Bangkok is a fascinating destination offering a unique blend of east and west where, despite a modern appearance, ancient traditions are very much alive in every day life.
Just over four hundred years ago, the city of Bangkok was little more than a village consisting of a few houses on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. One century on and it had become an important port for tall ships sailing cargoes around the world. The ships had to stop here for inspection before making their way to the then capital of Ayutthaya. In 1767, however, the Ayutthaya which had served as one of the wealthiest cities in the East was torched by the Burmese and a temporary capital was established at Thonburi.
In 1782, however, a general Chakri assumed the throne and decided to move the country’s capital across the river to Bangkok. He felt that there was more room for growth and how right he was. So, in the same year the city known to native Thais as ‘Krungthep’ or City of Angels, was established as the capital of Siam (didn’t become Thailand until 1939). Upon Chakri’s, or King Rama I which was the name he selected for himself, Bangkok was well on the way to restoring some of the status it once had on the continent. Partly responsible for this turn of luck was the fact that the country was reopened to European settlers. This hadn’t been the case for over a century and half. As well as this, trade began to develop with North America and Bangkok began to flourish.
In the twentieth century further events aided Bangkok’s development. In 1932, the Memorial Bridge was opened. The city’s first bridge, it linked the capital with Thonburi allowing settlement on the other side of the river which had previously been covered by jungle. In the sixties, the Vietnam War contributed to the construction boom which took over the city. Multi-storey buildings made their debut appearance and multi lane roads were introduced. The transformation which has resulted in the Bangkok of today was well underway.
Yet, despite the vast change throughout the centuries, Bangkok has maintained much of its cultural identity. This manifests itself in various ways throughout the city and makes it a particularly special place to visit. So, while the skyline may well be that of a major city, the lifestyles of its residents still include customs and traditions used by the first residents over four hundred years ago.
Eating Out in Bangkok, Thailand
The good news for all you budget conscious backpackers that nowhere on the planet will you find food as cheap as that in Bangkok. Whether it’s authentic Thai cuisine or something from a little closer to home you fancy, and this city has it all, rest assured that you won’t have to break the bank to find the ultimate dining experience. But, as will all good news, there is a slight drawback because while the food is unbelievably cheap, the beer is not. In fact, in many restaurants be prepared to pay as much for one beer as you will for the entire meal. If you are a whiskey drinker, however, you should check out Mekong, the local tipple which is much cheaper than imported beers. And, what you spend on beer you will save on food so the news isn’t all bad.
While in the city, you should try out one of the numerous street kitchens which you will find throughout Bangkok. And, for the classier backpackers among you, don’t worry about your street cred. Everyone takes advantage of this unique dining experience, from the very rich to the very poor so don’t worry that your standards are slipping. It isn’t the location that make them special, it’s the delicious assortment of food that’s on offer.
Helpful as we are and just to point you in the right direction when it comes to eating out in Bangkok the following are the top ten most popular Thai dishes consumed around the world at present. Of course, those in the Thai capital are the genuine article making them even all the more appetizing.
In first place is Tom Yam Kung which is a type of spicy shrimp soup, next on the list is Kaeng Khiao Wan aka green chicken curry which all of you are probably familiar with. Following these two specialties were Phat Thai which are noodles fried Thai style; Phat Kraphrao, meat fried with basil; Kaeng Phet Pet Yang, a roast duck curry; Tom Kha Kai which is chicken in coconut soup; Yam Nua, a spicy beef salad; Mu Sate, roast pork coated in turmeric; Kai Phat Met Mamuang Himmaphan, meat fried with cashew nuts – yes it’s as simple as that and finally Phanaeng which is meat served in coconut cream. And, they are currently the dishes everyone is raving about so you should probably see what all the fuss is about while you are in the true home of Thai cuisine.
Dotted all over Bangkok are street stalls where you can pick up all sorts of stomach fillers. Whether it’s noodle soup, corn on a stick, pancakes, pad thai noodles, watermelon…the list goes on. The more adventurous travellers can even try deep-fried cockroaches, scorpions and other bugs. And yes, we are being serious.
Restaurants in Bangkok
144 Rambutri, Taladyan Pranakorn, Bangkok, Thailand
Neatly tucked down a lane off the bottom off the Khao San Road, Siddharta is a fusion restaurant that specialises in Indian and Thai cuisine. Here you can treat yourself to a selection of mouth-watering main courses for in and around 120B. The dark décor makes for extremely pleasant surroundings.
Open daily from 11am-1am.
591 Phra Sumen Road, Bangkok, Thailand
While the name might not be the most imaginative one in the world, the food and atmosphere in this new arrival to the dining scene is much more impressive. Large portions of typical Thai cuisine at reasonable prices with laid-back music playing in the background – what more could you ask for. Try the cocktails too, not that you need to be told of course.
10 Sukhumvit, Soi 12, Bangkok, Thailand
Now if the name isn’t enough to entice you into this eatery for a look, then maybe the fact that you get free condoms after your meal might. And, if that isn’t enough, perhaps the news that the food is cheap and tasty, the atmosphere is excellent and the experience is one you are not likely to forget for a long time.
2 Soi Wat Thevarajkunchorn, Si Ayutthaya Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Overlooking the pier on the riverside, this is a cute little restaurant with two separate dining areas. The first is a covered pier area and the second is a small wooden boat. It isn’t easy to find but is well worth it when you do.
The Regent, 155 Ratchadamri Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Slightly pricier than some of the restaurants in this listing, the extra money cost is certainly money well spent.
89 Sukhumvit, Soi 24, Bangkok, Thailand
For a completely unique dining experience head to the market where there are over forty different types of sea creatures, both dead and alive, ready to be picked for consumption by your good self.
9/3-4 Sukhumvit, Soi 23, Bangkok, Thailand
Serving a huge breakfast all day long for only 85 baht, this is the best place in Bangkok to cure even the worst hangover. Don’t let the fact that it’s in the middle of the red light district deter you.
92 Phra Arthit Road, Bangkok, Thailand
One of the many cafés and restaurants in this particular area this place serves authentic Thai food for unbelievably cheap prices and the funky décor adds further to its appeal.
Washington Square, Sukhumvit, Bangkok, Thailand
As the name suggests, this restaurant specialises in typical Creole and Cajun dishes and showing the clientele a good time. Also has some Mexican dishes and karaoke every night. A good place to start your night out but closes at 1.00am so if you’re a night owl you will need to find an alternative venue for the end of your night.
Sukhumvit, Soi 32, Bangkok, Thailand
An authentic experience for all who visit this restaurant is set in a Thai-style house complete with a pond which is home to some of the ingredients for the dishes served inside. The floor serves as your seat, the tables are sunk into the floor and there’s a traditional Thai show every night at 9.00pm. Reserve in advance to make sure you get a good piece of floor.
On the Cho Phraya River, Bangkok, Thailand
While many of the dinner cruises on the river are quite pricey, the Yok-Yor is a much cheaper alternative and is equally impressive sailing for a couple of hours with an extensive menu and live music nightly.
Transport in Bangkok, Thailand
Don Muang, Bangkok’s international airport is one of the busiest in South East Asia and is a major centre for international flights throughout the continent. There are direct flights to and from the Thai capital from most major cities in the world and as with most destinations the more popular airlines will work out more expensive whereas flights with the less popular carriers can work out much cheaper. The two domestic airlines are Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways and once again, they can prove quite pricey.
The airport lies about twenty-five kilometres north of Bangkok but there are numerous ways of getting from here to the city centre. Your first option is the airport bus which operates three different services and runs every fifteen minutes between 5.00am and 11.00pm. This costs 70 Bahts per person. The second choice is the city bus which you can catch on the highway just outside the airport. You will need to find out exactly which bus you need beforehand however, as well as checking the timetables. The city’s rail lines also run quite near the airport and you can get a train to the main station, Hualamphong, for 10 Bahts in third class. Finally, there are numbers of taxis but ignore the limousine drivers and look for the public taxi exit. It is worth noting that once you reach the taxi rank, try to take a metred taxi which should cost you between 150 and 250 Bahts. Those which are not metred usually cost about 100 Bahts more.
There are several forms of public transport in operation in Bangkok which make getting around the city extremely straightforward. The new Skytrain is a state of the are service running on two lines which will bring you to and from all the city’s major tourist destinations. Fares range between 20 Bahts and 40 Bahts.
The bus service in Bangkok is also useful but is very erratic. If you do intend using it, a bus map is essential. You will find one in most tourist offices or any newsstand and they cost about 40 Bahts.
Taxis are popular too but ensure that you agree a fare before departure if you don’t get a metred car. Otherwise your journey could prove quite costly.
Another authentic way to get about the city is by tuk tuk. Unique to the city, this is a vehicle consisting of one wheel at the front, two at the back, a motorbike engine, handlebars to steer and a plastic seat positioned over the two back wheels. Sound awful – well it is and should really only be used for short journeys. Again, agree a fare before departure.
Travel by boat is also popular in the city and is a fascinating and unusual way to see the city. As well as this, it is much less time consuming – there are no traffic jams on the river.
Things To See in Bangkok, Thailand
Traffic congestion in Bangkok makes travel between attractions extremely difficult. It is recommended, therefore, that you should divide the city into sections when it comes to sightseeing. Another alternative way to avoid the hassle of traffic jams is to take a boat tour of the city. Once referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’, most of the canals have been covered and are now being used as roads. Nevertheless, some regions still use boats as their main form of transport, particularly in Thonburi. And, as well as the canals, the Chao Phraya river runs along many of Bangkok’s major attractions and express boats run regular services and routes doing all the hard work for you. All you have to do is sit back and point that camera lens in the right direction.
Bangkok is probably best known for its temples which are dispersed throughout this modern metropolis presenting a very unusual combination of the old and the new. They are among the most impressive in all of Asia and the good news for the lazier of you is that the more popular structures are all located in the same complex – the old royal city, which is home to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po, Wat Mahathat and the Golden Mount. The city’s founding pillar, Lak Muang is also found in this district as well as the National Museum, the National Theatre and the National Gallery. It is worth noting that in order to get the most satisfaction out of your visit to a Thai temple or wat, try to avoid Sundays and Buddhist holidays when they are too packed to allow you to appreciate their true splendour.
And for those of you who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok for a couple of hours there are numerous attractions in the vicinity of the city which will provide a welcome getaway. Among the most popular are the Rose Garden where you will see various aspects of Thailand’s cultural traditions including Thai boxing and cock fighting; Kanchanaburi, the infamous site of the Bridge over the River Kwai and Ayutthaya which is mentioned in the introduction to Bangkok. Although it was destroyed in 1767, there are still many ruins which make for a fascinating visit. All of the above can be reached by bus or train for Bangkok.
The reclining Buddha
Attractions in Bangkok
Na Phra Lan Road, Bangkok, Thailand
The most important palace in the country and located in the same compound as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha so you can see the two in one trip. Consisting of several different buildings which date from various periods over the last two centuries it displays a unique blend of both traditional Thai architecture and that of the western variety making it a fascinating structure to pay a visit to.
Sirirat Hospital, Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand
One of the country’s more unusual attractions and certainly not one for the faint hearted, this particular museum is home to the preserved bodies of several of the country’s most infamous murderers. Among those on display are See-Uey, the Chinese child murderer who ate the children’s organs after he murdered them and another anonymous murderer who was originally imprisoned for rape and murder, was released and committed the same crime again on a child. There is also a bisected head with a bullet lodged in the brain on display. Visit it only if you think you can handle the aforementioned and worse.
777 Taiban Road, Samutprakarn, Bangkok, Thailand
The oldest and largest farm of its kind in the world and home to over sixty thousand crocodiles, the Samutprakarn farm lies about thirty kilometres outside the city centre. While the highlight of the show is the crocodile wrestling, you can also see tigers, elephants, lions, monkeys and a number of poisonous snakes. To catch one of the shows you need to be at the farm at either 10.00am or 3.30pm. The wrestling is not to everyone’s taste but there is plenty to see besides. You can take a ride on an elephant or a camel, shop for authentic crocodile skin handbags or belts (a little cruel considering the location but anyway), relax in a pedal boat on the lake or just enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Damnoen Saduak, Nakhon Pathom, Bangkok, Thailand
While there is a floating market at Wat Sai, it is really touristy and is not the best place to observe this age-old tradition. Instead take a bus from the Southern Bus Terminal to the Damnoen Saduak Market which lies about 80km southwest of the city where you will see an authentic Thai floating market. Get there very early, 6.00 or 7.00am, to avoid the hordes.
Na Phra Lan Road, Bangkok, Thailand
The oldest and largest of the four hundred or so temples in the city, Wat Pho or Wat Chetuphon houses the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand as well as the largest collection of Buddha images. The reclining Buddha is forty-six metres in length and fifteen metres high and is modelled from plaster and finished with gold leaf with mother of pearl eyes. It is a remarkable piece of construction as is the temple itself whose origins date back to the sixteenth century. The temple is also one of the best places in the city to get an authentic Thai massage.
Rajavithi Road, Dusit, Bangkok, Thailand
The largest golden teakwood building on the planet, the Vimanmek Mansion was built by King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V) in 1901. He moved to a different residence in 1906, and it lay deserted for many years until Queen Sirikit ordered renovations and then opened it to the public as a museum. Among the objects on display are the many priceless treasures owned by the king as well as much of his memorabilia. If you are going to visit, you should note that you can’t wear shorts or a skirt which is shorter than knee length but attendants will give you a sarong.
Samut Paknam, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand
The world’s largest outdoor museum, the Ancient City covers an area of almost three hundred acres. It’s located thirty-five kilometres east of the city centre but buses leave from numerous destinations throughout the city on a daily basis so you shouldn’t have any problems getting there. It consists of replicas of sixty five of the country’s temples palaces and monuments which have been rebuilt in smaller scale so if you don’t get to see the real thing, then this is definitely worth checking out.
Traimit Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Home to the largest Golden Buddha Image in the world, this temple is located in the city centre leaving you with no excuses. The image itself is made of solid gold and measures twelve and a half feet in diameter and is almost sixteen feet in height. It weighs approximately five tons and is currently over seven hundred years old. It truly is a remarkable piece of Buddhist art and is one of the country’s most valuable treasures.
6 Kasemsan Lane, San 2, Bangkok, Thailand
While it may not sound like a traditional Thai establishment, this is one of the best preserved examples of true Thai houses in the city. It was once home to the American silk entrepeneur Jim Thompson who disappeared without trace in 1967. Today the museum contains vast collections of antiques and works of art which were collected by Thompson during his travels throughout South East Asia. Among the most prized possessions are the priceless examples of Ming porcelain and the headless Buddha in the garden which dates from the sixth century.
Western Bank, Chao Phraya River, Bangkok, Thailand
Named after the Indian god of the dawn, the present wat is built on the site of the seventeenth century Wat Jang. And just in case you’re wondering what yet another temple could possibly have to offer that’ s so different from all the others, the unique feature of Wat Arun is its seventy-nine metre high pagoda or prang. This was constructed during the first half of the nineteenth century by Rama II and Rama III and is covered with plaster which has been embedded with pieces of multicoloured Chinese porcelain. As well as the pagoda, the gardens also prove extremely popular among those attempting to get away from the chaos of city life for a while.
Entertainment in Bangkok, Thailand
To this day, Thailand is seen as something of a backpacking Mecca, and any respected budget traveller en route to Australia or the rest of South-East Asia stops in Bangkok. As a result of this, the Thai capital is a good place to party. The streets here are lined with karaoke bars, discotheques and other places to burn the midnight oil. The best place to sample them, without question, is the world-famous Khao San Road – the backpacker capital of the world.
Away from Sukhumvit, the area where the KSR can be found, Silom is another party area. Here you will also find some excellent pubs and bars with a constant buzz about the place.
For up to date listings about what’s going on during your stay, get your hands on a copy of Metro Magazine which is available in most book shops. Other good sources of entertainment information are the Bangkok Post and The Nation which provide daily listings of events and performances taking place around the city.
Entertainments in Bangkok
70 Patpong Soi 1, Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
Amidst the massage parlours, go-go bars and flying ping pong balls on Patpong 1, Twilo uses live music as its main form of entertainment. Here Thai musicians play to those in the area for Patpong’s night market.
Open daily from 9.30am-3am.
62/1-4 Silom Road, Bangrak, Bangkok, Thailand
Well they’ve built them in every other part of the world, so why not Bangkok. With traditional Irish food, music and décor, but welcoming nationalities from all over, this is a good place to go to eat, drink and be merry and generally have a ‘bit of craic’.
44 Convent Road, Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
Built on the 59th floor of a four star hotel, with spectacular views of the city, Café Bongo may not seem like the ideal backpacker hang out. But, the fact that drinks are two for one between 5.00 and 7.00pm nightly should encourage you to drop in for one or two.
306/1 Sukhumvit 55, Bangkok, Thailand
One of the many traditional British bars in the city, this one proves more popular than most thanks to live music every weekend. Also serves excellent food at a reasonable price.
100 Silom Soi 4, Silom Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Despite being referred to as the city’s first gay by its owners, Sphinx welcomes both a gay and straight clientele and is one of the most popular bars on this street. And that’s saying something as there are quite a few. Also has a terrace where you can soak up the atmosphere of the street.
462/61 Rama III Road, Yannawa, Bangkok, Thailand
A relatively new addition to the Bangkok pub scene, this place packs them in every night. With live music and a huge selection of international beers and microbrews, you won’t be disappointed.
Asia Hotel, 296 Phayathai Road, Bangkok, Thailand
For a very different night out this is one you don’t want to miss. Featuring over fifty performers, the majority of whom are dressed in drag, it’s an excellent mix of singing, dancing and comedy. The place even has its very own version of the Spice Girls known as the Spice Gays. Well, we did tell you it was different.
Soi 11, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand
A relatively recent addition to the Bangkok night scene, the Q Bar attracts a lot of posers. Despite this, the large terrace upstairs, the music and the varied selection of beers and cocktails does attract visitors of the less slick variety.
3/8 Victory Monument, Phrayathai Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Consisting of two floors, with a pool table and a pretty relaxed atmosphere on the first and live music ranging from blues to rock with a livelier bar on the second floor. Offers the perfect blend for any thirsty traveller.
114/117 Silom Soi 4, Silom Road, Bangkok, Thailand
As the name probably suggests, this a Spanish theme bar with a relaxed atmosphere and excellent food and drink from the native land. Also has a number of tables outside where you can just sit back and watch Bangkok go by.
Novotel, Siam Square, Bangkok, Thailand
One of ten different entertainment centers in the same venue, CM2 offers its clientele a dance floor where you can boogie to the sounds of either a live band or DJ depending on the night. Or if you’re so inclined, you can treat people to your very own talents in the karaoke bar.
Patpong 1, Silom Road, Bangkok, Thailand
One of Bangkok’s most popular discos, Lucifer appeals largely to hard core techno fans but it also houses a really nice restaurant where the music is a little less loud and the atmosphere is too.
44 Th Jakrapong (rooftop), Banglamphu, Bangkok, Thailand
Just around the corner from Gulliver’s Travelers, Gazebo opens later than most places in Banglamphu. It’s also the area’s only Moroccan-style bar as here you can puff on shisha pipes while listening to DJs or live music.
Open nightly from 8pm-late.
General Info about Bangkok, Thailand
The currency used in Thailand is the bath (B) and it is divided into 100 satang. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000B. There are also plans to phase out the 10B note and also to introduce a 10,000B note. The coins used in the country are 25 and 50 satang and 1, 5, and 10B.
The country’s official national language is Thai but English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok. It is spoken in most hotels and restaurants and at all major tourist attractions.
Bangkok has a tropical climate with average temperature ranging from 17 degrees Celsius to 36 degrees Celsius. It can also become quite humid during the hot season which usually lasts from March to June with April being the hottest month. Generally it is recommended that you visit between November and February when the weather is not too hot or wet and makes sightseeing a lot more pleasant.
Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Shops in Bangkok are generally open between 8.00am and 5.00pm from but many of the larger stores are open until around 7.00pm seven days a week. Office hours are between 8.30am and 4.30pm with many closing for lunch between 12.00pm and 1.00pm and banks are usually open between 8.30am and 3.30pm from Monday to Friday. Many of the smaller branches also close for lunch.
The electrical current in Thailand is 220V, 50Hz.
There is a value added tax (VAT) imposed on the sale of goods, the provision of services and the import of goods in to Thailand. While it was reduced from 10% to 7% in April 1999, it will be raised back to 10% from April 1st, 2001. Hotels charge a 10% service charge as well as VAT and most restaurants add 8.25% to their bill.
But, the good news for tourists is that since June 1st, 1999, all goods purchased which bear a label stating ‘VAT Refund for Tourists’ can receive VAT refunds before they leave Thailand. In order to do this you need to obtain an application form when making your purchase and present it at the tax refund counter in the departure halls of any of the following airports – Bangkok, Chiangmai, Phuket and Hat Yai. Refunds are immediate.
The main post office in Bangkok is on Thanon Charoen Krung or New Road and is open from 8.00am until 8.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 8.00am until 1.00pm at weekends and on public holidays. When the main office is closed you can send letters from the telegraph office which is open twenty four hours a day. There are also smaller branches scattered throughout the city.
Citizens of most countries can stay in Thailand for a period of up to thirty days without a visa (ninety days for residents of Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand and South Korea). While you are supposed to have a return ticket, this is rarely checked so all you need is a valid passport. For stays of over thirty days you can avail of a tourist visa which is valid for sixty days and costs about US$15. For stays which extend this period you will need to visit any immigration office in Thailand and whether or not you are granted a further visa is entirely at the discretion of the Thai immigration authorities. If you are in any doubt as to whether or not you are a national of a country which requires a visa or have any other queries you should contact the Thai Embassy in your home country well in advance of travelling to Thailand.
Tourist offices in Thailand are run by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) and there is an office at the international airport in Bangkok and another in the city centre at 4 Thanon Ratchadamnoen Nok which is open between 8.30am and 4.30pm daily. These offices will provide you with information on any query which you may have and always have at least one person who can speak English.
The best place to exchange cash in Bangkok is in any of the city’s banks which offer the best rates. You can also exchange foreign cash or traveller’s cheques in foreign exchange kiosks which are usually open from 8.00am until 8.00pm whereas most banks close at 3.30pm. These kiosks also offer competitive rates but the charge can be a little more expensive.
All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in smaller businesses you may have difficulty using this facility. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.
The international code for Thailand is 66 and the area code for Bangkok is 02 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial your international calling code followed by 66, the local area code without the 0 and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country replacing 66 with the destination country’s area code. You should also not that the outgoing code for Thailand is 001.
The main telephone office in the city is located in the GPO on Charoen Krung Road between the Oriental Hotel and the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. It is used for international calls and is open twenty-four hours daily. International calls and local calls can also be made in the blue or silver telephones which are located throughout the city.
Tipping is not essential, particularly in restaurants where a service charge is already included. If you feel that the service which you received merits a further tip, then between 3 and 5% is sufficient. If there is no service charge included on your bill, then a tip of between 10 and 15% is acceptable. You don’t need to tip taxi drivers either but many people tell them to keep any small change. You should also carry small notes with you for the fare as very often they don’t carry change. It is worth noting, however, that at no time is tipping compulsory in Thailand. It is entirely at your own discretion.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Thailand they take place on January 1st, February 19th, April 6th and 13th to 16th, May 1st, 5th, 7th and 16th, July 5th and 16th, August 13th, October 23rd and December 5th, 10th and 31st. It is a good idea to check the particular region too as certain towns and areas also shut down during special events.