Bangkok is one of the most cosmopolitan and exciting cities in Southeast Asia, and recently was declared the most visited city in the world by the 2013 Global Destination Cities Index. Known as The City of Angels, Bangkok is popular among tourists worldwide; it has to offer something for every visitor: from spectacular majesty the Grand Palace and energetic nightlife to amazing shopping options and numerous old imposing Bangkok temples. Whether you are a history buff, an architecture lover, a shopaholic or just crazy about nightlife there is something to do for everyone in Bangkok.
Prepare to know that Bangkok has the highest average temperature of any city in the world! The climate itself is tropical monsoon; temperatures are almost always higher than 30°C and remain the same throughout the year. Generally the climate of Bangkok has three seasons: dry, hot and rainy.
- Dry season starts in November and ends in February. The weather is sunny, the humidity is lower, with little or no rain or just the occasional thunderstorm and the temperatures are a little bit higher than 20°C.
- Hot season starts in March and ends in June. The weather is dry, temperatures soar as high as 40°C, there are occasional thunderstorm and it may be come cloudy and overcast at the end of June. The Songkran Water Festival takes place at this time, where people engage in throwing water at each other to cool each other down.
- Rainy season starts in July and ends in October. Generally is rains in late afternoons or early evenings, but there are days when it rains for the whole day. October is usually the month that some areas of Bangkok experiences flooding. This is a combination of the local rainfall and also floodwaters coming down the Chaophrya River from up-country.
Thai language is the most widely used language in Bangkok, but as there have immigrated numerous non-Thai communities, you can hear other languages on the street quite frequently. Just a couple years ago, English wasn’t so popular in Bangkok, but now it gains terrain and is used in numerous commercial, governmental and tourist areas. Most signs, including traffic ones, are written in both Thai and English. Besides, English is also taught in all public schools.
Traffic in Bangkok is very heavy; you can get in gridlock traffic very easy at any time of the day and night! However there are a lot of modern and comfortable forms of transportation which will help you easily get around Bangkok and save precious time. See below the five most common forms of transportation in Bangkok.
- TS / MRT / Airport Link are some of the newest ads to Bangkok’s transportation system. Both BTS and Airport Link are trains which run above ground, MRT is an underground subway. Bangkok expect to receive a great number of visitors this year, so having the Airport Link is extremely beneficial for getting from the airport to the center of Bangkok. The ride from the airport to downtown Bangkok (SA Express) costs 150 baht, from there you can take the City Line and you will have to pay between 15 and 45 baht per one ride, depending on the distance you want to go. BTS fares start at 15 baht per one stop; there are available one-day passes and BTS Smart Passes. MRT fares are a little bit affordable then the BTS fares. It starts at only 8 baht for the first station for children and elders, and 15 baht for adults. Then the fee will increase just 2-3 baht for the second to the eleventh station. For the twelfth to the seventeenth stations, the fee will increase up to maximum 40 baht for adult and 20 baht for children and elders.
- Taxis are very common in Bangkok, they are everywhere at any time of the day and night. If there is too much traffic, taxi drivers can refuse take you to the desired destination. Nevertheless the prices are affordable: a ride around central Bangkok costs about $3 – $5.
- Bus is the cheapest way to get around Bangkok. On some routes there are even free of charge buses. The Bangkok bus network is far reaching and overall it runs quite smoothly. Most buses run from 05:00 to 23:00 daily, but there are all-night buses as well. Rates vary from 7 baht to 22 baht.
- Tuk Tuk is one of the most popular ways of transportation in Bangkok, especially among tourists. It is a three wheeled go cart with a metal body attached. Nevertheless they are not so comfortable and safe: the seats are a little high making it difficult to see the roadside and because they are open you smell all the vehicle fumes. The prices a little bit higher, a tuk tul ride can cost you at least 100 baht.
- Motorbike taxi is the most convenient and thrilling way to get around Bangkok. You will find them everywhere in the city and at every time of the day. The drivers will get you in safe and quickly at your desired destination. When the streets are clogged with traffic, motorbike taxis have the advantage of sliding between lanes, weaving through vehicles and even taking the sidewalk! Fares are usually negotiated in advance and for a quick 5 min ride 20 – 40 Baht is average.
Where to stay
There is a hotel in Bangkok for every traveler. It can be hard to choose a hotel here as the city is large and the offer is high, but you must focus on your interests and style of your vacation first. Notice that there is no Centre of Bangkok; there are several districts with their own centers. Find below a list of districts in Bangkok, decide what you wish to do and visit during your vacation in Bangkok and then book a hotel in that district.
- Sukhumvit is a district very popular among Europeans and Japanese. It is located directly on the BTS Skytrain line with easy access to the city. It is also closer to the Bangkok Airport (about 40 minute taxi ride) and to some of the most popular Bangkok tourist attractions including the Crocodile Farm, the Ancient City, the Erawan Monument and the beach at Bang Saen. The area is very active; you will find here a lot of dining and relaxing options. Sukhumvit is a great choice for people coming for the first time in Bangkok.
- China Town is perfect for those looking for something different and innovative. It is located in the very heart of Bangkok’s historic center, in the proximity to the river and many major Bangkok temples. The area is full of old shop houses especially of gold, narrow streets and numerous markets. Chinese parades and lion dancing are to be found around the Chinese New Year period - a celebration and spectacle that are not to be missed. Choose to stay in a Chinatown hotel while traveling to Bangkok and you will experience a unique cultural richness.
- Silom will be a perfect choice for nightlife lovers. The district has easy access to the BTS skytrain and to Hua Lamphong station and is famous for its famous Pat Pong night markets. Pat Pong are two modest streets which by night change into a Bangkok street market filled with locals where to rest after a long day spent in the city, shops and bars with a range of sex shows. On the plus side, if you want to stay in Bangkok around this area then there is a good choice of up-markets hotels available.
- Suvarnabhumi Airport is the closest district to airport and is perfect for people in transit, who don’t have time to enter the city. You will find here a wide range of 5 star and budget hotels dotted with modern facilities but designed for short stays; some of these budget Bangkok airport hotels are only 6 minutes away by car and offer a free one way or round trip transfer included in the room rate. Nevertheless the area has easy access to the city and there are several Bangkok tourist attractions located not far away including Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai, Crocodile Farm, the Ancient City, etc.
- Pratunam is ideal for shopaholics as there is located the Platinum Centre - an amazing place to shop for clothes and related item, and Panthip Plaza - an electronics and IT mall. Pratunam hosts the prime wholesale clothing market in Bangkok. The small laneways located between the Amari Atrium Hotel and the Baiyoke Sky Tower are filled with little market stalls selling everything imaginable. Also you will find there tasty traditional food and drinks. Pratunam is located directly on the Airport link line.
- Riverside is probably the most romantic place to stay when traveling to Bangkok. What can be better than a spectacular view over the river that divides the city into old and new? It is located on the banks of the Chaophrya River, about one hour from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. The area is filled with Bangkok hotels for all tastes and pockets. Hotels located on the West bank of the river usually offer shuttle boats to take visitors on the other side. Riverside is perfect for history buffs as the main historical sites are located nearby.
- Siam is the biggest upmarket shopping area in Bangkok. It has easy access to the Central World shopping centre and Gaysorn Plaza along with the Mahboonkrong shopping centre (MBK). Also if you book one of Bangkok hotels here you have easy access to the BTS Skytrain and Ocean World - the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere. If you like shopping and modernity then spend a few days in Siam.
- Khaosan Road is perfect for those on a budget. The most affordable budget hotels in Bangkok are located on Khaosan Road. Besides cheap accommodation you will meet here people from all over the world to share your experience or take some advices/tips. The area is very active and you will find very easy small coffee shops, internet cafes and boutique establishments. Khaosan Road is located adjacent to the Banglamphu markets and the Chaophrya River meaning you can easily reach any of Bangkok's tourist attractions. There is no BTS Skytrain access to this part of town, but there are plenty of taxis and tuk tuks.
Places to See & Things to Do
Bangkok has a very reach history and a strategic location that it has everything to keep you entertained all day long. Their old and diverse culture will amaze you at every step with new temples, fine architecture, luxuriant gardens and interesting customs. There are a great array of places which can learn you about Thai culture, arts, architecture, history and customs; see below just the most popular ones.
- Temple Tour. Bangkok boasts hundreds of temples and numerous reflective surfaces which are very spectacular. The most important are Trimitr Wat, Wat Po and Wat Benjabophit. But there are many other Bangkok temples considered the most important religious icons in Thailand and which can simply fascinate you: The Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun (“Temple of Dawn”).
- Khao San Road is a small road found nearby the Chao Phraya River. Many years ago this road served as the biggest and most important rice market in Bangkok that is why it is often called the Milled Rice. About 20 years ago the area has begun to be transformed into a world famous backpackers hangout. Tourist can easily find here amazing and affordable Bangkok hotels ranging from dorm style hostels to reasonably priced 3-star hotels as well as bars, food stalls, restaurants, convenience stores, internet cafes and travel agencies.
- Chao Phraya River divides Bangkok into two parts and is very popular among local and foreign tourists. It is a major waterway and trade hub, with water taxis, river cruise boats, and trading vessels plying the waters daily. Annually, on its banks occur numerous events and festivals including Songkran (the Thai New Year), the Loy Krathong Festival, and the Royal Barge Procession. The most popular sightseeings are located on the river banks such as the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Arun and Wat Pho. Day time Chao Phraya River is very active, but night time it is even more! A dinner cruise on a teak boat or rice barge is definitely one of the best ways to spend an evening in Bangkok.
- Chinatown is a very old district in Bangkok; it is said to be as old as Bangkok. It was built hundred years ago when Chinese migrants flocked here to trade and earn money. Nowadays Chinatown is well packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants, Chinese medicine stores and countless gold shops. Day time it is very crowded, thousands of locals and tourist come here in search of bargains, fresh produces, goods, visit Chinese temples; it is so full of people that taxi drivers avoid this district. The best period to visit Chinatown is during the Chinese New Year and the annual Vegetarian Festival.
- Bangkok ‘Klongs’ (Canals) is something not to miss when traveling to Bangkok. Due to its numerous klongs that criss-cross the land around the river banks, Bangkok is often called the Venice of the East. Exploring Bangkok’s klongs is like steeping back in time. In the past there were much more klongs than today, many of them have been drained and filled to make way for the growing city, but there are still a few left that are worthwhile visiting. The klongs are not as crowded as the Chao Phraya River is because they aren’t used so much for trade, but they are picruresque, though somewhat smelly.
- Jim Thompson’s House is a kind o museum of Southeast Asian art. It is located on a klong across from Bangkrua, nearby his weavers were then located. It was the residency of the infamous CIA operative Jim Thompson who revived the Thai silk industry after World War II. The house is assembled from six traditional Thai-style houses. As he was interested and passionate of Southeast Asian art and culture, he earned a big collection of art objects.
- Floating Markets. One of Thailand’s claims to fame is its floating markets where vendors sell food and crafts directly from their boats, on the Maklong River or Chao Phraya River. These markets are among the most-photographed destinations in the country. They depict what Thai life was long before the supermarkets, skytrains, and skyscrapers alike. Floating Markets have sellers pack their wares onto small boats and jostle with each other for the attention of buyers alongside canals. Set against a country backdrop they are very picturesque and a natural draw for visitors. Read more...
- Ladyboy Show is a spectacular colorful cabaret show. The show is guaranteed by transvestites dressed in flamboyant costumes and dancing outrageously. Known also as the Bangkok Ladies or Katoeys, Thailand transvestites amaze audiences with their beautiful bodies and gorgeous looks, and are known as the finest transvestites in the world. There are just a few places in the world where you can see such a show that is why LadyBloy Show is very popular among tourists. Dances, comedy skits, glam and disco divas give audiences a night to remember!
How to save money
Generally Bangkok is a wallet-friendly destination and this is because of the Thailand’s favorable exchange rate and cheap living costs. Nevertheless peak tourist season drives up airfare and accommodation prices, more locals try to get more money from you by increasing the prices at almost everything: transport, food, recreation etc.
- Avoid public taxi. All public taxis charge by the meter and the standard is about 35 baht surcharge for every taxi meter.
- Sleep in the Old City. Generally the accommodation in Bangkok is very cheap; you will find great deals event at luxury hotels. Nevertheless, you can save some baht by booking budget hotels in the Old City.
- Avoid fancy food. Authentic Thai dishes are very tasty and you can find them in small, family-owned restaurants.
- Shop smart. Shopping is a major perk of visiting Bangkok. For the best prices on local goods, opt for street markets like Chatuchak rather than shopping centers.
When to go
The best period to visit Bangkok is the Cool Season which starts in November and ends in February. This is the period after monsoon and before the sweltering heat sets in the beginning of March. Avoid the April, May and June months, when temperatures soar as high as 40°C; it’s very hard to get around the city during this period, is like riding through a fire storm. In Min June usually arrive the much needed rain which washes Bangkok till the end of October. The rainy season is actually a great time to visit - few tourists, lower temperatures and the occasional monsoonal downpour that floods the streets and brings the kids out to play.