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An Insider’s Guide To Bangkok

By Louis Bechtel


Just about any visitor to Southeast Asia has to pass through Bangkok. Some people loathe it; others swear it is one of the most fascinating, wonderful and exciting places on earth.

Truthfully, Bangkok can be anything a visitor wants it to be; a picturesque Asian postcard crammed with beautiful palaces, and pagodas; a haven with some of the world's finest hotels; a place to let loose and enjoy the most renowned nightlife in the Orient; a chance to savor one of the world's unique cuisines; one of Southeast Asia's best shopping destinations.

And wherever you go in Bangkok, you'll be struck by the friendly, easy way of Thais. Life is sanuk, their word for fun. And with an insider’s view of this fascinating city, you will find it sanuk, too!

Although Thai history reaches back to the Bronze Age, Bangkok is a relatively young city, founded in 1782. It Read Bangkok hotel reviewshas one-tenth of the country's population, about six million people, half under the age of thirty. The city is embraced by the Chao Phraya River of Kings, a glorious working waterway filled with sampans, rice barges, and boats of every imaginable description.

Buddhist temples (wats), high-rise office buildings, luxury hotels, and shopping malls dominate a kaleidoscopic Bangkok skyline blend of old and new. But get beneath the thin veneer of Western influence, and you'll discover Thais have not lost traditional values. Witness ubiquitous street food vendors, monks on early morning begging rounds, and women stringing jasmine blossoms near shrines, and you'll agree ancient culture has been reserved.

BANGKOK CULTURE BASICS

It’s important to know a bit about Thai culture to really discover the inside of the country and of the city.

Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of more than 90% of all Thais and casts a strong influence on daily life, although the Thais have always subscribed to religious freedom. Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish minorities freely pursue their respective faiths.

Buddhism, more a way of life than a religion, has one aim only: to abolish suffering. It is a flexible, moral, and philosophical framework where people fashion their own salvation. Buddhists believe a person's life does not begin with birth and end with death but continues in an afterlife premised on their behavior in the present life. Earthly impermanence does much to create the relaxed, carefree Thai character, certainly one of the appealing attractions of the country.

The King

Aerobics in Lumpini Park, Bangkok, Thailand.
Aerobics in Limbini Park, Bangkok, Thailand.

As a symbol of hope, the king, a man who works tirelessly for his people, has earned great respect. He acts as a decisive mediator in times of unrest. Few can achieve what King Blumibol can with a word or quiet request. The longest reigning king in the world, he is the glue that holds society together. An accomplished jazz musician and talented photographer, he was born in the United States and educated in Switzerland.

Today, Thailand has a growing democracy and an established rule of law.  Its military does not play the dominant role it once did.

MAJOR ATTRACTIONS

Bangkok has more attractions packed into each square mile than most cities. The major attractions are definitely worth seeing; just ignore the crowds and appreciate the architecture and culture of the sights.

Wat Phra Khao and the Grand Palace top all lists for sightseeing; allow a half day. Include nearby Wat Pho and the National Museum. Chinatown's traditional life, unaffected by modern civilization, is fascinating. The historical sites of Rattanakosin Island, the focal point of public life when Bangkok was founded, are also worth a visit, and Wat Arun on the Chao Phraya River is often considered the symbol of Bangkok.

Cross the river to Thonburi and tour the canals (klongs) to appreciate the culture and heritage of Thailand. The golden teak Vimanmek Palace, restored by Queen Sirikit, reflects the exquisite taste and splendor of bygone Thai court life. The Royal Barge Museum houses the king's barges with mythical figureheads. Jim Thompson, founder of the Thai silk industry, left an unmatched legacy of Asian fine art in his residence near Siam Square.

Banglampoo, Pra Athit and Khao San Road, a very popular area of inexpensive restaurants, cheap rooms, street vendors and budget-level fun, is a short walk from the Phra Athit express boat pier. Taxi drivers know it well. There are no real "sights" here, but the street life and bustle are entertaining. Young Western and Asian backpackers lounge around beer bars to share experiences and offer advice on how to travel Southeast Asia "on the cheap." 

UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS

While Bangkok’s major attractions are a bit on the unusual side, the city also offers a tremendous wealth of fascinating attractions off the main tourist path.

Ko Kret
About five miles north of Nonthaburi, the Chao Phraya River cuts the land and rings it, forming an island off Pakkred. Here on Ko Kret, a settlement of Mon descendents is slowly gaining more tourist attention. Mon artisans possess remarkable skills in crafting terracotta pots, jars, and other high-quality products. The 7,000 residents keep the island car-free. Boats, motorcycles, bicycles,
and walking provide transport around the area. A well-kept museum has a bountiful collection of valuable terracotta items, and the Mon cultural center was established to keep alive dying Mon identity.

Ko Kret's main attraction is a landscape filled with clay pots, kilns, and mortars, and an authentic ancient lifestyle more and more difficult to find.

Chao Phraya Express boats leave from the southern Wat Ratchsingkhorn Pier for the 90-minute journey to Pakkred. A boat tour around Ko Kret costs 200 baht.

Museum of the Department of Corrections

Your impression of the gentle nature of Thai people will be somewhat dispelled, if you visit this museum at Bangwang Central Prison in Nonthaburi. Take the express boat to Nonthaburi, walk past the clocktower, turn left, and walk a third of a mile along the wall of the prison to the entrance at the Correctional Staff Training Center.

Founded in 1939, this museum of ancient torture shows many of the grim methods used to execute prisoners during the Ayutthaya Period, the most notable being a huge rattan ball whose inner lining was studded with sharp spikes. The prisoner was placed inside and the ball given to elephants to kick around. In a most understated remark, the guidebook to the museum notes, "The offender will be hurt by many big sharp nails inside." Another memorable quote from the guide: "The executed prisoner's fingerprints will be taken for examination in order to ensure that he was not the wrong person."

There is no charge to enter the museum, and a staff member will gladly escort you around.

Wat Chalaw

In 1984, work began on magnificent Wat Chalaw, a Buddhist temple twice the size (over 300 feet long) of the King's Royal Barge it resembles, although the history of the small temple it replaces goes back 500 years. Located in Bang Kruay, a small, traditional village in northern Nonthaburi Province across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok, the still unfinished temple is one of the most outstanding architectural undertakings ever attempted in Thailand. When completed in a couple of years, at a cost of several million dollars and countless hours contributed by the good citizens of Bang Kruay, visitors will be guaranteed a sight to stir even the most jaded traveler. It’s worth a visit now.

To get there, take the express boat to Nonthaburi Pier, cross the river by ferry and continue by bus or motorbike for ten minutes to the town. Taxis are an alternative, but be sure the driver understands where you want to go. Longboats traveling on Thonburi waterways also pass by the town.

Little-known Wat Clusters
To minimize crosstown traffic delays when visiting Buddhist temples, the following, not often visited, wats are in the same general area, near the Democracy Monument:

  • Wat Rajanada
    An architectural Burmese-style wonder.
  • Wat Sakhet
    Atop a hill with good views of Bangkok, one of the city's oldest wats.
  • Wat Sukhat and the Giant Swing
    One of the most important wats in Bangkok.
  • Wat Indravihan
    An impressive Buddha, deserving more attention.

Tha Chin River Area
Located a half-hour drive from Bangkok in Sam Phran district of Nakhon Pathom province, the area hugging the calm Tha Chin River, said to be the cleanest river in Thailand, maintains its old charm and rural life style. Old traditions are passed down from one generation to another in the three small communities that line the river. If you want to explore pristine rural life of fruit orchards, Thai-style houses, temples, shophouses, and a fish sanctuary, this area near the Rose Garden Resort is worth your time.

Busses leave from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal for Don Wai.  

Baiyoke Sky Tower
Rising 94 stories above the Bangkok skyline and surrounded by bustling shopping and entertainment attractions, the new Baiyoke Sky Tower Observation Deck is worth a visit with telescopes and information about Bangkok at the visitor's fingertips via a special computer system. The tower exhibits include a small Thai House, a tuk tuk, and a photo gallery of Bangkok's distant past. 222 Rajprarop Road.

Ancient City & Crocodile Farm
Covering 200 acres and the approximate shape of Thailand, Ancient City is the world's largest outdoor museum, located about 20 miles southeast of Bangkok. It was built about 25 years ago and has small replicas of every major landmark in the country. Ancient City is the history of Thailand in miniature.

You can travel to the park on our own, but your visit will be much more rewarding if you take a tour with the benefit of a guide to describe the landmarks. Ancient City Co. at Ratchadamnoen Avenue (Tel: 224 - 1936/7) organizes tours, or you'll find the trip among those listed on sandwich boards outside the offices of most travel agents. This unique outdoor museum is open from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily and charges 50 baht for adults and 25 baht for children.

The Crocodile Farm is about 1 mile from Ancient City. In addition to 30,000 crocodiles, the dinosaur museum has 13 species of life-size creatures.

 

Miscellaneous Museums

  • Bangkok Dolls & Museum
    Soi Ratchataphan in Pratunam area.
    Tel: 245-3008
    All kinds of Thai dolls are made in this factory for inspection and purchase. Open every day except Sundays from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Philatelic Museum
    1st floor of the Metropolitan Postal Bureau behind Sam San Ni Post Office
    Tel: 271-2439
    Thai and foreign stamps are displayed. Stamps and accessories for stamp collectors are for sale. There is a postal library. No fee. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Hall of Railways Heritage
    North of Chatuchak Park near a multi-purpose parking lot
    Tel: 243-2037 (Thai Railfan Club)
    Steam engines, train models, and miniature trains are exhibited along with photographs and paintings depicting the development of the world's railway systems. No admission charge. Open every Sunday. Call for times.
  • Museum of Imaging Technology
    Department of Photographic Science and Printing Technology Building, Chulalongkorn University
    Tel: 251-1913
    Historic Photographs and imaging equipment are displayed. Exhibits include modern photographic arts and techniques, advance technology of three-dimensional photographs, electronic photography, and printing technology. Admission 100 baht. Open Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Minerals and Rocks Museum
    Rama IV Road opposite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    Tel: 245-6210
    The exhibit is divided into two categories: geology and mineral resources. No fee. Open Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Museum of Forensic Medicine
    Sirirat Hospital, Thonburi
    Tel: 411-2003.
    Gruesome displays of celebrated Thai murderers and other grisly items. No fee. Open weekdays 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Royal Thai Air Force Museum
    Don Muang Domestic Airport.
    World-class collection of rare historic military aircraft. No fee. Open weekdays 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
  • Thai Human Imagery Museum
    Nakhon Pathom
    Tel: 211-6261
    An unusual museum peopled by fiber glass human figures that you'll swear are real. Stop by if you come to Nakhon Pathom to see the 400 foot Phra Pathom Chedi. Open daily from 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Horse Racing
High quality horse racing, open to the public, operates most of the year in Bangkok on weekends; Saturdays at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC) on Henri Dunant Road, Tel: 251-0181, and Sundays at the Royal Turf Club on Sri Ayudhya Road (Tel: 280-0020), each averaging ten races.

Golf 
When you land at Bangkok's International Airport during daylight hours, you'll get your first glimpse of golf in Thailand on fairways between the two main runways. The sport is one of the fastest growing in the country, and, except for occasional heavy rains, golfers enjoy the sport year round.

Caddies are generally young females who carry your bag, clean your ball, give you the distances, and even read your putts, hopefully not your mind. You'll often have two accompanying you, one with an umbrella to shield you from the tropic sun and one to carry your bag.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has an excellent, well-illustrated brochure titled Golf in Thailand with the top 75 courses profiled in color.

Ice Skating
Yes, even in Thailand! World Ice-Skating Center, World Trade Center, 8th Floor. 100 baht/3 hrs.

Kite Fighting (April)

Sanam Luang, near Wat Phra Kao

Thai Boxing

A popular sport both for locals and foreigners. Take in a match at Ratchadamnoen Stadium, near Parliament, or Lumpini Stadium, Rama IV Road near Dusit Thani Hotel.

ALTERNATIVES

Learning

 

The Siam Society
Bangkok's Siam Society was founded in 1904 under Royal Patronage with the objective of researching and gathering information on the arts and sciences of Thailand and neighboring countries. The society sponsors lectures and artistic performances and regularly organizes one to seven day tours of cultural interest. All are conducted in English and led by prominent educators or Society members. The Natural History Section offers excursions for nature lovers. Tour groups are usually limited to 40, which fill a bus, the usual mode of transportation.

The Kamthieng House on the Society's grounds, a quiet oasis in the center of hectic Bangkok, is a historical treasure of 19th Century northern Thai architecture and artifacts. The house was dismantled in Chiang Mai, shipped to Bangkok and re-assembled in the Society's garden compound. The Society's unique library houses approximately 29,000 volumes on Southeast Asia.

For scheduled events and tours, contact the Siam Society, 13 Soi Asoke, Sukhumvit 21, Bangkok 10110. Tel: 661-6470/7, Fax: 258-3491.siam-society.org, e-mail: info@siam-society.org

World Fellowship of Buddhists
33 Sukhumvit Road (between Soi 1 and Soi 3)
Tel: 251-1188
The WFB holds a meditation class in English the first Sunday of the month from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. Lectures on Buddhism are held the third and last Sunday of each month from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Thai Cooking Classes
There are many opportunities to learn Thai cooking in Bangkok. Several independent cooking schools can be found (CHECK GoNOMAD’s ALTERNATIVES LISTINGS). All the major hotels also offer classes ranging from a few hours to a few days.

  • The Oriental Hotel
    48 Oriental Avenue
    Tel: 238-0265
  • Shangri-La Hotel
    Charoen Krung Road
    Tel: 236-7777
  • Dusit Thani Hotel
    RAMA IV Road
    Tel: 236-6400
  • Siam Intercontinental Hotel
    RAMA I Road
    Tel: 253-0355
  • The Landmark Hotel
    138 Sukhumvit Road
    Tel: 254-0404
  • UFM Food Center
    Sukhumvit Road, Soi 33
    Tel. 259-0620
  • Modern Housewife Center
    45/6-7 Sethsiri Road
    Tel: 279-2831

TOURING

It’s easy to base in Bangkok and explore the region through a series of interesting and unusual daytrips.

Ayutthaya & Bang Pa-In
The most popular day trip from Bangkok is probably the visit to Ayutthaya (A-you-ta-ya), the old capital of Thailand, about 50 miles north of the city. For over 400 years, Ayutthaya served as the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam. European travelers described its glittering temples, palaces, and Buddhist images as one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. Unfortunately, the city met its end in 1767 when the Burmese razed the glories of Ayutthaya. You can easily make the trip to Ayutthaya and Bang Pa-In on your own by train, an hour and a half ride from Hualamphong Station, or by bus from the Northern Bus Terminal.

When you arrive in Ayutthaya, hire (250 baht is a fair price) a tuk tuk with an English-speaking guide to show you the celebrated temples. Then hire (300 baht is a good price) a long-tail boat for the 12-mile Chao Phraya River trip to the king's summer palace at Bang Pa-In; return to Bangkok from Bang Pa-In by train. 

Bridge Over the River Kwai & Kanchanaburi
The most moving part of a trip to Thailand is a visit to the infamous bridge over the River Kwai near the Burmese border, about 75 miles west of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi. David Lean's 1957 epic film, "The Bridge on the River Kwai," immortalized the location. Today, the rebuilt bridge and Kanchanaburi are major tourist attractions. In late November through early December  "Bridge On the River Kwai Week" offers an impressive Sound and Light presentation recreating the historical event.

Nakhon Pathom & Buddha Monthon
Nakhon Pathom, 35 west of Bangkok, is a convenient stopover on the way to the River Kwai. The main attraction is the Phra Pathom Chedi clad in orange tiles and rising almost 400 feet, the tallest Buddhist monument in the world and the oldest in Thailand. Many believe it marks the spot where Buddhism was introduced to Thailand 2,300 years ago. Along the way, Buddha Monthon is one of Thailand's most beautiful. 

Leave from the Southern Bus Terminal for the one-hour ride to the chedi.

 

Rose Garden Country Resort
This popular, though touristy, attraction is 20 miles west of Bangkok on the bank of the Thachin River. The main feature is a daily cultural show at 3 p.m. featuring Thai dances, a Thai wedding, Thai boxing, bamboo dancing, and other cultural events.

For those with limited time, the Rose Garden offers good insight into local traditions. Admission to the gardens is 10 baht and 220 baht for the cultural performances. The park is open daily with shuttle buses between the resort and major Bangkok hotels. Tel: 295-3261.

ACCOMMODATIONS

By any world standard, Bangkok hotels can't be beat for value received.  Forget published room rates. In Thailand's depressed economy, hotel room prices are as negotiable as carpets in the souks of Marrakech. Walk-in reduced rates, corporate discounts, frequent guest programs, Bangkok travel agent contracted rates, and special promotions often save you up to 50% off rack rates.

Top-end hotels are located along the river, near Siam Square, the Queen Sirikit Convention Center, and major shopping and entertainment intersections with prices in the US$100 range. Chinatown, Khao San Road and Banglampoo offer rock bottom room rates, often less than US $10 a night.

Hint: Bangkok travel agents offer highly discounted room rates for all classes of hotels. Book your arrival night before you leave home and shop the agents for subsequent lodging.

  • Sukhumvit Road

Boulevard Hotel
Tel: 255-2930

 

  • City Lodge

Soi 9 Sukhumvit Road

 

  • Siam Square

Pathumwan Princess
Tel: 216-3700

 

  • Banglampoo

Peachy Guesthouse  

FOOD

Thai food currently enjoys worldwide popularity not just in ethnic and local neighborhoods, but at fashionable city addresses as well. Travelers to Bangkok quickly learn to enjoy the great scope of Thai cuisine; freshness, subtle flavors, and an artful presentation of dishes, street food excepted. Add mai ped (not too spicy) to your vocabulary if hot food disagrees with you.

Thais are inveterate snackers, and street food hawkers with stone mortar, charcoal stoves, water buckets, umbrellas, and chairs supply the essentials. Don't hesitate to try these inexpensive wok concoctions, but watch how the cooking utensils are cleaned. Many Thai people find it's cheaper to buy from local street vendors than to prepare meals at home.

Continental and Asian cuisines are often served in lavish hotel dining rooms and Western-style restaurants, and no matter where you are, you'll be near an American franchised fast food shop flaunting familiar signs.

  • Cabbages and Condoms is a highly recommended Thai dining experience in the Sukhumvit area. (See Restaurant with a Mission for more info)
    Tel: 251-5552

 

  • The Royal Dragon Seafood Restaurant, the world's largest with 322 chefs and 10,000 customers a day, is worth a visit.
    Tel: 398-0037.

 

  • The counter at Foodland, Soi 5 Sukhumvit, is busy round the clock.
 

 

  • Took Lae Dee ("cheap and good") says it all.

 

  • The Oriental Hotel's Normandie Grill is top-of-the-line dining that may challenge your credit card limit.
    Tel: 236-0400

    A good choice for the hungry, budget traveler are the Hotel All-You-Can-Eat Buffets

 

  • Tawana Ramada
    Bon Vivant: International, 11:30am - 2:30pm. 245 baht.
 

 

  • Montien Riverside
    The Café: Thai & International, 11am -2pm. 320 baht.
 

 

  • Rama Gardens
    Greenery Café: International, Lunch & Dinner. 290 baht.
 

 

  • Menam Riverside
    Menantien: Chinese, Lunch & Dinner, 250 baht.
 

 

  • Montien
    Monti Brasserie: International, 11am - 2:30pm. 330 baht.
 

 

  • Imperial Queens Park
    Parkview: International, Noon  - 2:30pm. 400 baht.
 

 

  • Windsor Suites
    Café: International, 11:30am - 2:30pm. 290 baht for two.

NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT

Name it and you'll find it in Bangkok. Jazz, blues, and country-western clubs are found along Sarasin Road near Lumpini Park. Major hotels have popular discos and the Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood make their presence known. The NASA Spacedrome Disco packs in 4,000 on busy nights (Tel: 324-3368). Silom Road Soi 4 caters to the gay scene, yuppies and hippies.

 

The National Theater (Tel: 221-5861) and Thai Cultural Center (Tel: 247-0028) schedule classical dance recitals, the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, and performing arts groups.

For some less traditional nighttime entertainment, the transvestite Calypso Cabaret holds forth in the Asia Hotel (Tel: 261-6355). The Mambo Cabaret (Tel: 259-5128) brings in 600 nightly to check out the cabaret's claim for having the most beautiful transvestites. These shows are more likely to amuse (or confuse) than offend.

If you are at all unsure about Bangkok’s notorious red light districts and loose policies on prostitution, avoid the infamous Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy areas. The brand new Clinton Plaza near the Ambassador Hotel is also one of the main arenas for male patrons seeking earthy pleasures. Today, however, Patpong is almost as well known for its nightly bazaar as for its sleazy bars.

SHOPPING

Thai silks and cottons, silverware, brass and bronzeware, pewterware, pottery and celadon, lacquerware, precious stones and finished jewelry, antiques and neo-antiques, and a dazzling assortment of folk handicrafts are popular traditional products. Decorative items and well-designed teak furniture satisfy discriminating shoppers. Tailors and dressmakers offer reliable services. Your shopping challenge is knowing what to buy and where to buy it; quality varies considerably. Electronic goods and camera equipment are expensive.
 

Markets
Modern, air-conditioned malls and plazas, rivaling the best in the world, are rapidly replacing street vendors. But sidewalk shopping remains a citywide affair, and Bangkok's flea markets are alive and well. The Pratunam street market near the Indra Hotel along Rajapraprop Road devotes one side of the street to fruits and food products, the other side to apparel, costume jewelry, handbags, and gift items. Street vendors on upper Silom Road near Rama IV Road and Sukhumvit Road from Soi 11 to Ploenchit Road cater to tourist tastes. At night, Patpong packs more stalls selling fake goods and handicrafts in a short block than you thought possible.  The biggest and most fascinating market is the Chatuchak Weekend Market, held on Saturday and Sunday at Chatuchak Park near the Central Plaza Hotel and across from the Northern Bus Terminal. Conveniently located at the northern Skytrain terminal, it covers 31 acres with 5,000 stalls selling everything imaginable. Be warned; it is easy to get lost, so pick a landmark for your bearings. The clock tower near the entrance is a good one.
If you have time, buy a drink and some wok concoction at one of the food stalls, and watch the parade: Thai families, Christian nuns, monks, Hill Tribe people from the north, and a kaleidoscope of humanity you will not find anywhere else on earth. It beats Parisian sidewalk cafes by a mile.

Note: Small shops and street vendors expect bargaining. Generally, you can probably settle for half the original asking price.

But, if you can’t handle the haggling, visit Narayana Phand, across from the World Trade Center on Ratchadamri Road next to Gaysorn Plaza and near the Erawan Shrine. Established about a half century ago, this shop is a joint venture between the Royal Thai Government and the private sector and worth a special trip. Shop here for Thai handicrafts and local products. You're guaranteed high quality and reliable merchandise at reasonable prices. Check out their new website at http://www.naraiphand.com.

HAPPENINGS

Most visits to Bangkok coincide with a national holiday or local celebration. Most of these are celebrated in true Thai style in the city and surrounding areas. Below are the major happenings.

February
Magha Puja, an important Buddhist holy day.
Chinese New Year

April
Songkran, traditional Thai New Year; a time for merry-making..
May
Royal Ploughing Ceremony, presided over by the King. July
Khan Phansa, beginning of Buddhist Lent. August
Queen's Birthday.November
Loi Krathong, Thailand's loveliest festival. (See Loi’s Lights December
King's Birthday. The city's dazzles with displays and lights.
    
For smaller festivals and specific dates, contact:
Tourism Authority of Thailand

tourismthailand.orgGETTING THERE
Although a few visitors arrive by freighters docking near Bangkok's Klong Toey Port, and tourists cross the border north from Malaysia by train, seventy percent of all visitors to Thailand arrive by air at Don Muang International Airport, about 15 to 20 miles from most city hotels. The airport is a major hub for travels throughout Southeast Asia offering state-of-the-art facilities. Immigration and customs arrival procedures are effortless. The air-conditioned Airport Bus, one of Bangkok's best-kept secrets, is the best option for getting to your hotel. Apart from the low fare, about 100 baht (US$2.50), the service is clean, safe, fast, easy to use and with plenty of luggage space. It operates every fifteen minutes along three routes until midnight. The attendant will direct you to the route serving your hotel. The Public Taxi Stand immediately outside the airport arrival area is a good second choice with a 250 baht (US$6.25) fare into town. Ignore touts inside the airport who approach you.  Ordinary bus and train travel into Bangkok is available, but what you might save isn't worth the inconvenience. GETTING AROUND
Time, rather than distance, is important when planning travels around the city. Metered taxis are cheap, clean, reliable, and air-conditioned; just be sure the driver uses the meter. Air-conditioned busses are inexpensive and easy to use; buy the latest Bangkok Bus Map, available at newsstands and bookstores.Express water taxi service on the Chao Phraya River avoids city road traffic and provides great sightseeing. Rented long-tail boats are a convenient way to sightsee if you don't mind the familiar sound of a leaf blower or a weed whacker; bargain with the owner (a 300 baht hourly fee is fair) at the landing near the Oriental Hotel. Bangkok's new Skytrain, in operation less than a year is state-of-the-art and easy to use. Fares range from 20 baht to 40 baht. Two lines bring you close to most tourist destinations. Highly recommended. Bangkok's sidewalks always seem to be in some state of repair or disrepair. You can easily stumble, twist an ankle, walk into puddles or, worst of all, fall into an open sewer trench. Having said that, there's no more enjoyable way to explore Bangkok than on foot. Simply walk with care.

One wheel at the front, two at the back, a motorbike engine with handlebars for steering, and a slippery plastic seat cover over the back wheels with a not-too-protective cover, and you've defined the tuk tuk, Bangkok's unique local transportation. Low-price metered taxis have relegated the tuk tuk to the tourist trade and local family transport.

Driving in Bangkok is not for the faint-hearted. In spite of signs and speed limits, anything goes. A Rule of Thumb: the right of way usually belongs to the larger vehicle. Forget this option.

WEATHER

Bangkok enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons. The average annual 83°F. can climb to 95°F. during the March through May hot summer months. Ruled by monsoons from the southwest, the rainy season prevails from June through October with river flooding sometimes occurring in early fall. Weather conditions are most temperate from November through February, the ideal months to visit the city. Bangkok is hot and humid mid-day at any time of the year.      

HEALTH & SAFETY

Thais are hygiene-conscious. Most restaurants have high standards of cleanliness. Don't become paranoid to the point where you may miss one of the joys of Thailand, Thai food. Drink bottled water.

The government's campaign to educate people on preventive measures for AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases has slowed the incidence of infection, but the risks remain very real in a country whose thriving sex industry is well known. Major hospitals are first rate; in particular, the Bumrungrad Hospital at 33 Sukhumvit Soi 3, Tel.667-1000

By international standards, Bangkok is a safe city, but petty crime is always common in areas where tourists gather. Thailand is no exception. Use common sense. 

VISAS AND OTHER OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

Bangkok is also the place to pick up visas for other nearby Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Most travel agencies can arrange these for you, or you can go directly to the consulates of the respective countries and apply in person.

MONEY

The basic unit of currency is the Thai baht, worth about two and a half US cents. Don't waste valuable time trying to find the best dollar exchange rate. There's very little difference with the exception of poorer rates offered by hotel cashiers. Travelers Checks and credit cards are accepted everywhere. ATMs are readily available.

COMMUNICATIONS

Cybercafes are plentiful and cheap; expect to pay about four US cents a minute. Check netcafeguide.com for locations.

Interntational telephone calls from Bangkok are very easy and most city hotels–especially the larger ones--have international direct-dial phones. Use your phone card; it’s much cheaper.

RESOURCES

There is no better resource for authentic information on Bangkok than the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Visit their excellent website, or stop into one of their offices either in Bangkok or elsewhere.

Tourism Authority of Thailand
tourismthailand.org

Bangkok
Le Concorde Building
202 Ratchadapisek Road Tel: 694-1222

Los Angeles
611 N. Larchmont Blvd.
Tel: 323-461-9814.
The Amazing Tourist Hotline was introduced in 1998. Visitors simply dial (02) 714-3334 for information on some 400 tourism topics (in English).  Pick up a brochure at TAT, hotels, airports, and train stations for guidance.Start your day with the Bangkok Post for news of daily exhibitions and events that might interest you or check it out online at bangkokpost.net

And by all means, pick up a copy of Nancy Chandler's "Map of Bangkok" and spend time with it. The new offbeat "Groovy Maps & Guides" cover Bangkok at night.

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Monks by a rice paddy in Thailand. Photo by Bill Reyland. Click on photo to return
Doi Chaang, Thailand. Photo by Matthew Kadey. Click on photo to return to Matthew
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