What You Need to Know About Bangkok: Tips, Tricks and Takeaways
I left a bit of my heart in Bangkok. I fell in love with this city. It seems like I’m somewhat alone in my strong feelings for Bangkok. My family liked it, but they were ready to leave after five weeks. I could have happily stayed another few!
Why did I love it so much? I think it was what I have been searching for in Asia. It is a beautiful city full of any modern convenience you could ask for. Fancy hotels, sky bars with stunning views of the city, designer stores, incredible shopping, incredible food, children’s museums, amusements parks. Amid all of this you’ll also find tons of culture and the affordable side of Southeast Asia. Literally, you can walk out of one of the most stunning malls you’ve ever been in and buy dinner for around $1 USD from a streetcart. Or grab a freshly sliced mango for less than that and eat it as you walk down the street. I’ve never seen such a dichotomy.
More importantly, this stark contrast seems to just be an accepted way of life here. There doesn’t seem to be resentment about this. More just a fact of life. The Thai people are so patient and kind. If there is a massive traffic jam and everyone has to sit for two hours on the road (happened to us), there are no people getting out of their cars in frustration. There is no honking or anger. It is just accepted.
People tend to work hard, are kind to the tourists (although do sometimes take advantage of them and charge more) and love children.
Here are some more things I learned in our time there:
• Cars are the slowest option. Like all Asian cities, you are going to get somewhere A LOT faster on a scooter or motorbike than a car. Just like Uber in the US, Grab is a fantastic app to use for a car. It can be half the price of a taxi. What’s even better is to get a Grab scooter! Drivers wait outside the train stations and on the street and you can hop onto one of these for even less money! We never could do this, of course, with our children, but I always wanted to. Scooters weave in and around the traffic and everyone in cars are jealous :)
• The public transportation isn’t quite as accessible as in other cities like Singapore and Taipei. It still is really good and if you are near a station, it is super helpful. There are just not as many lines and stations. Bangkok is massive, so understandably, they don’t cover the whole city.
• There are two different kinds of trains- the MRT and the Skytrain. One is below ground and the other runs above the streets, like the “L” in Chicago. These require two different kinds of tickets or cards, so that can be annoying. We would have to take two stops on the MRT and then two stops on the SkyTrain. We bought cards right away for the MRT since we were near a station, but didn’t get cards for the Skytrain, so we would have to buy tickets each time. In busy rush hour, this can add 20-25 min to your travel time.
• Street food is SO much more affordable, which we are finding in all our locations. Even more so in Bangkok as it is all over the place. Just walk a block or so and you’ll find it.
• Shopping is BIG here. We could have filled many suitcases with all the fun things we wanted to buy. Head to Chatuchak Weekend Market and be prepared to walk away with lots of bags. You can literally find ANYTHING here. Pet supplies, clothing, housewares, interior decoration, stationary, great souvenirs, chandeliers, and more. This is just what we saw in our one day there and we covered maybe 1/5 of the market overall. It is incredible. The malls are also stunning, ginormous and plentiful.
• Negotiate and shop around for rates on rides, food, services, etc. One taxi may charge you twice as much as the next. Five may turn you down altogether- this happened to us constantly, especially during rush hour.
• Rush hours lasts from about 4-9 pm and are INTENSE. Bangkok traffic is crazy, slow and just a way of life. Streetlights can take 5-15 minutes before they turn green! You can sit at a light (or wait to cross a street) for what feels like forever.
• Google Maps and GPS were a little harder to use here. The train tables didn’t seem up to date on Google Maps, which has been my go-to so far. It was also difficult to pick a destination not reading Thai and we sometimes went to the wrong place.
• I had one driver use voice memos to message me back since he couldn’t write English. I thought this was pretty smart! It was easier than trying to use Google Translate. Just a good thing to keep in mind!
• What’s App is still good to use here and is our primary means of communication with locals. Sometimes even between ourselves. Our texting through our cell service would get delayed sometimes for a day or two.
• Usually the “touristy” things to do are still really fun. I wouldn’t avoid them just because you hear it is very touristy. Sometimes these were our favorite activities.
• It is HOT. One tour guide told us there are three seasons in Bangkok: hot, rainy and hot, and intense hot. It was the most heat we’ve experienced so far. Even Chris agreed it was hotter than Brazil where he lived for two years. You are going to be sweating anytime you aren’t in A/C.
Soak up my favorite city for me if you go!
All the best,