The Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains quick guide to the city that is same same but different. Includes essential Thai phrases, embassy contact info (just in case!), and the common scams you should watch out for.
Best time to visit
In terms of weather, the best time to visit Bangkok is from late November to January, when the average daily temperature is the coolest (that is to say, it is the least hot). March to May are the hottest months but if you’re after participating in the Songkran festivities, the mid-April heat might be worth it (you’ll most likely be getting doused in water anyway). The Loy Krathong festival, on the other hand, takes place in November — it is when Thais release lotus-shaped banana-leaf rafts adorned with candles, flowers, and incense into rivers and other bodies of water, a picturesque sight not to be missed.
How to get to Bangkok
The following airlines have non-stop flights from the Philippines to Bangkok:
- Philippine Airlines
- Cebu Pacific
- Thai Airways
- Kuwait Airways
How to get to the city center from Suwarnabhumi Airport
Take the Airport Rail Link (City Line) high-speed train and get off at Phaya Thai, where you can then take the BTS Skytrain to downtown Bangkok. Trains run from 6 AM to 12 MN daily. The ride to Phaya Thai takes around half an hour and costs 45 baht.
Metered taxis take 45-60 minutes to get to the city center and cost 250-400 baht, plus tolls of 25-50 baht.
If you need to go to Don Muang Airport, there is a free shuttle bus that you can board at Gate 2 or 3 of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Tip: If your flight arrives very late or departs very early, you might want to stay overnight in a hotel near the airport. We’ve tried staying at the Floral Shire Resort and found it a decent place (if not exactly a resort) with free breakfast and a free shuttle to and from the airport, all for a very affordable price. (See review here.)
Where to stay
Because Bangkok traffic can be patience-testing, I’ve found it convenient to stay within walking distance of a BTS Skytrain station. On8 Sukhumvit is literally at the foot of the escalator leading to/from the Nana station (on the Sukhumvit line) and we had a good stay there last 2012 (see review here).
The top-rated places to stay in Bangkok (based on TripAdvisor ratings as of 17 February 2016) are:
- Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
- Ariyasom Villa
- The Okura Prestige Bangkok
- Phranakorn-Nornlen Hotel
- Oriental Residence Bangkok
- The Peninsula Bangkok
- The Siam
- Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn
- Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit
- Klapsons The River Residences Bangkok
B&Bs and Inns
- W Home Bangkok
- Loog Choob Homestay
- Inn A Day
- Focal Local Bed and Breakfast
- Kama Bangkok
- The Yard Hostel
- House of Phraya Jasaen
- Bed Station Hostel
- PanPan Hostel
- Smile Society
How to get around
Take the train and/or boat whenever you can so that you don’t spend your vacation hours stuck in traffic. The BTS Skytrain covers many of the main spots in Bangkok, from Sathorn to Silom to Sukhumvit, and even goes all the way to the Chatuchak Weekend Market (Mo Chit station).
There are important exceptions. The Rattanakosin area — where the major temples are located, sometimes referred to as “old Bangkok” — and backpacker central Khao San Road don’t have BTS Skytrain stations nearby. If you’re going to these places, what you can do is:
- Take the BTS Skytrain to the Saphan Taksin station
- Walk a very short distance to the Sathorn (Taksin) pier
- And then take the Chao Phraya Express Boat. Take the orange flag boats, as the boats with yellow flags might not stop where you’re going.
This strategy hits the proverbial two birds with one stone: you get to your destination without having to sit through traffic, and you’re practically going on a scenic “cruise” along the mighty Chao Phraya River. Get off at:
- Tha Chang – for the Grand Palace / Wat Phra Kaew
- Tha Tien – for Wat Pho and the cross-river ferry to Wat Arun
- Phra Arthit – for Khao San Road
- Thewet – for the Dusit Palace
A tuktuk is a nice novelty but not really a recommended method of going around the city. (Besides, if you’re from the Philippines, we have a lot of them here anyway!) If you must try a tuktuk — for the experience — I would suggest trying it no more than once. Always negotiate a price before getting inside and don’t agree on detours to other “tourist spots.”
If you are traveling in a group, taking a taxi might work out cheaper than if all of you travel by MRT/BTS. That said, there is still the traffic to consider. Bangkok rush hours are from 7:00 – 9:30 AM and from 4:30 – 8:00 PM. It’s especially awful during rainy season.
If you want to go to tourist spots that are farther away — such as the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market — and you don’t mind paying a bit more, organized day tours can be a good idea. You can book these tours at the airport when you arrive; we’ve also tried booking a tour at MBK, the well-known shopping mall in central Bangkok.
Favorite things to see and do in Bangkok
Bangkok has gorgeous temples. The first time I saw one, at Wat Phra Kaew, I was just amazed at the details and the sheer effort that must have gone into building each temple. Wat Phra Kaew is in the same complex as the Grand Palace and is definitely worth a visit. A short distance from Wat Phra Kaew is Wat Pho, the largest temple in Bangkok, which houses a gigantic Reclining Buddha. Drop by at midday and give yourself a break from all the walking by treating yourself to a massage — head, back, foot, or whole body — at the massage school in the Wat Pho complex. (If you’re staying a while in Bangkok, you could actually sign up for a five-day course on Thai massage.) Finally, take the cross-river ferry to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, and take a close look at the spires that are covered with tiny painted pieces of porcelain.
- Dress appropriately when visiting temples — no flipflops, shorts, or sleeveless shirts.
- There are free English tours four times a day at Wat Phra Kaew — look for the signs after you pass the ticket gate.
- There are, unfortunately, a lot of tourist-targeting scams in Bangkok and many of them take place around temples. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that a temple is closed — go up to the ticket gate and verify the information yourself. Don’t accept a local’s invitation to feed the birds with corn — they will make you pay for the corn afterwards (this happened to me, ugh).
- If you want to experience one important facet of Buddhist culture, go to a temple between 5:00 to 7:00 AM. At this time, monks line up in front of the temples and accept donations — usually necessities such as food, soap, candles, etc. — from the people. I haven’t had a chance to do this yet (I will next time!) but according to Wikitravel, the best temple to experience the alms ceremony is Wat Benchamabophit in Dusit. You can buy a bucket filled with products to give to the monks at one of the Buddhist markets nearby.
If you happen to be in Bangkok during a weekend — in fact, might as well schedule your trip to include a weekend for this reason — take the BTS Skytrain to Mo Chit station and visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It’s one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, with close to 8,000 stalls, and is probably the best place to buy stuff like bags and shirts (for yourself or for pasalubong). There are also lots of vendors selling street food (yum!) and ice-cold drinks (very helpful in the Bangkok heat). If you see something you like at an acceptable price, make sure to buy it right then and there, as it’s practically impossible to find your way back to that particular stall after you’ve wandered off.
I loooooooove the food courts in Bangkok! You can often find one inside malls such as MBK. You might think “food in a mall?” but as someone who lives in a country with an equally strong mall culture, I can affirm that food courts are a good, cheap way to sample a variety of authentic local dishes. What you can get in food courts are probably closer to what locals eat on a day-to-day basis than the stuff you can order in the “good” restaurants, and in fact, it’s the locals themselves that frequent and fill up the seats at food courts. And the food is so good! My mom still talks about the coconut milk-drenched sticky rice with durian that she had ten years ago in a mall food court somewhere in the Pratunam area. I especially love Thai desserts — I’m always wishing I could eat everything! — and Thai milk tea. Of course, you don’t have to eat at a food court. Eating street food is fun and filling, and there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Bangkok.
- The Damnoen Saduak floating market is extremely touristy — in fact, it probably exists only for the tourists now — but if you absolutely must visit a floating market, Damnoen Saduak is fine. You can get on a boat and buy stuff from vendors in other boats or along the canal bank.
- If you can get up early (or stay up late) enough, you might want to drop by Pak Khlong Talat, a flower market that is open round-the-clock but best visited at around 3 AM when fresh flowers arrive.
- One place I always plan on visiting but never have — I keep getting distracted by Chatuchak! — is Ayutthaya. It’s one of the ancient capitals of Siam, around 2 hours by train from Bangkok, and has beautiful ruins. You can read more about it here.
- Skybars! My cousin Ayen, who lives in Bangkok, says she better appreciates her chaotic second home from way up high. There are a lot of rooftop bars in Bangkok — the Sky Bar at Sirocco is probably the most well-known — but Ayen recommends the Octave Skybar at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. The Marriott is just a short walk from the Thonglor BTS Skytrain station and the Octave bar is located on 45-49/F. Visit between 5 to 7 PM — drinks are two for the price of one and you get to catch the sunset from a prime spot.
What to watch out for
Scams. In general, be wary of unsolicited offers and advice. I’m lucky I only fell for the corn-for-the-birds trick because there are more of them out there. The common ones:
- “Closed” temples
- Shops that sell you “real” gems
- Sob stories from fellow “tourists”
Taxi drivers from hell. Did I tell you about the time I was in a taxi and started texting “I love you” to family and friends because I honestly thought something awful was going to happen to me? (You can read about it HERE, in the last part of the article.) And once, after spending a long time at a taxi queue at MBK, I told the driver where I was going, we drove out, and after a few meters, he stopped the car and demanded a fixed amount, knowing I would be too tired to look for another taxi (or to queue again at MBK) and yet not daring to make his illegal demand at the taxi stop where, if I reported it to the attendant, he would lose his place in the queue. Grrr. Also, don’t ask a taxi driver for recommendations for anything (food, shops, etc.) as they would most likely just take you to a place where they can get a commission. Insist on using the meter every time, and if the driver says the meter is broken, get another taxi.
Don’t say anything bad about the king unless a Thai jail is in your bucket list.
Riding an elephant sounds awesome — but the way the elephants are trained so they would let you ride them is not. I have to admit, on my second visit to Bangkok, I went on an elephant ride. I didn’t know any better. But I’ve learned since then that elephants are often treated cruelly during their “training” — separated from their mothers at a very young age, confined in a limited space, even beaten by spiked clubs to teach them obedience. And the transient joy I experienced from that one elephant ride now pales in comparison to the guilt I feel when I imagine what that poor creature must have gone through. It’s just not worth it.
Essential Thai Phrases
Add ‘khap’ to the end of a sentence if you are male and ‘kha’ if you are female.
Hello – Sawatdee
How are you? – Sabai dee ru?
Yes – Chai
No – Mai chai
Thank you – Khop koon
How much? – Gee baht?
Sorry – Khor tort
Never mind – Mai pen rai (a bit like “no worries” or “no problem” — can be said in response to “sorry” or “thank you”)
Quick Facts for Filipinos
1 THB = 1.34 PHP (verify current exchange rate HERE)
Philippine Embassy in Bangkok
760 Sukhumvit Road cor. Soi Philippines (Soi 30/1) Bangkok 10110
(+662) 259-0139 to 40 or (+662) 258-5401
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Assistance to Nationals in Distress
24/7 Hotline: (+668) 992-65954
That’s it! Hope you find this quick guide useful. 🙂
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