Bangkok is the very big capital of Thailand, known as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, or simply Krung Thep. Millions of people visit Bangkok every year. It’s such a fast paced, vibrant city with so much to offer. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres (605.7 sq mi) in the Chao Phraya River delta in Central Thailand, and has a population of over 8 million, or 12.6 percent of the country’s population. Over 14 million people (22.2 percent) live within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region, making Bangkok an extreme primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand’s other urban centres in terms of importance. There are 581 high-rise buildings in the city, ranking number 5 in the world.
Arriving in Bangkok
Bangkok is likely the entry point in Thailand for millions of tourists. The main international airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport is massive. Suvarnabhumi is the twentieth busiest airport in the world, sixth busiest airport in Asia, and the busiest in the country, having handled 53 million passengers in 2012, and is also a major air cargo hub, with a total of 95 airlines.
The second airport is Don Mueang on the opposite side of the city. Since the opening of the new airport (Suvarnabhumi), it has become a regional commuter flight hub and the de facto low-cost airline hub. In 2015, it became the world’s largest low cost carrier airport. The airport is considered to be one of the world’s oldest international airports and Asia’s oldest operating airport. Currently, Don Mueang is the main hub for Nok Air, Thai AirAsia, Thai Lion Air, and Orient Thai Airlines.
Getting Around Bangkok
First time visitors to Bangkok will find it fast, crazy, and possibly overwhelming. The traffic is absolute bedlam at any time of the day. It can take hours to get anywhere by road; even short distances around the city. Life is made easier by the train system and the river boats. The skytrain makes getting around so much faster and quite inexpensive. All the main shopping areas are serviced by sky train stations. There is also the MRT rail lines which service other areas effectively. Consider taking the trains when you visit Bangkok.
Bangkok’s Chao Praya River has a very efficient boat system which can get you around quickly; avoiding all the road traffic. Boats come and go frequently and are very cheap. They are identified by the coloured flag they fly. Orange, green, yellow or no flag. Each boat travels on a different route. You can find out more by clicking here to view the Chao Praya Express Boat Services web site. The easiest and fastest way to see the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho (the temple of the Reclining Buddha) is by catching the sky train and then a river boat.
Tuk Tuk Madness
If you have nerves of steel, take a ride in a tuk-tuk. Be prepared for lots of exhaust fumes, crazy driving and far less security than a cab. You may also be the victim of a scam – either taken to a “shop” usually a jewellery store or a suit making shop, or charged too much for the distance travelled. Keep your eyes wide open if you decide to take tuk-tuks. There’s been many a tourist had their bag grabbed from the back of a tuk-tuk by motorbike thieves. Also, keep your arms inside the tuk-tuk as bikes go very close and could easily catch your arm and tear it off! You need to be very careful of your belongings when you visit Bangkok.
The Ever Reliable Taxi – or is it?
If you want to travel by road, it’s far safer to take a taxi. Again, keep your eyes wide open and insist that the driver turn on the meter. Most will refuse and try to bargain a price for the fare. The bargained fare will be way more than what the meter will show, even in heavy traffic. You are entitled to get out of the taxi if the driver will not turn on the meter. Some days we have had to let 3 or more taxis go because they would not use the meter. It’s worth it to stand your ground and insist on the meter. If more tourists do that, more drivers will use it and the problem will be far reduced. The only time we have not used the meter is from the airport when we have needed an “översized car” (ie a minivan) to take all our luggage. They charged 700 baht for a one way trip from the airport into the city to our hotel. I’ve also disregarded the meter coming out of Asiatique around 10.30pm, as the driver only wanted 100 baht to get us back to our hotel. He was a lovely guy and worked long hours so we gave him 200 baht. The difference here is that he did not try to scam us – he offered a reasonable price for the trip. If he’d said 200 baht we would have looked for another taxi. Also check with any nice taxi drivers you ride with as they might have a business card with a number you can call to use them again. We have done that too – booked a taxi driver to take us back to the airport when we were ready to leave. Some entrepreneurial drivers will offer this service without you needing to ask. You’ll know when you meet them!
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Staying in Bangkok
You will be totally overwhelmed by hotel choices in Bangkok. You really need to make a list of your priorities for a hotel and then research the locations. Each area has something different to offer. The first couple of times we visited Bangkok, we split our time in 2 different areas. For first time visitors, I’d suggest a hotel close to the sky train Sukhumvit line and a hotel on the river. If it’s only for a couple of days, then definitely stay on the Sukhumvit line so you can get around quickly. Our favourite hotel is the Pathumwan Princess which is attached to the shopping mall, MBK. It’s also at a sky train junction so you can catch a different line. Over by the river, we have stayed at The Chatrium and found it to be a great hotel. The views from the 27th floor were absolutely stunning!
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The Areas to see when you visit Bangkok
1. Khao San/ Banglamphu Area (orange)
2. Bangkok Riverside (green)
3. Sukhumvit Area (blue)
4. Silom Area (yellow)
5. Siam Area (pink)
6. Pratunam Area (grey)
7. Chinatown Area (cyan)
8. The International Airport Suvarnabhumi Area (red)
The Khao San Area
Khao San is the most famous part of Bangkok, and anyone backpacking through SE-Asia will come through here at one time or another. It`s mostly young backpackers on limited budgets staying here, so you won’t find any five stars hotels in this area, but there are plenty of budget guesthouses and some decent mid-range hotels.
If you are in Bangkok to party, this is the place to be! Here you will find “happy hour” both day and night. Even if you don`t choose to stay in this area, it is still a fun place to visit. Have a cold Chang beer at one of the many street pubs and watch the craziness. You will also find cheap Thai street food and markets selling affordable, and trendy clothes, shoes, and accessories in the busy streets in and around Khao San Road. This area is also popular among young hip Thais that come here to party.
Bangkok’s Riverside is bursting its banks full of top quality attractions; so much so that any trip to the Thai capital will feel seemingly incomplete without venturing to the majestic Chao Phraya River at least once. As well as offering an escape from the traffic and congestion of downtown Bangkok, the Riverside is full of fascinating temples that straddle its sides, quaint markets that pop up at night around the numerous ferry piers and a whole host of other fun attractions throughout the area.
Many of the best attractions at Riverside Bangkok involve being on the water itself. Fantastic cruises offer an alternative perspective of the Chao Phraya and all the major landmarks, particularly spectacular when the riverside is lit up at night. The most famous tourist attractions are The Grand Palace and Wat Arun.
The longest road in Thailand, both it and its many adjoining ‘sois’ (sub-streets) are poor on traditional tourist attractions but rich in of-the-minute shopping, eating and nightlife. The many fashionable restaurants, bars, air-conditioned malls, luxury hotels and hip clubs give the area a distinctly modern, cosmopolitan flavour.
Some of the city’s most sinful spots, red-light districts Nana Plaza (Soi 4) and Soi Cowboy (off Soi 23) are also found here. And little, stress-busting pockets of calm can be found in the sweet cafes, atmospheric restaurants and lush day spas that hide down many of its sois. Making exploring its staggering length incredibly easy is the Skytrain (BTS) that runs through most of its downtown stretch.
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Silom is undoubtedly one of the city’s most important financial districts with many bank headquarters, financial institutions and office buildings. Fine hotels, smaller type malls and great restaurants abound in the area too – and then of course there’s the famous nightlife scene of Patpong.
Bangkok’s two most sophisticated mass transportation systems – the Skytrain (BTS) and underground – both have Silom connections, which are also conveniently connected by the walkway between MRT Silom and BTS Sala Daeng stations. Siam, Chidlom, Ploenchit, Sathorn, and the riverside are only a few BTS stations away.
Siam is unquestionably the centre of shopping in Bangkok, home to some of the city’s most popular and important shopping centers like MBK Center, Siam Discovery Center, Siam Center, and Siam Paragon. If you visit Bangkok, you simply must take a look at these amazing malls.
Within Siam Square itself, there is a wide range of shops and services, including restaurants, cafes, designer clothing boutiques, record stores, cinemas, bookshops, a Hard Rock Cafe, hotels and banks. The shoppers vary from young-aged school and college students to office workers, trend-setting city dwellers and, of course, throngs of tourists.
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Pratunam is an easy district to find no matter where you are in Bangkok thanks to its domineering icon, the Baiyoke Sky Hotel. Rising an impressive 88 storeys high, it is one of Thailand’s tallest buildings. A distinctive feature of Bangkok’s skyline, it also marks the spot for one of the city’s all-time, favourite pursuits: Shopping! A scandalous variety of goods are on offer, with something for everyone – no matter how deep or shallow your pocket may be.
Pratunam is one of Bangkok’s most colourful and chaotic areas, and famous for its wholesale fashion factory outlets, street markets, bazaars and armies of local vendors. Pratunam offers bargain prices for all kinds of clothing, apparel, fashion accessories, shoes, watches, jewellery, belts, luggage and then some.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is a popular tourist attraction and a food haven for new generation gourmands who flock here after sunset to explore the vibrant street-side cuisine. At day time, it’s no less busy, as hordes of shoppers descend upon this 1-km strip and adjacent Charoenkrung Road to get a day’s worth of staple, trade gold, or pay a visit to one of the Chinese temples.
Packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants and a dense concentration of gold shops, Chinatown is an experience not to miss. The energy that oozes from its endless rows of wooden shop-houses is plain contagious – it will keep you wanting to come back for more. Plan your visit during major festivals, like Chinese New Year, and you will see Bangkok Chinatown at its best.
The International Airport Suvarnabhumi Area
Suvarnabhumi International Airport (pronounced ‘su-wan-na-poom’) is situated about 30 km or 40 minutes by car from central Bangkok. Nearby attractions are Ancient City, the world’s biggest open-air museum, and Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo. Neighbouring the area is Bangna, a thriving commercial and industrial area and home to the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre (BITEC), as well as the massive Seacon Square shopping mall. The infamous Pattaya beach resort is also less than 40 minutes away.
How Long to Stay in Bangkok
You could really spend weeks in Bangkok and still not see or do everything. The city is huge. How long you stay really depends on how long you can stay and how much you can afford! A few days will allow you to experience the food, river, shopping and culture. A week could enable you to travel further out to Kanchanaburi or Ayutthaya for day trips. We love Bangkok and have done week long stays and a few days. It’s great to be able to stay longer and move to different hotels in different areas. Whatever you choose, just remember that it takes longer to get around this fast paced city, so leave plenty of time to travel or you will be feeling very stressed sitting in traffic! Enjoy yourselves when you visit Bangkok.
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