Thailand's capital city is a fantastic place to visit. It is the travel hub for the whole Southeast Asian region. Most people come back and forth if they visit the different regions of Thailand, for example Chiang mai, Koh Samui or Phuket or Trang. Its bad reputation for long traffic jams and pollution is no longer justified. At the end of 2000, the new BTS Sky Train went into service and new roads have been built. To get around there is also now the MRT metro (underground railway), which serves a number of locations in the centre of the city. Tuk Tuk is an other way of transportation (taxi), it is an open air ride, however the polution is very high and the weather is very hot and humid it is not recommented to ride with it. It will be a noisy ride also inhale all gas from cars in front of you.. In comparison to other mega-cities, Bangkok is also a very safe city and has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
In the 'City of Angels', you’ll soon find out that walking, instead of taking a taxi or bus, is often the quickest option.
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and by far its largest city with an estimated population of over 11 million.
Bangkok is one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities. Created as the Thai capital in 1782 by the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty, Bangkok is a national treasure house and Thailand’s spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic centre.
Bangkok is a huge and modern city humming with nightlife and fervour. Administratively, it is split up into 50 khet (districts), which are further split into 154 khwaeng , but these are more often used in official business and for addresses. Visitors will find the conceptual division below of the main areas more useful for getting around.
Just under 14 degrees north of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, visitors are immediately confronted by the heat, the pollution and the irrepressible smile that accompanies many Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe (except from some petty crimes) and more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants — you'll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Bougainvillea and frangipani bloom practically everywhere. Thai cuisine is justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok for many, represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
Bangkok originally was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais and which in English is translated to the 'City of Angels'. The full name "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok popnoparat ratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" is listed as the world's longest location name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of Ayutthaya of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn". The original village has long since ceased to exist, but for some reason foreigners never caught on to the change.
Modern-day Bangkok is predominantly Thai-Chinese and they make up the majority of the population, but the city is also a second home to millions of upcountry "Thai-Thai" folk who come to make a living. The city is also home to a remarkable array of expats from all over the world, with districts inhabited by Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Arabs and many more.
How to get there
Most major roads, trains and planes in Thailand lead to Bangkok.
Bangkok has two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.
At present, there are only a few hotels located near Suvarnabhumi Airport, though with huge construction projects planned for the area this will change over the next few years. Day room facilities for transit passengers are now available at the 'Miracle Grand Louis Tavern' on floor 4, Concourse G (Tel+66 6 317-2211, 2000 baht per 4-hour block, no reservations accepted). Cheapskate travellers looking for a free quiet place to doze undisturbed at night can either try their luck in the prayer rooms (although, technically, sleeping is not permitted there, according to signage), or one of the benches on the bottom floor of the terminal (which seems to be a popular choice with tourists and locals).
The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the second floor of the main terminal. These agencies offer hotel reservation service. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers airport pick up and drop off service - especially useful for late night arrivals and early morning departures.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Suvarnabhumi Airport, +66 2 131-1111 (), . The only hotel in the airport itself, connected to the main airport terminal by a pedestrian bridge, the Novotel is very nice and, by Thai standards, very pricey. 3,500+ baht.
JL Bangkok, 5 Ramkhamhaeng Soi 23 Ramkhamhaeng Road, +66 (0)2 369-2407-9 (), . boutique and budget accommodation in a cosy and friendly atmosphere. 1 min walk to night market and malls. 15-20 min from airport. includes daily breakfast and free wireless Internet access from 900 Baht.
MetroPoint Bangkok Hotel, 666 Ramkhamhaeng 81 Road (15-20 min from airport), tel:+66 2 377-0999. Fax:+66 2 377-3848, . 172 rooms with private terraces, wifi, all non-smoking. Rooms from 1,210+ Baht. Contact e-mail
Great Residence Hotel, Lat Krabang Rd, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang e-mail . Only 5 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport on the cusp of the airport grounds. Rooms Fr. 900Bt+ (inclusive of American Breakfast & Transfer FROM Airport).
Queen's Garden Resort, 44 Soi 7, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang Fax: +66 2 172 6114, e-mail . The hotel is just 5-10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Located on the banks of a sleepy river, the resort has views towards Lat Krabang Temple. Features wireless high speed internet, big screen TV, pool table, restaurant and beer garden. Rooms 900+ baht.
Thong Ta Resort, On Nut, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang e-mail . The resort is only 10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Situated near a vibrant restaurant/bar parade. Rooms 800Bt+ (inclusive of American Breakfast). Free wifi in lobby and rooms.
Grand Inn Come Hotel, 99 Moo 6, Kingkaew Road, Rachataeva, Bangplee, Samutprakan, +66 2 738-8191-3. About a 15-20 minute drive from the airport. Bus 553 stops here. 1,200 - 2,000 baht.
Sananwan Palace, 18/11 moo 11. Sukapibarn Road 5 , Bangpli Yai tel: +66 2 752-1658 (Mobile) +66 818644615. Family-owned budget accommodation with swimming pool, TV and high speed internet about 20 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms with A/C: 600 baht.
Nasa Vegas Hotel. 44 Ramkhamhaeng Road. Tel :+66 2 719-9888 Fax:+66 2 719-9899 - About 15 mins drive from the new airport. Rooms from 590 + baht.
Ratchana Place. 199 Moo 4, Soi Wat Sirisaothong, Bangna Trad Highway KM 26, Bangbo, Samutprakan 10540 Tel: +66 2 313-4480~9 - About 15-20 mins drive from the airport. Rooms between 350 - 700 baht.
Nawarat Resort & Serviced Apartment. 19/49 Moo 7 Bangna-Trad Road, Km.9, Bangkaew, Bangplee, Samutprakan 10540 Tel: +66 2 750-3040~2 - About 15 mins drive from the airport. Rooms 900+ baht.
Plai Garden Boutique Guest House.Soi King Keaw 43, King Keaw Rd., Rachathewa, Bangplee, Samutprakan Thailand. 10540 Tel: +662 327 7226-8 - About 15 mins drive from the airport. Rooms between 900 - 1,000 baht.
Bangkok's three official long haul bus terminals are:
Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Ekamai, this relatively compact terminal is located right next to Ekamai BTS station on Sukhumvit (E7). Ekamai serves Eastern Thailand destinations, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.
North & North Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Moh Chit (or Mor Chit or Morchit), this is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the North-East (Isaan); the ground floor serves the North, as well as sharing some destinations with Ekamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat). It's a 30-baht moto hop (or a lengthy hike across Chatuchak Park) from BTS Moh Chit/Metro Chatuchak stations (N8/18), or take the 77 bus and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board. See the Phahonyothin District guide for details.
Southern Bus Terminal - also known as Sai Tai Taling Chan, this terminal serves all points west and south from its somewhat inconvenient location on the "wrong" side of the river. Note that in December 2007, the terminal moved to a new, even more remote location, at Phutthamonthon Soi 1 in the Taling Chan district. See the Thonburi District guide for details.
When arriving in Bangkok...
Late at night, the easiest way from Northern or Southern terminal to your final destination will be by metered-taxi.
By tourist bus you may find yourself delivered to their favorite hotel or guest-house, otherwise you'll probably be dropped off in the vicinity of one of the long haul terminals, or if it's a service catering primarily for backpackers, somewhere near Khao San Road.
When buying tickets for buses out of Bangkok, it's best to skip travel agents and their private buses, and get the tickets for public buses directly at the public terminals. These buses are cheaper, safer, faster and more comfortable and won't scam you onto a clapped-out minibus halfway along the way or to a bedbug-infested hotel at the end.
The three main stations in Bangkok are:
Hualamphong Train Station
Inside view of Hualampong train station, looking towards the platforms
The main station and the terminus of the Bangkok Metro line. Located right in the middle of downtown Bangkok, it is a huge and surprisingly nice station, built during the reign of King Rama VI and spared bombing in World War II at the request of the Free Thai underground. The station has a good tourist office. Only listen to the people at the Info desk - anyone walking around offering to help you "find" a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing very official looking badges. Likewise, the second floor shops offering "Tourist Information" are just agents in disguise.
Tickets for trains leaving the same or next day can be bought on the counters under the red/orange/green screens (see photo). The Advance Booking Office is located to the right of the platforms as you walk towards them and is quite well organized. You can select your seat/berth from a plan of the train, and payments by cr card are accepted. Also, finally you can book an e-ticket (tip: do not use special characters in the registration form if it does not work); the price is the same, however, the quota reserved for e-booking is limited, and there are only 1st and 2nd aircon sleeper class tickets available.
The taxi pick up and drop off point is to the left of the platforms as you walk towards them, and is generally chaotic at busy periods with scant regard for any queue. The left luggage facility is at the opposite end of the concourse, on the far right as you walk away from the platforms.
Travel agencies may try to sell you a private "VIP bus" ticket if there is no place in first and second class trains, claiming to offer a direct trip to the destination with a VIP bus faster than the train. Although the trip starts with a VIP bus, it ends up with a "surprise" transfer to a minibus and extremely long journeys. Just refuse the offered private bus ticket and buy public bus tickets from the main bus terminals if you cannot find a ticket for the train.
For those considering taking a train to Phuket take note; There are NO direct trains to Phuket. If taking the train is a must do, you will need to book a ticket to Surat Thani, then secure bus transit. One other important note; the last bus to Phuket from Surat Thani is in the mid-afternoon. In order to make the last bus for Phuket you will need to take a night train.
Bang Sue Train Station
If coming from the north or north-east, connecting to the Metro here can shave the last half-hour off your train trip. This is not a very good place to board trains though, as there is practically no information or signage in English. However, this situation will doubtless improve as more and more long-distance departures are switched to here from Hualamphong.
Thonburi Train Station
Also known as Bangkok Noi, this station is on the "wrong" side of the river in Thonburi District and is the starting point for services to Kanchanaburi (via Nakhon Pathom), River Kwae Bridge and Nam Tok.
Cruise ships visiting Bangkok arrive can dock at either of two ports.
Large ships must use Laem Chabang, about 90 minutes south-east of Bangkok and about 30 minutes north of Pattaya.
- A taxi service desk is available on the wharf, but charges extortionate prices - a whopping 2600 baht to charter a taxi (4 passengers), or about 5000 baht to charter a minibus (usually 11 passenger seats), for a trip into Bangkok. Slightly lower prices can be found by walking out to the main road (about 4000 baht for a minibus), however even these rates are almost double the typical rate in the opposite direction. Better deals may be possible for round trips (even if returning the following day).
- Frequent first and second class bus services directly connect Laem Chabang with Ekamai (Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal, on Sukhumvit); less frequent direct services run to Moh Chit (Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal). A first class air-con bus (blue and white) to either will usually take 90 minutes or less; the fare is around 100 baht. A good way to make the most of a quick visit is to board an Ekamai bus and then disembark early at the On Nut Skytrain Station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok (the bus will always pause here provided a passenger requests it); in the opposite direction, use the Ekamai Skytrain Station and board the bus at the terminus. To get to or return from the Chatuchak Weekend Market, use the Moh Chit bus instead.
- Buses en route to Pattaya (southbound) can be boarded at the traffic lights on Sukhumvit Road in Laem Chabang, are extremely frequent (at least 10 per hour), and charge less than 50 baht.
Modest sized ships may dock farther up-river at Khlong Thoey, much closer to the city center. A modest terminal provides processing for passengers (who may receive Thai customs and immigration processing on-board), as well as offering "managers" who arrange tours and taxis. Costs to reach major hotels and points of interest are much lower than for Laem Chabang, but can vary according to passenger negotiating skills. The facility is fairly close to but beyond practical walking distance to MRT and SkyTrain stations (see "Get around" below).
Bangkok is infamous for its congestion, but these days there are ways around it: hop on the Skytrain (BTS) and metro in the city center, or use boats to navigate rivers and canals.
The Bangkok Skytrain (BTS, pronounced bee-tee-et in Thai but also rót fai fáa or just skytrain) deserves a visit simply for the Disneyland space-ageness of it. Built in a desperate effort to ease Bangkok's insane traffic and pollution, the Skytrain covers most of downtown and is especially convenient for visiting the Siam Square area. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit line which travels along Sukhumvit road and then goes up Phayonyothin to northern Bangkok, where it terminates near the Chatuchak Weekend Market (N8), and the red Silom line, which travels from the Silom area, interchanges with the Sukhumvit line at Siam Square (C) and ends at National Stadium, right next to MBK. There isn't, unfortunately, a station near Banglampu District (aka the Khao San Road area), but the river ferry connects between Tha Banglampu and Tha Sathorn, served by Saphan Taksin (S6) on the Silom line from the morning till around 6-7PM.
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from the vending machines near the entrance, so hold on to them. Fares range from 15 to 40 baht depending upon how many zones you are traveling. Consult the map (in English) near each ticket machine. If you do not have coins, queue for change from the staff at the booth. If you are in town for several days (and/or going to make several visits during next 30 days), weigh your options and consider a rechargeable stored-value card (from 100 baht, with a 30-baht refundable deposit and a 30 baht non-refundable card cost), a "ride all you like" tourist pass (from 120 baht/day) or a multiple ride pass of 20 trips or more to any zone (20 trips cost 440 baht, plus 30 baht refundable deposit for a rechargeable card valid for 5 years). They will certainly save you time, scrambling for coins, and maybe even money. Check for information with the English speaking staff.
Four stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users, plus one station, On Nut, is accessible only on the arrival side. The other fully accessible stations are Asok/Sukhumvit, Siam, Chong Nonsi and Mo Chit. To proceed to concourse level in these stations, you can use the lift - press the call button and an attendant will come and get you. At On Nut stations on the departures side, the attendant will help you also to get to platform level through the escalator since the elevator can be used only to get to intercourse level. Siam Station is also accessible independently through the linked Siam Paragon department store.
For more information, contact the Bangkok Mass Transit System at Tel: 0 2617 7340, 0 2617 6000 or visit
Bangkok Metro (MRT, pronunced em-ar-tee in Thai but also rót fai tai din)finally opened in July 2004. The Blue Line connects the central Hualamphong railway station (1) to the northern Bang Sue station (18), with interchanges to the Skytrain at Silom/Sala Daeng (3/S2), Sukhumvit/Asok (7/E4) and Chatuchak/Mo Chit (15/N8). You can also transfer to north/northeast-bound SRT trains at the northern terminus Bang Sue. The metro is much less used by tourists than the Sky Train but can be very useful. The terminus at Hualamphong station provides good access to Chinatown and many of the main tourist sites. Silom station is right next to the "Patpong" market and nightlife area.
Metro tickets are not interchangeable with Skytrain tickets. Rides start from 15 baht and are based on distance; pre-paid cards of up to 1000 baht are also available. For single ride fares, a round plastic token is used.
The metro stop for the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not Chatuchak Park, but one stop further at Kamphaeng Phet (16). The latter drops you right inside the market.
Chao Phraya Express Boat
A ride on the Chao Phraya River should be high on any tourist's agenda. The cheapest and most popular option is the Chao Phraya Express Boat , basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river. The basic service (12 baht) plies from Wat Rajsingkorn (S4) all the way to Nonthaburi (N30), with stops at most of Rattanakosin's major attractions including the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn, etc. Board at piers with a sign showing the route and pay the ticket collector who will approach you bearing a long metal cylinder. In addition to the basic service, there are express services flagged with yellow or orange flags, which stop only at major piers and should be avoided unless you're sure where you're going. The signposting of the piers is quite clear, with numbered piers and English route maps, and the Central station offers easy interchange to the BTS Saphan Taksin station. The boats run every 5 to 20 minutes from sunrise (6 AM) to sunset (7 PM) every day, so ignore any river taxi touts who try to tell you otherwise.
Most piers are also be served by cross-river ferries which are particularly useful for reaching Wat Arun or Thonburi. They run every few minutes and cost 2-3 baht - pay at the kiosk on the pier and then walk through the turnstile.
In addition to the workaday express boat, there is also a Tourist Boat which stops at a different subset of piers, offers commentary in English and charges a flat 150 baht for a day pass. The boats are slightly more comfortable and may be worth considering if you just want to cruise up and down, but they only operate every 30 minutes and stop running by 3 PM.
A canal boat running at high speed with a helmeted satchel-wielding ticket collector navigating along the slippery outer ledge.
Canal boats also serve Khlong Saen Saeb, one of Bangkok's many canals (khlong). They're cheap and immune to Bangkok's notorious traffic jams, but mostly used by locals who use these water taxis to commute to work and school and shopping, so you get to see the 'backside' of the neighborhoods, so to speak. They're also comparatively safe -- just watch your step when boarding and disembarking (they don't stop at the pier for long) and be wary of the water as it can be quite polluted, do not let it get in your eyes. To prevent splashes, the boats are equipped with little curtains that you can raise by pulling on a string, but they have to be lowered at every stop so people can clamber on board! Pay the fare (14-22 baht) to the fearless helmet-wearing ticket collectors who clamber around on the outside of the boat, ducking at bridges, as it barrels down the canal. The canal runs parallel to Petchaburi Road, and provides the easiest access from the city center to the Golden Mount. There's a boarding pier across from the Central World Plaza under the bridge where Ratchadamri crosses the khlong near Petchburi, and piers now even have (tiny) signs in English. Be aware that for journeys going beyond Pratunam, passengers have to change boats at Pratunam. Hold on to your ticket. The only station missing a sign in English is the stop at The Mall in Bangkapi, and it's not obvious that it's a mall from the canal boat!
Typical "long tail" river taxi
Finally, for trips outside the set routes, you can hire a long-tail river taxi at any major pier. These are fairly expensive and will attempt to charge as much as 500 baht/hour, but with haggling may be suitable for small groups. To circumvent the mafia-like touts who attempt to get a large cut for every ride, agree for the price of the shortest possible ride (half an hour etc), then negotiate directly with the captain when on board.
Local buses, mostly operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), are the cheapest but also the most challenging way of getting around, as there is a bewildering plethora of routes, usually marked only in Thai. If you can speak Thai you can call 184 Bus Route Hotline. Bus stops usually list only the bus numbers that stop there and nothing more. They are also subject to Bangkok's notorious traffic, often terribly crowded, and many are not air-conditioned. If you want to get somewhere quickly and are not prepared to get lost, the buses should be avoided (remember that taxis are cheaper than most local buses in the west). However, they make for a good adventure if you're not in a rush and you don't mind being the centre of attention.
But for the intrepid, and those staying in Khao San Road where buses are the only practical means of public transport, the best online resource for decrypting bus routes is the official BMTA homepage , which has up-to-date if slightly incomplete listings of bus routes in English but no maps. You can also ask your guesthouse about buses to where you are going. If you're going between Khao San Road and downtown, bus number 2 (red and cream) is probably your best option. As a printed reference, the Bus Routes & Map guide (50 baht) by Bangkok Guides is another option.
The hierarchy of Bangkok's buses from cheapest to best can be ranked as follows:
Small green bus, 6.50 baht flat fare. Cramped, no air-con, no fan, famously suicidal drivers, usually not advisable for more than short hops. Run by private operators, they can be significantly faster than the BMTA-run buses.
Red bus, 7 baht flat fare. More spacious and fan-cooled (in theory). Unlike other buses, some of these run through the night (1.50 baht surcharge). These buses are BMTA run.
White/blue bus, 8.5 baht flat fare. Exactly the same as the red buses, but cost one baht more. These buses are owned by private entities operated in conjunction with BMTA.
Blue/Yellow and Cream/Blue air-con, 11 baht for the first 8 kilometers, up to 18 baht max. These buses are quite comfy. The blue/yellow striped buses are privately owned while the Blue/Cream buses are BMTA owned.
Orange air-con (Euro II), 13 baht for the first few kilometers, up to 22 baht max. These are all BMTA-run, newer, and more comfortable.
Pink/white micro-buses - not quite so common away from the city centre - these are air-conditioned, modern and only allow seated passengers (making them harder to use at rush hour as many won't stop for you). Flat fare is 25 baht which is paid into a fare-collection machine located next to the driver - exact fare only.
Buses stop only when needed, so wave them down (arm out, palm down) when you see one barreling your way. Pay the roaming collector after you board and keep the ticket as there are occasional spot-checks. Press the signal buzzer (usually near the door) when you want to get off.
Two further pitfalls are that buses of the same number may run slightly different routes depending on the color, and there are also express services (mostly indicated by yellow signs) that skip some stops and may take the expressway (2 baht extra).
Airport buses allow luggage (backpacks and suitcases), but regular buses do not. Enforcement of this rule varies.
Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within Bangkok cost less than 100 baht. There are no surcharges (except from the airport), even at night; don't believe drivers who try to tell you otherwise. A red lit sign on the front window means that the taxi is available.
When the meter is switched on you will see a red '35' somewhere on the dashboard or between the driver and you. Be sure to check for this at the start of the ride, as many drivers will "forget" to start the meter in order to overcharge you at the end of your trip. Most will start the meter when asked politely to do so (meter na khrap/kha (male/female)); if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi. In some cases, late at night and especially near major tourist districts like Khao San or Patpong, you will need to walk a block away to catch a meter cab. The effort can save you as much as 150 baht. This is often also the case for taxis that park all day in front of your hotel. The only two reasons that they are there: 1) To take you places where they can get their commissions (Jewelry stores, massage parlors, etc) and 2) To overcharge you by not using the meter. Your best bet is to walk to the road and catch an unoccupied metered taxi in motion (easier than it sounds, as Bangkok traffic tends to crawl the majority of the time, and one car out of four is a taxi). Avoid parked taxis altogether, and if a taxi driver refuses to turn the meter on, simply close the door and find one who will. Keep in mind that it is illegal for them to have unmetered fares. Be smart and give your money to honest drivers, not touts. The only reason they get away with this so frequently is because foreign tourists let them.
Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or have it written in Thai, as taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps. Most hotels and guesthouses will happily write out addresses in Thai for you. While most drivers will recognize the names of tourist hot spots, even if grossly mispronounced, it is often difficult to properly pronounce addresses in Thai, a tonal language. If your mobile phone works in Thailand, it is sometimes useful to phone your hotel and ask the staff to speak to your driver in Thai.
If you're pinching pennies or fussy about your means of transportation, you may wish to think twice before getting into one of the (very common) yellow-green taxis. They are owner-operated and of highly variable quality, and occasionally they have rigged meters. All other colors belong to large taxi companies, which usually enforce their standards better.
On some routes, the driver will ask if he should use the Tollway - this will usually save a lot of time. You have to pay the cost at the toll booth (not in advance, and not at the end of the journey). Watch how much the driver really pays, he may try to keep the change.
When getting out, try to have small bills (100 baht or less) or expect problems with change. Tips are not necessary, but are certainly welcome; most local passengers will round up, or leave any coin change as tip.
When traffic slows to a crawl and there are no mass-transit alternatives for your destination, by far the fastest mode of transport is a motorbike taxi (or in Thai, motosai lapjang). No, those guys in the pink smocks aren't biker gangs; they're motosai cabbies. They typically wear colorful fluorescent yellow-orange vests and wait for passengers at busy places. Prices are negotiable; negotiate before you ride.
Go cycling! It may sound crazy, but it certainly is not. Away from the main roads there is a vast system of small streets and alleys. Cyclists are treated as pedestrians, so you can use your bicycle to explore parks, temple complexes, markets and the more quiet residential areas of eastern Bangkok. In more crowded places you can cycle on the sidewalk. Exploring the town by bicycle has all the advantages of going by foot, combined with a much greater action radius and a cooling breeze when cycling.
Co van Kessel Bangkok tours, Office: 02 - 322 9481 or: 02 - 752 6818 - 9 Mr. Co's mobile: 0 87 - 824 1931 Miss Nong's mobile: 0 87 - 054 9878 (), . Half-day tours from 950 baht. 950 Bath.
SpiceRoads, Office: 02 - 712 5305 or: 089 895 5680 (, fax: 02 712 5305), . 09:00-18:00. One-day and multi-day cycling trips in and around Bangkok. from 1,000 THB.
If you want to experience Bangkok hideaways and countryside, leisurely cycling through green paddy fields, colorful orchid farms, peaceful lotus fields and touched by the charm of Thai way of country life at personal level, bicycle is a great way to do it.
Thailand Green Ride, Office: 02 - 888 9637 or: 081 3183561 (, fax: 02 888 9693), . 09:00-17:00. half-day, one-day and home stay overnight cycling trips in green Bangkok countryside
More than any other place in Thailand, Bangkok offers wonderful opportunities for just sitting and watching people go by. Here's a partial checklist:
University student — Many of Thailand's universities continue to enforce a uniform, and what a uniform: for girls, it's a formfitting translucent white blouse, black miniskirt and straight black hair. The little shiny logo button on the blouse tells the cognoscenti which particular university she is attending. Boys wear a white dress shirt and black trousers.
Office lady — Sharply clad in infinite variations of solid pastel shades, this human houseplant mans customer service desks and pours tea in offices across the capital.
Bargirl — Mostly short and dark-skinned farm girls from the provinces, a bargirl can be spotted a mile away thanks to her pink hotpants and the kilo of gold around her neck. Often found in happy financial symbiosis with the sexpat.
Sexpat — Fifty-plus, bald, beer belly, stained shirt, lovestruck expression and a hairy arm wrapped around a girl too young to be his daughter. He's found what he's looking for.
Ladyboy (kathoey) — Either tall, large-handed, wears too much makeup, possesses an Adam's apple and has large breasts... or has accomplished the art of camouflage so well that you just filed her/him as an office lady or bargirl.
Expat — A farang walking about purposefully in dress shirt and long trousers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's 35°C outside. For extra cr, try to distinguish between the scruffier English teacher type and the jet-setting expense package type. Or try classifying them by the old joke about the three types of expat — missionaries, mercenaries and misfits.
Yuppie — Like every other big city, Bangkok boasts a coterie of young professional types who are hip, well-educated and relatively affluent. Similar to the Expat, they usually sport business attire and are likely to be hurried -- except they probably know a shortcut, and they aren't sweating so profusely.
Khao San Road vagabonds — Braided hair, bead necklace, sarongs, shorts and floppy pants. Either on their way to or just back from the beaches. Dazed and bewildered when torn apart from the familiar surroundings of Khao San Road. All are oblivious to the fact that Thais have a specific name for them - farang kii nok translated as "birdshit Westerner" - due to their unclean & unattractive appearance. The most imperialist and clueless of this lot think that because of their anonymity in a foreign culture, walking around shirtless in public doesn't make them look like a dunce.
Most of Bangkok's sights are concentrated in the Old City on Rattanakosin Island. Out of Bangkok's hundreds of temples, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun usually make up the top 3. The Grand Palace has an immense size and expect to spend at least a full morning or afternoon there. Within the palace grounds is Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. Unlike other temples, it is not one building, nor are there are living spaces for monks. Instead, it is a collection of highly decorated holy buildings and monuments.
Nearby is Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), home to the world's largest reclining Buddha image and a famed massage school. Cross the Chao Phraya river for the outstanding Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). The main structure is about 70 meters high and it is surrounded by four smaller prangs. It is one of Thailand's most picturesque temples, and it is engraved on the inner part of all ten baht coins. If you climb it, and look closely, you will see that it is actually beautifully decorated with colorful Chinese porcelain pieces. Other major temples include the Golden Mount, Wat Suthat and Wat Rajnadda.
Bangkok is a good place to see traditional Thai-style residences. Most people take a tour through Jim Thompson's House, the CIA-operative's mansion assembled by combining six traditional Thai-style houses. Ban Kamthieng, M.R. Kukrit's Heritage Home and the Suan Pakkad Palace could also make for a nice experience. Another interesting museum is the Dusit Palace, situated in a leafy, European-style area built by king Chulalongkorn to escape the heat of the Grand Palace. It's main structure is the Vimanmek Mansion, the largest golden teakwood house in the world, but you could spend your whole day in the museums here. Other museums include the National Museum about Thai history and archaeology, as well as the Museum of Siam and the King Prajadhipok Museum. Bangkok has a small, but vocal, art community, and you might want to visit the National Gallery, The Queen's Gallery, or one of it's numerous smaller galleries.
Lumpini Park is the largest park in central Bangkok, and a nice way to escape the fumes. Backpackers around Khao San Road tend to head for Santichaiprakarn Park, a small, but worthy, park along the Chao Phraya river. It has a breezy atmosphere, a fort and a nice view on the modern Rama VII bridge. Zoos and animal farms are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok, but before visiting, please be aware that animal welfare in Thailand is not strictly regulated. The poor living conditions of the Dusit Zoo and Safari World as well as the inadequate veterinary care at these locations are examples of the sad mistreatment of the animal population. You can't go wrong at the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm, as the staff takes good care of their snakes and they have a job of informing the public about their risks. Siam Ocean World also makes for a nice family attraction. It is the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia.
One day in Bangkok - If you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city.
Four days in Bangkok - Most people spend a couple of days in Bangkok, this is the itinerary.
Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City overland - A suggested one-week trip through the heart of former Indochina.
Mation, the essence of ‘pure’ Buddhism, can be practiced at any temple in Thailand. In Bangkok however, there are also two well-known centers that cater specifically to foreigners wishing to learn or/and practice.
The International Buddhist Mation Centre. Wat Mahathat, 3 Maharat Road, Phraborommaharatchawang, tel. 2623-6325 . Mation classes in English are held at 7-10AM, 1-4PM and 6-8PM everyday in section 5 of the temple. Attendance is free of charge, but donations are welcome. Getting there: Take the river taxi to Chang Pier (between Silpakorn University and the Thammasat University). From there the center is a short walk.
The World Fellowship of Buddhists. 2nd Floor, No.616 Benjasiri Park, Soi Medhinivet (off Soi Sukhumvit 24), tel:2661-1284(-90) . Offers mation classes in English from 2 to 5:30PM on the first Sunday of every month. The office also provides information on places to learn and practice mation in Thailand. Classes and information are free.