotel printed in Thai to hand to the driver, and I have the location entered into Google maps every time I go somewhere, in case they get lost. Bangkok is HUGE, it is not uncommon for the driver to not know every location, and also for me so I can physically see how the journey is progressing / how far to go etc. This is why I always try and get a SIM card with data sorted at the airports, so I have WIFI to do so.

    Another option, if you are new to Bangkok, don't want to work out how to navigate public transport in a busy airport, pre-arrange for the hotel to send a vehicle to pick you up. It will cost more (could be roughly 1000 baht or more) but there will be no hassle and no thinking. Just smooth sailing to your destination.



public TRANSPORT

  • TRAINS | Trains are relatively newish to Bangkok and do not yet cover the entire city. The train system here is unnecessarily complicated and a little tricky to figure out especially for first-timers. This is because some of the train lines are owned by the government and some are privately owned which is why there isn't a ‘one card for all’ like Hong Kong’s Octopus card. However, the trains are worth getting familiar with before you go, as they’re not only much faster than the traffic-choked streets of Bangkok, but it’s cheap and air-conditioned too! There are two main train systems: the BTS AKA the Skytrain which runs above ground and goes to most of the main tourist locations, and the MRT which is below ground. The main difference between the two, apart from being above and below, is the areas of Bangkok they cover. I will break this section into two parts for each of the train systems, as they run and are paid for separately. NOTE: There are only a few interchange stations where you can swap from a BTS train to an MTR train and vice versa to get to different parts of Bangkok. These are at Asok, Mo Chit and Sala Daeng stations.
    - THE MTR | To use this train system you can buy single-use tokens from machines inside the station areas. The machines have English language options and are easy to use. When entering the barriers at the station, use the purchased token to scan in, then hold onto it and keep it safe (it is very small, so don’t lose it), and when you are at the destination station, place the token into the slot on the barrier to exit. Multi-use MTR cards are a great way of saving time queuing for tokens, especially during rush hours. MTR cards are only available to buy within the train stations at either a ticket issuing machine or from a ticket office (see more about the different types of cards you can get HERE). The card itself costs around $5 NZD and there is a minimum top up of $5 also. Any money left on your card will get refunded to you at the end of your trip when you return the card at a kiosk. To use these cards, simply tap on and tap off at the barriers at the stations. For a video on how to use the MTR, see HERE and HERE.
    - The BTS (Skytrain) | This will take you to most of the main tourist areas. It has two lines – known as the Sukhumvit and Silom lines, after the major roads they mostly run along, and covers the most frequented parts of the city. The only point at which these two lines connect is at the central Siam interchange station. When looking for accommodation, you may want to choose a location that is close to these lines (see under accommodation) and that way you will have easy access to the popular parts of the city. You can buy single-use cards, but most of the older machines accept coins only (and some can’t handle two-baht coins), but a few larger newer machines also take notes. If you don’t have coins, the staff at the ticket booths (ie the glass-walled counter window at any Skytrain stations) can provide change. They also sell one-day tickets and can set you up with a multi-use card for the BTS, called a ‘rabbit card’, although the rabbit card does have some special terms to it, ie you can not use it on all lines (read more about that HERE). During the main tourist season, roughly from November through February, the Skytrain usually offers an unlimited daily travel pass for 130 baht ($5.90 NZD). Most trips in central Bangkok don't exceed 30 baht ($1.30 NZD), so you'd have to travel a lot for the pass to be worth it.  If you are planning on going to the Chatuchak weekend market (the largest outdoor market in the world!), this is located right beside Mo Chit station on the BTS line. Watch a video on how to use the BTS HERE and HERE.

  • GRAB | Uber dissolved in Thailand (and many other parts of Asia) in April 2018 and was replaced with Grab. Instead of having its own private fleet of cars like Uber, Grab uses the existing taxi network to source its rides. The app works in much the same way as the Uber app does, but with one interesting difference – you can enter in how much you’re willing to tip which may affect how fast a driver accepts your bid - handy during rush hour perhaps? As with Uber, you get a call when a driver accepts your bid, you can watch on the app as the icon of the car gets closer to you, and you ’ll have the license plate number and a picture of the driver with their rating. It’s great because you simply put in your location, the fare is set and the driver will follow GPS to get you there. There is no trying to get a meter turned on as you might get in some taxis, it’s an easy, hassle-free option. Make sure you have the app downloaded onto your phone before you go.

  • TAXI | Taxis are pretty cheap in Bangkok - they can be cheaper than Grab, and much cheaper than Tuk Tuks! We used taxi's 90% of our trip here, as it was just so easy, and they were air conditioned! I think because it was a public holiday time when we visited, the traffic wasn't as congested as I was expecting, and we often got to destinations in much less time than Google maps predicted. A dinner booking had us tripping 1 hour across town, and it actually took us only 15 mins to get there in peak hour traffic. I read over and over before we went to insist that the meter was put on in the taxi as soon as you get in. A metered fare will always be cheaper than a fixed price, so if they do not turn the meter on, or they say it is broken - walk away and find a taxi that will. If you are in a busy tourist area (ie outside the Grand Palace or big hotels), walk a few meters away from these areas and hail a passing taxi rather than going to one 'ranked up'. What we personally found when we were in Bangkok is that the meter always went on without asking during the day, but as soon as it turned 5 pm, you had to negotiate a fair. We tried to get a metered taxi in the evenings, but they just drove off, which left us taxiless in the hot sticky night. One evening when we were quite far from our accomidation, we were exhausted and hot, the driver said "200 baht" ($10 NZD) and I knew it was probably 3x the price of a metered day time taxi, but I took it. Sometimes you have weigh up the waiting, the asking and negotiating. That $10 NZD for 40 mins of air con driving was so worth it! 

  • MOTORBIKE TAXI | There are also motorbike taxis which are super popular with locals and are used for travelling short distances. They can weave in and out of peak hour traffic, but be aware a large majority will not have a helmet for you to wear. To see a video on tips when catching a motorbike taxi, see HERE.

  • TUK TUKS | These are fun and more ideal for small trips only. They are not only more expensive than taxis, but they are (obviously) not air-conditioned, they can be uncomfortable and you will be inhaling a lot of the exhaust fumes from the surrounding hectic traffic. But people take these because they are not only faster and can weave in and around traffic easier than cars, but because of the fun factor! Be savvy and aware that a lot of scams that happen in Bangkok around Tuk Tuks. Some drivers may try to convince you to take a tour with them, and they will make many stops (to jewellers or tailors etc) where they will make a commission on anything you spend. This never happened to us when we were there but we did take two tuk-tuk rides, one for the fun factor on the first night, and another for convenience to skip the long taxi line at a mall to get home. If the trip is over $150 Baht, it will be cheaper to take a taxi. Local tip: If you want to negotiate the price of a tuk-tuk, choose a driver that is sitting alone and away from a group. The drivers who are ganged together are less likely to lower their starting price. Whilst on a tuk-tuk, you should ensure that bags and valuables are kept away from the open sides as bag snatching has been known to happen. For a video with tips on getting a Tuk Tuk, see HERE or HERE.

  • RIVER TAXI AND CANAL BOATS  | These are fun, fast,  beat all the traffic and if you are staying in the Old City / Khaosan Road / Chinatown areas, these boats will be convenient as the BTS did not go into these suburbs. Watch this video HERE and HERE if you have never caught one before and want to familiarise yourself with this system. Here are some tips on catching a canal boat;
    Before you even get on a boat, use Google Map on your phone and find the location you are wanting to get to and see if that destination is to left or right of you. Make sure that the boat you are getting on is also going in the same direction you are wanting to travel to! Very important!
    Piers can often be tricky to find as they are at the end of small alleys with signage that is not always visible or clear. Make sure to check the maps on your phone or ask a local for directions.
    You can buy the tickets at main piers, but if there is no ticket booth, a staff member on the boat (they usually walk around the OUTSIDE of the boat) will either tear your ticket and hand it back to you, or you can pay them cash for the fair. Try and remember the name of the destination you are going to so they know how much to charge you. If you find pronunciation hard, take a screenshot of the name to show them.
    There are 5 different boats you can take, and the boats have distinctive plain coloured triangular flags with their colours on the back of the boat. Orange flags stop at every stop so they are great for Bangkok beginners and the blue flag boats are the tourist boats. The others (the no flag boat, yellow and green boats) are used more for commuters and locals as they are very quick, and perhaps too quick for tourists learning to navigate their way. They run from 6am-7pm every day every 20 minutes.
    The blue tourist boats only stop at the 9 stops / the 9 tourist attractions. These boats run from 9am-6pm. It cost 50 baht ($2.30 NZD) per person no matter how far you go. There is also a day pass tourist ticket you can buy for 180 Baht ($8.30) per person and can be used all day on whatever boat you like for as many trips as you need. Tourist boats cost more as there is an English speaking guide aboard to assist you. These boats also have more room on board and travel at more of a leisurely pace. 
    - If coming from the city, take the BTS to Saphan Taksin to the Central Pier - and from there, you can take any boat you like

     

communication

  • LEARN A FEW KEY PHRASES | I always like to learn even a few phrases or words when travelling to another country, I think the effort shows respect. There are two very important particles to use in the Thai language for male and female. These are ‘krap’ for male and ‘ka’ for female. They are added to the end of words or sentences to show a sign of politeness. For example, HELLO  =  S̄wạs̄dī | Sounds like Sa-wa-dee-KA (for females) or Sa-wa-dee-KRUP (for male). THANK YOU = khàawp-khun | Sounds like KOB-KHUN-KA (for females) or KOB-KHUN-KRUP (for male). For a great Thai language tutorial for beginners, see on YouTube, see HERE.

  • THE WAI | The wai is the traditional greeting of Thailand. If you are wondering when to wai, the most curious time to do this is when someone has done this to you, therefore returning the polite gesture. The wai greeting is usually paired with the word “hello” in Thai, which is Sawasdee, thereby making it a greeting and a way to say hello. There are different ways to wai to different people in the community (ie Monks, elderly or colleagues), see a video on how to do it HERE.

 

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