Bangkok – Some Seriously Handy Tips to Know
Things You Should Know About Bangkok
We feel like we can sufficiently sum up most of the things we learnt during our short stay. Consider it a guide to some life lessons that you can now use when staying in Bangkok.
- You’re going to sweat. A lot! Get over it!
- Wear sunscreen!!!
- Drink lots of water – and then once you think you’ve had enough, drink more! Just don’t drink the tap water whatever you do. Buy bottled water.
- Jet lag sucks. You won’t be able to avoid it, but make the most of the time you spend awake.
- The first rule of Bangkok shopping: if there’s no barcode or set price, get haggling. It’s expected. However, instead of adopting a confrontational attitude, try the gracious, smiley “what’s your best price, my friend?” approach. Aim to chip anything from 10-40% off the quoted price. And by all means, walk away if the price is disagreeable – more often than not you’ll be called back for last ditch negotiations!
- Beware of scammers! It begins with a polite stranger: “the Grand Palace is closed this afternoon”. You thank them and tell them where you’re from. Then, before you’ve even had a chance to shake their hand, you’re gripping the sides of a tuk-tuk as it whizzes towards temples your guidebook has never heard of, and pushy gem stores. The general, but by no means universal, rule of thumb: a Thai who approaches you in the street is after more than a chat.
- Unlike Rome or Paris, Bangkok is not an eminently walkable city. Rather, making the most of this daunting sprawl of crowds, commerce and culture takes planning… Work out what you want to see, where they are (refer to ‘Buy a Good Map’), then work out a logical route. Taxis are likely to be unavoidable, as is a bit of footwork, but wherever possible use our favourites: the waterways, underground and Skytrain. Sight-wise, don’t bite off more than you can chew – Bangkok’s flavours are best savoured slowly.
- Drivers in Bangkok are 1000 times crazier than South African drivers. Yes, you will feel like you’re going to die, so pray hard!
- Riding a motorbike taxi or tuk tuk is terrifying and thrilling at the same time! Make sure you have an idea of where you’re going beforehand as well as the distance so that you don’t get driven around in circles. Almost everywhere has free wifi so do your homework on Google beforehand! You need to haggle hard and agree on the price before you get in, then only pay once you’ve reached the destination you asked for safely. They can be fairly unpleasant because of their apparent recklessness and you sit in the exhaust fumes of Bangkok. They are one of those Bangkok “must-do-once” activities though.
- BTS “Sky train” and the MRT “Metro/subway” are excellent but some attractions require the use of taxis. Even so it’s a big plus to get a hotel close to a BTS or MRT station. Tickets and tokens can be bought from vending machines, a cashier will provide change. There are rechargeable and multiple use tickets.
- Whether it be an impromptu demand from a local policeman or a request from security at one of the city’s swanky nightspots, carrying ID is a must in Thailand. The fact that you are 25 but look like you’re pushing 40 doesn’t matter – proving who you are is a day-to-day formality, something the Thais are finicky about. Instead of dragging your passport around with you, and with it the constant fear of losing it, take a photocopy.
- Almost all of the monks I saw had cell phones. Interesting!
- Thai people don’t like confrontation, so try to avoid it at all costs. (My kind of people!)
- A smile is a perfectly acceptable in place of a sa-wat-dee (“hello”) in most scenarios.
- Never say anything bad about the king. And really, why should you? Look at what the Thai kings throughout recent history have done for the Thai people! You won’t fully understand the love and reverence that Thai people have for their king. There’s nothing else to compare it to that would help you understand it. But be respectful – stand for the King’s anthem when it plays in the movie theatre before your movie, and stand still when it plays across the PA system in the parks and metro stations.
- When Thai people don’t understand you, they laugh. What a great way to break the ice, right?
- If you go to the famous temples, don’t expect to experience authentic Thai Buddhism.
- When you go to temples, BE RESPECTFUL. Cover your knees and shoulders! Most places have clothing you can rent and use for the tour but take your own encase.
- Talk to Thai people. Not only are they super nice, but they have so much wisdom about the places you’re exploring!
- According to every Thai person I’ve spoken to, if you’re from South Africa, then you’re from “Wakka Wakka” land.
- Everything is relative. Try to understand all perspectives.
- Don’t be a tourist. Look for an authentic experience.
- There are a lot of ex-pats and missionaries living here. You won’t feel too much outside of your comfort zone.
- Keep a journal – you’ll want to remember each and every little quirk you come across!
- People do fitness classes and go to the gym in the park. Some of the fitness equipment looks like it belongs in the playground – don’t laugh at this. Also, don’t take a picture if there is anyone using the equipment, as much as you may want to.
- A Thai massage is basically you paying someone to tickle your feet for an hour.
- Learn to speak some Thai, so that you can understand when people are making light-hearted jokes about you in Thai.
- Go shopping at the markets. Try to haggle, even if you’re as awful at it as I am.
- Street food is delicious! Consume in copious amounts, since it’s super-cheap, and you’ll walk it all off anyways! Just be careful of buying things fried in old oil or restaurants that are way too quiet (not even locals there) as you’ll land up in a hospital wishing your mother was there to stroke your head and make you feel better!
- There are both really good and really awful smells around the city. Try not to let your face show your thoughts when you move from one to another.
- If you’re foolish enough to forget how to use chopsticks half way through a meal, like I did, be cool. Casually observe how the people at the table next to you do it. If you’re alone in the restaurant, just stab at the food until it stays on the stick.
- When a train ride is supposed to take 2 hours, don’t expect it to take any less than 4. Bring snacks, buy snacks, make snacks. You’ll be hungry!
- You can buy absolutely anything from one of the billion 7-Elevens in the city.
- People have absolutely no problem staring at you. Get used to it and smile.
- Be flexible.
- Embrace the bizarre.
- Enjoy every moment!
Tuk Tuks are a fun and convenient means of travel in Bangkok!
There’s an abundance of rooftop bars and restaurants
The Grand Palace is absolutely beautiful! Be respectful and cover up your legs and shoulders
Wat Po – The Reclining Buddah
The tangled electrical street cables which adorn the city along with a multitude of colorful taxis!
Chatuchak Night Market! With almost 8000 stalls, you most certainly won’t get bored