If you have never been to Bangkok some travel tips will be helpful, as you will definitely be humbled. As soon as you walk out of the baggage claim area at Suvarnabhumi airport you will be overwhelmed by the maddening crowd waiting outside the door. A sea of yellow shirts (in honor of the King) will be blocking your way. Some will have signs with names on them trying to find a wayward traveler. Others will be armed with clipboards touting taxis at ridiculously high prices.
Security update – After the recent bomb attacks in Thailand on August 11/12 2016 additional officers were mobilized in Bangkok’s popular tourist spots including Yaowarat, Soi Cowboy and Khao San Road. Best advice is to avoid crowded areas and pay close attention to security developments. Security patrols and and strict checks have also been intensified at Suvarnabhumi airport.
Fighting through this narrow gauntlet is even more difficult with two suitcases and a backpack. The taxi mafia will not take “No” for an answer – even if you say it ten times in 5 different languages. They will persist and follow you, block your way, and annoy you so much that you will want to punch them. But, you relax and realize where you are and why you are there.
“You are in Bangkok. It is the City of Angels in the Land of Smiles.” You know from your research that a smile and a cool heart will go far in this beautiful country. So, you smile and make your way to the escalator and find yourself on the first floor. You head outside and find the legal taxi line-up and make your way to the makeshift tables and tell the cute girl where your hotel is. The fee for getting a legal taxi from the airport to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok (around 24 miles/40 km) is roughly 450 Baht or $12.
If you are arriving from the US, you will notice that the steering wheel is on the “other” side of the car and that you are driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Relax, and get used to it. Just be careful when you are a pedestrian and crossing the street. Look both ways about ten times before crossing – even if you are crossing a one-way street.
You are probably experiencing sensory overload. Seeing all of the billboards along the tollway, the cars speeding in and out in some sort of controlled chaos, and the smells of the city, you may wonder what planet you are on. Every corner of Bangkok has a different aroma – some pleasing and some putrid.
If you do decide to go out and experience the adventure of Bangkok nightlife, just remember what Murray Head sang; “One night in Bangkok, and the tough guys tumble! Can’t be too careful with your company. I can feel the devil walkin’ next to me.” Be careful out there.
Patpong Road Bangkok Thailand
Patpong Road was made famous by American soldiers on rest and recuperation (Vietnam war) in the city of Bangkok, Thailand. During the Vietnam conflict, many in the military took the short hop from Saigon to Bangkok to enjoy a week or two getting drunk, stoned, massaged, and spoiled by beautiful Thai women. It is actually a small street between Silom and Surawong Roads with wall-to-wall bars and restaurants. At night, the street is vendors catering to tourists charging ridiculously high prices in hopes of finding suckers.
There are actually 4 streets in the area catering to the nightlife. There is Patpong I & II, Soi Jaruwan, catering to gay men, and Soi Thaniya, exclusively for Japanese tourists. Nowadays, vendors set up show and block the entire road, and most of the walkway, selling everything under the sun (or moon). Tours line the street promoting shows upstairs with guarantees of no cover charge and cheap beer prices. Don’t believe either. If you visit Patpong, it is best to avoid the upstairs bars altogether. The owners may try to extract large sums of money in order for you to leave alive.
There is one place that´s a bit different at Patpong. The Madrid Lounge is the only bar that has the same name, décor, and menu that it had back in the 1970s. It caters primarily to the embassy and expat crowd and has some great American food. The staff is very friendly and will sit with you if you want or leave you alone if you choose.
Patpong is a unique little street and should be on every first-timer’s visit list. Don’t buy anything from the vendors in the street. Prices are much cheaper anywhere else in Thailand. Have a few drinks, check out activities, and avoid the second floor bars.
Sukhumvit Road Bangkok Thailand
Sukhumvit Road can be considered the “main drag” in Bangkok. A six-lane road, with a fenced divider and an overhead train, it is a tourist’s dream or a tourist’s nightmare. The street is wall-to-wall vendors, morning and night. You can buy almost anything from clothes, to souvenirs, to food and drink. There are many decent restaurants along the road featuring Thai, Italian, American, and many other nations’ food. And, of course, there are oodles of food vendors hawking their rice, noodles, and soups. You will also run into the ladies of the night peddling their wares and you may even run into some third genderites that may be after your wallet. Be careful.
Venturing down some of the side Sois, you can find tailor shops, sports bars, numerous hotels, massage and beauty parlors, and shops of all shapes and sizes. Getting a haircut, manicure, facial and massage for about $20 is a real bargain. An Italian dinner at Pomodoro’s and then off for some adult beverages. Sukhumvit Road has it all. You can shop, eat, drink and be entertained and do it all just walking around.
And just off of Sukhumvit Road are two of the most popular entertainment venues for tourists in Bangkok. On Sukhumvit and Soi 4 is Nana Entertainment Plaza (NEP), three stories of bars in a U-shaped arena. Everything from beer bars to go-go’s and one on the 2nd floor that is for the gender challenged.
Further up Sukhumvit, between Soi 21 and Soi 23 is Soi Cowboy. This street has been around since the 1970’s and serves primarily the expats in the area, but more and more tourists have found it. There are many small go-go bars and lots of cute girls on the street trying to entice you to come inside their bar. Some of the bars have shows that have to be seen to be believed. Written descriptions will not do them justice. Sukhumvit Road is not for the tame. It is a unique experience but caution must be taken as it would in any big city.
You will not be bored walking around Sukhumvit Road. But, be careful. With a large amount of tourists, the crowded street is notorious for pickpockets.
Must See Bangkok Temples
No getaway to Bangkok is complete without visiting the temples in the city. The temples, or wats, are all over and the main temples can be seen in a day or two. You can either plan your own trip or check in the lobby of your hotel and sign up for a ½ or full day trip. There are 5 temples that are definite tourist spots and a “must see”.
Wat Arun is the temple of the dawn. It is located on the Chao Phraya River. As the name indicates, it is ideal to visit first thing in the morning as the sun rises. This way you will see the sun bounce off the walls of the temple with a pearly iridescence.
Wat Phra Kaew, or the temple of the Emerald Buddha, is in the heart of Bangkok, at the Royal Palace. Despite the name, the statue is really made of jade and is adorned in golden garments. There are three sets of gold clothing that are changed according to the seasons.
Like all the temples, you should dress appropriately and leave your shoes off. For the men, this means slacks and a collar shirt. For the ladies, wear a dress and cover as much skin as possible. If you are improperly dressed, you will either be turned away or be offered to rent some clothes.
Another temple to visit is Wat Pho. This is the temple of the Reclining Buddha. This is the oldest temple in Bangkok and houses over 1,000 images of Buddha. The Reclining Buddha is 46 meters long, plated in gold, with inlaid mother of pearl on his eyes and soles of his feet.
Next is Wat Benchamabophit. This is a beautiful marble temple built in 1899. Inside the Ordination Hall (Ubosot) is a Sukhothai-style Buddha statue named Phra Buddhajinaraja, cast in 1920 after the original located in Wat Mahathat in Phitsanulok. The ashes of King Chulalongkorn are buried beneath the statue. In the gallery surrounding the ordination hall are 52 Buddha statues, collected by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab for his king.
Lastly, is Wat Tramit, the “Golden Buddha”. This is a fascinating story and a temple you have to see. You need to read the history and learn how the Thai people hid this Buddha in clay to keep the Burmese from taking it and melting down the gold for war. It went undiscovered until an accident chipped away some of the clay to reveal part of the 5 tons of gold. No guards in sight as no one would dare steal it.
Whether you are religious or not, visiting the temples in Bangkok or anywhere else in Thailand is something you should do.
Where To Stay When Visiting Bangkok?
It is the same as buying real estate. The three most important things to remember are location, location and location. If you will only be on a stop over in Bangkok, you may just want to stay at a hotel near the airport. Traffic can be horrendous in Bangkok, and you don’t want to risk missing your flight.