Bangkok Travel Guide: how to explore the Thai metropolis
Bangkok is a highly developed metropolis, one of Southeast Asia’s largest cities and a fascinating melting pot of traditions, heritage and modernity. Thailand’s capital city is a perfect destination for every kind of traveller as it is one of the cheapest travel hubs in Asia. Bangkok is also perfect for any backpackers who want to start a medium-long trip around Southeast Asia. The city is well connected to the other neighbouring countries that can be easily reached by bus or by a cheap flight. We’ve visited 3 times this chaotic metropolis as a starting point of our trips to Thailand and despite its size and mess of traffic and people, we’ve been amazed by its charm and beauty. The stunning temples and palaces, colourful and bustling street markets where the time seems to have stopped, long and jam-packed shopping streets, fashion rooftop bars where to sip a drink waiting for the sunset and its vibrant nightlife with thousands of clubs left us speechless. Our suggestion is not to skip the city but take it as the starting point of your trip for at least a couple of days. You can also use Bangkok as the base of many interesting attractions in the surrounding like the famous street and floating markets like Maeklong, Amphawa or Damnoen, the historic town of Kanchanaburi and the Erawan waterfalls, the old capital Ayuttaya and much more.
- BEST TIME TO VISIT BANGKOK
The best season to visit Bangkok and Thailand, in general, is from November to February, when the weather is cool and dry. This short period is also the peak season, especially December and January when European and Asian people crowd the country and its stunning beaches looking for sun and relaxation. If you’re visiting Bangkok within this period, prepare to share the city with millions of other tourists. March to June is pretty hot and during one of our trips, we made it in April and the heat was a bit annoying. The rainy season runs from June to October, but the wettest months are September and October. If you travel in this season, consider that the precipitation level could even ruin your travel plans.
- VISA REQUIREMENTS
Before booking the flight, you must check if you are entitled to a Visa exemption, a Visa on arrival or if you need to apply in person at the Royal Thai Embassy/Consulate in your country.
- HOW TO GET TO BANGKOK
Bangkok is one of the busiest city in the world and it’s well connected with any country. Thailand’s capital city is served by two airports: Don Mueang Airport (DMK), usually for low-cost companies, and the Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), the main hub of the country.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK)
Suvarnabhumi International Airport is the main gateway to Thailand for tourists and it’s located around 30 Km east of the city centre. The airport terminal, one of the largest in the world, has four floors and a basement. Arrivals are on the 2nd Floor while departures are on the 4th Floor. At the 3rd floor, you’ll find restaurants and stores. The 1st Floor is where you have to go if you want to take a taxi to Bangkok or bus/minibus to other destinations.
- How to reach your accommodation from Suvarnabhumi Airport
It’s indeed a comfortable way to reach the downtown without using the public transportations. Even though Bangkok is a big metropolis, the cabs are still cheap compared to other cities. The only thing you must do is to insist with the driver to use the meter. Once you get to the arrival hall, go to the 1rst floor and follow the signs indicating “public taxi” and then queue up with the other customers. Here you’ll find automatic ‘Taxi kiosks’ where you’ll get a printout showing the number of your taxi. The ride to the downtown takes 45 minutes to 1 hour and usually costs between 300 and 400 Baht (it depends on the traffic and on your destination in town). There is an additional toll fee if you pass on the expressway and the meter usually starts from 35 baht. Ignore any touts that may approach you in the arrival hall offering a ride to the downtown.
You can also download the smartphone app Grab and book your private cab towards the downtown. You have to simply book the ride with your smart app filling your destination and go at the arrival hall on the 2nd floor. The pick-up point is not on the 1 floor like the taxi.
2. Private transfer
Alternatively, you can book in advance for your transfer with Klook.com, one of the best web platforms for Asia. It offers private minivan/car rides to the city centre at a good price. Klook staff will be at the Arrival Hall between Gates 3/4 with a Klook sign.
3. Airport Rail Link
It’s the fastest way to reach the downtown avoiding the crazy traffic of the city. The City line connects in only 30 minutes the airport with Phayathai station in downtown and runs from 6 am to midnight. The Airport Rail link has only 8 stops. From Phayathai station, you can catch the BTS SkyTrain or a taxi to reach your accommodation. If you need to take the MRT underground instead, you have to get off at Makkasan Station. The underground station is MRT Petchaburi Station. The ride costs 45 baht. You can buy your tokens from one of the Automatic Token Dispensers located at the airport station. If you are 3 or more people it’s cheaper to share a taxi ride.
4. Public bus and Limo bus
If you want to save money, the public bus is the best option but even the slowest and tiring. Once outside the arrival hall, next to the Entry Gate 5, you’ll find an express shuttle heading to the Public Transport Centre outside the main terminal building. Here, you can catch the public buses towards downtown. There are 11 available routes and the ticket costs between 24-35 baht, depending on the distance. Only some routes operate 24 hours.
Limo bus is an express bus with 2 routes available: Khaosan and Silom. The Khaosan route stops at Phayatai where you can catch the BTS SkyTrain, while the Silom route stops at Silom where you can catch the BTS Skytrain and MRT underground. The service counter is on the 1st floor, Entry Gate 8 (05.45 am to 1 am).
5. Airport Limousine (AOL)
It’s the airport official limousine service (AOL) and the most expensive options you can choose. It usually costs 3 times the price of a taxi, and it’s a good option if you are a group. There are several AOL desks inside the baggage claim area.
6. Transfer to Don Mueang Airport
If you have a flight connection in Don Mueang Airport, there are free shuttle buses every 15 – 30 minutes between 5 am and 11 pm. Once in the arrival hall, go towards Entry gates 2 and 3. The ride takes about 50 minutes, but it depends on the traffic.
Don Mueang International Airport (DMK)
This airport is served by the major low-cost companies like Air Asia, Lion Air, Nok Air and Batik Air. Terminal 1 is used for international flights and Terminal 2 for domestic flights.
- How to reach the downtown from Don Mueang Airport
You can catch the public taxi in Terminal 1, Entry Gate 8, or in Terminal 2, 1st floor. Another option is the EV taxi, Terminal 1, entry Gate 7 (you can also book your ride in advance clicking here) and the expensive Limo Taxi in Terminal 1, Entry Gate 3.
In Terminal 1, Entry gate 6 and 12, you’ll find the bus platform of BMTA buses. The A1 line connects the airport to Chatuchak market area where you can take the MRT underground (Chatuchak Park Station) or the BTS SkyTrain (Mo Chit station); A2 line to Victory Monument; A3 line to Lumpini Park; A4 line to Khao San Road. The public buses run from 6.30 to midnight. It’s the cheapest option but even the slowest with many stops along the route. Alternatively, the express Limo bus runs from 7 am to midnight with 2 routes that connect the airport to downtown. The first route stops at Khao San road and Phayathai BTS station, the second route stops at Silom where you can catch the BTS and MRT. The service counter is in Terminal 1 next to Entry gate 7.
3. Free shuttle bus to Suvarnabhumi International Airport
In terminal 1, Entry Gate 6, you’ll also find the free shuttle bus that connects Don Mueang to Suvarnabhumi International Airport. It usually takes around 50 minutes, but it depends on the traffic.
- CURRENCY EXCHANGE and METHOD OF PAYMENT
The local currency is the Thai Baht (THB, ฿). 100 THB is roughly USD3 (May 2020). You can exchange your currency at the Airport where you’ll find several money exchange shops and ATMs to withdraw. In downtown, there are many money changers too, and one with the best rates is Super Rich Thailand. The method of payment is mostly cash. Hotels, malls, stores and many restaurants accept the credit card.
- WHERE TO SLEEP
Bangkok is a huge metropolis and offers a wide range of accommodations at any budget, from hostels to luxury hotels. Our favourite areas are Banglamphu/Khao san, Silom, Siam, Chinatown, and Sukhumvit. In our many trips to Bangkok, we often chose the Silom area. Click here to read our article about the best areas where to sleep.
- WHERE TO EAT
The delicious Thai food is one of our favourite and in Bangkok, you’ll find cheap restaurants and street food markets everywhere. The best areas where to try Thai street food are Chinatown, Khao San, Silom Road, Thonburi (Talad Phlu and Wang Lang markets), Rattanakosin. During the weekend, you can find excellent street food at Chatuchak market as well. Our favourite street food is Pad Thai Kung (rice noodles with shrimps), Khao Pad (fried rice with shrimps and pineapple), mango sticky rice, Khao Mun Gai (steamed chicken with rice), Gai/moo Bing (grilled chicken/pork), Pad Krapao moo (pork & holy basil-stir-fry). Another Thai cuisine speciality is the fried insects, especially bamboo worms, spiders, silk larvae, red ants, crickets, waterbugs and scorpions. If you are brave or simply curious to try this local delicacy, the best areas where to find stalls selling insects are Khao San Road, Soi Cowboy (Sukhumvit), Patpong market, Pahurat market, Klong Toey market and the street near the Phra Athit pier in Banglamphu. If you are interested, the web platforms like Klook.com arrange guided food tour in Bangkok. Click here if you want to read more about Thai food and book your food guided tour.
- HOW TO GET AROUND IN BANGKOK
There are several means of transport to move around Bangkok and reach attractions like BTS Skytrain, MRT underground, buses and taxis. Anyway, the BTS Skytrain and the MRT underground don’t serve all the areas of the city, therefore, you’ll have to catch a taxi too. The best way to plan your route is to download the smart app Moovit.
1. BTS Skytrain: it’s the fastest way to avoid the crowded streets of Bangkok. Fares start at 15 baht per one stop. If you mostly plan to use the sky trains, you can buy the BTS Rabbit card, a card that can be topped up with a minimum of 100 baht up to 4000 baht or the BTS one day pass. The Skytrain consist in 2 lines: Silom Line that runs from the west/central Bangkok to south, between the National Stadium in the Siam shopping area and Bang Wa in Thonburi; Sukhumvit Line that runs north to east from Ha Yaek Lat Phrao to Kheha. The 2 lines cross each other at Siam station and a few stations are also connected with the MRT underground.
2. MRT underground: the Bangkok underground is another useful way to avoid the crazy traffic of the metropolis. At the moment, it only consists of two lines and runs from 6 am until midnight. The connections with the sky train are at Sukhumvit and Silom stations. The Blue line serves the downtown, whereas the purple line serves the northeast side of the city. The MRT Blue Line runs through 18 stations (a few of them are connected to the Skytrain) and is the most used by travellers as it provides access to many tourist attractions. Fares range between 14 baht and 70 baht per trip.
3. BRT buses: it is a bus rapid transit system that has its own bus lane. There is only one line that has 12 stops from Sathorn to Ratchapruek, including two interchange stations that meet BTS Silom Line at Sathorn/Chong Nonsi, and Ratchpruek/Talat Phlu. BRT buses run from 6.30 am to midnight. Buses: indeed Bangkok has its bus network that consists of roughly 108 lines, but it’s not a useful way to move around unless you want to get stuck in the traffic and waste your time.
4. Grab taxi: Another fast and comfortable way to reach your destination is to download the smart app Grab and book a private cab wherever you are. The rates are a bit lower than a metered taxi (you can check the fares of your ride in advance on the smart app).
5. Metered taxi: you’ll find taxis almost anywhere in Bangkok and it’s still a comfortable and not expensive way to move around, especially after midnight when BTS and MRT are closed. Remember to ask the driver to use the meter, and insist on the meter being switched on before you start rolling even though he’ll tell you the meter is out of order.
6. Tuk-Tuk: it is the most famous 3-wheeled vehicles of the whole of Asia, but it is useful only for a short ride. Anyway, if you want to enjoy this popular mean of transport, remember to haggle the fare with the driver before moving. Warning: tuk-tuks are also known for scams because many of them will try to stop along the way with an excuse to take you to a gems shop (mostly fake gems). Therefore, decline any stop on the way to your destination.
7. Motorbike taxi: it is another common and cheap way for the locals to move around the city. Motorbike taxi drivers wear a numbered orange vest and you’ll usually find them near shopping buildings and offices. Fares vary based on the travel distance; remember to haggle the price with the driver.
8. Ferry boat/express boat: Ferry Boat service provides Chao Prahya river crossing service to move from one side of the river to the other. These ferry boats travel on 6 routes from 6 am to 8 pm and it costs only 4 baht. Express boats are a good way to explore the river and see a different side of Bangkok.
- LOCAL SIM CARD AND WIFI
Even though you’ll find wifi in the hotels, malls and many restaurants, getting a Thai SIM card will make your stay a lot easier. At the Arrival level in Suvarnabhumi Airport, you’ll find the three main providers: AIS, True and DTAC. They all offer 4G connection in most areas of the country and all have pre-paid ‘Tourist SIMs’ that offer a package of calls plus data. In case, you can top these cards up at any 7-eleven supermarket.
- TRAVELLERS SAFETY AND TRAVELLERS HEALTH
In general, Bangkok is a safe destination, but, so as in all the big cities, take care of your belongings. Be also careful when you walk around or you cross the streets because the vehicles can be speedy. Malaria and dengue fever are an actual threat in Bangkok, especially during the wet season. Cover up and take protection measures against mosquitos bites. Click here for more information.
If you ever need medical attention in Bangkok, don’t worry. The health services in Thailand are excellent, especially in Bangkok where hospitals and clinics are on par with western standards. Anyway, the best services are provided by private hospitals that boast the best technologies and multilingual doctors. One of Bangkok’s best hospitals is Bumrungrad International Hospital.
Travel insurance: it’s always recommended to take out travel insurance during a trip, especially to cover the medical expenses because, in case you need, they could be very high. We always do our travel insurance with Worldnomad.com
- WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN BANGKOK
Despite its huge size and its incredibly busy and chaotic streets, the Thai metropolis has much to offer. Temples and shrines, old and folkloristic neighbourhoods, bustling markets selling delightful street food and any sort of items, high-end shopping malls, fashion cafes, clubs and luxury hotels with sky-bar, and a vibrant nightlife, will make your stay unforgettable.
Have you visited Bangkok and its surroundings? Did you like it and you want to share your experience or to suggest more tips? Do you have any question? Leave us a comment below!