Bangkok

Thailand’s sprawling capital, and home to 10 million people, Bangkok is a crazy, chaotic, steamy, modern Asian metropolis.  This could be right up your alley or your worst nightmare.  Thailand is more than just beaches and jungles and, chances are you’ll be starting you journey here.  Like it or loathe it, you should forget what you’ve heard and give Bangkok a chance.  The city has a lot to offer and can cater to just about every taste.  There is  an abundance of sites to see and things to do, plenty to eat and so much to buy.  You can do as much or as little as you choose.  You could tear through all Bangkok’s sites and activities in a day or two before heading out or you could spend a little more time and enjoy the city for what it is.

What to see


The Grand Palace is Bangkok’s number one tourist attraction.  This impressive complex made up of several buildings includes Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and was home to the Thai monarchy for 150 years.  Be warned that the dress code for these sites is strict and visitors are expected to wear modest, covered clothes so no shorts or sleeveless tops though you can borrow clothes at the entrance if you’re not suitably dressed.  No flip-flops are allowed, you can wear sandals so long as they have a back to them.  Entrance costs a whopping 350B but it is well worth it.  You can grab a guide, for a fee, at the ticket kiosk.  Don’t use anyone from outside the complex offering to guide you.  Ignore anyone outside the complex that tries to tell you the Grand Palace is closed for the day.  It’s a common scam and they’ll be trying to get you into a tuk tuk to visit a tailor shop or the like.  Entrance to the complex also include entrance to Dusit park and Vimanmek Teak Mansion.

Vimanmek Teak Mansion, the world’s largest teak mansion, is a must visit if you’re interested in antiques or architecture.  Built in 1868 in Koh Si Chang, it was moved to it’s current site in 1910.  The whole mansion was constructed without a single nail.  Admission costs 100B on it’s own or is free if you present your ticket from the Grand Palace.  As it was a royal residence, the same dress code applies as for the Grand Palace.  Go earlier rather than later, it closes at 4pm.

Temples
If you only visit one temple in Bangkok, make it Wat Pho.  This large complex contains Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha which, at 46m long and 15m high and covered in gold leaf, is seriously impressive.  It also houses Wat Pho Traditional Medicine School were you can get a traditional Thai massage from one of the many students.  Entrance is 50B and a one hour massage will cost 360B.
Wat Saket and the Golden Mount
Wat Arun
Wat Traimit

National Museum
Jim Thompson’s House
The National Gallery
Lumpini Park
Museum of the Department of Forensic Medicine

Snake Farm (Pasteur Institute)

For the kids
Dusit Zoo
Siam Ocean World
Ten-Pin Bowling

What to do
Shopping
MBK
Siam Discory, Paragon and Centre
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Pratunum

Muay Thai
The best place for an evening watching Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) is at Lumpini Boxing Stadium.  There are matches at 7pm on Tuesdays and Fridays and at 5pm and 8.30pm on Saturdays.  Tickets cost anywhere from 230 to 920B.

Cinema

Bicyle tour

Nightlife


Bangkok’s nightlife is infamously sordid.  There are a multitude of options for having fun and, if you’re that way inclined, indulging your seedy side.
Red-Light Nightlife
If you’re looking for go-go bars and ping pong shows then head the red-light districts of to Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza.  You’ll find plenty of scantily clad girls, boys and ladyboys doing anything and everything for a price.  Beware of pushy touts and over-priced drinks.  Pickpockets are rife in this part of town.

Cabaret
If you want to cheeky but not risque, Calypso Cabaret http://www.calypsocabaret.com/main.html is the place to go.  They have two shows nightly at 8.15pm and 9.45pm, starring a host of glamourous lady boys.  Expect to see anything from a Marilyn Monroe impersonator to lip-synching along with Chinese ballads.  Reservations are advisable.  If you book ahead through their website it will cost 900B for adults (usually 1200B) or 600B for children.  Yes, the show is suitable for children, there’s no nudity!  The show takes place at the Asia Hotel, if you’re going by Skytrain it’s right next to the Rachathewi Station.

Nightclubs
With plenty of “nouveau riche” and expats, Bangkok’s well-heeled set have a plethora of nightclubs to choose from.  Clubs don’t kick off until 10pm or later and you can expect to pay and entrance fee of 200 to 600B which may or may not cover a drink or two.  Dress well, as you would for a night out clubbing at home, and come with your ID as entrance is for those 20 years and up.  Some of the best spots are:
Bed Supperclub http://www.bedsupperclub.com/bangkok/en/ located at Sukhimvit Soi 11 and also one of the best places to dine in town.
Q Bar http://www.qbarbangkok.com/ located at Sukhimvit Soi 11.
Narcissus located at Sukhumvit Soi 23.
Club Culture http://www.club-culture-bkk.com/ located on Ratchadamnoen Klang Rd, close to Democracy Monument.
Glow http://glowbkk.com/ located at Sukhumvit Soi 23.
Check club websites for weekly specials like ladies nights and gay nights as well as events and visiting DJs.

Roftop bars
Skyscrapers make excellent places for rooftop bars with sweeping views of the city and river, they make an excellent place to sip cocktails and take in the sunset.

Dinner cruise

Getting around Bangkok
Bangkok’s brightly coloured, metered taxis are cheap and air-conditioned.  Some drivers speak good English (look out for the I ♥ Farang sign on the window), others not so much but can usually get you to your destination.  Grab your hotel’s card with the address in Thai just in case.  Insist on the driver using the meter, if they won’t, get out and wait for the next taxi.  Traffic can be a nightmare so avoid using a taxi from 4-6pm or be prepared to get stuck in gridlock.  Flagfall is 35B for the first 2kms and then 5B per km and 1.25B a minute if you’re stopped in traffic.  It shouldn’t cost more than 100B for a cross-town journey, for example, Banglamphu to MBK Shopping Centre or Sukhimvit to the Grand Palace.
The ubiquitous tuk tuk, a three-wheeled auto rickshaw, is best avoided.  Tuk tuk fares are negotiated prior to the journey – don’t even think about getting in one without agreeing upon the destination and the fare in advance.  Even if you’ve negotiated a fare, chances are your driver will give you the runaround, stopping off at a tailor or gem store and insisting you step inside, to get a commission.  If your time is valuable, don’t bother with one.  If you can find a reliable, friendly driver who just takes you were you want to go it’s ok for a short hop around your local area.  Metered taxis are a much better deal as they are air-conditioned and protected from Bangkok’s pollution and you know your fare will be fair.
The Chao Praya river cuts through Bangkok and connects quite a few of the sites you’ll likely hit as a tourist including Wat Po and Wat Arun.  The Chao Praya River Express boat service costs between 13 and 34B a trip depending on the length of your journey or 150B for a whole day pass on the special Tourist service.  Buy your ticket onboard and make sure you have change.  Different express services operate the route calling at different stops.  A coloured flag on the boat indicates the type of express service.  No flag means it’s a local boat calling at all stops.  At the end of the line you can connect to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station at Sathorn pier.  It’s a great way of avoiding traffic gridlock especially at rush hour.  See their website for a route map http://www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com/en/services/index.aspx#routemap
The ultra-modern BTS Skytrain runs across much of downtown Bangkok.  Purchase your tickets from vending machines at stations.  Fares cost between 15 and 40B per journey or 120B for an all day pass.  If you’re in Bangkok for a longer period of time consider getting a SmartPass card which will cut down the costs of individual journeys.  There are two lines, Sukhimvit and Silom, which interchange at Siam station.  A route map can be found on the BTS website http://www.bts.co.th/en/map.asp.  The Skytrain is a great way of getting around if you’re staying in Sukhimvit or Silom but it does not connect to the Banglamphu/Khao San Road area.  If you’re doing a lot of shopping, you can reach MBK Centre, Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, Siam Centre and Chatuchak Weekend Market by Skytrain.  The Northern (Morchit) and Eastern (Ekkamai) bus terminals are also close to Skytrain stations.  You can connect to the new Airport Rail Link at Makkasan station.
Bangkok’s subway or MRT only has the one line and is of that much use to tourists.  There are a few stops of interests such as Hualamphong Train Station and Kamphaeng Phet which drops you at Chatuchak Weekend Market.  If you’re using the Airport Rail link, get off at Makkason Station where you can connect to the MRT station at Phetchaburi.  You can’t use Skytrain passes on the MRT.  Tickets start at 15B and fares depend on distance travelled and can be purchased at stations.

Where to stay in Bangkok


Banglamphu and Khao San Road
Khao San Road is a backpacker ghetto filled with windowless flophouses, loud bars and streets lined with everything a backpacker could need from bikinis to henna tattoos to banana pancakes.  The unwashed masses drink overpriced Chang beer and buckets of cheap whiskey before finding the cheapest bus package out of town.  Having said that, it is kind of interesting.  There are some decent clothes for sale (albeit at a more expensive price than elsewhere), all kinds of DVDs and souvenirs, and it makes for an interesting evening of people watching.  Any accommodation located on Khao San Road itself should be avoided due to the noise factor but the surrounding area, locally known as Banglamphu, has some great accommodation.  Soi Rambuttri is a quieter, much more pleasant version of Khao San Road.  There are some great restaurants and street food, a chilled nightlife scene and a few vendors selling useful and interesting clothes and souvenirs.  It’s walking distance to the Grand Palace and Wat Po and the pier at Phra Athit where you can jump on the Chao Phraya Rover Express.  It’s also a nice place to stay if you want to avoid the seedier side of Bangkok’s nightlife.  You can find the usual cheap rooms but there are some excellent option for flashpacker accommodation.  Rambuttri Village Inn http://www.khaosan-hotels.com/index.html has varying degrees of rooms, all with AC, hot water and TV, starting at 550B per night.  They also have a roof-top swimming pool.  Around the corner on Phra Athit Road, there are some nice little restaurants and bars, same playing live music, where local hipsters hang out.  New Siam II http://newsiam.net/  is another great flashpacker option with a swimming pool and a tasty restaurant.  It has a nice family-friendly feel.  Rooms start at 790B for AC, TV and hot water.  Across the street and run by the same people, New Siam Riverside, is a more mid-range options with a riverside pool and restaurant and rooms from 1390B with AC, TV, hot water and internet.  Taking it up a notch, but still mid-range in price, Navali River Resort http://www.navalai.com/index.php has stylishly decorate rooms with AC, TV, wifi and private balconies with prices starting at 2100B a night.  Some of the rooms have a river view as does the roof-top pool.

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Sukhimvit

Silom

Riverside
Bangkok’s luxury hotels are dotted along the Chao Phraya.  If you’ve got the cash it’s a fantastic way to spend a few nights in the city but you will miss the street-life you’ll get in other areas… though this may be exactly what you want!  You can connect easily to the Skytrain via the Chao Phraya River Express.  There will always be plenty of taxis outside the big hotels but make sure they switch the meter on.  The Mandarin Oriental gets consistently fantastic reviews for their attentive staff, excellent restaurants and five star facilities.  There are two swimming pools, a fitness centre with complimentary classes, a spa and a cooking school on site.  Rooms start at 10000B a night.  It’s worth noting that some of the rooms are slightly older which not everyone will appreciate for the price.  The Shangri-La Hotel is another great spot for a five-star experience in Bangkok.  It is quiet, luxurious and offers everything you’d expect – several restaurants, a riverside pool, tennis courts spa services and even a chocolate boutique.  Rates start at 5700B a night.  Just across the river is the Peninsula with rooms starting from 7800B.  They have theirown shuttle boats that take you across the river connecting you with the Saphan Taksin prier and Skytrain station.  With 39 storeys of rooms you’re bound to get a good view.  They have excellent facilities including a palm tree-lined pool, wellness spa and several restaurants.

Airport
If you’ve got 12+ hours and want to see a bit of Bangkok rather than just crash out in a hotel room and sleep, head in to one of the above areas for the night.  If you’re arriving late at night and flying out early in the morning, you should stay at the airport.  Here are few good options:
Sananwan Palace http://999thai.com/ has standard rooms with AC and TV for 450B a night or for the day.  They have a pool, wifi, massage and a restaurant on site.  They don’t offer free transfers but can arrange transfers for 500B round trip if you contact them in advance.
Grand Pinnacle http://www.bangkok.com/grand-pinnacle/rooms.htm has standard double rooms with AC, wifi and TV for 680B a night.  They have a restaurant, tour desk and also offer massage.  There’s no pool but the rooms are nicer than at Sanawan Palace and they do free airport transfers.
Floral Shire Resort http://www.floralshireresort.com/home.htm is good midrange option.  The rooms are nice and fairly modern with AC, TV, wifi and free breakfast for 1200B a night.  They have a restaurant, massage and offer free airport transfers.
The Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi http://www.novotel.com/gb/hotel-6183-novotel-bangkok-suvarnabhumi-airport/index.shtml is the closest hotel to the airport and offers rooms on a 24-hour basis rather than at set check out times. There is a 24-hour complimentary shuttle service located at Gate 4 or it’s a 10 minute walk by underground walkway which is open from 6am to midnight.  They have restaurants, massage, a fitness centre and pool.  Rooms start at around 4000B with AC, TV and broadband if booked through the hotel but look around for deals through online booking sites.

Day trips out of Bangkok

If you want to get out of the big city, the following make good destinations for a day trip.  Many hotels and travel agents offer organised tours or you can do-it-yourself.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is about 100kms outside Bangkok.  If you’re not on an organised tour, catch bus from the Southern Bus Terminal, two hours, which drops you at the main pier and hire a boat for 300B per person per hour.  The market is geared towards tourists so you’ll find a lot of souvenirs.  Expect to bargain.  The market opens at 7am and wraps up around midday.

You can head up to Ayuthaya and back in a day.  The train or bus takes around 90 minutes each way.  Once there, consider renting a bicycle to get around.  See our section on Ayuthaya for more details.
Kanchanaburi, including the infamous Tiger Temple, elephant rides and the bridge over the river Kwai, can be done as a day trip from Bangkok if you’re up early and don’t mind spending a good chunk of your day in transit.  Many convenient organised tours run from Bangkok and include these highlights.  Tours are inexpensive and start around 1100B.  Check what they include before you sign up as some may not include admission fees.  If you want to do it yourself, take an early train and hire a taxi for the day once you get to Kanchanaburi and you’ll get to see what you want at your own pace.  See our section on Kanchanaburi for details of all the attractions in the region.

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