Bangkok – an ultimate guide for first time visitors

Bangkok is hands down, my favorite city . I just feel so alive when I’m there, I love the feeling to be able explore something new every day and if I’m homesick I can easily find some “western world” stuff. I’ve been there many times already and almost every time I’m in SE Asia I try to spend a little bit of time there – I need to get my doses of the Thai food, I need to update my wardrobe and stock up on kitchen stuff. I decided to write this blog post for everyone, who is asking me on a weekly basis about tips on this gigantic city.

1.Plan where to stay

When choosing where to stay consider public transport and your interests. On our first visits to the city we stayed at the backpackers street Khao San road. Now the parallel Rumbutri road full with restaurants, cafes, street food stals and fake clothes is as busy as KSR. Here you can find the worst rooms dirt cheap but also some posh hotels with rooftop pools and fancy lobbies popped up. Be aware that there are many scammers who will try to get as much money as possible out of you. There’s no sky train in this area, but we often used buses to get to downtown (it’s an adventure on itself if you don’t speak Thai). Good thing is that the Royal Palace and some temples are very near and the Chao Praya river will take you to the other part of the city traffic free.
Now we like to stay around Pratunam, because here are my favorite shopping centers and we have easy acces to the sky train and the airport link. Don’t worry, there are night markets and food stalls as well and the prices are as low (if not even lower) as on Khao San Road.
We also like to stay in Silom because it’s near to the river and we love to take the water buses, we have a favorite spa here and the skytrain takes us easily to all parts we like.
There are many other parts of Bangkok, but I’ll share with you just things I tried myself.

2.Transportation

There’s no Bangkok without its tuk-tuks 😊 Always discuss the price before you get in, ALWAYS haggle (check the price on Grab first so you have a feeling) and never believe the driver if he tells you the Royal palace is closed today or that the government is paying for gasoline today (usually they only want 40 baht). Also a running scam is offering to take you to the Big standing Buddha. You will usually hear these sentences around Khao San road and Royal palace. And somehow they know, who’s in Bangkok for the first time 😊

We like to ride with the sky train or MRT, the system is very easy and efficient.
Another good and relatively cheap option is Grab (Asian Uber), which worked quite ok, but you have to get used to the app (they have designated pick up points etc.; for some reason it works better in Kuala Lumpur).
bangkok_blog
A great and inexpensive option are the ferries or water buses. There’s even a hop on hop of option, but we didn’t have time to check it out. All the signs are in English as well and you can buy tickets either at the dock or on board.

bangkok_blog
Water bus on the Chao Praya river

 

You probably want to know how to get to and from the airport, right?

If you land at Suvarnabhumi and staying in Pratunam, take the airport link (45 baht). If you stay on KSR you have 2 direct options: the buses S1 or AE-2  for aprox.150 baht or taxi for aprox. 400-600 baht.
bangkok_blog

For getting around the country you can choose between buses, trains and airplanes. It all depends on your budget and time.
We wouldn’t recommend the Khao San tourist buses to our friends, that’s why we will also not do it to you. On these buses stuff gets stolen often and they are not as comfortable as the government buses. Government buses? Yes, Bangkok has big bus stations like the Southern bus station from where buses depart to the south. You can buy a ticket all the way to the islands where also the ferry will be included. You can choose from different classes, we always took the VIP bus – there are only 24 seats, which can almost fully recline, there’s a stewardess with welcome drinks, refreshment towels, a blanket and pillow will wait for you and you’ll get snacks and dinner. The prices are higher than on the KSR buses, but the service can’t be compared.
Bangkok
The train is also a great option. We took the 2nd class sleeper from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and from Bangkok to Laos and it was always great. There’s again a steward/stewardess who will make your bed, you can order dinner on the train etc.
If you plan on flying, be aware that Air Asia is now using the second airport in Bangkok, which is Don Muang (direct bus to KSR, Grab is a an option, there’s an official taxi booth, or consider the train as a train station is directly opposite the airport). Book the tickets in advance, keep an eye for sales and travel light – Air Asia charges for every KG of luggage you’ll have 😉

bangkok_blog
The main train station in Bangkok

3. Food

OMG, foooooood, I don’t even know where to start. Thai cuisine is spicy and chilly is everywhere (so is sugar FYI). On your first visit these are some must trys:

Pad Thai
Bangkok

Green, Yellow, Red Curry
bangkok_blog

Som Tam
bangkok_blog

Mango sticky rice
Bangkok

Tom Yum Goong
Bangkok

Khao pad (fried rice)
Bangkok

And for all the meat eaters:
Kai med ma muang (stir-fried chicken with cashews)
Pad krapow moo (stir-fried basil and pork)
Tom kha kai (chicken and coconut soup)

We eat at local restaurants where none of these dishes should cost more than 150 baht (usually it’s much less). You’ll also see grills on the road with skewers – when we still ate meat, we had these as snacks and it was always ok. We also love to drink fresh coconut.
bangkok_blog

On every corner you can find a 7/11 for drinks, dirt cheap cup noodles (and in 7/11 they always have hot water) and another cheap backpacker snack are the 7/11 toasties (unfortunately no veg options). Ok, when we are already at 7/11 (and no, this is not a paid ad 😉 ), check out all the junk food flavors (chips, chocolates etc) as they are very different to ours in Europe.

If you haven’t heard about Jay Fai, you will learn about this incredible woman now . She’s a street food cook awarded with a Michelin star. Get that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a table as booking has to be made at least 3 months in advance.

For all the vegan food lovers out there: a very good restaurant is Ethos near KSR. We always had very good clean food there and the prices are very good compared to the quality of the food.
bangkok_blog

On KSR you’ll have the possibility to try the quirky stuff like worms, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and even crocodile.
bangkok_blog

4. Shopping

This is my favorite activity in Bangkok besides eating. In this city you can literally shop from dusk till dawn. And you find everything from designer brands, local rising designers, cheap Chinese fakes and local cute stuff. There are numerous markets in the city from morning markets like the one in Pratunam, busy night markets like Khao San Road (and Pratunam again), weekend markets with the mother of all markets Chathuchak and of course floating markets like the very toristy Damnoen Sudak. We really enjoyed the less touristy Amphawa floating markets, a great trip outside city is the unique Maeklong railway market and in the evening a visit to the train market is unforgettable.

bangkok_blog
Train market in Bangkok

bangkok_blog


From the shopping centers you have to check out MBK, the neighbouring Siam Paragon, hosts more expensive brands, but my all time favorite is Platinum fashion mall. A true eye candy is the relatively new Icon Siam Mall on the river front – you can get a free boat from Sathorn (Taksin) station. Inside is a beautiful food court, an indoor floating market and small shops with souvenirs (but a bit higher prices). Also an attractive evening food and shopping market is Asiatique The Riverfront (also free boats from Sathorn (Taksin) where you can ride a ferris wheel.

bangkok_blog
Asiatique
bangkok_blog
Iconsiam
bangkok_blog
Inside Iconsiam
bangkok_blog
MBK and the skywalk which connect all the other shopping centers like Siam Paragon etc.

A few years ago there were more fake goods on the market, on our last visit we didn’t see so many anymore in case you are interested in that 😉

5. Temples

You can’t say you visited Bangkok without visiting at least one temple. And there are so many you’ll have a hard time deciding which one. Kind of a tourist must are: Wat Pho (the big reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (temple of dawn). Both are conveniently located if you also plan to visit the Royal palace (you can visit all 3 on foot, just take the ferry across the river to visit Wat Arun). To avoid spending extra money for renting sarongs, bring your own scarf or dress properly – knees and shoulders must be covered (for both men and women). Also never turn your feet toward Buddha or other people, don’t touch a monk, don’t point with a finger and of course take off your shoes. You can get blessed by a monk (a nice and memorable experience), but show respect and give a donation. Also don’t buy Buddhas as decoration and if you have a Buddha tatoo by any chance, hide it all the time (not just in temples).
Bangkok
bangkok_blog

bangkok_blog

bangkok_blog

6. Other things to visit

I could write a whole book on all the things you can see and do in Bangkok. But as you’re probably short on time, I’ll share some of my favorite and most memorable. Besides all the food markets mentioned above and the shopping, we enjoyed:

We like to see cities from above, that’s why we visited some rooftop bars and observation towers. For all the Hangover movie fans definitely the Lebua sky bar, but the prices are much higher than on the ground 😉 Still – you only live once 😉  We also visited the new King Power Mahakhon from which you’ll have a 360 view over the city and the river. Another highlight is the Skywalk – a glass balcony 310 meters high.
bangkok_blog

Bangkok

Bangkok

Bangkok has also the biggest golden teak mansion named Vimanmek Mansion. Again, here you have to dress properly, but you can get free clothes to borrow. Inside is a gallery and the gardens outside are beautiful.

A very interesting place is the snake farm, visit China town and the nearby train station and if you are fed up with all the crowds and noise, hire a long tail boat and get into the klongs of Bangkok.

You can also visit Sea world, Maddame Tusauds and other attraction we are used to in Europe, but we never did that.

There are also some quirky “attractions” like the ghost tower or the airplane graveyard.

And not to forget – Bangkok is famous for its red light districts. Here I can’t tell you a lot as we are quite a boring couple and we never paid a girl/boy/ladyboy for any services. We are just guilty of walking through these districts: Patpong, Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and Soi Twilight (gay oriented). You will probably also be offered the “pink pong show” where pink pogk balls are shot out of certain women’s body parts. I’ll let your imagination do the rest but I didn’t want to go more into this as I also didn’t want to see this show. A show which is supposed to be worth your time and money is the  Calypso cabaret; a cabaret with ladyboys (next time definitely on my BKK list).

An unforgettable experience was also seeing a Muay Thai fight.

You are probably super tired of all the activities, right? A must for EVERY day here is a spa visit (and I’m serious, when in Bangkok I go to the spa every day). The more bendy ones among you should try the traditional thai massage, but also a normal oil massage is fine. Oh, and not to forget – after a long day of walking around, shopping and exploring a foot massage is like heaven. A normal price for a massage is around 250 baht (the cheapest we saw was 180 baht). For a unique experience head to Wat Pho where a traditional thai massage school offers massages (but the prices are higher than mentioned above).
Bangkok

Bangkok
For a real Thai massage you’ll get special clothes and then get ready to get bent and twisted 😉

A good start to get an overview and see the “basic” sights is the walking tour from the Lonely Planet. We did that 11 years ago on our first visit to Bangkok and really enjoyed it.

I know this a lot to take in, but I love Bangkok and want to share with you as much as possible. I hope I could give some ideas and inspiration and when you’re there enjoy and have a som tam and a mango sticky rice for me ❤

Here’s our Bangkok video from our last visit

 

 

 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s