Here is a travel guide to Bangkok, with our compliments. Please contact us if you would like information on flights, hotels, car rental or travel insurance.
Chaotic, carnal and congested, Thailand’s capital is divided by the Chao Phraya River and is nestled in one of the world’s most fertile rice-producing deltas. Bangkok’s 579 square miles (1,500 sq km) are criss-crossed by a series of canals carrying passengers and cargo, its roads clotted with endless traffic jams, while the city sprawls in all directions with a hodgepodge of urban, commercial and industrial buildings. A new overland metropolitan railway speeds above the city, providing visitors with a relaxed and efficient way to observe the hustle and bustle below.
Despite its pollution and overcrowding, Bangkok is undoubtedly one of Asia’s most exciting cities, and one of the world’s largest, promising to reveal to each traveller the wild and untamed mysteries of the east. Khao San Road is one of the city’s most vibrant streets, and is probably one of the best examples in the world of a backpacker’s ‘ghetto’. Day and night the short stretch of road is abuzz with activity. On the banks of the Chao Phraya visitors will find the Grand Palace as well as Wat Phra Kaew, the palace temple housing the Emerald Buddha, constructed entirely from translucent green jade. Slightly upriver are the exquisitely ornamented Royal Barges, still used today for special floating processions.
Of the 30 or so temples in Bangkok, the largest is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which houses an impressive statue of the deity. The famous Floating Market is a delight to visitors and well worth a visit. As the sun lurches towards the horizon in the west and the sweat cools, this city of royalty and religion comes alive with a palpable decadence. Music and dazzling neon advertise a miasma of trendy bars and nightclubs, as well as the notorious ‘girlie joints’ that have ensured the Patpong district its reputation for hedonism.
Though the city’s frenetic pace and infamous congestion can be overwhelming, a holiday in Bangkok is a must for anyone travelling in Thailand.
Bangkok is notorious for the huge volume of traffic and traffic jams, but this has eased slightly over the years with the introduction of the elevated monorail, the Skytrain, which currently has two lines running above Bangkok’s central areas and provides a much quicker and easier alternative to the bus. The Bangkok Metro, established in 2004, has one route and covers areas not connected by the Skytrain. The Metro intersects with the Skytrain at three points and has 18 stations, with frequent services running until midnight. The extensive bus system has always been the main form of public transport, and they are the cheapest, most frequent mode of travel around the city (THB 3.50 to most destinations), but they should be used with care due to pickpockets and bag snatchers taking advantage of the squash.
The easiest, fastest and most interesting way to get around is on the waterways of the Chao Phraya River where numerous river taxis, long-tail boats and large waterbuses make most tourist sites easily reachable for about THB 10. Tuk tuks (colourful three-wheelers) are the standard way of making short journeys and are cheaper and quicker than regular taxis, but fares should be negotiated before boarding. Metered and un-metered taxis are air-conditioned, but be aware that drivers don’t carry much change. Any taxi or tuk tuk can be hired for a day’s tour of the sights (THB 500-800). If in a desperate rush during gridlock, motorcycle taxis can be hired, which are cheaper and faster, but passengers will need nerves of steel, and they should only be used for short distances. They can be recognised by the colourful, numbered vests worn by drivers.
One fun way to see Bangkok is by bicycle. The city loans free bikes to tourists for two set routes along the river; the east side goes past some of the biggest temples, while the west side goes through more residential areas. be sure to ask for a bike lock so you can stop and sightsee at the attractions along your way.
The most visited attractions in Bangkok expose visitors to Thailand’s fascinating history despite Bangkok’s relatively recent construction as a city. The most impressive of these is the enormous and extremely ornate Grand Palace, and the adjacent Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Numerous temples spread over older districts near Chao Phraya River, making up an inexhaustible number of interesting visits, each one uniquely religiously significant.
Attractions in Bangkok aren’t all serene sights as the city has also holds a vibrant and flashy appeal. Among the most fun of attractions is watching a Muay Thai boxing fight; put some money down to increase the thrills. Bustling markets, which sell literally almost everything, can be wandered for a full day, especially the giant Chatuchak weekend market.
The unique character of Bangkok neighbourhoods encompass many small treasures. Both Khao San road in Banglamphu district and alleys off of Sukhumvit are attractions in themselves. The first is a backpacker’s Disneyland, and the second an expat playground famous for its debauchery. Little Arabia, a middle-eastern district, is also a unique and fun place to explore. Hiring a river cruise is the only real tour of the city, although only a few attractions are visited.
Contrary to popular belief, Bangkok is a fantastic place for parents to bring their kids on holiday. From zoos and theme parks to museums and indoor playgrounds, there are plenty of things for children to see and do in Bangkok, more than enough to keep the little ones happy. When the sun is shining in this, one of the hottest cities in the world, take the kids to one of the fantastic water parks, such as Siam Park, Leoland Water Park, or even Fantasia Lagoon to cool off; or for something really cool, take the children ice skating at the Sub Zero Ice Skate Club. Want something a little less energetic? Take a stroll through the Queen Sirikit Gardens and stop in at the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium where the kids will enjoy the hundreds of beautifully-coloured butterflies dancing around them. When the weather in Bangkok is either too hot, or it’s raining and outdoor activities with children are not an option, take the kids to one of the many indoor playgrounds dotted around the city, such as Yoyoland in the Seacon Square shopping complex, or Jamboree Land in the Emporium Shopping Complex. Older kids will enjoy the MBK Video Arcade, located in the MBK Shopping Centre.
Food is an inescapable part of everything in Bangkok, with every home, market and small alley continually throwing chopped ingredients into a hot wok. This has made nearly everyone both an expert chef and food connoisseur, having the curious effect of finding the very best meals made in the most unexpected locations. While ambiance is often wanting, peeling walls and plastic chairs provide just enough bare bones restaurant amenities to serve the best food in the city. Portable food stalls line the busy streets, creating a continuous unofficial buffet. It is a mistake to be put off by such street vendors, as many tourists are, as they are Bangkok’s great equaliser, bringing the very richest and poorest together at a table. If your stomach is wary however, try one of the food courts in the shopping malls and markets for equally cheap and tasty eats. These are also a great alternative on Mondays, when street vendors are banned from trading. Try the clusters of stalls in Surawong and Silom Roads, the Khao San Road Area, and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Choosing between one restaurant and another is a difficult task, but in general, follow the local crowds. For a quieter meal or more luxurious settings many unique restaurants can be fun. Some truly unique places can be found in Chinatown, with trendy dining along Sukhumvit and cheap western food in Banglamphu. The most romantic restaurants are along the Chao Phraya River or on it, aboard one of the many dinner cruises.
Phranakorn Bar and Gallery
Across the Ratchadamnoen Klang road from Banglamphu district is a popular but low key hangout for the local trend setters. Most come for the ambiance rather than the food as the first floor usually hosts a live band, the second an art gallery, the third a pool hall, and the fourth an open air terrace with beautiful views, all filled with cheerful diners and drinkers.
Address: 58/2 Soi Damnoenklang Tai | Telephone: +66 2 622 0282
This upscale restaurant epitomises elegance with white clapboard walls adorned with Thai carvings, old photos, and prints of early Bangkok. The flagship dish is pressed duck with goose liver, shallots, wine and Armagnac to make the sauce. Other fine choices include a rack of lamb a la Provençal and salmon with lemongrass. Open daily for dinner from 6pm to midnight. Reservations advisable.
Address: 59 Sukhumvit Soi 8 | Telephone: (0)2 253 5556 | Website: www.le-banyan.com
A firm favourite in Bangkok’s dining scene, May Kaidee is really informal, but serves some of the most mouth-watering vegetarian and vegan food the city has to offer. Known for serving the best massaman curry in Thailand and an array of dishes, from sweet green curry to good stir-fries and black sticky-rice with mango for dessert, this eatery is a must! May Kaidee is also a Thai cooking school, so if you love the cuisine you can come back and learn to make it yourself. Open daily from 7am to 11pm. Cash only.
Address: 33 Samsen Road, Soi 2, Bang-lam-phu | Telephone: (0)89 137 3173 | Website: www.maykaidee.com
The Mango Tree
This 80-year-old Siamese restaurant house features its very own tropical garden and offers a quiet retreat from Bangkok’s chaotic Patpong area. The food may not be authentic, but it’s delicious and the diverse menu with choices such as mild, green chicken curry and crispy spring rolls won’t leave guests disappointed. Live traditional music and classic Thai decorative touches create a wonderfully charming atmosphere. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.
Address: 37 Soi Tantawan, Surawongse Road | Telephone: (0)2 236 2820 | Website: www.coca.com/mangotree/
This restaurant may not have the best, or indeed any, atmosphere for that matter, but the food is simply delicious and well worth it for those who are willing to make the sacrifice. A popular eatery, Somboon Seafood is regularly packed with friendly staff and with such a vast menu, guests will find themselves coming back time and again. The restaurant also features a large aquarium full of live seafood such as prawn, fish, lobster and crab. The house specialty, chilli crab curry, comes highly recommended. Open daily from 4pm to 11pm. Credit cards not accepted.
Address: 169/7-11 Surawongse Rd | Telephone: (0)2 233 3104 | Website: www.somboonseafood.com
The Rain Tree Café
The Rain Tree Café offers a buffet of Thai and international food for breakfast, lunch and dinner ideal for family meals. Their Vodka Oyster Bar has four kinds of imported oysters, and special seafood buffets are offered on Fridays and Saturdays. Come on Sunday between 12 and 3pm for a Champagne Sunday Brunch.
This vibey Bangkok restaurant has live music and karaoke in addition to spicy Thai food at reasonable prices and a Japanese sushi corner. The large restaurant has good views from its position on the riverside, and the lavish décor of waterfalls and springs add to the festive atmosphere.
Address: 199/1 Rat Burana | Telephone: +66(0)4273341
The very popular South Indian aromatic cuisine known as Dosa is a Punjabi dish traditionally eaten with the hands, consisting of a rice and lentil pancake, crepe or tortilla traditionally folded with a potato curry or other savoury filling, and served with a vegetable and lentil broth called sambar. A purely vegetarian restaurant in Bangkok, Dosa King is ideal for a quick and healthy meal for those exploring Sukhumvit. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Address: 153/7, Sukhumvit Rd, Soi -11/1 | Telephone: (0)2 651 1700 | Website: www.dosaking.net
Just around the corner from the bustling backpacker district the quiet coffee shop is a great stop for breakfast or early lunch. The dark wooden interior transports diners to old Siam although omelettes and baguettes are often welcome tastes of the west. Ricky’s recently moved down the street, and the new location has added Mexican food to the menu. Open 8am to 11pm.
Address: 18 Th Phra Athit | Telephone: 2629 0509
Popular with Westerners and just a short walk from the skytrain, Lemongrass serves some of Bangkok’s finest Nouvelle Thai cuisine. Favourites on the menu include pomelo salad and chicken satay. The tom yang kung (a spicy sweet-and-sour prawn soup with ginger shoots) is delicious and comes highly recommended. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings are advisable.
Address: 5/1 Sukhumvit Soi 24 | Telephone: (0)2 258 8637
Anyone who’s been to Thailand will know that the shopping in Bangkok is second to none – you can literally shop till you drop! Prices are cheap, markets line the streets touting everything from fake designer wares to cheap leather sandals and tourist t-shirts, bargains are endless and haggling is a way of life. Many of the items for sale are the same throughout all the markets in Thailand so it’s best to scout around for some original-looking buys.
Patpong night market is a must and great fun to wander through on a balmy Bangkok evening, though bear in mind this market is situated in the red light district of the city so don’t be alarmed at the touts and half naked ladies outside the bars. Khao San road is also brimming with stalls selling all kinds of counterfeit clobber. Plenty of snacks and eats can also be found on the side of the road stalls, but watch out for some of the more unconventional Thai delicacies, such as deep fried locusts. The biggest market in Bangkok is the Chatuchak Weekend Market, with 15,000 stalls selling spices, leather goods, and practically everything under the sun that can fit inside a tourist’s backpack.
The MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok offers more expensive and better quality wares than the markets on the sides of the streets and prices here when converted are not much cheaper than in other countries. Other popular shopping malls include Central World, Erawan, Mah Boon Krong, and Panthip Plaza. Sukhumvit is the place to go for fahion, designer goods and custom-made suits.
Many shops are open seven days a week and 12 hours a day, while street markets have longer hours, often staying open until 11pm. VAT in Thailand is 7% and this can be refunded on goods bought to the value of THB 2,000 (including VAT) in shops labelled ‘VAT refund for tourists’. Forms must be completed at the point of purchase and your passport must be shown. Shoppers can obtain their cash refunds to the minimum value of THB 5,000 in the airport departure hall.
Neon lights, go-go bars, ladyboys and mysterious cocktails: Bangkok’s nightlife enjoys an international reputation for wild abandon.
Go-go bars in Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and in the strip clubs surrounding Pat Pong night market aren’t only the territory of the unscrupulous but also expat hangouts with cheap drinks and an open air feel. The bright lights, cat calls, costumed patrons and scandalous behaviour will make one’s head start to swim. Thai Red Bull is next added to the concoction, giving a jolt of energy to the night. Hip clubs with hip-hop beats and electro rhythms (often at the same place) vie for hot spot coolness. RCA sports a block of trendy and densely packed clubs for young party goers. To spread out, literally, Bed Club has long been at the centre of the cool crowd and offers an ultra modern bed spread interior. Khao San road is known more as a backpacker hangout but underneath (again, literally) are popular Thai clubs like Lava with a cavernous appeal and trans music mixing with the Billboard’s top ten. Less eccentric but reliable Coca-Cola gives the bucket its sweet taste. Up and down Bangkok are the standard assortment of pubs, chic hotel lounges and bars. Many foreigners prefer sections closer to Sukhumvit Road but parts of Banglamphu (Khao San excluded) and Ratchadeaphiseck have more trendy local bars. Giant beer gardens are always a fun way to sample the local brew and entertainment. Lastly, a handful of friends are needed to drink away the bucket and the night.
The airport is situated 19 miles (30km) east of Bangkok.
Getting to the city
The free shuttle bus (Express route) transports passengers to the Transport Centre from where public buses, taxis and rental cars can be found. Taxis can also be found on Level 1 at Arrivals. Public buses run several routes from the Transport Centre to Bangkok, while the Airport Express provides air-conditioned coaches between the airport and first-class hotels in downtown Bangkok. There is also a Limousine Service counter on the 2nd floor of the Arrivals Hall.
Tel: +66 (0)2 132 1888 or +66 (0)2 132 3888.
Car rental companies are represented by local and international operators. The Car Rental service counter at Arrivals will make bookings, and the shuttle bus will transport customers to the Transport Centre to pick up rental cars.
From the airport passengers can either catch a taxi from the departure terminal or ride a free shuttle to the Public Transportation Center and hire one from there. Travel time depends greatly on traffic but is at least 30 minutes and can be much more. An exit fee is expected to be paid by the passenger although this can be paid at the end of the ride. Passengers can request the driver use the expressway which will cost small additional fee. Rides will cost between THB 200-400.
Transfer between terminals
Shuttle buses provide a free service between the main terminal and the transport centre, as well as connecting other airport facilities.
Currency exchange is available on Level 2 at Arrivals, and ATMs are located throughout the terminal building. Public telephones are widely available. A tourist information service is located in the Arrivals hall on Level 2, duty free shopping and a myriad of restaurants, wine bars and fast food outlets are also available.
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