1. Book at least your first night accommodation ahead of time.
Depending on where you are flying in from, Bangkok can be a bit of a hike. This is my third visit to Bangkok, and by far the quickest journey thanks to our Emirates flight – 24 hours from Toronto, with a short stopover in Dubai. Most flights into Bangkok are coming from a distance since Bangkok is a major travel hub, so rest assured you aren’t the only exhausted traveller making their way through immigration.
1. Book at least your first night accommodation ahead of time.
Depending on where you are flying in from, Bangkok can be a bit of a hike. This is my third visit to Bangkok, and by far the quickest journey thanks to our Emirates flight – 24 hours from Toronto, with a short stopover in Dubai. Most flights into Bangkok are coming from a distance since Bangkok is a major travel hub, so rest assured you aren’t the only exhausted traveller making their way through immigration. Unless you are flying First or Business Class, you no doubt had a flight full of tossing and turning in your seat, and will be in need of a solid, comfortable rest before starting your adventure. Book at least your first night stay, as there is little more frustrating than trying to figure out where you’re heading in a new destination, when all you can think of it sleep. My hotel of choice is the Viengtai in Banglamphu – close to Khao San Road for great food/entertainment options and easily within walking distance to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve had no trouble getting my room early with morning flights in, and the first thing I want to do is find a nice, clean, safe place to lay my head and rest up for the vacation ahead.
Viengtai Hotel lobby, Bangkok
2. Read up on tourist scams.
They start right outside the airport doors. First you’ll be bombarded with people fighting for your taxi dollar. They will offer private cars, tell you they are the cheapest, using lots of creative sayings to make you choose them over the hundreds of others competing for your business. My recommendation is smile politely, say “no thankyou”, and walk with purpose to the taxi stand located just outside the airport doors. Line up, tell them where you are going, and ask politely to have the meter turned on. If the meter isn’t turned on the first time you ask, simply say “meter please”, until it is. We arrived in the morning during rush hour and despite it taking us longer than normal, our taxi bill for over an hour’s worth of driving, was 450 baht. About $15 Canadian.
Other scams I’ve both read about and encountered include the tuk tuk scam – which the driver will offer you an unbelievable deal for a ride to wherever you say you are going, but then take you to his brother’s shop, then his uncle’s shop, and other tourist sights…all for a “great value”. If you have all the time in the world, and don’t mind tours of shops where you are made to feel guilty when you do not make a purchase, by all means enjoy the tuk tuk experience.
Tuk Tuk patiently waiting for the next tourist
My most recent encounter of a typical scam happened as I was walking towards Wat Pho. I asked for directions to the entrance from a street vendor selling water and juice. He told me the temple was closed until 1pm, but I should make my way down to the water front and hire a boat to take me to the floating markets. Knowing full well the temples were open daily from 8am til at least 4pm, I have no idea why he would try to discourage me to go when he didn’t have anything to gain from me walking to a different attraction. Alas, I thanked him, smiled, and continued towards where I thought the entrance to Wat Pho may be. Although frustrating, these scams once learned, can be entertaining and relatively inexpensive learning experiences. It’s not good form to lose your temper in Thailand, so never take things personally, smile, say thank you, and move on.
3. Plan nothing the first 24 hours.
As mentioned before, you will be both pretty tired and overwhelmed when you first arrive. Allow yourself the time to adjust. There are what seems like a million things to do in this amazing city, but trying to tackle them without being rested will only lead to frustration. Make your biggest task getting to the hotel you have already pre-booked, and if you are feeling up to any exploring, make it local. Grab a coffee, or a Chang beer at a nearby open air restaurant, sit back and take it all in. My only exception to this rule is my #4 tip.
4. Experience a Thai Massage.
Maybe not the only reason I continue to find myself back in Thailand, but one that easily puts a smile on my face and gives me that dreamy look in my eye when I think back to my Southeast Asia holidays. There are no shortages of Thai Massage places throughout most of Thailand and Cambodia. This trip, the price had increased slightly to 220 baht for an hour…roughly $7. At first, I found them a bit intimidating. There were no private rooms, just a bunch of mattresses pushed together on one or both sides of a small room. You keep your clothes on for a Thai Massage, and if you aren’t wearing pants that allow flexibility, you are given some to change into that adjust to any size. You lay back, usually surrounded by a few other tourists, there to enjoy the same experience. Thai Massage is a lot like yoga, except you don’t have to do any of the work. Your Thai masseuse stretches your body for you, using her hands, her feet, and her elbows, to relax and take all the stress of travelling out of your body. If you can find one close to your hotel (you won’t have to search too hard…the Viengtai has one in its lobby stores), take advantage of this wonderful convenience so that after an hour, you can make your way back to your hotel room and sleep like a well relaxed rock.
Relax Massage at the Viengtai Hotel, Bangkok
5. Plan to spend more than a day or two in Bangkok.
Many organized tours start and end in Bangkok, and quite a few stopovers take place in this travel hub, but I’ve found that few tours take the time to show off this colourful city. The first few times, I only spent a day or two exploring the city. This vacation, we planned to stay for 3 days, but ended up booking a few extra nights at our hotel. Bangkok is a busy, rushed city but that doesn’t have to be your experience here. Plan a tourist attraction a day, and take the time to wander. All the major sites will be crowded – but rushing through it just to say you’ve been there is in my opinion, a huge waste of time and money. Enjoy the temple grounds, stop and talk with other tourists and/or locals about what they like about the attractions, sample some of the street food/refreshments both at and around the sites. Spend a day wandering around the markets, the small shops, and get a feel for what life is like in Bangkok. Bangkok is so different than any place I’ve been before, and every visit brings out fascinating new sides of the city.