Bangkok in Thailand
Bangkok has dominated Thailand's urban hierarchy as well as its political, commercial and cultural life since the late 18th century. Distinctly modern and Westernised, Bangkok is still a sleepy Thai village with a louder soundtrack of traffic and nightlife. Read more...
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Bangkok has dominated Thailand's urban hierarchy as well as its political, commercial and cultural life since the late 18th century. Distinctly modern and Westernised, Bangkok is still a sleepy Thai village with a louder soundtrack of traffic and nightlife.
Bangkok now has two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.
Located 30 kilometres (19 miles) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ), pronounced soo-wanna-poom, http://www.airportthai.co.th/airportnew/sun/index.asp?lang=en started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok's main airport, used by all international flights as well as all Bangkok Airways (PG), Air Asia (FD), SGA Airline (5E), PBair (9Q) and Thai Airways domestic flights with three-digit flight numbers (eg. TG123). There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it's huge (by some measures the world's largest) so allow time for getting around..
An airport express train to the future City Air Terminal at Makkasan (connecting to MRT Phetchaburi) and onward to Phaya Thai (connecting to BTS Phaya Thai) is under construction, but is not expected to be ready before mid-2009 at the earliest. Die-hard rail fans with lots of time to kill can take bus 517 to Hua Takhe station (15 baht), a few km from the airport, and continue on any 3rd class train to Asok or Hualamphong (7 baht).
At present, there are only a few hotels located near Suvarnabhumi Airport, though with huge construction projects planned for the area this will change over the next few years. Day room facilities for transit passengers are now available at the 'Miracle Grand Louis Tavern' on floor 4, Concourse G (Tel+66 6 317-2211, 2000 baht per 4-hour block, no reservations accepted). Cheapskate travelers looking for a free quiet place to doze undisturbed at night should head for the prayer rooms.
The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the second floor of the main terminal. These agencies offer hotel reservation service. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers airport pick up and drop off service-especially useful for late night arrivals and early morning departures.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel Suvarnabhumi Airport +66 2 131-1111 email@example.com http://www.novotel.com/novotel/fichehotel/gb/nov/6183/fiche_hotel.shtml 3, 500+ baht The only hotel in the airport itself, connected to the main airport terminal by a pedestrian bridge, the Novotel is very nice and, by Thai standards, very pricey.
Thong Ta Resort, On Nut, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.siamairportmotel.com/index.html. The resort is only 10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Situated near a vibrant restaurant/bar parade. Rooms 800Bt+ (inclusive of American Breakfast).
Queen's Garden Resort, 44 Soi 7, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang Fax: +66 2 172 6114, e-mail mailto:email@example.com http://www.queensgardenresort.net/index.html. The hotel is just 5-10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Located on the banks of a sleepy river, the resort has views towards Lat Krabang Temple. Features wireless high speed internet, big screen TV, pool table, restaurant and beer garden. Rooms 900+ baht.
Royal Princess Srinakarin, 905 Moo 6, Srinakarin Road, Nongbon, Pravet, tel:+66 2 728-400. Fax:721-8432. A 20-30 minute drive from airport. Rooms from 3, 500+ baht.
Sananwan Palace, 18/11 moo 11. Sukapibarn Road 5, Bangpli Yai tel:+66 2 752-1658 (Mobile) +66 818644615. Family-owned budget accommodation with swimming pool, TV and high speed internet about 20 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms with A/C: 600 baht.
Grand Inn Come Hotel 99 Moo 6, Kingkaew Road, Rachataeva, Bangplee, Samutprakan +66 2 738-8191-3 1, 200-2, 000 baht About a 15-20 minute drive from the airport. Bus 553 stops here.
Avana Hotel, 23/1 Moo 12 Soi 14/1, Bangna-Trad Road. Tel:+66 2 763-2900. 3-star hotel about 30 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms 1, 200 to 3, 000 baht.
Nasa Vegas Hotel http://www.nasavegashotel.com. 44 Ramkhamhaeng Road. Tel :+66 2719-9888 Fax:+66 2 719-9899-About 15 mins drive from the new airport. Rooms from 590 + baht.
Ratchana Place http://www.ratchanaplace.com. 199 Moo 4, Soi Wat Sirisaothong, Bangna Trad Highway KM 26, Bangbo, Samutprakan 10540 Tel: +66 2 313-4480~9 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org-About 15-20 mins drive from the airport. Rooms between 350-700 baht.
Don Muang Airport
Don Muang Airport (or Don Mueang), 20 km north of downtown, was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. The airport handles Nok Air, 1-2-Go domestic flights and Thai Airways domestic flights with four-digit flight numbers (eg. TG1234), but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.
The public taxi stand is located on the sidewalk outside the arrivals area (don't be fooled by all the taxi service booths in the main hall), and is probably your best bet for getting into town — it's also your only option after 11 PM. Give your destination (English is understood) and you will receive a two-part ticket at the booth. The charge into town will be the meter + 50 baht + toll if you take the expressway (recommended, 30-70 baht), for a usual total of 200-300 baht. The small part is for your driver, the large part is for you. This ticket is for complaints and is how the system is enforced: hold on to it to help avoid arguments later. The trip into town takes 30 minutes and up depending on traffic conditions.
If the line at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine from the desks in the terminal. This will get you a slightly nicer car at about twice the price (500-600 baht). Ignore any touts outside and do not get into any car with white license plates, as these are not licensed to carry passengers.
Across a covered overpass from the airport is the train station. Tickets to Hualamphong station cost 5 baht at the ticket booth. While taking the train is the cheapest way to get from the airport to Bangkok, it is not for the faint-of-heart: schedules are erratic, the run-down passenger cars often have beggars roaming through them, and are relatively empty late at night.
There are also a number of public transport buses going by the airport. Just take a overpass to the real road bypassing the airport and stop the bus of your choice. For example the air-con bus 504 will take you to CentralWorld (a large department store formerly known as the World Trade Center), from where you'll have access to the Skytrain as well as many other buses, or Lumpini Park, from where you get access to the subway, for 22 baht. Note that large baggage is not allowed.
If you're flying Thai Airways, you can do a city check-in at Lad Phrao MRT station, from where free shuttle buses leave 1:50 before each Thai flight. The same buses also run in the reverse direction from the airport.
Bangkok's three official long haul bus terminals are:
Eastern Bus Terminal-also known as Ekamai, this relatively compact terminal is located right next to Ekamai BTS station on Bangkok/Sukhumvit Sukhumvit (E7). Ekamai serves East (Thailand) Eastern Thailand destinations, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.
North & North Eastern Bus Terminal-also known as Moh Chit (or Mor Chit or Morchit), this is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the Isaan North-East (Isaan) ; the ground floor serves the North_(Thailand) North, as well as sharing some destinations with Ekamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat ). It's a 30-baht moto hop (or a lengthy hike across Chatuchak Park) from BTS Moh Chit/Metro Chatuchak stations (N8/18), or take the 77 bus and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board.
See thePhahonyothin District'guide for more details.
Southern Bus Terminal-also known as Sai Tai Mai, this older and relatively chaotic sprawling terminal serves all points west and south from its somewhat inconvenient location on the wrong side of the river. Note that in December 2007, the terminal moved to a new, even more remote location in Phutthamonthon Sai 1.
See the Thonburi District guide for more details.
When arriving in Bangkok...
Late at night, the easiest way from Northern or Southern terminal to your final destination will be by metered-taxi.
By tourist bus you may find yourself delivered to their favorite hotel or guest-house, otherwise you'll probably be dropped off in the vicinity of one of the long haul terminals, or if it's a service catering primarily for backpackers, somewhere near Bangkok/Khao San Road Khao San Road.
The three main stations in Bangkok are:
Hualamphong Train Station
The main station and the terminus of the Bangkok Metro line. Located right in the middle of downtown Bangkok, it is a huge and surprisingly nice station, built during the reign of King Rama VI and spared bombing in world War II at the request of the Free Thai underground. The station has a good tourist office. (Only listen to the people at the Info desk-anyone walking around offering to help you 'find' a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing very official looking badges).
Tickets for trains leaving the same or next day can be bought on the counters under the red/orange/green screens (see photo). The Advance Booking Office is located to the right of the platforms as you walk towards them and is quite well organised. You can select your seat/berth from a plan of the train, and payments by credit card are accepted.
The taxi pick up and drop off point is to the left of the platforms as you walk towards them, and is generally chaotic at busy periods with scant regard for any queue.
The left luggage facility is at the opposite end of the concourse, on the far right as you walk away from the platforms.
The TAT Authorized Tourism Information offices in the second floor sell you a private VIP bus ticket if there is no place in first and second class trains. They offer a direct trip to the destination with a VIP bus faster than the train. Although the trip starts with a VIP bus, it ends up with a surprise transfer to a minibus and extremely long journeys. Just refuse the offered private bus ticket and buy public bus tickets from the main bus terminals if you cannot find a ticket for the train.
Bang Sue Train Station
If coming from the north or north-east, connecting to the Metro here can shave the last half-hour off your train trip. This is not a very good place to board trains though, as there is practically no information or signage in English. However, this situation will doubtless improve as more and more long-distance departures are switched to here from Hualamphong.
See Phahonyothin District for more details.
Thonburi Train Station
Also known as Bangkok Noi, this station is located on the wrong side of the river in Thonburi District and is the starting point for services to Kanchanaburi (via Nakhon Pathom ), River Kwai Bridge and Nam Tok.
There are two daily 3rd class trains: http://www.railway.co.th/timetable/N_S.html Depart Thonburi 07:45, arrive Nam Tok 12:20, return 13:00, terminate Thonburi at 17:36 Depart Nam Tok 05:25, arrive Thonburi 10:05, return 13:50, terminate Nam Tok at 18:20
Note that the weekend-only 2nd class air-con Kanchanaburi/Nam Tok tourist trains depart from Hualamphong. http://www.railway.co.th/Eng/travel.html
Cruise ships visiting Bangkok arrive at Laem Chabang, about 90 minutes south-east of Bangkok and about 30 minutes north of Pattaya.
A taxi service desk is available on the wharf, but charges extortionate prices-a whopping 2600 baht to charter a taxi (4 passengers), or about 5000 baht to charter a minibus (usually 11 passenger seats), for a trip into Bangkok. Slightly lower prices can be found by walking out to the main road (about 4000 baht for a minibus), however even these rates are almost double the typical rate in the opposite direction. Better deals may be possible for round trips (even if returning the following day).
Frequent first and second class bus services directly connect Laem Chabang with Ekamai (Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal, on Sukhumvit); less frequent direct services run to Moh Chit (Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal). A first class air-con bus (blue and white) to either will usually take 90 minutes or less; the fare is around 100 baht. A good way to make the most of a quick visit is to board an Ekamai bus and then disembark early at the On Nut Skytrain Station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok (the bus will always pause here provided a passenger requests it); in the opposite direction, use the Ekamai Skytrain Station and board the bus at the terminus. To get to or return from the Chatuchak Weekend Market, use the Moh Chit bus instead.
Buses en route to Pattaya (southbound) can be boarded at the traffic lights on Sukhumvit Road in Laem Chabang, are extremely frequent (at least 10 per hour), and charge less than 50 baht.
Bangkok has the full spectrum of public transportation methods. Buses and taxis operate everywhere in the city. The Sky Train (BTS) and metro are available only in the city centre. And vans generally operate only in more out-lying areas.
area, interchanges with the Sukhumvit line at Siam Square (C) and ends at National Stadium, right next to MBK. There isn't, unfortunately, a station near Banglampu District (aka the Khao San Road area), but the river ferry connects between Tha Banglampu and Tha Sathorn, which is under the Silom line terminus at Saphan Taksin (S6).
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from the vending machines near the entrance, so hold on to them. Fares range from 15 to 40 baht depending upon how many zones you are travelling. Consult the map (in English) near each ticket machine. If you do not have coins, queue for change from the staff at the booth. If you are in town for several days, weigh your options and consider a rechargable stored-value card (from 100 baht, with a 30-baht refundable deposit and a 30 baht non-refundable card cost, as of Nov 2007), a ride all you like tourist pass (from 120 baht/day) or a multiple ride pass of 10 trips or more. They will certainly save you time, scrambling for coins, and maybe even money. Check for information with the English speaking staff.
Four stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users, plus one station, On Nut is accessible only on the arrival side. The other fully accessible stations are Asok/Sukhumvit, Siam, Chong Nonsi and Mo Chit. To acceed to concourse level in these stations, you can use the lift-press the call button and an attendant will come and get you. At On Nut stations on the departures side, the attendant will help you also to get to platform level through the escalator since the elevator can be used only to get to intercourse level. Siam Station is also accessible independently through the linked Siam Paragon department store.
Bangkok Metro (MRT, pronunced em-ar-tee in Thai but also rót tai din)finally opened in July 2004. The Blue Line connects the central Hualamphong railway station (1) to the northern Bang Sue station (18), with interchanges to the Skytrain at Silom/Sala Daeng (3/S2), Sukhumvit/Asok (7/E4) and Chatuchak/Mo Chit (15/N8). You can also transfer to north/northeast-bound SRT trains at the northern terminus Bang Sue.
Park & Ride Building is available at Thailand Cultural Centre Station (200 spaces) and Lat Phrao Station (2, 200 spaces) expect this Park & Ride will be full during weeday morning. Parking also available at the following stations:
Sam Yan Station parking lot, 30 spaces at Entrances 1. Sukhumvit Station parking lot, 30 spaces at Entrances 1. Phetchaburi Station parking lot, 60 spaces at Entrances 1 Thailand Culteral Centre Station parking lot, 30 spaces at Entrances 1. Huai Khwang Station parking lot, 30 spaces at Entrances 1. Ratchadaphisek Station parking lot, 30 spaces at Entrances 4. Chatuchak Park Station parking lot, 1, 250 spaces at Entrances 3, 4 North Bus terminal (old) Area. Bang Sue Station parking lot, 500 spaces at Entrances 2, SRT Area.
Metro tickets are not interchangeable with Skytrain tickets. Rides cost from 15 to 39 baht depending on distance; pre-paid cards of up to 1000 baht are also available. For single ride fares, a round plastic token is used.
The subway stop for the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not Chatuchak Park, but one stop further at Kamphaeng Phet (16). The latter drops you right inside the market.
All metro stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users. If the elevator has been put out of service, just ask the security staff present at every station and an attendant will come and get you to help you to deal with all the process of buying tickets and get to the train platform level.
where buses are the only practical means of public transport, the best online resource for decrypting bus routes is the official BMTA homepage http://www.bmta.co.th/en/index.php, which has up-to-date if slightly incomplete listings of bus routes in English but no maps. As a printed reference, the Bus Routes & Map guide (50 baht) by Bangkok Guides is another option.
The hierarchy of Bangkok's buses from cheapest to best can be ranked as follows:
Small green bus, 7.50 baht flat fare. Cramped, no air-con, no fan, famously suicidal drivers, not advisable for more than short hops. Red bus, 7 baht flat fare. More spacious and fan-cooled (in theory). Unlike other buses, some of these run through the night (1.50 baht surcharge). These buses are BMTA run. White/blue bus, 8.5 baht flat fare. Exactly the same as the red buses, but cost one baht more. These buses are owned by private entities operated in conjunction with BMTA. Blue/Yellow and Cream/Blue air-con, 11 baht for the first 8 kilometers, up to 18 baht max. These buses are quite comfy. The blue/yellow striped buses are privately owned while the Blue/Cream buses are BMTA owned. Orange air-con (Euro II), 13 baht for the first few kilometers, up to 22 baht max. These are all BMTA-run, newer, and more comfortable.
Buses stop only when needed, so wave them down (arm out, palm down) when you see one barreling your way. Pay the roaming collector after you board and keep the ticket as there are occasional spot-checks. Press the signal buzzer (usually near the door) when you want to get off.
Two further pitfalls are that buses of the same number may run slightly different routes depending on the color, and there are also express services (mostly indicated by yellow signs) that skip some stops and may take the expressway (2 baht extra).
Airport buses allow luggage (backpacks and suitcases), but regular buses do not. Enforcement of this rule varies.
Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within Bangkok cost less than 100 baht. There are no surcharges (except from the airport), even at night; don't believe drivers who try to tell you otherwise. A red lit sign on the front window means that the taxi is available.
When the meter is switched on you will see a red '35' somewhere on the dashboard or between the driver and you. Be sure to check for this at the start of the ride, as many drivers will forget to start the meter in order to overcharge you at the end of your trip. Most will start the meter when asked politely to do so (meter na khrap (male) / kha (female); if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi. In some cases, late at night and especially near major tourist districts like Khao San or Patpong, you will need to walk a block away to catch a meter cab. The effort can save you as much as 150 baht. This is often also the case for taxis that park all day in front of your hotel. The only two reasons that they are there: 1) To take you places where they can get their commissions (Jewelry stores, massage parlors, etc) and 2) To overcharge you by not using the meter. Your best bet is to walk to the road and catch an unoccupied metered taxi in motion (easier than it sounds, as Bangkok traffic tends to crawl the majority of the time, and one car out of four is a taxi). Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or have it written in Thai; taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps. Most hotels and guesthouses will happily write out addresses in Thai for you. While most drivers will recognize the names of tourist hot spots, even if grossly mispronounced, it is often difficult to properly pronounce addresses in Thai, a tonal language. If your mobile phone works in Thailand, it is sometimes useful to phone your hotel and ask the staff to speak to your driver in Thai.
If you're pinching pennies or fussy about your means of transportation, you may wish to think twice before getting into one of the (very common) yellow-green taxis. They are owner-operated and of highly variable quality, and occasionally they have rigged meters. All other colors belong to large taxi companies, which usually enforce their standards better.
On some routes, the driver will ask if he should use the Tollway-this will usually save a lot of time. You have to pay the cost at the toll booth (not in advance, and not at the end of the journey). Watch how much the driver really pays, he may try to keep the change.
When getting out, try to have small bills (100 baht or less) or expect problems with change. Tips are not necessary, but are certainly welcome (especially considering that taxi fares have not risen in well over 5 years, despite rising gas prices!). Note that most local passengers will round up, or leave any coin change as tip.
When traffic slows to a crawl and there are no mass-transit alternatives for your destination, by far the fastest mode of transport is a motorbike taxi (or in Thai, motosai lapjang ). No, those guys in the pink smocks aren't biker gangs; they're motosai cabbies. They typically wear colorful fluorescent yellow-orange vests and wait for passengers at street corners and near shopping malls. Prices are negotiable; negotiate before you ride.
For the adrenaline junkie, a wild motosai ride can provide a fantastic rush. Imagine weaving through rows of stopped vehicles at 50km/h with mere centimetres to spare on each side, dodging pedestrians, other motorbikes, tuk-tuks, stray dogs and the occasional elephant while the driver blithely ignores all traffic laws and even some laws of physics. Now do the same while facing backwards on the bike and balancing a large television on your lap, and then you can qualify as a local.
The overwhelming majority of motorcycle taxis do not travel long distances, but simply shuttle up and down long sois (side-streets) not serviced by other transport for a fixed 5-20 baht fare. These are marginally less dangerous, especially if you happen to travel with the flow on a one-way street.
The law requires that both driver and passenger must wear a helmet. It is the driver's responsibility to provide you with one, so if you are stopped by police, any fine is also the driver's responsibility. This is worth bearing in mind when you hire a motorbike or moped. Make sure that if there are two of you, the hirer provides two helmets not one. When riding, keep a firm grasp on the seat handle and watch out for your knees.
Finally, what would Bangkok be without the much-loathed, much-loved, tuk-tuks? You'll know them when you hear them, and you'll hate them when you smell them — these three-wheeled contraptions blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10 minute jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price — and, if you let them get away with it, the price will usually be 4 or 5 times what it should be anyway (which, for Thais, is around 30% less than the equivalent metered taxi fare). On the other hand, you can sometimes ride for free if you agree to visit touristy clothing or jewelry shops (which give the tuk-tuk driver gas coupons and commissions for bringing customers). The shops' salesmen are pushy, but you are free to leave after five to ten minutes of browsing. Visitors should beware though, sometimes one stop can turn in to three, and your tuk-tuk driver may not be interested in taking you where you need to go once he has his gas coupons. Also, with Bangkok's densly congested traffic it is sure to spend hours of your time.
In case you actually want to get somewhere, and you're an all-male party, be careful with the tuk-tuk drivers, they will usually just ignore your destination and start driving you to some bordello ( beautiful girls ). Insist continually and forcefully on going only to your destination.
There's also a less-heralded, less-colourful and less-touristy version of the tuk-tuk that usually serves the back sois in residential neighborhoods. They usually have four wheels instead of three and resemble a tiny truck / ute / lorry, and they run on petrol instead of LP. The maids and locals tend to use them to return home from market with loads of groceries, or for quick trips if they're available. Negotiate before you get in, but don't expect to go much beyond the edge of that particular neighborhood.
When to go
Bangkok is a large city, modern and Westernised and humming with nightlife and fervour. Administratively, it is split up into 50 khet (districts), but these are more often used in official business and for addresses. Visitors will find the conceptual division below more useful.
To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases an address like Soi Ari 3 means the 3rd soi off Soi Ari, and you may even spot addresses like 68/2 Soi Ekamai 4, Sukhumvit 63 Road, meaning 2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekamai, the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit. In many sois the house numbers are not simply increasing, but may spread around.
To further bewilder the tourist who doesn't read Thai, the renderings of Thai street names in the Latin alphabet are not consistent. The road running towards the (former) airport from the Victory Monument may be spelled Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phahonyothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course, only the romanisation varies.
And if that's not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Ploenchit just before you cross Thanon Witthayu (aka Wireless) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Thanon PraRam Neung (usually said as just Rama I) after you pass Thanon Ratchadamri. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Thanon Ratchaprarop (past Petchaburi, aka New Phetburi, which is called Phitsanulok closer to the river). Got it?
But wait, there's logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn't make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it's no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Ploenchit where it runs though the Ploenchit area. It's when you're able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatuchak are much more than just markets; they're boroughs, each with its own distinct character.
Related to this last point, compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That's probably because they aren't very useful; the city's Darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of Is that west from here? will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You're better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. How do I get to Thonglor? will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.
One exception: the Chao Phyra River is the landmark in Bangkok, and many directional references can be made as toward the river or away from the river. If you aren't too close, that is: since the river winds around the most popular tourist areas, river references tend to be most helpful when you're wandering farther afield than Banglamphu or Sanam Luang or Rattana. And wander you should.
Given its size and poverty level Bangkok is surprisingly safe, with violent crimes like mugging and robbery unusual. However, Bangkok does have more than its fair share of touting and scams, and quite a few individuals in the tourist business think nothing of overcharging visitors.
Some common scams and guidelines for avoiding them:
Beware of all offers of gems and (supposedly) precious stones. These sophisticated and highly professional special discount scams, often involving promises of high resale value back home at a supposedly huge profit, sometimes even employ foreigners to act as satisfied customers.
Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering all-day tours for prices as low as 10 baht. You may indeed be taken on a full-day tour, but you will only end up visiting one gem and souvenir shop after another. The driver gets a commission if you buy something and gas coupons even if you don't.
Insist on the meter for taxis, and agree on a price in advance for tuk-tuks. If they refuse, or quote silly prices, just walk out and get a different one, they're rarely in short supply.
Be highly skeptical of anyone telling you that your intended destination is currently closed (including skytrain and subway stations), or offering discount admissions. Temples are almost always free (the main exceptions are Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho) and open just about every day of the year. Anyone telling you otherwise is most likely out to scam you.
There is no such thing as a Lucky Buddha or Lucky Buddha day! Touts are out to trick you into getting a tuk-tuk to visit several souvenir shops or a gem scam shop.
At popular tourist sites, if an English-speaking Thai approaches you out of the blue and strikes up a conversation, be wary, they are almost certainly selling something. If they ask you if it's your first time in Thailand, it's probably best to answer 'no' and walk away.
In the go-go bar zones, beware of touts who try to drag you into the upstairs bars with offers of ping-pong shows and 100-baht beer. The beer may well be 100 baht, but the show you'll be treated to will be 1000 baht or more. Rule of thumb is, if you can't see inside from street level, the establishment is best avoided.
Beware of private bus companies offering direct trips from Bangkok to other cities with VIP buses. There are a lot of scams performed by some private bus companies. The so-called direct VIP trips may end up changing three or four uncomfortable minibuses to the destination, the 10-11 hours trip may be 17-18 hours. Try to book public BKS buses from the main bus terminals.
The age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Penalties for sex with minors are harsh.
All adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2532 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1st 2008 (in the Thai calendar, CE 2008 is the year 2551). Many hotels retain the ID cards of prostitutes for the duration of their visit.
Whilst most prostitutes are employed by bars or similar businesses, some are freelancers. Petty theft and other problems are more common with freelancers.
HIV/AIDS awareness is better than it used to be but infection statistics among entertainment industry workers remain high; freelancers are the highest risk group. Almost all girls insist on using condoms.
Technically, some aspects of prostitution are illegal (eg soliciting, pimping), however enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It's not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a barfine (a fee the bar collects if you want to take an employee away).
The novel The Butterfly Trap gives a realistic first-person account of Bangkok's nightlife industry.
Considering its size, Bangkok is a relatively safe city. But you should be smart: don't wander down dark alleyways alone and always protect against theft (use a hotel safe and conceal valuables). You are more likely to be conned out of your money than have it forcibly removed. Be wary of friendly strangers offering touring advice: this is usually a long and costly introduction to the gem scams, in which travellers are sold worthless jewels and jewellery for a king's ransom. Tuk tuk drivers offering 10.00 rides are another gateway into the scam scene: tailors that overcharge, jewellery stores selling costume as heirlooms, etc. Ignore anyone who says that the Skytrain or major attractions are closed for a holiday or cleaning. This is yet another popular start to the gem scam. More likely to happen in the girlie-bar world are druggings with cigarettes, food and drink followed by a house cleaning of valuables.
Bangkok Hospital, 2 Soi Soonvijai 7 New Petchburi Road (Central Bangkok) http://www.bangkokhospital.com tel. +66-23103000.
Bumrungrad Hospital, 33 Sukhumvit 3 (Soi Nana Nua) Wattana (Central Bangkok) http://www.bumrungrad.com tel. +66-26671000.
Listing of the main dental clinics in Bangkok that with English-speaking dentists and staff.
Bangkok International Dental Center (BIDC), ISO 9001:2000 certified 157 Ratchadapesik Rd (Central Bangkok) http://www.bangkokdentalcenter.com tel. +66-26924433 mailto:email@example.com.
Bangkok Dental Group, Siam Square Street 2 entrance (Central Bangkok) http://www.thailanddental.com tel. +66-658 4774 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before becoming Thailand's capital in 1782, Bang Makok or 'Place of Olives' (now Bangkok) was an outlying district of Thonburi, a town founded as a trading post in the mid-16th century. Due to its proximity to Siam's capital, Ayuthaya, the town also developed military significance. In the 18th century a fortress was built on the banks of the Chao Phraya and a great iron chain hung across the river to block unwelcome arrivals.
In 1782, King Rama I, the founder of the long-running Chakri dynasty, moved the capital to Bangkok on the other side of the river, believing it was an easier location to defend. Using thousands of Khmer prisoners of war, city walls were built, the canal system was expanded, and new temples were erected by artisans from Ayuthaya. When the construction of the new capital was finished in 1785, it was given a new name: a tongue-twister comprising 164 letters which referred modestly to divine gems, unconquerable lands and divine shelters. The name was mercifully shortened to Krung Thep ('City of Angels'), but the city is still known by its old Bangkok moniker to most of the outside world.
The first half of the 19th century in Bangkok saw a frenzy of temple building under the rule of Rama III, while the definitive moment of his successor's turn at the throne was the construction of the city's first road alongside the river in 1861. More roads were soon added and, well before the turn of the century, horse-drawn carriages and rickshaws had replaced watercraft as the favoured mode of urban travel.
In the first decades of the 20th century the city grew in all directions and numerous roadways were added to carry new motorised forms of transport. In 1932 Thailand established a constitutional government and Bangkok became the hub of a vast but still expanding public service. In WWII the Japanese briefly occupied parts of the city and following the war Bangkok quickened its pace towards modernisation. From the mid-1960s the city became a favourite 'rest and recreation' spot for foreign troops involved in the Vietnam conflict and the sex trade continues to this day in the form of various nightclubs and massage parlours. After riding a double-digit economic boom through the 1980s, Bangkok was hit hard by the economic crisis that swept Asia in 1997-a crisis that came with warning signs which few local and international observers chose to acknowledge.
Today Bangkok can be found reprising its role as the financial hub of mainland Southeast Asia. In 2000, charismatic conservative warhorse Samak Sundaravej unexpectedly won the city's governorship on an anti-corruption platform. He subsequently had a curse placed on the city's crooked cops.
In 2003, the revelations by massage parlour owner Chuwit Kamolvisit of the seedier side of the industry-and police involvement therein-led to a major political scandal. But 2004 proved to be no less eventful. The avian flu crisis saw large swathes of the city temporarily quarantined while thousands of birds were slaughtered. Planned reforms of zoning regulations, intended to close all entertainment establishments by midnight, reportedly led to a mafia revolt and government capitulation, but not without drawing widespread public condemnation. Then resentment overflowed when plans were announced to privatise utility companies.
The most recent controversy in the capital revolved around the tax-free sale of Prime Minister Thaksin's telecommunications business after passing favourable legislation. Protesters took to the streets to demand his resignation over this blatant conflict of interest. The city was split neatly into two long-standing social classes: the wealthy intelligentsia against Thaksin and the working class who support him. Taxi drivers often grilled customers on their politics and would refuse them transport if they didn't support the prime minister. In early 2006, Thaksin held a snap election, which resulted in even more controversy and his decision to step down as prime minister. Months later and Thailand is operating without a permanent legislature because the election results were inconclusive in many districts (the opposition party boycotted the elections). Thaksin has returned to the helm after a 'break' to what many people presume will be a permanent position.
The street protests have ceased in part out of respect for the King who celebrates his 60th year on the throne in June 2006. This momentous occasion will be marked with a staging of the rarely seen Royal Barges procession. Bumper stickers and T-shirts reading 'We love the King' are being sold throughout town and are usually in bright yellow, the colour associated with the day of the week the King was born.