Chaotic, frenetic, snarling with traffic, dirty and hot. Bangkok can be a little intimidating for the first time visitor. However, the lovely Thai people, their warm hospitality, the wonderful food packed with flavour, and the intriguing sights and sounds make this city one of sharp contrasts. Bangkok has a tendency to get under your skin, and has you coming back for more. This is definitely a city with soul, both dark and light. Seedy red light areas versus glittering temples of worship. Embrace this city and you’ll be rewarded tenfold.
Best Time To Go
Bangkok’s wet season is July to October. It usually only rains late afternoon every day. November to January is a little cooler so a good time visit as the rest of the year can be a little unbearable with the heat, humidity and general grime. Our Cherry Bangkok experts highly recommend breaking up a day’s activities with a swim in the hotel pool mid-way through the day to refresh and revive before heading out again. Bangkok can be an exhausting city!
Grand Palace & Wat Pho
The Grand Palace really is worth the schelp. You can take a taxi, or the more pleasant way to get there is to head to the Mandarin Oriental and take the public ferry from Tha Oriental pier. The journey along the Chao Phraya River is an interesting and colourful experience. Jump off at Tha Chang Pier and you’ll see the crowds heading to the Palace. Take note, the ticket office is closed 12-1pm, and the Palace is open 8.30am-3.30pm. Take an audio tour or hire a guide. Wear easy to remove shoes as you’ll be taking them off and on all day.
Take a taxi or tuk tuk around the block (a very big block) to the Wat Pho. Facing the river it is to the left of the Palace. This is the home of the famous reclining Buddha and definitely worth a visit. We recommend heading out first thing in the morning as the heat here is unbearable in the middle of the day.
Jim Thompson House
Jim Thompson was a military intelligence officer and businessman. He made Thai silk famous around the world. He mysteriously disappeared in the Cameron Highlands in 1967. His teak house if full of beautiful antiques. Take the guided tour then stay for a spot of lunch at the lovely Thai cafe, Thompson. Take the Skytrain to National Stadium station.
Chao Phraya River
Take a longtail boat ride around the Khlong Bangkok Yai region to glimpse the waterfront living and the riverside wats. This is an inexpensive way to see the city from a different angle.
Thai Boxing (Muay Thai)
This national sport is exciting and skilful (and a little vicious). Check it out on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday at Ratchadamnoen Stadium, or Lumphini Stadium on Tuesday, Friday or Saturday.
Go to the road behind the River City Shopping Centre and walk away from the Sheraton. You’ll see signposts for the Chinatown Walking Street Tour. Follow these and you’ll see the intriguing alleyways of Chintatown and the Colonial period architecture. This area is stifling hot, so choose a cool day or late afternoon for your stroll.
Go Go Bars
We’re not sure if these are a ‘Best Bit’, but we would be remiss not to mention them. Whether you want to just have a wander down the streets to see what all the fuss is about, or you’re up to some partying, the Go Go Bar scene is definitely a tourist attraction in Bangkok.
The two main areas are Patpong and Soi Cowboy. Patpong is the original red light district, and houses over 100 bars and clubs. If you’re going for just a look, there are also night markets selling touristy souvenirs.
Soi Cowboy has far surpassed Patpong as the place to go for serious partying. The area has a carnival-like atmosphere and there are plenty of interesting sights and more of the upmarket clubs and bars.
The gay scene is found in Silom, particularly Sois 2 and 4.
This enormous market is open Friday night from 6pm and all day Saturday and Sunday. It is huge and stinking hot, so plan accordingly. We’ve found the best strategy is to catch the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet Station and take Exit 2. This takes you into the heart of Section 2 of the market. If you get lost, always use the Clock Tower to get your bearings. We recommend avoiding the animal section like the plague and the centre section. You may never be seen again. Stay in the two outer lanes. The good stuff can be found in Section 7 and Section 26, if you’re into homewares and emerging designer fashion.
Tips & Tricks
Suvarnabhumi Bangkok Airport is the new international airport. There is reasonable shopping and eating options here. It is a good idea to have transfers pre-booked to and from the airport as the taxis can be a little hit and miss in terms of the language barrier and dealing with arguments over tolls and turning on the meter!
Don Muang Airport is generally used for domestic flights and low cost carriers. Always check which airport you and flying to and from.
Australian passport holders entering Thailand through one of its international airports for leisure purposes may enter for up to 30 days without obtaining a visa in advance. You must have a minimum of six months validity on your passport.
Arrival and departure tax for Bangkok is pre-paid with your airline ticket.
Make sure you check with the relevant authorities for the most up to date visa information, relevant to your situation.
Bangkok is a traffic nightmare. Traffic gridlock can occur anytime of the day or night, for seemingly no reason. The BTS (Skyrail) system is excellent and it’s a good idea to stay somewhere close to a station. The underground train system (MRT) is also efficient, air conditioned, and a great way to avoid the traffic chaos.
Tuk tuks are plentiful, but you will be breathing in a lot of pollution on your journey and are really only useful for short trips.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap, although outside the main tourist areas they can be a bit fussy about who they pick up. Always insist they put on their meter. If they won’t, get out.
This city is extremely confusing and it’s easy to get disorientated. Invest in a good map with Thai and English street names, and don’t leave the hotel without it! Also, make sure you always venture out with your hotel’s business card, with the address in Thai.
A Soi is a small backstreet street or lane.
The currency is the Thai Baht. It’s a good idea to have plenty of small notes (THB 20 and 50) for taxis and tuk tuks as they generally won’t have change. ATMs and banks are plentiful and most stores accept credit cards.
Similar to Australia, it’s not required, but always appreciated if you receive good service. Some larger restaurants may add a service charge to the bill.
Safety & Scams
Try not to be cynical, but if a local strikes up a conversation, it’s likely they are trying to sell you something, steal something or take you somewhere you don’t want to go (like a dodgy gem shop!).
Also be wary of information obtained from tuk tuk drivers and the like. You will often be told the Grand Palace is closed, but they can show you some other sites while you wait. Believe us, you won’t want their version of sightseeing! Taxi drivers will also sometimes try to take you to a shop you don’t want to go to. Say no, and if they insist, get out.
Be wary of tour guides touting for business. This is often a scam. Book your tours before you leave home.
Pickpockets and bag snatchers do operate in Bangkok, so never carry too much cash and keep your passport in a safe.
It may seem strange, with the prevalence of the sex trade in Bangkok, that the Thai people are actually quite conservative. When visiting religious temples ensure you cover up and take off your shoes.
The Royal family is treated with reverence, so never make jokes or be disparaging about them. Thai currency bears the image of the King, so don’t put money in your back pocket as this is considered disrespectful.
Always carry a photocopy of your passport with you. Thai’s are finicky about ID. Even if you’re pushing 50, you’ll still get asked for ID in most bars and clubs! Local police sometimes have random ID checks also. Don’t risk losing your real passport, take a copy.
Traveling with Kids
If you have blonde haired children, prepare to be the centre of attention. The locals love to touch their hair and talk to the foreign kiddies. It certainly opens a lot of doors!
Bangkok with babies is a little challenging. Forget using a stroller as the broken footpaths and many stairs render them useless. Opt for a baby sling instead.
This city is better suited to older kids that will enjoy a trip along the river in a long-tail boat and seeing the cultural shows.
Don’t even think about it unless you want to spend more time on the porcelain bus than anywhere else.