Bangkok, capital city of Thailand and either a place you will love, or one where you can’t wait to leave the next minute. Booming with business, over-flowing with expats, bursting with debauchery, and filled with hidden culture and charm. One can be tempted jump right in head first, but there are some do’s and dont’s to know about before you go.
I arrived in Bangkok at 2:30am after a grueling 13 hour flight from California. I reached Southeast Asia for the first time, something I dreamed about for years. It was the start of a brand spankin’ new adventure, and happened to be my birthday when I landed — of course I wanted to stay out all night and see what Bangkok had to offer for celebration!
But I spent it in one of the worst places in Bangkok, Khao San Road, the cesspool of debauchery and lost virtues of backpackers.
DON’T MAKE MY MISTAKES IN BANGKOK.
Within that first 24 hours in Bangkok, I learned quite a few lessons and numerous do’s and dont’s from mistakes I made, or my utter lack of prior knowledge.
It all began by staying on Khao San Road.
I often travel to countries and don’t read about them beforehand. Instead, I opt to learn from experience. Thailand, and especially Bangkok, is one of those places that you should be aware of certain things going in.
Everything is chaotic. Everything is new and strange. Sensory overload to an epic proportion. You learn a lot in that first 24 hours if you pay attention, or you can make a lot of mistakes that either end up being embarrassing, stressful, or costly.
So I wanted to put together a blitz guide for you to refer to so I can hopefully save you from making a few mistakes like I did, and to make your first 24 hours in Bangkok a little more enjoyable.
Since I arrived at 2:30 am, Khao San Road was apparently the only place to find a hostel with a 24 hour check-in. And of course the only place a taxi driver wanted to take me to. So many of these lessons apply to that place. If you arrive during the day time before midnight, take the airport link to the BTS station and ride the rail. Choose a hotel close to the trains!
BEFORE ARRIVING TO BANGKOK
Book hotels and hostels before you fly to Bangkok for a better experience. Most of the super cheap places will be on Khao San Road or nearby that area, but the money you save on the room, you’ll pay for trying to get to and from it since it’s far from the Sky Rail and BTS line. Try to look on Agoda and other booking sites and make sure that you book a place close to one of the BTS and Sky Rail stops which will let you explore Bangkok much easier. And, if you arrive before the BTS/Sky Rail closes, you can just take a train into the city and save a ton of money.
Also, make sure to get your travel insurance in case anything happens during your trip, whether it be cancelation, lost items, broken stuff, injuries, etc.
I’ve had friends with horror stories about lost luggage, getting robbed, or broken tech. Not to say Thailand is dangerous, I’m just saying it’s good to be prepared since it can happen anywhere. You wouldn’t want to end up like me with a shattered Macbook Pro, or my buddy Derek after running over his laptop would you?
THE 24 DO’S AND DONT’S IN BANKOK
1) Do try to learn a few phrases and greeting in Thai.
You are in another country and showing effort, even if you don’t know too much, goes a long way. Show respect to the Thai people and say hello and thank you. You get a much better experience when you meet locals and speak a little Thai to them.
2) Don’t disrespect a Thai person, raise your voice at them, or pick a fight.
This isn’t your country, so if you are belligerent to someone you’ll probably ended up for the worse. Most Thai people smile a ton and are soft spoken.
3) Do buy big beers.
Walk around the street enjoying the nightlife in various areas while sipping on a cold brew. Like many Southeast Asian countries, the big beers are the best deal. My favorite is Chang, though it does come with the infamous “Changover” if you have too many.
4) Don’t hold the big beers by the neck.
Even before I finished my first big beer in Thailand, it slipped out of my hand and shattered on the ground. I wasn’t even close to being drunk, but the heat of Bangkok mad the cold beer sweat and the label slips off. My friend laughed when it happened, and a block later, had it happen to her.
5) Do get a traditional style Sak Yant bamboo tattoo.
You ‘ll see plenty of backpackers around Bangkok with the Buddhist blessings tattooed on them, and many Thai people will too. It’s an experience and a great way to take home a memory, if you’re the tattoo type of course. It involves a monk tattooing and bestowing his magic into the blessing and was what I did for my birthday that day. Or, you can go to an Ajarn which is a much safer and cleaner environment.
6) Don’t get a Sak Yant tattoo in a shop on Khao San Road, or in a regular tattoo parlor.
They advertise bamboo tattoos and Sak Yant blessings…but it isn’t the real Sak Yant. Variations of each Sak Yant have magical purposes and can only be bestowed to you by a true Buddhist monk that knows how to do them. There is a temple I traveled to outside of Bangkok that performs these blessings and does the tattoo, and there is one shop in Bangkok with an artist that has been trained and certified to perform the proper Sak Yant tattoo and blessing.
I’ve gotten a Sak Yant in a temple, and my second with an Ajarn, and the Ajarn experience was much safer, cleaner, and fulfilling.
7) Do take a short tuk tuk ride for the experience.
It is a little zany and a bit nerve wrecking, but it’s a wildly different way of getting around. Some tuk tuts are pimped out with flashy lights and speakers, and you’ll experience your first scam while in them.
8) Don’t let the tuk tuk driver talk you into making stops for free petrol. Or Gems. Or an “authorized” tourist shop.
Tuk tuk drivers are scam artists through and through, and though they may make promises or seem really nice, majority can’t be trusted. If you hop in a tuk tuk, prepare to be ripped off in price, and when you tell them a specific location, they will always stop at a gem store or tourist office and try to get you to buy things for “free petrol” and may leave you when you refuse. (Full post coming soon about my experience with this.)
9) Do take taxis over tuk tuks most places you go.
Taxis are going to be the best way to get around Bangkok on a hot day since they all have air-con and are usually pretty fast. If you’re in a main area like near Khao San Road or a mall, walk a few blocks away and catch a cab there. It’ll be easier to convince them to do a meter.
10) Don’t take a taxi if they refuse to put on the meter.
For a 6km drive you’ll pay around 80 baht including the 35 baht initial charge, but if you take a non-metered taxi it’ll be upwards of 200-300 baht. Even if it takes you 30 minutes to find a metered taxi, it’ll save you double the money at least. Sometime your driver will agree to take you and then begin driving and tell you that the meter is broken, so make sure the meter is on when you get in. Always follow along with Google Maps as well.
11) Do talk to the locals.
If you need help they’ll always assist you with directions or most anything else if they can understand you. The best thing to do when you are looking for something like a monument or palace or mall is to download a photo of it on your phone when you have wifi, and then you can show them a photo.
12) Don’t stop for anyone who is standing around and approaches you randomly with a, “My friend! Hello! You have a kind face.”
They’ll will shake your hand and try to trick you into sitting down with them to tell you your future and demand a “donation” after. Or it’ll be a Thai person waiting to snag a traveler to convince them to book a “discounted” trip somewhere or to take you on a free temple tour. Especially near Khao San Road. From my experience, you’ll see large Indian men on the road that will approach you and talk about your energy or try and convince you to let them chat with you about your future for no money. Then they take you into a back alley and demand payment and get quite aggressive.
13) Do get a suit tailor made for you IF you are a fancy pants.
Feeling like puttin’ on the ritz? Always dreamed of having a tailor made outfit that fits you perfectly? Bangkok is one of the best and cheapest places in the world to get a fitted suit or outfit. They will take all of the measurements, let you pick out looks and fabrics, and you’ll be able to hit the Baiyoke Skytower in style.
14) Don’t get a suit tailor made for you in the tiny shops in areas like Khao San Road.
If they promise a deal for $200-$300usd and 24hr turn around it’s rubbish. You can find a shop that will charge the same or less in a non-touristy neighborhood run by an old Thai guy that’s been doing it for 70 years. He’ll take 4-7 days to complete it because he’ll get it right, and request multiple re-fittings so everything is perfect. It’ll be the best suit you’ve ever owned or will ever own.
15) Do get a Thai massage.
After a long flight to Thailand, a foot massage feels marvelous. And the back massage — well they’ll bend and break you into contortionist oblivion but you’ll walk away feeling like you can do backflips and scale walls. These shops are everywhere and usually have various choices like aromatherapy, foot massage, head massage, and back massages, so compare prices.
16) Don’t pay more than 200 baht per hour.
Many of the tourist neighborhoods will charge that for 30minutes. Look for prices to be 100 baht cheaper in Chinatown and places away from Khao San Road. I’ve found a shop for even 150 baht per hour before.
(Side Note: Also, don’t be a douche and expect or even hint at a more erotic massage. These are people working for a living…have some dignity.)
17) Do tap into your wild or exotic foodie side.
Try some extra bizarre foods like scorpions, crickets, and other creepy crawlies. It’ll be worth the experience and the awesome shocking photos. Sure, it’s cliché and most of them are only there for our selfie-obsessed pleasure, but it’s still pretty fun. And really, where else is better than Thailand to try your first bug? Also, for the love of the food gods, try Pad Thai! You may never eat anything else again. On the street you can get a heaping portion of Pad Thai for 20-30 baht, and surprisingly, Khao San Road has some of the best.
18) Don’t drink the water unless it is bottled.
Tap water here as in many Southeast Asian countries isn’t regulated like the USA or other countries with safe drinking tap water. What you’ll notice in some places is that the serve a pitcher of water from a giant water barrel, and if the ice in the cup is rounded with a hole in the middle, it’s provided by the government. Smoothie shops along the road should use this kind of ice as well so make sure to keep an eye out. But if I were you, I’d stick to bottles of water bought in 7/11. Some stores you’ll notice have the seal broken, and that’s because they refill and recap them. If the bottle of water looks dirty, beat up, or damaged, change it out.
19) Do have a great time drinking beers and buckets.
It’s very fun listening to the amazing Thai cover singers while drinking a bucket of Thai whiskey. Off of Khao San road there are many parallel streets that are perfect for having drinks and aren’t so flooded with debauchery and annoying hawkers. Hong Thong is my favorite cheap Thai whiskey, or you can go for Sangsom which is sweeter like rum. Split a bucket with your friends and hear perfect renditions of “House of the Rising Sun” and other jams in a chill bar.
20) Don’t get limes in the buckets, and avoid mojitos!
We bought a bucket and they add limes to it, A LOT OF LIMES, and it was so many that it made the drink disgusting. They’re already sweet as is with the energy drink or soda they add in. Also, avoid mojito buckets, because they add what seemed to be a whole cup of sugar in it and the whole drink was so sweet that I spent one night feeling sick.
21) Do visit Khao San Road.
Pass through the infamous Khao San Road and see what the fuss and disgust is all about. It’s one of the most well-known “destinations” of the city and besides the sweaty and overly wasted throngs of backpackers waddling through, you can find good drink specials in the side bars. The best thing to do is to go to the two streets parallel to Khao San because it will be much more tame and you’ll have a better time finding a place to hang out and have a relaxing drink.
22) Don’t spend too much time on Khao San Road.
You probably won’t want to stay long on Khao San Road unless you like to bro it up and fist pump. It is like a parallel drunk and dirty backpacker universe where souls go to die, wallets go to burn, and class or culture is non-existent. If you are in neon-shirt-sunglasses-at-night party mode you’ll find enough entertainment here and seedy clubs to get your drunken “dance” on. It’s just not my kind of place…
23) Do buy local goods and clothes.
Most of the clothing and goods are hand-made and beautiful. You’ll get tired of the chaffing quick if you brought jeans. Hit the Saturday/Sunday JJ Market (Chatchuchak) to spend an entire day wandering a labyrinth of stalls and pick some trinkets out to send home too. Also, you’ll find enough of the Thai parachute/elephant pants to please your hippie heart (but don’t say you’re dressing Thai, because they don’t wear that stuff.)
24) Don’t buy goods in backpacker or tourist heavy markets.
If you hit Khao San or backpacker heavy markets you’ll cough up 3x the normal amount. Prices will already be high for “foreigner price” so don’t forget to barter as well. Mainly, shop at stalls that have prices already marked. And don’t forget to hit up a weekend market like JJ Market (Chatchuchak) for really good bargains.
BONUS! DO NOT GO TO PING PONG SHOWS!
You’ll hear the guys along Khao San Road making popping noises at you and yelling, “Ping pong show come come cheap cheap!” and to me it’s vile. What is a ping pong show? It’s a “tourist attraction” of the worst kind, where you go into a sketchy bar or a club inside the Bangkok red light district and watch as a girl on stage shoots ping pong balls out of her vagina. As well as pulls animals like live birds and fish out. If you think this is hilarious and entertaining, I pity your soul. Most of these girls are taken as children and forced into this kind of sick entertainment, and some shows they are even raped on stage as a sex show. Not cool. Don’t do it. How do I know? I’ve never been, but I know people who have. And groups who have also gone only to return to the hostel and tell me that got ripped off and scammed/robbed too.