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Your guide to the City of Smiles

“My Thailand philosophy equates to one of non-planning… this country is that easy to travel around, and rigid plans may decrease your opportunity to ride the moped of spontaneity.”

Known as the ‘Land of Smiles’, Thailand is now among the most widely visited travel destinations in the world. From budget travelling to a more luxurious getaway, this country caters to all variety of tourists. As a budget traveller myself, I enjoyed the affordability of this warm and ultra-relaxed paradise. My Thailand philosophy equates to one of non-planning… this country is that easy to travel around, and rigid plans may decrease your opportunity to ride the moped of spontaneity. With a bit of background knowledge and basic orientation, being open-minded and chatting to like-minded travellers is the best way of finding your customized Thailand adventure.

Bhumibol Bridge - BangkokMike Behnken   Bangkok by night is a spectacle of lights and colours.

When to go

The tourist high season runs from October to April with December and January being the peak months. During this time there is less humidity and heat, although temperatures still average a delightful 32 degrees Celsius. There may be less chance of rain during high season, but there is a high chance of overcrowding and escalated prices. Off peak season is far more relaxed, making bargaining and spontaneous planning easier, but is by no means a rigid recommendation. There are individual considerations for each region. In general, the north and north-east can have cooler spells in December, although still generally warm and pleasant, you may need a light jacket. In the south it is usually recommended to visit the Andaman Coast in high season and the Gulf Coast in low season. With that said, from my experience, you cannot predict the weather, and many people have not found “rainy season” to be all that off-putting or problematic. There can be the odd shower even during high season and in the rainy season, these showers usually don’t last much more than an hour or two before you can hit the beach again.

You have to smile at the Bangkok TrafficIan XYZ   Thailand is the Land of Smiles, so say cheese!

Arriving in Bangkok

Whether you plan on an island getaway, cultural excursion or trekking up North, inevitably, most visitors to Thailand end up in Bangkok for at least a night or two. Arriving in Bangkok, the average backpacker would find themselves on a tuk-tuk towards Khao San road, the backpacking street made popular by Alex Garland’s novel, The Beach. In the movie of the book, we get to see young Leonardo DiCaprio staying in a dingy room on Khao San road, contributing to the fame of this mecca. The area however, is certainly not “local” or even dingy anymore. Guest houses, cafés, souvenir shops and clothing stalls line the streets and surrounding areas. This area is a must-see purely for the vibe. But expect to see more foreigners than Thai’s and you may pay more for very basic accommodation on actual Khao San Road than you would on streets just off of it. Khao San road is also loud. There are many guest houses further from this main hub that are cheaper and still within walking distance. I would suggest Khao San road if you want to meet people very easily and enjoy the social night life, maybe get your hair dreaded and buy some harem pants with elephants on them. This street also poses a good opportunity to try fried grasshoppers or scorpions for your Instagram selfie or general life experience and also have the prospect of western food if your stomach is craving familiarity.

If it were me, I would venture straight from the airport to Sukhumvit. This area has many hotels, shopping malls and apartments, not things I’m too interested in, but it also has a few budget guest houses like Sam’s Lodge and S.V. Guest House. The main attraction to me is that the area is linked directly by the Airport Link train to the Skytrain, it really couldn’t be easier and cheaper. Do be aware that two of the main red-light district hubs are in these surrounds and you may well get your first glance of the infamous Thai lady boys. Otherwise, the area is decent and there are plenty of travel agents, beauty salons, massage parlours and markets scattered around. Sukhumvit is one of the longest roads in the world and runs almost all the way to the border of Cambodia…there’s an interesting walking expedition.

Attractions to explore

TukTuk...

Jan Inge   A Tuk-tuk – Get ready to weave your way through the busy streets.

Markets

Chatuchak Weekend Market
Also known as JJ market, this is the largest market in Thailand and sells almost anything you can think of. Bargaining power at this market is not the best, but the market’s sheer size and assortment of goods is worth the journey. Look out for the Elephant Tower building in the area, shaped after Thailand’s national animal.

Pratunam Market
This 24 hour market sells all sorts of clothes, shoes and accessories at wholesale prices, though the best time to go is between 11:00 and 20:00.
Siam Night market

Accessible by boat from Khao San Road, this market is linked to various shopping centres via Sky Bridge and generally boasts better quality products than those from Chatuchak market.
Khao San Road Markets

As previously mentioned, this market is largely geared towards backpackers. Pretty, bohemian clothes, souvenir T-shirts, trendy smoothies, express Thai massages, live bands and Chnag beers make it an all-round festive evening out.

Taling Chan Floating Market
The closest floating market to Bangkok city centre, well known for its seafood. Vendors sell their goods from boats along the riverbank.

Wat Sai Floating Market
A great place to see traditional Thai living in the surrounds and sample authentic and delicious food.

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
A relatively new market with great organic local produce and options for boat rides into the more rural neighbourhoods.

A number of touristy, as well as quieter, more authentic floating markets are situated just outside of Bangkok city. Almost every travel agent in the city will offer tours to these. Be sure to check if there are secret gems to explore in close proximity while you are in a new area.

Peanut salesman, Bangkok

Tord Remme   A peanut seller in the busy city of Bangkok.

Fun and interesting activities

Sea Life Ocean World
Great for children and adults alike, this aquarium is one of the largest in South East Asia and boasts world-class exhibits. Situated underneath Siam Paragon Shopping centre, Sea Life Ocean World has creatures from all over the world and also features a 4D cinema. This is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon and inspire ocean-awe before diving or snorkeling trips on the south coast.

Madame Tussauds Bangkok
If you’ve never found yourself at the original Madame Tussauds in London, this may be your opportunity to view the exquisite waxworks and take pictures with the very realistic wax versions of well-known figures.

Human Body Museum
This clinical display of dissected human bodies is less sinister than the forensic museum and more of an educational experience. It’s located at the medical university, Chulalongkorn.

Cultural outings
The Grand Palace
This spectacular building has been home of the Thai king for 150 years and displays exquisitely detailed and beautiful architecture. Within the grounds is a Buddhist temple so take note that bare feet, tank tops and bare legs for men and women are not permitted on the palace grounds. Wear socks and garments that cover you up or get covering scarves from a booth near the entrance (for a deposit).

The National Museum
This collection of Thai artifacts is also near to the Grand Palace and displays a good description of Thai history. It’s well organized with English descriptions and worth the visit for those interested in history and Thai culture.

This diverse city has so much more to offer as well as day trips to nearby towns with fantastic tours such as visiting the Ayutthaya ruins, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, the Bridge over River Kwai and the nearest beach at Hua Hin. Book a Muay Thai boxing class, Thai massage course or Thai cooking class; go and watch traditional Thai dancing, a Muay Thai boxing match or ask one of the hundreds of travel agents for an awesome day tour of whatever tickles your fancy.

Getting Around

The Airport Link which connects with Skytrain and the MRT metro subway are fantastic transport systems, although they can be quite crowded at peak times. You can also take one of the many metered taxis or tuk tuks. Remember to negotiate and agree on a price before your journey begins or ask the taxi driver to start the meter. Sometimes taxi drivers don’t want to put the meter on, I had the experience of hailing a taxi from Chatuchak to Khao San Road and was turned down multiple times when asking for the meter fare. Eventually, a driver agreed to put the meter on but proceeded to take us on a slow extended trip through China Town during the Chinese new year. It was really quite funny and you should maintain an attitude of going-with-the-flow. Thailand is cheap, so incidents like this shouldn’t break the bank and ultimately contribute to the laughs.

River ferries are also great and reasonably priced making them a good way for getting some cool air on your face and seeing the city from the water. For further travel to the north or south of the country, overnight trains are fantastic, affordable, clean and comfortable. Travellers normally book a 2nd class sleeper with aircon, but I like to take a 2nd class sleeper with a fan as I find the aircon too cold and bonus, it’s cheaper. There are also domestic flights to both Chiang Mai and Phuket.

So if you haven’t booked your tickets yet – what are you waiting for? A Thailand is never dull, and never just “SAME SAME” to use the local lingo. Be sure to check out our Know before Go for a couple more important tips.

Bangkok: City of ColorsMike Behnken   Bangkok, the city of colour!

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
For a list of all sorts of quirky and interesting museums and attractions visit www.bangkok.com
Drinking water:  You can’t drink the tap water in Thailand so always buy bottled water and check that the bottle is sealed. In very touristy areas fruit, shakes and ice is usually fine, but take caution in very local areas where the sellers are unlikely to have catered for tourists. There is however, no need to be too pedantic or overload your bag with meds.
Pack light: Medications are very easy and cheap to acquire from pharmacies in Bangkok and even certain antibiotics are handed over freely without a prescription.
Pricing: Very importantly, remember that almost every price is negotiable from taxis and tuk tuks to guest houses and food, make sure your negotiating skills are up to scratch.
Language:  It’s lovely to greet and thank taxi drivers, vendors and hotel staff, as well as any friendly Thai person, so make sure to learn these two phrases:
Hello (girl): Sawadee Ka
Hello (guy): Sawadee Khrup
Thank you: Khop Khun Ka/Khrup
Do the Right Thing:
Thailand is well known for its illicit but widely tolerated sex industry. Thousands of young women are pressured or sold into slavery. Through a lack of education and job skills coupled with gender inequality and poverty, sometimes prostitution is the only option available for these young women to support their families. Remember that by partaking in prostitution or viewing the shows you are contributing to keeping women trapped in the sex trade and the trafficking of children. Rather check out Nightlight, a foundation aiming to empower women in the trade and provide them with skills and opportunities. Also check out Empower Foundation, World Help and A21 and the work they are doing for human trafficking and sex slavery and how you can help.

Kim Konings

Kim Konings is a third-world enthusiast, preferring organized chaos with a serving of rice. She studied botany, yoga and Thai massage and yearns to explore the world through long term travel. She enjoys hikes, hammocks, jungles and beaches, as well as exciting foods and meeting interesting people along the way. With a thirst for information, her travelling style soaks up cultural quirks and fascinating titbits, loves some relaxation and keeps in mind a tight budget.

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