Thailand for me was the first time I’d ever ventured into Asia. It was an explosion for the senses, so many strange yet wonderful sights that my eyes, ears and nose had never encountered before.
I was travelling with two friends and we’d planned a fairly organised itinerary, nothing too flexible as we were all fairly inexperienced travellers when it came to ‘winging it’. The plan was this: Bangkok, fly to Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, travel across land and then Koh Samui. Fairly standard for the Thai tourist.
Bangkok was just.. woah. I can see why it gets mixed reviews. I think I can can safely write this without one of my friends killing me (there are various other tales from the trip that I’m sure she’d rather I didn’t divulge) but she HATED it. I on the other hand, was fascinated by it. Love is a strong word.
For someone new to Bangkok you can see why it would be a bit of a culture shock. The dirty streets, the approachive-ness of people, the unpleasant smells you can come across whilst walking down the street. It’s all a bit different. However, in some ways no different to any street new to you in your own neighbourhood.
Here are some words of advice for my fellow travellers who may visit Bangkok.
Try what the locals try
If the locals are trying it, it usually means it’s good. Usually this applies to food but I’d also extend this to shops and activities.
My personal experience stems from when I got a bit of cabin fever in the hostel we were staying in (Chern hostel, very good, would recommend) and so I decided to go for a bit of a wonder. A few streets away there was an extremely busy food place packed with locals. I gatecrashed this party and found myself purchasing what I would call a waffle/bread/pancake hybrid thing. You could get this topped with chocolate, sugar, caramel sauce. Very cheap and amazing.
Do your research
The first day we ventured out of our hostel to seek out the Grand Palace, and we LOOKED like tourists. We were navigating slowly and I had a map held right up in front of my eyes.
It wasn’t long before a Thai man approached us and very kindly offered to help us. He told us that unfortunately the Grand Palace wasn’t open to tourists in the morning and that he’d help us find a very cheap tuk tuk to take us on a tour instead. If you do your research you will realise this is one of the biggest scams in the book. Unfortunately we hadn’t done such research.
So away we go in a tuk tuk and we are dropped off at a pier where a boat is waiting and we are asked to pay for the canal tour. First day in Bangkok, this seems like a good idea, we hadn’t seen much of the city yet and we also hadn’t quite got our heads around the conversion rate yet. Turns out this tour cost us 20 British poundings each. A lot of money for Bangkok and the tour was, ehm, interesting.
It wasn’t one of the more popular canal tours you see and instead took us round Bangkok’s ‘old quarter’ where we saw the ramshackled homes of the locals. We saw monks walking over bridges above, women washing their clothes in the water; an authentic experience which I have no doubt is part of the ‘real’ Bangkok. I’m not snubbing this, I just believe the purpose of this trip was much more lucrative, as we were asked if we wanted to pay to feed the fish and were pressured into purchasing from women selling their wares on floating river boats that we passed.
What we ultimately learnt as the trip went on is, do your research. You can say no to these people, as long as you are polite there should be no harm done and you may save some money.
Negotiate with tuk tuk drivers
You will be harassed by tuk tuk drivers as you walk from place to place. They will shout at you asking if you need a lift and will offer a price. This is something you can also refuse, don’t feel like the first price is the one you have to agree to. This is the drivers opportunist price. Haggle him down to a more reasonable price and be on your way.
Or walk. It’s much cheaper.
Leave without water and sun cream
We were in Bangkok in May, it was excruciatingly hot and was hitting 42’C at times. You should always make sure you leave your hostel with some water wherever you are going. Our hostel room’s fridge always had new bottled water in when we came back, I believe most hostels do this. We were also advised to not fill up from fountains or taps just in case. Buying bottled water is dead cheap anyway and you could often buy it from street vendors for 20-40 baht.
Also always lather on the sun cream. At risk of sounding like your mum, sun burn is not fun and this is something I discovered after a boat trip from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi. I was burnt ALL over and was in pain for days after. I was in pain getting into my wetsuit when I went scuba driving, and I resorted to Google-ing how to soothe it. I ended up wiping cool tea bags all over myself, can’t say this helped. Also, my holidays photos are now not very flattering either.
You’ve probably read this umpteen times now, but always make sure you carry a scarf or spare shirt for when you are visiting temples or religious places. You will often not get in unless you are appropriately covered and respectful.
I’d also recommend taking a good pair of shoes you can slip on and off as many temples require you to take your shoes off to enter. I had Converse sometimes and this was a pain in the butt.
Location, location, location
It’s often very tempting when you are booking accommodation to automatically go for the cheapest option. Yay, £5 for a hostel! But then you realise when you get there that you are actually miles away and the price you have to pay to actually get into the centre meant it worth paying a little bit more for your hostel in the first place.
We didn’t really have this problem too much. Our hostel meant we were well located to visit all the attractions we were after. Good choice amigos.
Don’t regret anything
Obviously you can’t do everything, especially if you only have a few days in Bangkok. However, I feel like I hadn’t quite done enough research regarding what there actually was to do in Bangkok beyond visiting the famous palaces and temples. Do some YouTube and Instagram searching before you go so you can see what amazing things there are to do and perhaps plan your trip a little more thoroughly. Winging it is great, but sometimes it’s nice to have some good ideas in your head.
After looking at other people’s trips to Bangkok via YouTube, we should have visited a Sky Bar. These are elaborate bars on top of buildings with immense views over the city. I would also have liked to have visited one of Bangkok’s huge shopping malls which make ours seem tiny in comparison. I also hear there is a Ghost Tower which is popular to have a tour around. Ayutthaya is an old city north of Bangkok that looks like a Thai Angkor Wat. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and luckily I’ll be back this summer to explore a little more.