When you first step onto the streets of Bangkok you realise just how huge the city is. It’s a place completely alive with the buzz of life – scooters whizzing through the traffic, the honk of horns, the sounds of local chatter on the streets and the steady stream of strange and wonderful smells in the air. Arriving in Bangkok for the first time can be overwhelming and there are a lot of things you need to know to make sure you have an amazing time. To help you make the most of your holiday and avoid the culture-shock, here’s my absolutely essential guide for first-time visitors to Bangkok.
Must-know tips for arriving in Bangkok
There are two major airports in Bangkok; Suvarnabhumi Airport, also known as Bangkok International Airport (BKK), and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). BKK is the major airport popular with larger airlines like Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines. If you fly on a budget airline, like AirAsia, you’ll be landing at DMK. You’ll find BKK about 34km and roughly 40 minutes from the heart of Bangkok. DMK is 30km and roughly 40 minutes from the heart of Bangkok as well. Transport times from both airports into Bangkok can change drastically depending on traffic and, as you’ll soon learn, Bangkok traffic is notoriously crazy.
When you arrive into Thailand you may or may not need a visa, depending on where you’re from. As an Australian, I’m not required to obtain a visa before entering Thailand, provided I stay within the timeframes permitted etc. Be sure to check the visa requirements before your departure date. When you arrive, you’ll need to complete an arrival and departure card. Be sure to hold onto the departure card, you’ll need it when it’s time to leave Thailand.
There are a few ways to get from the airport to your accommodation. If you’re lucky, your hotel will have a transfer service. If they do, I strongly recommend you take them up on it. The second best option is to arrange your own private transfer from the airport to your accommodation, which should cost around 800-900THB / $30-$35AU. Arriving into Bangkok can be a bit hectic and I personally find it great value for money to just glide off the plane and into a private transfer with no worries and no hassle. There are also options to catch the bus, train or a taxi to your desired location. Honestly, though, it’s worth shelling out the $30AU to make your life easier. I used Bangkok Airport Transfer (from BKK and DMK) and found them to be great.
Best time to visit
You’ll soon learn that Bangkok is quite the spicy meatball. I’ve visited a few times in different seasons and found the temperature and humidity range from, “Holy heck, it is SO hot,” right through to, “Why did I decide to holiday on the FACE OF THE SUN?!” It’s a tropical monsoon climate, so expect it to be hot and muggy. There are three main seasons; hot, rainy and ‘cool.’ You’ll find the hot season from March to June (it’s like holidaying inside your oven when it’s set to grill). Rainy season is from July to October and the ‘cool’ season is between November and February. Your best bet is to plan your trip in the hilariously named ‘cool’ season. It’ll still be very hot and muggy, so be sure to prepare yourself accordingly.
Where to stay: Luxe to Less
Choosing a spot to stay and a hotel to do so can be really confusing, there are so many options in Bangkok. Really, it’s going to come down to budget and the type of holiday you’re looking to have. Here are two options, to suit the fancy-pants traveller and the budget-conscious traveller.
If money ain’t no thang, I’d recommend you stay at the Shangri-La Bangkok. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous, offering you spacious rooms equipped with absolutely everything you could need during your stay. You’ll find the rooms offering gorgeous views over the Chao Phraya River and a cosy window seat for you to curl up in and watch the world go by. The beds here are super comfortable and rooms decked out with televisions, mini-bar, a spacious bathroom, robes and so many other little details that make your stay memorable. In terms of location, you’ll find it centrally located and super close to all the must-see spots like the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew temple. My stay here was really enjoyable and easy, the service was excellent and the attention to detail fantastic. It was just a gorgeous spot!
If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend you stay at the iResidence Hotel Silom. The hotel is located right below the Chong Nonsi metro station, which means it’s incredibly easy to get around and explore (especially as it’s only a few stops away from Siam Station). You’ll find the local area full of great shops, bars and restaurants to scope out. The hotel is no-frills but that doesn’t mean it’s horrid either. I stayed in two rooms, an upgraded one which was really spacious and offered a shower-over-bathtub and a tonne of space to spread out and unpack. The other was a twin-share which was much more compact but still really enjoyable and comfortable. The staff here are incredibly helpful, especially the front desk staff who went out of their way for me. You’ll also find the in-room dining here incredibly affordable, about $5AU for yummy Pad Thai delivered to you!
The best things to see and do in Bangkok
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to packing in some really fun activities and sightseeing in Bangkok. Here are my tips on the very best things to see and do in Bangkok:
- Visit the stunning Grand Palace and be sure to read my guide on things you must know before you go
- Take a trip to the gorgeous Wat Phra Kaew temple
- Be sure to take at least one ride in the back of Bangkok’s famous Tuk Tuk’s! It’s the best way to travel (be sure to haggle for the best price and decide on a price before you get in)
- Drink as much Chang and Singha beer as your body can withstand
- Have at least one night out at Khaosan Road, even though it’s incredibly touristy, it’s still worth the visit
- Take a boat ride on the incredible Chao Phraya River
- Visit Jim Thompson’s house for a dose of history and a lesson in Thai history and silk
- Get a foot massage or treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage
- See the shockingly huge Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho temple
- Take a trip to visit the Wat Saket temple, known for its amazing city views
- Shop up a storm at Central World!
- Wander the streets, get lost and find hidden pieces of Thai culture – it’s a marvellous city.
Where to eat and must-try food
Without a doubt, Thailand offers up some of the very best food on the planet. It is an incredible combination of flavours, the perfect meeting point of salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Don’t ever be afraid to try new things in Thailand, because the food is honestly sensational. While all the street food you see may not be the best choice for your tummy, you can still find great restaurants and local spots servicing up awesome bites. Here are a few to get you started.
- Eat the ‘best Pad Thai in Bangkok’ at Thip Samai – there may be a queue, but it’s well worth the wait
- Be sure to sample deep-fried dough sticks, roti and coconut pancakes from street vendors, these are usually safe bets and very tasty
- Visit Susie Wong’s Beers and Buns for nice cold beverages and yummy American-Asian fusion food
- Head to Tealicious for tasty traditional Thai fare with tonnes of flavour and be sure to sample their curries
- Take a trip to PEEPS Thai Eatery and stuff yourself with the perfectly cooked local fare, washed down with a mango beer
- You’ll spot lots of local drink stalls around the place, be sure to try an iced Thai Milk Tea and a locally made iced Latte
- Stop in at hidden spot, Jin Chieng Seng by Inn A Day, for yummy food in a really cosy, cool setting
- For something fancy, take yourself to the insane rooftop bar at Octave Rooftop Lounge and Bar
- Another great option for a special meal is Rock Restaurant and Bar, offering really classy, delicious meals with a touch of the fancies
What to pack
Before heading off on your amazing trip to Bangkok, read my guide on what to pack for a trip to Thailand. While there are many things you’ll need, tissues (for the toilet), breathable, comfortable clothes and very comfortable shoes top the list. Be sure to be sun-safe in Bangkok and drink PLENTY of water, it gets very hot and the last thing you need is a bad case of heat stroke.
Please also keep in mind that the people of Thailand are mourning the loss of their beloved King. It’s essential you act with decency and respect during this time. While it’s not required, you may wish to wear black clothing when visiting the Grand Palace or purchase a black ribbon to pin to your clothing as a mark of respect for His Majesty. Wearing the ribbon daily is a great way to show your respect and support for the Thai people during this time as well as for the King.