Why You Should Add Bangkok to your Indie/RTW Trip
Bangkok is the capital and by far the largest city in Thailand and an excellent place to begin exploring Southeast Asia. If you are coming from the West you’ll find Bangkok to be extremely exotic, but at the same time it has a huge and well-worn infrastructure for the traveler. For this reason it’s very easy to get by on English only, but as everywhere, learning a few local phrases is appreciated.
- Start your travels in the main travel hub of SE Asia. It’s a great place to call home during your time in the region as it’s easy to get in and out of Bangkok to anywhere else in the region.
- No need for a car here. Walking is great in this bustling city. Take the SkyTrain, the subway, taxis, and/or tuk-tuks to anywhere you need to go. Make sure to agree on a price with a tuk tuk driver and force cabbies to use the meter before entering.
- Experience Thai culture up-close with a traditional Thai massage, for ridiculous low prices ($10-15USD for an hour).
- Leo DiCaprio didn’t start his trip here for nothing
- The nightlife is, ahem, interesting: Thai boxing, dancing, drinking and the famous red-light area (ping pong shows, anyone?)
- The food, my God, the food. Not only is the street food some of, if not the, best in the world, but if you take a Thai cooking course, you can bring it back home.
- If you’re a market person, it doesn’t get any better than Bangkok. They’re everywhere! And while the night and weekend markets get all the hype, some of the best markets are the lesser known ones you stumble upon while getting lost in the city.
Indie Travel Tips
If you are a first time visitor to Bangkok and Southeast Asia, beginning on Khao San Road may not be a terrible idea, but it’s not necessary and you can easily find somewhere less horrific to stay. If you’re looking to get away from all the drunk western college kids, take the following tips to heart.
- Go have a drink on Khao San Road, but don’t stay there. It’s as un-Thai as it gets.
- Consider staying in an area like Sukhumvit. It is more of an expat area and still isn’t the most authentic of Thai experiences, but it’s much better than Khao San Road, and you still won’t be completely overwhelmed.
- There are gilded Buddha statues all over town, but a few of them in particular are must-sees. Definitely check out the Grand Palace and its Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as well as Wat Pho to see the world’s largest reclining Buddha (and you thought your city had a big reclining Buddha!).
- Golden Mount is worth the short uphill hike for both the monument and the views. It’s easy to get a cheap bus tour that takes you 90 minutes out of town for a visit to the unforgettable Floating Market.
- Explore the temples on your own. Bangkok is home to literally thousands of temples, and shady tuk-tuk drivers will try to swindle you into a tour day after day, but that tour will most likely include spending half your day in gem and carpet shops. I hate to say it, but don’t trust the tuk-tuk drivers, explore on your own.
- Use public transport to get around – the Sky Train, subway, and river boats are all cheap, easy, and effective ways of avoiding the chaotic Bangkok traffic and shady tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, plus they are great ways to see the city.
- Eat everything. Seriously. All of it. It’s that good. While there is always a slight risk with street food, just use common sense. Go to really crowded stalls with lots of locals for your best bet – for both cleanliness and quality.
- The nightlife of Bangkok is infamous, and it’s well worth checking out the slightly sinister Patpong district at night. You’ve probably heard the stories already, but be careful who and what you are talking to in that neighborhood. Tourists from all over the world mix with locals there for various kinds of adult-themed fun, but it’s reasonably safe and there are loads of fairly normal bars, restaurants, and discos there as well.
Unless you are coming in by bus or train from a nearby country, you’ll probably be arriving into Bangkok’s huge new Suvarnabhumi Airport (code: BKK). The city is a major hub in this part of Asia, so flights to Bangkok are often available at very good prices. There are shuttles and local buses that go from the airport into town, but taxis are faster and are relatively cheap, especially for groups (make the driver use the meter!).
Getting around Bangkok is a cinch once you get used to it. The Skytrain is air conditioned and a great way to get around the city. The subway reaches most areas the Skytrain does not. You can take boats up and down the river for a cool and unique way to get around. Then there are taxis and tuk-tuks. A good way to get around, but you have to be vigilant. Taxi drivers should put on their meter, but they’ll try not to. If they refuse, then simply go to the next taxi. You may have to try 3 or 4 or 5, but if you get in one that doesn’t put on the meter, expect to pay double or triple what it should cost.
Bangkok is almost as modern as it is exotic, and part of that adds up to a city that has no true center and spreads out for many miles in every direction. The notorious “tourist ghetto” of Kho San Road is definitely the place to mingle with fellow backpackers and is also a great place for nightlife, but it is about as Thai as Kansas City, so you may want to think about staying somewhere else if you’re looking to actually converse with local people.
There are loads of hostels in Bangkok. The BootsnAll editor recommends staying at Suk 11 in the Sukhumvit area. This is an expat area with great public transportation access, and it’s near a very large Middle Eastern neighborhood that will have you feel like you’re in the Middle East instead of Asia. Head there for some amazing food.
The most basic accommodations in Bangkok can be had for about the price of a hamburger, and even nice hotels are very affordable by most Western standards. There are accommodations spread all over Bangkok, but this is a city where you want to stay in a convenient location, so be careful of far-flung bargain lodgings.