After an 8-hour flight, an 8-hour layover, then a 13-hour flight, I stepped out of the Bangkok airport and into Asia for the first time. The air was hot and humid while the sound of cars on the freeway and honking horns were distracting. I was only awake from pure adrenaline. Bangkok is a unique city, but it can be an overwhelming city if you don’t know what to expect. I’ve laid out all the things you need to know to make your first Bangkok visit the trip of a lifetime!
WHERE TO STAY
There are many different districts in Bangkok, each offering its own unique vibe. Below is a quick outline of the different districts, but you can find a much more detailed explanation along with a color-coded map (my love language) in this post from Nerd Nomads. My group stayed in the Khao San district. Since we were only there for one night, it worked well to have a budget-friendly but very nice suite. If I were to go back for a longer visit, I would probably choose a different district, like Silom or Riverside. I suggest coming up with a list of what you want to see while in Bangkok before finding the best district to stay in for your first Bangkok visit.
Khao San – bustling, cheap, party, backpackers, markets
Riverside – great views, 5 star hotels, easy ferry access, close to tourist attractions – reclining buddha, flower market, grand palace
Sukhumvit – modern, luxury hotels, dining, popular with expats
Silom – business district, easy public transport, parks, restaurants, popular place to stay
Siam – shopping, movies, cool pubs
Pratunam – close to siam but cheaper and more thai authentic
Chinatown – oldest, history and culture, street food
HOW TO GET AROUND
Uber – I used this method of transportation the most often while in Thailand. They’re SO cheap, and you won’t get a surprise fare at the end from a greedy taxi driver. Just keep in mind that it will probably take twice as long to get somewhere by car as you think it will. The traffic in Bangkok is out of control.
Taxi – Don’t let the driver negotiate a fixed fare with you, and make sure the meter is running. My friend and I waited in an hour-long line at Siam Square to finally get a taxi back to our hotel. The meter was running, but I still question if the driver was truly trying to “get around traffic” or just trying to charge us more.
Tuk-Tuk – I did not take a tuk-tuk ride while in Thailand, and it’s a big regret now! Be on your guard that many drivers work with market owners. They’ll stop midway through your journey to show you something awesome, only it’s a shopping scam. Take a short ride for the fun experience – and, of course, the photos – but don’t use it as a normal mode of transport.
Chao Phyra Express River Boat – Ride the boat from the central pier all the way to Nonthaburi for an attraction in and of itself, or take one of the many stops along the way. See a map here.
Skytrain (BTS) – This elevated train circulates mainly in the business districts. It can’t be used for every trip, but it’s cheap and convenient enough to give it a try. Service stops at midnight. Find a map here.
Subway (MRT) – Built as an extension of the Skytrain, you can switch between the two at several stations or take a Subway only route. Take a look at the map here.
WHAT TO DO
Our first afternoon in Bangkok, we checked into our hotel, showered, dressed up, and headed out to a rooftop bar to catch a panoramic nighttime view of the city. There are many rooftop bars in the city to choose from, but my group landed on Sky Bar. This particular location was used in filming The Hangover 2; although, that’s not the reason we chose it! All of us were getting sleepy and hangry, so we weren’t interested in paying for overpriced cocktails and appetizers. The waiters will try to coerce you into getting a drink, but we took a menu, told them we needed a minute to decide, snapped a few pictures, and left to get real food!
Intending to go to The Grand Palace, my group ended up at Wat Pho. #distractedbybubbletea Even though we never made it to our final destination, exploring Wat Pho was an awesome way to spend the afternoon! When we arrived, it was raining pretty steadily, so we bought tickets and waited in a small, covered exhibit for the downpour to let up. Soon enough, it did, and we got to explore the temple with fewer crowds. I just wish I had worn waterproof shoes because there was quite a bit of standing water even after the rain had stopped. The intricacy and attention to detail paid to every inch of the buildings just blew me away.
LONGBOAT RIVER TOUR
Since we were short on time, this river tour was the perfect way to see more of the city. We didn’t book a formal tour, although that’s definitely an option. We just stopped at a nearby port and negotiated a price with a longboat driver. He took us through the historic and business districts all the way up to a residential area before turning around to bring us back to where we started. If you’re looking to sightsee while getting from one place to another, I would recommend the Chao Phraya Express River Boat.
SIAM SHOPPING DISTRICT
When you need a dose of sleek city and funky fashion, Siam is the place to go! There are plenty of malls to choose from with stores and food to keep you occupied for days.
Is this a real size? Because I’ll take it! #bubbleteaorbust
If you have visited Thailand before, what was your favorite part about Bangkok? Leave a comment, and let me know!