“Ride on a royal elephant”
Bankok is the capital of Thailand and is known for it’s ornate temples, floating markets and crowded street life. Also, they filmed The Hangover II here. I am a BIG fan of Thai cuisine and plan on eating my way through the city. So, if this post seems very food based then my apologies. I will try to work in sights as well.
(For a backstory on the Land of Nod series, click here!)
Since I live on the east coast, my airport choices are any of the NYC ones and PHL. For this flight, the quickest/most economical would be JFK. A flight into BKK runs around $800 and takes 22hrs to get there with a layover in Taipei, Taiwan. If you are flying from the west coast out of LAX, it would only cost you around $650 with a 22hr fly time and a layover in Shanghai. (Check out my blog post on China here!)
Getting from the airport to downtown Bangkok:
Before you even step outside, be sure to stop at an ATM first and withdraw money. The currency is thai bahts. To put it into perspective 1,000 THB is equivalent to $27 USD.
When exiting the hotel, you will be bombarded by all sorts of transportation offers and depending on the way you carry yourself (and look), the more/less you will pay. If it’s evident you have no idea what you are doing, someone may take advantage of you. So, act like the most experienced tourist and haggle like a pro. For taxi’s, you have the option of either a flat fee agreed up front or a metered taxi trip, but a metered taxi trip is always going to be the cheapest. For two people, it should cost no more than $25.
Bus – Airport Express operates buses on four routes for $150 baht – there are hourly buses from 5:00 am in the morning to midnight. Since you couldn’t pay me to get on a bus in the U.S., I won’t be riding one abroad either. (I get terribly car sick…blah).
Train – this is the fastest and cheapest option. When doing my research, I was secretly hoping for a train into the city! The Airport Rail Link Express Line runs every half hour and takes only 15 minutes from the airport to Phaya Thai terminal and costs around $3. The Airport Rail Link City Line leaves every 15 minutes, takes 30 minutes as it makes 6 stops in between and costs half as much ($1.50). Then take a taxi from your stop to your final destination.
Getting around Bangkok:
Taxi’s -fares start at just35 Baht ($1 USD) so make sure the meter is on and showing 35 baht when you get in. All taxis are metered but some drivers will try to negotiate a fixed fare with tourists. This is not allowed! Be aware that you can get stuck in some major traffic jams during morning and evening rush hours, especially on a Friday. The meter runs on a combination of both distance and time.
Skytrain (BTS) – The Sky Train is an efficient and convenient way to navigate around the inner city, at a cost low enough to relax and enjoy the ride. It is an elevated train that runs through the main business districts. Be aware that it closes at midnight so alternate transportation will be needed if you are out late.
Subway (MRT) – gives access to more areas than the Skytrain. There are interchange stations at Silom and at Asoke where you have the possibility to change from the subway to the Skytrain and the other way around. Magnetic chips and cards can be bought at the counter or the available machines. Cards can be recharged at the counter with any amount once they are used up.
Below is a helpful transportation map.Chao Phraya River Express Boat – an easy way to experience a bit of Bangkok is by boat! The boat runs every 20 minutes, but in the rush hours they run about every 5 minutes – all for just 20 baht ($.55).
Tuk Tuk – what’s a trip to Bangkok without a Tuk Tuk ride? These motorized three wheeler’s can be seen all over the city. Since it does not have a meter, all the price has to be negotiated. It is not recommended to use them as a normal form of transport as for tourists a taxi is cheaper, safer, and has air-conditioning! Be aware that around the main tourist areas, some Tuk-Tuk drivers are not honest and will lead you into a shopping or other type of scam.
Ok, am I a terrible tourist because I don’t have a desire to see any of the temples? Since I am traveling with my son, I will visit at least one. From my research, I see there are at least five key ones. Heck one is solely dedicated to a reclining Buddha. See?
The Temple of Dawn can be seen via boat ride (and it’s best viewed at sunset) so cross that off the list too, although it does look pretty rad during the day so perhaps it’s worth a looksie:
Located in the historic center of Bangkok, within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it enshrines Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade. The robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by HM The King of Thailand, and forms an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar. A guide is on duty from 10:00am-2pm and an audio guide is also available. Remember that temples are considered sacred places and you must dress appropriately. No shorts, slippers, sandals, or revealing tops, otherwise you simply won’t be allowed in. Admission to the temple is 400 baht ($12). The temple closes at 3:30pm so arrive early!
Grand Palace – since you are already there, you may want to poke around the city’s most famous landmark.
Built in 1782, it was the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government for 150 years. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. It’s open from 8:30am – 3:30 pm and costs 500 baht ($14) for admission. Dress code (similar to the temple) is strictly enforced.
Chef LeeZ Thai Cooking Class – now this is something I would insist on doing. My husband and I just cannot cook Thai and what better place to learn than from a local.
Tailor a suit – OK so I didn’t know this was a thing but apparently getting custom tailored suits, shirts, jackets, etc. is a big business over in Bangkok! They have shops all over the city. They take your measurements on site and from there you pick out the fabric, design, etc.
If you are in town for a few days you can come back in for a fitting or they will ship it to your house. Most places keep your measurements on file so you can continue to order. Depending on how old my son is when we visit, perhaps we will swing by for his first suit!
Floating Market – there are a lot of floating markets around Bangkok and from the looks of it, many are tourist traps with junky souvenirs – not to mention some can be over an hour away! Yikes. I searched high and low for one that was worthy of a visit. One that got the best reviews is Khlong Lat Mayom.
It is the most authentic of floating markets with very few foreigners. The easiest way to get there is to hop in a taxi from Wang Wian Yai BTS station and tell the driver to go to Talat Nam Khlong Lat Mayom. The taxi should only cost around 100 THB. Directions for the driver in Thai are: (ตลาดน้ำคลองลัดมะยม – ตั้งอยู่ถนน ตลิ่งชัน-บางระมาด มาทางพุทธมลฑลสาย 1 หรือหากมาจากทางถนนกาญจนาภิเษกก็เลี้ยวเข้าซอยใกล้ๆ เนติบัณฑิตยสภา จะมีป้ายบอกตลอดทาง). Double check the directions with someone from the hotel. I got them off of tripadvisor!
Tipping is NOT customary in Thailand, there is absolutely NO mandatory requirement to tip anyone, but small gratuities for great service are very much appreciated. Unlike some other parts of the world, you will never see a Thai service provider with his hand out waiting for a tip.
All public taxi rates are metered, and both Thais and local ex-pats commonly round up the fare (i.e. 51 baht fare rounded up to 60 baht). Most restaurants and hotels include a ten percent service charge in the bill. This surcharge already serves as a tip of sorts. It’s combined and shared among all employees at the end of the month in addition to their meagre monthly salary.
Tipping in hotels is not expected, but again is always appreciated, for instance 20 – 50 baht for the porter that carried your bags up to your room, or 20 baht left under your pillow for the cleaner.
In all restaurants it is customary to leave behind any loose change in coins as a tip. In more upscale restaurants, with professional wait staff who provide excellent service, a larger tip of 5%-10% is quite common.
Massage ladies commonly get a more substantial tip of 100 baht because they get only a pittance out of what you pay the house, and often wait around all day for a customer.
Bear in mind that the majority of workers in the hospitality and service industries in Thailand earn very little, so a small tip goes a long way and will generally bring out extra enthusiastic service.
The king is very highly regarded in Thailand, as evidenced by the pictures displayed everywhere. Do not say or do anything disrespectful of the king or the royal family, even to the extent of stomping on a Thai coin or banknote which has been dropped and is rolling/blowing away. (It bears an image of the King’s head, and is highly insulting to be touched by your feet.)
Bangkok TaxisWhen hailing taxis, it is common to keep your hand horizontal, fingers facing down. Holding your hand with fingers up is considered rude.
Temples and Monks
When visiting temples, dress conservatively. Women particularly should wear long skirts or trousers and cover their shoulders and knees. Many temples state as you enter that photography is not permitted. Even if there is no sign, please be respectful and consider whether it is appropriate to be taking flash photographs in a place of worship. Even more so if monks are present worshiping!
Always remove your shoes when entering temples (the same rule applies when entering a person’s home), and do not sit with your feet towards the Buddha. Sit either cross-legged, or with your feet tucked behind you. In many Asian cultures the feet are considered the lowest, dirtiest part of the body, and the head the highest. So do not point to things with your feet, hold doors open with your feet, point your feet to the Buddha images, or point at or touch peoples’ heads. Under no circumstances should a woman ever touch a monk.
One of the most important points of etiquette often overlooked by some travelers is basic personal hygiene, Thai people take their personal hygiene and appearance very seriously. Since Thailand is a hot. humid tropical country, showering frequently is essential and not just every couple of days. Local laundry shops away from your hotel are plentiful and cheap. Thai people are very modest in nature, and public nudity is frowned upon. There are NO nude beaches in Thailand.
Loud or abusive expressions of anger and temper tantrums should be avoided at all costs. There’s no need to raise your voice in Thailand. It is considered impolite Many things in Thailand often don’t go according to plan, and visitors are advised to take a very calm attitude to various nuisances. Try to remain calm and smile despite your annoyance, and in the end you will probably get what you want. .
The rainy season begins in late May and lasts until October or November. It is warm and humid, and most days have a few showers, especially in the afternoon. At times — but not all the time — the rain comes down in buckets, and the thunderstorms can be dramatic. But if you are visiting during this time of year, don’t bother to bring a raincoat — it will be too hot to wear it. Carry an umbrella with you at all times and be prepared to take your shoes off and wade, and you’ll be fine.
The very best time to visit is late November to mid-January. The Thais call it the cool season, but that really stretches the truth. It’s a tropical cool, still humid, but comfortable. Still, you do not need to bring warm clothes. “Cool” does not mean you need to change your tropical wardrobe; it just means you sweat a little less.
The time of year you do not want to visit is from March until the rainy season begins in May. It is hot, hot, hot. It doesn’t seem to faze the Thais at all, but those of us who were born in more hospitable climates start to get a little cranky. It is very hard to get out and see the sights during this time of year; the heat drains you of energy and makes it hard to keep going strong all day.