1. Do I need a visa before I leave?
Most countries citizens can obtain a visa on arrival in Thailand if you are planning on staying for up to 30 days (for arrival by air) and 15 days (for arrival by land). It is always best to check with your local consulate prior to travel to make sure this applies to you.
If you wish to stay longer than 30/15 days you will have to obtain a tourist visa. For both of these visas you may have to produce evidence of a departure flight.
There has been recent talk about Thailand implementing an entrance fee for tourists, this would be a payment due on arrival but it has yet to be confirmed (as of Jan 2014).
A good site for visa stay information by country is http://www.thaivisa.com/passport-holders-can-enter-thailand-without-visa.html
2. What is the currency?
It is advisable to get some money exchanged before you travel so you have money for a taxi or Tuk Tuk once you arrive. Also make sure you shop around for the best currency exchange, have an idea of the days ROE (rate of exchange) and try to find one that doesn’t charge commission.
If arriving by air, the two main airports have ATMs where you can withdraw Thai baht using most credit cards. Withdrawal fees vary, but generally 150baht (about $5) up to 200baht is typical for an international card.
3. What is the best time to visit?
In Bangkok it is pretty hot all year round
The seasons are really broken up into Rainy Season and Non Rainy Season. The rainy season begins in late May and lasts until October or Mid November. Most days you can expect afternoon showers, however during this time flooding is known to occur.
Bangkok gets a little less hot and a bit dryer from mid November until mid February, this is high season and the time of year where tourism is at it’s peak. It’s still a good idea to carry an umbrella during this time either to keep the sun off or for the random afternoon shower.
From Mid February to May things get very, very hot and sticky with temperatures in the high 30s (Celsius) or about 100 Fahrenheit.
4. What is the nightlife like?
Insane! Bangkok has something for absolutely everyone.
You can head out on Khao San Road and the surrounding roads and find a variety of bars and restaurants offering solo acoustic guitar players, full live bands and a selection of the latest and greatest chart toppers being blasted out into the streets until all hours of the night.
Shop around the area until you find a place with good happy hour drink specials and the kind of music scene you enjoy. You can find a 630ml beer for under 59baht ($2US).
Silom (District)- here you find your selection of “ping pong” bars (in Phat Pong) and also the GLBT district. Be wary of the scams at the ping pong shows if you do decide to go. The GLBT area has some cosy bars with some decent drinks specials, also sometimes offering some live music.
This is just a couple of options but if you are looking for more information check out http://www.bangkok.com/nightlife/
5. What’s the best way to travel about town?
There are 5 main transport options in Bangkok
Taxis are a great comfortable way to get around town as they are air conditioned. Make sure you only take metered taxis and make sure the driver turns it on. Sometimes during peak hour they may refuse to put on the metre, you can either keep hailing cabs until one will turn on the metre OR barter for a fair price for the trip.
The traditional motorised carriages of Asia. These are a lot of fun for a first time traveller! Well actually, no matter how many times you’ve been. Number 1. Rule is to always negotiate a price before getting into the Tuk Tuk!
There are some Tuk Tuk scams where they offer to show you the tourist sites for 10 baht because it’s a “special day”. It’s Not! They will take you to a shitty Buddha statue and then spend the afternoon driving you to jewellery stores and suit tailors, as they get kickbacks from the store owners If you buy.
Just politely say no thank-you and find someone who isn’t out to scam you.
Only take these if you enjoy the thrill of possible death!
These guys zigzag in and out of traffic at high speeds in a way that is terrifying.
You will discover quickly that road rules in Asia are very different from any Western country, as it appears there isn’t any rules! Unless you’re desperate for a quick, petrifying ride somewhere I would avoid these guys.
If you do take a motor taxi always negotiate the price first! They should be cheaper than a tuk-tuk and will often take 2 passengers – which can be uncomfortable for those of Western size!
The ferry can be an interesting and affordable way to get to different areas of BKK. There are a variety of different ferries from the direct commuter to tourist ferries that, for a little more in fare, has it’s own tour guide pointing out sites along the river.
Most commuter ferries should cost less than 30 baht (more for tourist boat).
The main ferry route for tourists is from Saphan Thaksin Sky Train stop to Phra Athit (near Khao San Road)
For more information head to Bangkok.com
Metro: MRT & BTS
There is also a metro and skytrain system, however they only has a couple of lines and you can’t get all over town using it. We often use a combination of taxi and metro as an easy and cheaper way to get about Bangkok, plus the metro avoids the horrible traffic jams! Here’s a link to the Transit Bangkok webpage that has information on bus, MRT and BTS services. Trips start from about 20baht for the first few stops and increase by distance.
6. What is there to do?
Eat Authentic Thai Food:
Thai food is world renowned. So don’t be lame and spend your time eating Mcdonalds because it’s the “safe” option.
More on Food in Question 9 but rest assured, food, drink and fun are one of Bangkok’s top draws.
Visit the Chatuchak Markets:
This insane market has all of your shopping needs in one place. Here you can spend hours and hours visiting stalls with everything from standard shitty souvenirs to local designer clothing. There is also a homewares and pet section which is interesting to browse around.
If you want something, anything? It’s bound to be there!
Visit the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) & Wat Arun
This tourist site is one that is really worth the effort. The reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long and is situated in a complex that is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok.
The impressive reclining Buddha is decorated with gold leaf and the soles of his massive feet are coated in mother of pearl. The sheer size of this Buddha is well worth the trip.
If your are in the area also grab the ferry across the river to Wat Arun. This Wat is a place for some great photo opportunities and the climb to the top is fun and yet terrifying due to the incredible steepness. Head here at sunset for some great river shots.
Remember, both of these are religious sites and you are required to dress appropriately. This means covered shoulders and shorts/skirts that reach below your knees. They can be very strict on these rules and can deny you entry for not dressing appropriately.
7. Is it safe?
Bangkok is as safe as any big city BUT you do have to be careful.
There are certain tourist traps that people often become victim to:
- Pickpocketing – first time travellers tend not to be as savvy with keeping a close eye on their wallets, bags etc. and pickpockets are rife. Be alert and don’t carry too much money with you or anything too valuable.
- Mugging / Bag Snatching – Thai people are generally peaceful by nature so face to face muggings are uncommon but do happen. Often robberies will occur by a motorbike riding by and snatching your bag off your shoulder or out of your Tuk Tuk.Ways to stop this is by not leaving your bags in a way that can easily be grabbed. If you are in a Tuk Tuk put your foot through the strap if it’s on the floor or keep it close to your body. Only have bags that go over your entire body with a shoulder strap, or wear your backpack on the front of you to avoid anyone slashing your bag to steal your things without you knowing.
- Scams – there are a million and one scams that occur in BKK. Everything from the previously mentioned “10 Baht Tuk Tuk” scam to the scams run at the notorious “Ping Pong Show” district. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
There has also recently been some political unrest in the city with many demonstrations being staged in the streets. So far this has been mostly peaceful however it is best to proceed with caution into “high tension” areas. Keep an eye on tourist information sites like Thai Visa Forum for up to date information.
Stay Alert, Be Smart and follow your instincts and you should have a great trip with no incidents at all.
8. Where should I stay?
There are lots of different areas to stay in in Bangkok but these are the 3 we recommend
1. Silom – this district is growing in popularity and prices have risen in recent years. Here you are in close walking distance to the MRT, also the Silom night market is a great place to find any “genuine fake” item of clothing, handbags or sunglasses you may desire.
This district is also know for the infamous “ping pong” shows and the GLBT district where you can find some great trendy bars with decent drink specials. The GLBT area is open and accommodating to all who wish to visit as long as you’re respectful.
Silom is however a little more expensive than option 2…
2. Khao San Road – this is the main backpacker district and where most first time travellers will gravitate to.
With it’s selection of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and markets stalls it’s a easy transition point to get used to the manic of Asia. You can even find many home comforts like Mcdonalds, KFC, Subway and the like.
However there is some fantastic street Pad Thai or Rotti with Banana and Nutella to be tried. You can also find an occasional lady selling bugs and scorpion for those more daring!
The Khao San area is mental, so don’t expect to get much sleep if you stay central! For a quieter option, there are plenty of guesthouses and hostels “off” Khao San.
Just on the edge of Chinatown, near the river, you will find an assortment of trendy guesthouses opening up that have a lot to offer. You can score a guesthouse with a pretty decent view, but prices are rising here as well, as places revamp for a more fashionable “flash packer” market. Being close to the river means it’s easy to get around by water taxi or ferry so transport is not an issue.
n central Chinatown you can find everything from a few dirty backstreet hostels (Not well advertised online) to some mid-range and up scale hotels. The vibrant atmosphere and street food and cheap markets make this a desirable location to visit as an alternative to the backpacker vibe of Khao San. The best time is at the weekends when street restaurants will be packed!
9. Where/what should I eat?
There are a multitude of places to choose from for food, all the way from street food up to your five star restaurants.
Some must tries dishes are:
- Pad Thai (The world famous noodle dish!)
- Gaeng Daeng (Red Curry made with aromatic Thai curry paste)
- Thai Spicy Noodle Salad (Prepared with glass noodles and chili)
- Mango with sticky Rice (Eaten as breakfast or dessert)
- Tom Yum Goong (Spicy and sour shrimp soup)
- Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
- Yam Nua (Spicy Beef Salad)
- Pak Boong (Morning Glory – a bit like spinach and cooked with garlic)
- Kai Med Ma Muang (Chicken with Cashew Nuts – a classic and different from the Chinese style)
- Thai Sweet and Sour (Also a variation on the well known Chinese dish)
If you are nervous about it being too spicy just ask for it to be mild. If you want an insane chilli experience this can sometimes be more difficult as Thai people don’t think we can handle it. Ask for it to be made “Thai spicy” not Western spicy and just hope they come through!
Many tourists find themselves on or near Khao San Road at some stage. Around Khao San there are both sit down restaurants and street food options to choose from, which also includes a variety of Western food selections. This area is also a great place to pick up a decent Indian curry!
For vegetarians finding food can be a little tricky as many Thai people don’t always consider pork to be meat, this can be an unlucky surprise for a hungry traveller. However many restaurants in the “touristy” areas have grown more accustomed to vegetarianism and can cater to your needs. You can also ask for “Monk’s Food” as the buddhist monks are expected not to eat meat.
For a great, cheap feed, did we mention Chinatown on the weekend? Yes we did! It’s great and you will find a large selection of street stalls all offering different tasty treats. Look out for the roast duck
10. Can I drink the tap water?
As with many parts of Asia it is not safe to drink tap water. Buy bottled water, it’s cheap and easily available. It’s always best to make sure that the bottle is properly sealed before you buy it, just to prevent the possibility of tampering.
We always buy bottled water (Generally less than 15baht for 1.5litres in 7-eleven) to drink. We have never had a problem with brushing our teeth with the tap water.
If you are concerned though, stick to bottled water. You don’t want to have to worry about spending your whole trip on the toilet!
Read more about adventure travel in Thailand at www.fivedollartraveller.com.