Bangkok Thailand | A Guide Perfect for First Time Travelers
Bangkok, the world’s most visited city. A city many fall in love with… or not. A city known for it’s amazing cuisine, culture and traffic.
When we first decided to travel around South East Asia, Bangkok was the first on our list. Although we had an idea of what to expect, we were amazed on all that Thailand’s capital city had to offer.
Bangkok is one of Asia’s top major cities with high-rise skyscrapers, sky-train, luxury hotels and malls. In this huge chaotic but also fascinating mega city, we had never expected to find that the Thai culture would be so present and ingrained. With wats and shrines scattered all over the city, the royal palace and loads of great street food.
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This blog post will provide an excellent travel guide to a first time stay in the Thai capital city.
We will provide some useful travel tips for planning a trip to Bangkok. We will share our Bangkok travel experience including our experience with travelling around the city, best tourists’ attractions, Thai food, and Bangkok’s nightlife.
This guide will help you get a glimpse of the city before actually travelling to it.
Things to do in Bangkok and 3 Day Itinerary
#1 Boat trip along the Chao Praya River and temples' sightseeing
Chao Praya River is the heart of Bangkok, and a boat trip along it’s’ banks is a must. The river is home to the most touristic spots in Bangkok including the temples of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (located in the same grounds), Wat Pho and Wat Arun. From Tha Tien pier (Wat Pho) take a cross river ferry to Wat Arun for 4 Baht per person one way. These 3 temples bear an admission fee ranging from 500 baht (for the Grand Palace) to 50 baht (for Wat Arun). Always wear appropriate clothing when visiting temples. Cover knees and shoulders and no shoes inside temples.
#2 Take a stroll around Lumpini Park
Lumpini park is a fresh breath of air in Bangkok. Bangkok’s residents come here to jog, cycle around the lake or just to have a nap. Lumpini park is a great place to get away from it all and chill for a couple of hours. You can also consider taking a packed lunch with you and enjoy some fresh air under the shade of the trees. The park is also home to some wildlife including the monitor lizard.
The park closes at 9 pm.
Bus number 15 (which passes in the vicinity of Khao San Road) stops in front of one of Lumpini park’s gate, near the food stalls, located outside the same park.
#3 Shop till you drop at Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak market is a massive area loaded with stalls selling just about anything. Prices are not so cheap so there is room for some bargaining to be done which is a common practice throughout south east Asia. The weekend market is open on Friday from 18:00 to 24:00, Saturday and Sunday from 09:00 to 18:00.
To get to the market we got bus number 44 from the road of the Democracy Monument.
#4 Get lost in MBK shopping mall
MBK shopping mall is a huge complex spread out over 8 floors where you may find just about anything including clothing, electronics, food, etc. Particularly relevant to those wanting to buy a mobile phone, the fourth floor is dedicated entirely to mobile phone retailers. In fact, we bought a new mobile phone at a very favorable price (after some bargaining) from this complex.
Other shopping malls near MBK include Siam Paragon, a high end mall and CentralWorld which is more mid range.
Bus number 47 and 15 go through the street of the Democracy Monument (which monument is located near Khao San Road) to MBK, Siam Paragon and CentralWorld area.
These activities can easily fit within 3 days allowing also time to enjoy Bangkok’s nightlife.
#5 Other interesting places / activities which we missed but will definitely feature on our ‘to do’ list for next visit
A floating market (there are quite a few around Bangkok)
The teak wood house of Jim Thompson. An American business man who helped revitalize the Thai silk industry, and who later on went missing never to be heard of
A sightseeing boat trip through Bangkok’s canals (klong)
Mahanakhon Skywalk, this is a rather new attraction in Bangkok offering some spectacular viewpoints having a glass skywalk and a rooftop bar.
Nightlife in Bangkok
You might be tempted to just chill out after a long day sightseeing around Bangkok but certainly it’s not a good option as Bangkok has plenty of attractions and activities for night time such as night markets, clubs and bars and the infamous red light districts.
Khao San Road
The famous Khao San Road is particularly busy at night with plenty of tourists, street food vendors, bars thumping all kinds of different beats or even live bands and comedy shows. Thais promoting laughing gas and alcoholic buckets, massage parlours, vendors selling fried insects and souvenirs and restaurants, all this in a rather short street making it rather chaotic but also entertaining. Khao San is a must see whilst in Bangkok, we loved the lively atmosphere and spent a couple of nights here.
If you fancy somewhere quieter, Soi Rambuttri might be more suitable. Rambuttri is just parallel to Khao San Road, with plenty of restaurants and bars, and also live music. It is family friendly and perfect to chill out over a beer and people watch.
Bangkok Red Light District
Bangkok’s nightlife is infamous for its red light districts, mainly Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong. Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy are about 20 minutes’ walk from each other in Sukhumvit area. Not much to add on this as when we visited everywhere was closed due to the upcoming general election.
Patpong is a small night market selling fake branded items and souvenirs located in Silom. Prices are higher than elsewhere so it is recommended to haggle hard. The night market is lined up with bars and Thais luring tourists inside the bars.
A guy lured us into a bar and just out of curiosity and not knowing what to expect we went in. Not for long as we immediately left because once inside we felt uncomfortable. The bar had a ping pong show. This is an amusement show of girls shooting ping pong balls out of their vagina. The guy lures in unknowing tourists and states the show is free, just need to buy a few drinks. But after exiting the bar and doing some research, we learnt that tourists are made to pay thousands of baht as the show isn’t free after all.
Yaowarat Road - Chinatown Bangkok
At night time Yaowarat Road home to Chinatown, is particularly busy with lots of people visiting the area and jam packed with cars. We had visited the area twice, on a Sunday and Tuesday with Sunday being extremely busy. Some of the restaurants here actually have people queue waiting to be seated. The area is obviously a hot spot with the Chinese tourist and with all the cluster of bright Chinese shop signs and lined up street stalls, this makes for some amazing pictures and selfies.
Sky bars and nightclubs in Bangkok
Sky bars in Bangkok are a popular tourist attraction and there are quite a few to choose from. Expect to pay higher prices if visiting any. The city also has a good selection of nightclubs for those wishing to dance the night away. Sky bars and nightclubs are scattered mostly around Siam Square and also in Silom, Sukhumvit and Pratunam.
Food in Bangkok
Being foodie kind of travelers, one of the main attractions to us in Bangkok is the food. No need to worry where you’re gonna eat. Here you’ll find a food stall practically on each corner, or dozens in one street! Street food dishes are usually small in size as many Thais eat small portions multiple times a day. Mostly, the stalls are run by women who prepare just a handful, if not just one main dish. This is the reason why these women chefs give you one of the most amazingly combined dishes that are so precise in what is in each dish and will leave you wanting for more.
Mostly, these stalls sell Asian food, although you do find sweet pancakes or deep fried chicken stalls. We had savored amazing street food near the Wang Lang market and Yaowarat China Town. Here you will find anything from smoothies to cream filled sponges.
Bus number 53 which passes from Phra Arthit Road (close to Khao San) goes to Yaowarat. The bus going to takes quite a long time although coming back isn’t so bad.
The most popular dish among foreigners is the amazing Pad Thai, which is noodles with either pork, chicken or seafood. Thipsamai Pad Thai is around 15 minutes’ walk from Khao San Road and is Bangkok’s most famous Pad Thai eatery. We only found out about this place after leaving Bangkok which is a shame. But we will surely be checking it out on our next visit.
Food in Thailand, especially the eateries catered for the locals are always amazing. Other famous dishes such as Tom Yum soup (coconut milk soup with shrimps), stewed pork leg, Khao Pad (fried rice), Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup) are a must try. These are just a few amongst a vast range of other great dishes.
One of our favourite dishes is the crispy pork, either with noodles or rice, with the pork being the best we have had anywhere else. Prices vary for each dish but are generally around 60 to 100 Baht per dish. A dish of fried pork is usually around 100 Baht.
A word of advice, do not miss on the tasty and cheap street food of Bangkok. Pad Thai is the most popular Thai dish among foreigners. Although this dish is amazing, don’t miss out on all the other great dishes to be explored. As a general rule, always ask for the price beforehand if this is not displayed. If something looks good just go for it.
Having said that, when in Bangkok, we occasionally opted for some Western food which was tasty (we recommend to check reviews first). There’s a huge number of restaurants to choose from but comes in as more expensive than local food.
Map of Central Bangkok
The map highlights Bangkok’s major districts (each district is shown in a different colour). It also pinpoints the places of interest mentioned in this post.
Bangkok Major Districts : Hotspots
Rattanakosin : Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, Bangkok National Musuem, Thipsamai, Raan Jay Fai (the last 2 being top eateries in Bangkok)
Siam Square : MBK, Siam Paragon, Central World, Jim Thompson house, Erawine Shrine
Thonburi : Wat Arun, Wang Lang Market
Sukhumvit : Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy
Silom : Lumpini Park, Patpong, Mahanakhon Skywalk
Credit for map of central Bangkok: Globe-trotter, based on work from OpenStreetMap.org contributors; license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.
Is Bangkok worth visiting?
Still not decided whether or not to visit Bangkok? The below is our take.
Our answer is a definitive yes.
Bangkok is one of Thailand’s main highlight destinations. It is the main hub for international flights into Thailand and at some point, you will surely pass through Bangkok.
So, there is no reason for not spending a couple of days here. The chances are that if coming to Thailand you will end up hearing loads of great things about the Thai capital, and it would be disappointing not having experienced it firsthand.
Our recommendation would be to have your stay in Bangkok on flexible days. The city may be overwhelming to some, apart from the fact that it is very busy and for this also polluted. So you may either love it or hate it. Also temperatures can go quite high, especially from March to June.
Why is planning a trip to Bangkok important?
With all the different activities, means of transport and great locations to lodge in or around, a trip to Thailand’s capital city must be planned out accordingly.
If you are into cultural stuff, there are loads of temples to be explored. Nightlife? What city doesn’t have nightlife. Food, hmm you’ll probably need to do some in depth plan on that. You’ll be overwhelmed by the variety and vast range of different street food stalls you’ll find. High end luxury hotels, sky bars, cabaret shows, ping pong shows, river cruises, river markets and to get a lifelong souvenir, there is loads of tattoo studios to choose from.
Having said that, we do not think that planning should take up a lot of your time. That is why we have written this post. By drawing from our own experience we want to make planning a trip to Bangkok easy. The map included in this post should provide a good understanding of Bangkok’s city centre layout.
Travel itinerary planner – Bangkok
We understand that planning a trip, especially for the first time, can get quite frustrating and confusing. We have been there. For this reason we will try, as much as possible, simplify the travel planning process through our 4 step approach.
1. Set a travel budget
First things first, it is important to set the budget upfront and split this into daily amounts. Setting a budget is particularly relevant for long term travelers. It should be noted that as per other destinations in Thailand, Bangkok can be explored on both a tight and (obviously) not so tight budget.
From our own travel experience in Thailand, around 1/4 of our daily budget was spend on lodging expenses, another 1/4 for food and drinks and 1/4 for transportation costs. The remaining 1/4 should cover any unseen expenses or to splurge a little. Please note that this is just a rough average and is calculated on same standards for each expense category.
2. Choose location of accommodation
Before deciding on where and in which area your accommodation is going to be, do some research on places of interest and activities and identify those which interests you the most. (The map in this post highlights Bangkok’s major districts which include Khao San Road, Ratanakosin, Yaowarat, Siam Square, Silom and Sukhumvit and its places of interest)
Ask yourself, what are your likes and dislikes? Surely, not all there is, is good for you. So just point out whatever is fit for you and skip on the rest. We do suggest to choose an accommodation which is close to some of your favourite spots. This will save you both time and money. Keep in mind that Bangkok is a busy city and in some areas at particular times it gets quite busy, (so the supposedly 30 minute drive, might end up a 1 hour drive at the least).
While in Bangkok, we chose to stay close to Khao San Road. Although close enough (a 5 minutes’ walk), the area of our accommodation was quiet. Khao San Road is close to some major tourist attractions, to Chao Praya River and has good bus connections although it is not connected to the Skytrain (BTS).
Other districts which are good for staying in whilst in Bangkok are Siam Square and Sukhumvit, which are in proximity to one another. Siam Square is Bangkok’s shopping paradise whilst Sukhumvit is most popular for its nightlife.
3. Day-by-day trip planning (or at least a rough plan)
When the decision is made of what to see and do in your time, next step is to start planning out your days and allocating rough time frames for each activity. On this point, do allow some extra time in between activities and do not cram everything together. Remember Bangkok can be quite hot especially between March and June.
In our case, since we visited Bangkok during March (being one of the hottest months), we opted to do the sightseeing early morning so as to avoid the heat and the crowd. In the afternoon, we opted to visit malls (Siam Square is particularly famous for its big shopping malls which include Siam Paragon, Central Word and MBK), Lumpini Park situated in Silom district (which is close to Siam Square) or relax and chill out in the various cafeterias.
We do suggest to get an idea of the location of the preferred chosen places of interest in order to efficiently plan out your day.
4. Choose the mode of transport
After deciding on what place you will be lodging, start checking out what means of transportation you prefer to be using, this also depends on what budget you have. In Bangkok city, you will be spoilt for choice in deciding the mode of transport which includes the following; the metered taxis, Grab taxis, tuk-tuks, buses, boats, the sky train (BTS), the underground train (MRT) and the motorcycle taxis.
Getting round - Bangkok's public transportation
When using a taxi, make sure that the taxi meter is switched on. You will notice that taxis invade Bangkok’s streets and it’s super easy to hail a taxi. Just wave at an unoccupied one.
Grab taxi Bangkok
Grab taxis (Uber is not available in Bangkok) are a great and cheap option. Just download the app and you’re good to go. During night time, we preferred making use of the Grab taxis over the metered taxis and the tuk-tuks. When using Grab taxis, you will have to wait for some minutes before it picks you up from your current location. The fare is always shown before getting into the car and you can track the journey to your destination through the app. We noticed that Grab taxis are cheaper if you pay by card rather than by cash.
Tuk -tuks should be used for short distance travel and always know the final price before the start of your journey. Ideally, you would know the distance to be covered so you will be in a better position to negotiate a reasonable price for your trip.
The motorcycle taxis are identifiable through the red vest the driver wears. We did not make use of this mode of transport. If you choose to do so, always wear the helmet.
If your accommodation is anywhere near a BTS sky train station, that would also be a good ‘travelling around Bangkok’ option. We do not have much to say or any recommendations about the sky train as we did not make use of this transport alternative.
We have found buses in Bangkok to be easy to use, budget friendly and efficient. In fact, they were our favourite way of traveling around in Bangkok during day time. Having said that, buses are the most time consuming means of transport so might not be the best option if time is a constraint. The red and cream buses are cheap, although not air conditioned. These buses have their windows wide open so are quite cool and are used mostly by locals.
Buses cost anything between 7 to 20 Baht per trip, depending on what bus service you use. We opted mostly for the red and cream bus as the air-conditioned ones were continuously giving us a slight cold. Bus tickets are bought once on board through the conductor who usually is happy to help you with indicating the perfect stop.
If you decide to give buses a try, before setting off, first check bus stop location and bus number to destination on Google maps. Then confirm this information with the hotel. Transitbangkok is also a useful website providing a guide to Bangkok’s buses. Bus stops are helpful in that they usually include information on the bus numbers going passed that stop and information on the bus route (part of it). We have to add here that Thai people are extremely helpful and it is fairly easy to find Bangkokians who speak basic English.
Chao Praya River boats
Boats travel through the Chao Praya river and through the city’s canal, Saen Saep Canal. Through the Chao Praya river, boats with different coloured flags operate on different schedules and stop at different piers (refer to picture below for information on the different flag colours and the respective pier stops).
Useful pier names
closest to Khao San Road
Sathorn (Taksin) – central pier
Saphan Taksin BTS station
Note: Each pier has a sign including pier name and number.
We opted mostly for the red flag (although this flag is referred to as orange) boats which cost 15 Baht per trip. The red flag boats are the cheapest and most frequent but tend to be the most crowded. We noted that the river bank is quite closed (one cannot walk along the river bank as access is closed due to hotels/other buildings along the bank) and access to the pier is only possible through certain areas which are sometimes not so obvious.
The blue flagged boat is the Tourist boat which is not so frequent and more expensive when compared to the orange flag.
Suvarnabhumi airport to Bangkok city centre
The airport rail link from Suvarnabhumi airport into Bangkok city centre is a great option at a reasonable price. Identify the route, (in this case we used the blue line), and buy a coin from the automatic machines which are situated underground. The cost for a trip from Suvarnabhumi Airport to the city centre (we stopped at Phaya Thai) was 45 Baht per person. From there, we then got a taxi Grab to our accommodation close to Khao San Road, for 125 baht. There are cheaper bus options which will also take you to Khao San either directly from the airport – the S1 bus – or from Phaya Thai station, bus route 59. At the airport, the S1 bus is located on the first floor, outside, next to the other buses.
Bangkok has 2 airports; Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang. Suvarnabhumi airport serves the full service airlines whilst the other serves the low cost carriers.
Are Bangkok Tour Package worth Considering?
We are kind of ‘do it yourself’ travelers that prefer to research first and then plan sightseeing accordingly. We choose to visit hot spots when they are not so crowded with tourists and therefore we rarely take on package tours. With easy access to a variety of transport options, Bangkok is easy to visit independently. But if you are the traveler type that prefer to have the day all set out to detail and travel around in an air conditioned vehicle (especially in Bangkok, where temperatures tend to be high) then package tours might be a good option.
There are a lot of tours to choose from online. Another option is that of buying tours from the small travel agent shops in Bangkok, although we do suggest to do some research before booking.
Useful Thailand Travel Tips
Sim Card Thailand
Sim card may be bought directly at the Suvarnabhumi airport. Prices may be higher here, but it saves a lot of hassle. So unless having planned out everything for your arrival, (especially the means of transport to your accommodation), the airport would be best option.
We bought the DTAC 30 Days Happy Tourist Sim Card for 899 Thai Baht at the airport. The sim card included 12 GB of data valid for 1 month (whilst the sim card is valid for 12 months).
After 1 month, we topped up with 350 Thai Baht for 7.5 GB of data through DTAC mobile application. The DTAC Thailand sim card provided us with good network coverage throughout Thailand’s major areas.
Best Currency Exchange Rate for Thai Baht
The best currency exchange rates would be in Thailand. Don’t exchange beforehand as the rates in your country wouldn’t be as good as what you find in Thailand. The airport has loads of currency exchange kiosks but their rates aren’t so good. Best way would be to only exchange enough to get you to the accommodation and exchange the rest elsewhere. The more touristy streets generally have the best rates as they have more competition. These foreign exchange kiosks are just small aluminum boxes set up along the streets. Before exchanging any money always ask if there is any additional fee.
Always Ask Price before Buying
If getting a short distance tuk tuk or just grabbing some quick street food, always ask the price first. This is a practical way to not pay a higher price, also barter, especially for tuk tuks.
Drink Plenty of Water
Bangkok is a hot humid city, so drink loads of water especially if out and about.
Join us on our trip to South East Asia and we will provide you with useful travel tips as we visit different countries. We will also send you articles providing comprehensive guides to travelling to places in SE Asia.