Considering I have been to Bangkok seven times (and just had to talk myself out of No8) it might surprise you to hear I hated it the first time I went. So did The Boyfriend (who is now as addicted to the place as I am). It’s a story I hear over and over again – and while it’s taken me a long while to ‘get’ the place, I think I’ve picked up a few tips that might help everyone on their first time in Bangkok have an incredible time. And here they are..
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My First Time in Bangkok
My first trip to Bangkok was some time in the early 2000s – prime The Beach territory. Until then, most of my holidays had been to Europe or the USA, but I had heard that in the other direction there was this place called Asia where chaos reigned.
Here the roads were full of motorbikes, often carrying everything from a whole wardrobe or a small family of pigs.
The food was exotic, spicy and you diced with death if you ate it anywhere except a clean sanitised restaurants.
Markets either floated or were a cacophony of noise, smells and sights guaranteed to turn me vegetarian.
There were gleaming temples, winding alleys, a hint of sin…
Imagine my surprise therefore when I turned up in Bangkok to find a branch of Boots opposite my hotel, McDonald’s on every corner and a selection of designer clothes shops to rival Bond Street in London. I was confused.
I wandered around the temples, I went to the backpacker central of the Khao San road where people with dreadlocks and ridiculous traveller’s trousers looked like they’d arrived in 1974 and never left.
I whizzed about in tuk-tuks and I ate my own body weight in Pad Thai, but I didn’t find this madness I was looking for. I went home decidedly underwhelmed and thinking Bangkok was overrated.
Most other people have the opposite experience. ‘It was all just too much,’ says The Boyfriend. ‘Everything was noisy and smelly. Bikes were everywhere. People were everywhere. I just couldn’t think. I decided I wouldn’t go back.’
We were both staying on the same road, just at different ends!
Over time I’ve realised that whatever you’re looking for in Bangkok – frantic madness with a side order of grit, a ‘mild’ introduction to Southeast Asia or trendy bars and coffee shops that wouldn’t seem out of place in London or New York, you can find it in Bangkok (if you know how) – and in time it’s a place that just gets under your skin.
But before that can happen you need to enjoy your first time in Bangkok and here’s my list of tips that I think will help. You’ll learn where to go, what to eat and what to do to have an awesome first trip to Bangkok.
Sightseeing in Bangkok
I’m guessing you’ve come to Bangkok to see some sights and there’s a lot of them – the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Khao San Road should all be on your must-see list for a Bangkok first time visitor – but if you’re not careful, your first trip to Bangkok can seem like a mass of temples, all blending into one another and not a lot in between.
That’s a shame because if you look behind the surface a bit of Bangkok and you’ll find a fascinating city full of intriguing things to discover.
So, here’s some ideas that might not be on the radar when you’re visiting Bangkok for the first time but should be…
1. Find the Areas With Character
On my first time in Bangkok, I stayed like so many people do in the area of Sukhumvit. It’s a fantastic place – if you want to go shopping.
If you’re looking for somewhere with a bit more grit or character, you won’t find it here…as my friend Greg (another Bangkok first time hater) said, ‘I just found it all really sterile.’
But you don’t have to look far to change that opinion – often just wandering down a few back streets will work. But here’s a few places I particularly like that aren’t too far off the beaten track…
Ban Krua Nua: Many people on their first time in Bangkok, visit the MBK shopping centre or the famous Jim Thompson House.
If you’re one of them, then you’re also just around the corner from Ban Krua Nua – a labyrinth of canal-side homes and tiny ramshackle shops with sleepy cats on every counter.
To find it, walk up the road alongside the Siam Siam Design Hotel (Kasem San 3 Alley), over the bridge and then just wander. Although it is a residential area so be respectful.
Talad Noi: Before you spend an evening eating in Chinatown – check out Talad Noi. This working district is full of car repair shops, tiny shrines dotted around rambling alleys and roads lined with bikes and tuk-tuks.
It’s getting a bit more gentrified, but wandering the back streets is a photographer’s dream.
Get there via the Marine Department boat stop. Go during daylight, then wander up to Chinatown to eat your fill.
Little India (officially known as Phahurat) and Chinatown are also worth a mention. The market in Chinatown will drive you to distraction, it’s ridiculously crowded and hot – but visit the Flower Market for a change of pace.
Wander around the backstreets opposite the Siam Centre. The big glitzy malls along Rama IV road draw most of the tourist crowd but cross to the other side and you’ll find quirky cafes, endless beauty stores, fashion shops and the latest teen food trends.
And if you really want to assault your senses, take a trip to Klong Toey wet market. It’s one of the biggest, most fascinating markets I’ve been to in Asia.
2. Don’t Just go Where Everyone Else Does
If your Bangkok first time itinerary reads ‘Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Khao San and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market’ you’ll see some amazing sights, but you might also walk away from Bangkok saying it’s too touristy, so mix things up a bit. The places above will help but if you have time also think about visiting
Nang Leong Market for all the cheap food you can eat. You might see one or two other foreign faces in this lunch place for locals but not many more than that.
Even around the tourist central that is Khao San Road, wander north about 25 minutes walk up Samsen Road and you’ll find a truly local area with an amazing wet market (Thewet Market on google maps), street sellers everywhere, some seriously cheap local shops – and, if you head further into the back streets, you’ll come across Wat Inthrawihan and a temple with its giant Buddha.
Also, stop for a second to peer through the shutters of the seriously spooky abandoned mall at the junction of Samsen and Phra Sumen Road.
Taling Chan floating market about 11km from Bangkok’s Grand Palace is no longer the secret it once was, but it’s still a good place to get some nice pics of a genuine floating market – without having to get up at 4am to beat the crowds at Damnoen Saduak.
It’s mostly food based so go hungry.
The link above explains how to get there. When we went, we went by taxi which was super easy and came back by bus which was long, but you’re at the start of the journey so you at least get a seat.
Take a day trip to Maeklong Railway Market. This market is famous as a train runs through it daily – yes, it’s packed with tourists, but if you go by train, rather than on a tour, you’ll get an experience few other folks do. You’ll find full instructions on how to get to Maeklong by train here.
3. Get up Early
If you are going to somewhere super touristy (and you should because there’s a reason all the main Bangkok sights are on your must-see list), go early – everyone else is sleeping off the after effects of those 200 baht buckets of booze! (NB: you’ll find some off the beaten track suggestions of where to drink that further down in the Nightlife section)
4. Find Somewhere to Chill
Anywhere in Asia can feel a bit full on if you’re out pounding the pavements day in, day out. And if you’re not going to come away from your first time in Bangkok, needing a holiday or swearing never to return, you’ll need to take a break sometimes.
Sit by the pool in your hotel sometimes – it’s not a crime (it’s where you’ll find me most morning until Bangkok wakes up!),
If you want to combine chilling out with sightseeing, visit Lumphini Park which, once you get away from the traffic that rings it is a proper escape in Bangkok or go and see an exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre opposite MBK. The silence makes a welcome change.
There’s also park just outside the, sometimes insanely busy, Chatuchak Market that you can escape to when inside it gets too hot and sticky.
You can also take time out over a meal. Book brunch at The Gardens of Dinsor Palace and you’ll get to watch swans float around while you eat and while I’m not one for coffee, there are heaps of cafes dotted around the backstreets around Siam – just don’t choose one of the Instagram must-dos (like the Floral Cafe at Napasorn (an amazing flower-filled space hidden about the flower market) or KarmaKamet which is famous for its huge candy floss) and you’ll find peace.
5. It’s Okay to Have a McDonalds, or Drink in the Irish pub and Hope it all Goes Away
So you’re visiting Bangkok for the first time and you’re ready to throw yourself into 24-7 Thai Culture.
And then five days in, you’ve had enough spicy food, it’s too hot, you’re sick of Thai beer and no you don’t want a bloody t-shirt with Same Same on it.
That’s fine – go get a Maccas. Sit in the aircon and literally and figuratively chill.
There’s no law that says you have to go all Thai, all the time.
Personally, though if you’re going to eat fast food in Bangkok I’d say go to KFC – it’s really good in Bangkok, the staff seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs, you get cutlery, the food is great – and it comes with chilli sauce!
If it is all getting a bit much, but you don’t quite want to go fully Western, some nice compromises are
To eat at a food court like Food Loft at Central World – just buy a prepaid card, load it with cash and pick whatever you like – yes even the Spag Bol
Visit Cabbages and Condoms – it’s a Thai restaurant with a unique theme. The food is good, the staff speak English, it’s nice and calm (just wear insect repellent).
Visit Asiatique – this shopping mall, entertainment area and food hall near the water is a good thing to do in the evening.
Wander around the food hall at Siam Paragon – it’s one of my favourite places in the city
Check out the Unicorn Cafe and destress cuddling magical creatures.
6. Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Some of my favourite Bangkok moments have been nothing to do with the big sights – they’ve just been things I’ve spotted on the street like watching this old lady feed her duck in the centre of the city
Another day I watched a troop of Lion Dancers squeeze their entire costume (and all of them) into a tuk-tuk and speed off to their next job and being on the bridge by overlooking Centralworld as a Thai football team went past on an open tour bus with what seemed like every single moped in Bangkok riding alongside them beeping was an a never-to-be repeated experience.
None of them are in any tour book, but they’re some of my best memories of my trips to Bangkok.
There’s so much going on if you keep your eyes peeled – and always, always look in shop doorways. Some of them are amazing.
Scams: What Every First-Time Visitor to Bangkok Needs to Know
‘Everyone is trying to rip you off’ – is another common refrain you hear about why people hate the city afer visiting Bangkok for the first time. And yes, I will confess I’ve met a few scammers in my time there.
7. The Grand Palace Is Probably Open
The first time I went, I got in a tuk-tuk to go to the Grand Palace. If you’re going to find a dodgy tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok, saying the word’s Grand Palace will make them manifest faster than saying Beetlejuice three times brings out Michael Keaton.
They smile and say. ‘It’s closed today, let me take you somewhere else instead.’ That somewhere else is his brother’s shop!
You’ll also find ‘helpful’ people telling you that it’s closed in the roads around the Palace and other major sights.
Remember the Golden Rule of Bangkok – unless something very important is happening with the Royal Family (which will be on the news), it’s extremely unlikely that any of the major attractions are closed when they are supposed to be open. The Grand Palace is open from 8.30am to 3.30pm, 7 days a week.
Oh your hostel is very unlikely to have burned down without them telling you too.
Also watch out for any tuk-tuk driver who wants to take you on a detour to a shop, restaurant or bar, en route to wherever you want to go. Just say no.
My favourite story on Bangkok scams though comes from a friend, who, as a naive 20-something got a limo to pick her up from the airport. As he hurtled along the freeway at about 40 over the speed limit, he gave her a grave warning. ‘Don’t get in the normal taxis – they carry spare gas in their boot and if another car hits them, they explode.’ Of course, at this point, he then offered to be her personal chauffeur for the rest of the trip.
To me this sums up Bangkok scams, they’re harmless guys chancing their arm – just be aware of it.
Eating in Bangkok for First Timers
Eating all the Thai food I possibly can is one of my favourite things to do in Bangkok, but I admit, until I recently, even I was a bit cautious about what I ate and where I ate it. It’s taken time for me to get brave enough to try some of the more local looking places – and chances are you’re going to be equally as nervous on your first trip to Bangkok. So….
8. Know Where to Find Good Food
I’ve said this before on this blog – there’s a lot of good food in Bangkok, there’s a lot of cheap food in Bangkok, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that there’s a lot of good, cheap food – particularly in places you might be spending most of your time when in Bangkok for the first time! Thankfully, I’ve got a few favourites to suggest. Check out my post on where to find some of the best cheap food in Bangkok here.
9. Ask an Expert
If it’s your first time in Bangkok and you’re a bit nervous about street food or eating locally I definitely recommend taking a food tour with Bangkok Food Tours. They show you the best places. They got me over my worries about just walking in somewhere with no English menu and pointing at whatever looks good – the dishes above were from somewhere I tried on the tour, then went back to.
10. Don’t Fret About Chopsticks
Thai food is eaten with a knife and fork.
11. Don’t Try and Find Street Food on a Monday
The stalls close for cleaning. For the same reason don’t plan a trip to Chinatown on a Monday night, if you want to eat from the tiny stalls that fill the roads there. You’ll be disappointed.
12. Take the Chance to go Gourmet
Bangkok is home to three of the top 10 restaurants in Asia (and eight in the top 50) – according to the San Pelligrino Awards. And the prices are VERY cheap in comparison to eating at similar quality places elsewhere in the world. The top three are Gaggan, Nahm and Suhring.
I’ve written about my trip to Gaggan – but I have also been to Nahm and they are definitely both worth a visit if they are in your budget.
Gaggan’s 27-course meal (6500 baht ++) is an amazing experience from start to finish – especially if you can get one of the coveted upstairs tables.
Nahm is slightly cheaper (a single main course will cost you around 800 baht at dinner, the tasting menu is 2800++). less theatrical and is more suited if you just want an excellent Thai meal – I still dream about the Blue Swimmer Crab Curry.
Bangkok Nightlife for Rookies
Whether it’s drinking cold bottles of Chang watching the world go by on Khao San Road, a sophisticated night of cocktails on a rooftop or a full-on Hangover-esque trawl through the dodgiest bars in Bangkok, you’re not going to be lacking for something to do in Bangkok at night, but like everything else, it pays to know what you’re doing so you don’t end up with a three-figure bar bill or a tattoo on your face!
13. Know Where the Girly Bars Are
And avoid them If this type of thing is going to upset you. Prostitution may be illegal in Thailand but you’d never believe it in a few areas.
The good news is, it’s fairly easy to avoid – don’t go to Soi 4 in Sukhumvit or Soi Cowboy near Asok, avoid Soi 1 and 2 or Soi Twilight in Patpong. Job done.
Admittedly, last time we went, a lot of the bars at the upper end of Soi 4 had closed and other businesses were moving in. There’s even an Ibis hotel at that end now.
14. If you are drinking in Nana or Patpong. and are males on your own, yes the girls will approach you. If you’re not interested, just be nice and say no thank you. They’re only doing their job.
15. If you’re a girl drinking in Soi 4, I’ve found Hilary’s bars most friendly to me. If you don’t want to go into an official girly bar, try Hanrahans Irish Pub.
Personally, I don’t go into the bars in Patpong, as I’m not keen on the area, but there are a few outside areas of bars that line the market that give you a good chance to watch the world go by and soak up the atmosphere.
16. If you go to Patpong, don’t go upstairs in a ping-pong bar – you’re just asking for a few thousand baht bar bill and a large guy standing in the way of your exit until you pay it.
17. Oh and know that if you ever play a bar girl at Connect Four, you will lose. They are masters at it. Thankfully this mistake will only cost you the price of a Lady Drink.
18. Buckets are Evil
They sound like a great idea. Lovely, lovely booze that tastes like sweeties for just a few hundred baht.
You’ll just have one you tell yourself. You’re on holiday you tell yourself. It’s your first trip to Bangkok, you want the picture, you tell yourself.
You will not drink one.
You will think you only drank one and then find pictures of yourself with three different coloured buckets.
You will then spend the whole of the next day with your head on a table thinking you are dying.
I can neither confirm or deny if I know this from personal experience.
19. The ‘Hangover Bar’ is not the Only Rooftop bar in Bangkok!
The Sky Bar on the 63rd Floor of the Lebua Tower has become a must-visit for Bangkok first timers after its appearance in The Hangover.
Yes, it’s incredible – but it’s also very busy because of it.
It is a first-time in Bangkok rite of passage – and, if it’s on your list you must go (checking the dress code first). You won’t believe how high it is when you’re up there with barely any safety barriers!
But, if you don’t like crowded places, want somewhere you’ll feel as comfortable ordering a beer as a cocktail or just want to do something different, here are a few other bars with views you might want to check out – most of them have a slightly less formal feel than Sky Bar.
Sala Rattanakosin – directly opposite the Wat Arun temple, it has a great view of the river and is stunning at sunset.
Above Eleven – chic bar just off Sukhumvit
Red Sky – right on top of the Central World tower so convenient if you’re staying around Siam/Chitlom
If you’re in Chinatown and get thirsty, the Hotel Royal has a small pool bar with a view of the surrounding roofs
For something a bit more casual, try Jham-Jun on Phra Sumen road close to Khao San Road. The view isn’t magnificent but it’s nice and chilled up there.
All of these are clearly marked on google maps.
A few more rooftop bars have opened since I was last there so check out this list for some other suggestions.
20. Khao San Road. It is What it Is!
And what it is is a melting pot of the world’s backpackers – which basically means that come 10pm it looks like your local High Street on a Saturday night… No matter where you’re from!
It’s fun, the beer is cheap, find the right venue and you’ll have a blast – but don’t expect a cultural experience.
Oh and no matter how good an idea it seems at the time, you do not need a frog that croaks when you rub a wooden stick over its back.
If you do become tired of the ladies selling you frogs, the accents you hear back home or just the backpacker-ness of it all and want a change of scenery without going far, try Soi Rambutri which is still cheap and cheerful but less rowdy, take a walk up Phra Sumen to Jham-Jun, or nearby Pat Bar. Or, walk up to Samsen Road which is lined with small bars like Adhere the 13th Blues Bar or Post.
21. There are Cool Bits of Bangkok
I’ve just talked about the line of bars on Samsen Road in which you’ll find some Thai hipsters hanging out, but there are a few other areas to try if you want to search out Bangkok’s next cool thing.
Charoen Krung Road, slightly south-east of Talad Noi is Bangkok’s newest hipster area with coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants and a few bars springing up. Go now before everyone else finds it. Search for Tropic City, FooJohn and Jua on google maps.
Also, check out the more established group of trendy bars in Chinatown on a road called Soi Nana. Look for Tep bar or Teens of Thailand on google maps.
Lastly, look at what’s going on in Thong Lor, Ari and Ekkamai – I’m planning on staying around here next time I go as there’s a lot going on in these areas. Until I do you’ll just have to go explore for me. I wouldn’t suggest staying there on your first time in Bangkok though, it’ll take you an age to get to all the main sites.
22. Go vintage
Night markets are also another cool thing to do in Bangkok – no, not the touristy ones selling you knock off Rolexes and Same Same t-shirts, but those that combine selling vintage goods with pop up bars and restaurants or food trucks.
Check out JJ Green near Mo Chit BTS station or Talad Rot Fai at Ratchada (metro: Thailand Cultural Centre). Both markets run Thur-Sun from 6pm.
Find a huge list of Bangkok night markets here – but do check something is still there before you go. I spent 40 minutes trying to find one of Talad Rot Fai’s first incarnations a few years ago, only to discover it had moved!
Getting Around Bangkok as a First Timer
Getting around Bangkok can be a bit tiring – traffic is pretty bad and a lot of places you want to go as a first time visitor don’t seem to be immediately accessible by any obvious transportation. It takes a while to get your head around it all. This should help…
Basically, there are six main ways you’ll be likely to get around during your first time in Bangkok – taxi, BTS Skytrain – and elevated train which goes to many popular tourist destinations, the Metro, the Chao Praya river boat which go up and down the main river that runs through the city – and I’d also suggest you explore by the smaller canal boats, tuk-tuks and by foot.
If you’re braver than me, there are also motorbike taxis and the bus – but I’m not sure they are best for first-timers.
A few things to note though include
23. The Airport Train May Not Go Where You’re Staying
At 45 baht a trip (rather 300-400 for a taxi) the Airport Train can save you cash, but be aware – it only takes you to the Metro station at Phetchaburi where you’ll need to swap lines.
This is fine if you’re staying around Silom as it’s a short ride on the metro, but if you’re staying around Siam and Sukhumvit, you’ll then need to also change from the Metro to the BTS – if you’re staying at Khao San Road, you’ll still need a taxi. So if you’ve got luggage it can be a bind.
Not to mention that the BTS gets very full at certain points and getting out of it with luggage could be tricky.
24. Buy a Rabbit Card
Like the Sydney Opal card or the London Oyster card, this preloaded card lets you pay for your journeys on the BTS Skytrain without having to fumble for cash.
You can also use it in the Family Mart, Subway, McDonalds and a heap of other stores to pay for purchases.
25. Tuk Tuks are Fun
There’s nothing like blasting through the Bangkok traffic in one – especially late at night when they can go fast enough to blast.
However, they are not the cheapest way to get about if you’re a foreigner. Know that, barter the fare down a bit to pay what you think the experience is worth for you – then just enjoy it
26. Be Careful of Taxis
Catching taxis can be the one time where even I hate Bangkok!
You get in the taxi – and they refuse to put the meter on. I’ve even got staff in the hotel to get a taxi, have them put the meter on as they leave, then get around the corner and turn it off demanding a flat fee way higher than what I’m supposed to be paying.
What I have learned though is that this is far more likely to happen in the area around Sukhumvit where the traffic is appalling and it can easily take 40-50 minutes to go a short journey. It’s a better plan to use the BTS Skytrain service to get as far as you can out of the area in the direction you need to go – and then get a cab.
If it does happen, remember that you’re often still only paying a few pounds or dollars over the odds and sometimes, it’s just not worth worrying about.
Elsewhere in Bangkok, the drivers have been fine and I’ve never had a problem with a taxi leaving from the official queue at the airport. Note: there are two tolls on the road from the airport into Bangkok and the driver will ask you to pay them, that’s normal. There’s also a 50 baht airport fee that’s added, again, totally normal.
In my opinion, the arrival of Uber was the best thing that happened to change my experience of taxis in Bangkok. but sadly it’s now disappeared.
27. Don’t Always use the Roads
Bangkok has a series of canals running through it – and, if you’re trying to get from say, Khao San Road to Siam, it’s a lot easier to jump on one of the San Saeb Canal boats than try and get there by the BTS.
You can also get the boat along the main Bangkok river, the Chao Praya which can come in very handy.
This is great for getting to Khao San Road from Sukhumvit – take the BTS to Saphan Taksin, find Sathorn Pier, jump on the boat and get off at Phra Arthit a short walk away.
Ditto the easiest way to get to the Grand Palace from Sukhumvit is to get the riverboat up to Ta Chang from Sathorn Pier.
Note, The Chao Praya boats don’t run at night, they are for day trips only.
28. Get on the Right Boat on the Chao Praya
If you do decide to take the boat up the river, when you get to Sathorn pier, you will be greeted by a mass of humanity – all looking completely confused as to what boat to get. I still get confused when I get down there!
The main two boats you’ll probably need to know about on your first time in Bangkok are
The Tourist Boat. This has a blue flag and costs 50 baht to take you to where you want to go – or 180 baht for a day pass.
The guides speak English and will be a bit more forgiving about waiting at the pier for you to get off. They only stop where people want to get off so, if you hear the name of your pier called, yell out – or it’ll whizz past.
The downside is it only runs every half an hour, find the timetable and other details here.
The Regular Boat: This costs 14 baht to go to the same places as the Tourist Boat.
This has an orange flag.
If there’s no ticket seller on the pier on which you board, or you didn’t get a chance to buy one, you can just pay the conductor on the boat.
It can be a bit frantic and you need to be ready to get out at your stop – they don’t hang around.
There are also regular boats with no flag, boats with yellow flags and boats with green flags that run at different times of day and stop at different piers. This map explains where they all stop – if the boat is stopping at the pier you want to get off at, jump on it.
Note. You can’t get on any of the regular boats with the 180 baht pass. I’ve seen a lot of tourists look very grumpy when they have to pay again.
I’m inherently tight when it comes to these boats so will always get the cheap boat – in reality you’re quibbling over about 35 baht so get on whichever comes in first!
Or, if it’s all getting a bit much, just get on the blue flag boat who should help ensure you don’t get hopelessly lost.
29. Walking is the best way to see stuff
But man it’s hot. Wear sunscreen, carry water (there’s always a 7-11 or Family Mart close by to buy some) and walk slowly so you don’t overheat.
Where to Stay in Bangkok your First Time
When you’re visiting Bangkok for the first time you do not want to stay in the middle of nowhere. You’ll spend your whole day travelling. You want to be somewhere close to the sights you most want to see – or with easy access to transportation. So,
30. Choose your area well
And a for a first time Bangkok visitor, I’d suggest you stick to one of the following,
Located around the BTS stations of Nana and Asok, Sukhumvit is lined with big hotels and while it doesn’t have any attractions per se (unless you’re into the girly bar thing) the fact that the BTS Skytrain runs right down the middle of it makes it easy to get around.
You won’t have any problems finding hotels in this area – plus Bangkok has some of the cheapest hotel prices in the world for the quality of the rooms you get. You’ll find you can often book a suite for the price of a budget room in London!
If you aren’t put off by the girly bar thing, our normal hotel around here is the Phachara Suites which has huge rooms at very cheap prices.
If that side of things upsets you, stay on the other side of the road – maybe in the Fraser Suites.
Chitlom to Siam
This is the other end of Sukhumvit road and where I stayed on my first time in Bangkok. It’s again, brilliant for transport and amazing if you want to shop.
Personally, I would recommend the Amari Watergate.
It’s set a bit back from the main area but is only a short walk to all the shopping malls.
If you can, spring for an executive club room which gives you access to your own private rooftop bar. Sitting here after a day of madness and watching the sunset with a (free) glass of fizz was absolutely fantastic.
On my first trip to Bangkok, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Bangkok which is even closer to the shops. I haven’t been there for a long time, but it’s still there and still gets great reviews!
Khao San Road
If you want to spend most of your time around the main sights of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun it’s probably the best area to stay for sightseeing as you can walk to the main sights in about 20 minutes.
The road itself is crammed with more ridiculously cheap hotels than you can shake a stick at but if you like the idea of being in that area, but aren’t on a backpacker budget, look at the Casa Nithra which is my normal place to stay or, if you’re lucky enough to get a room, the Riva Suyra, It’s always been full when I’ve tried to go.
There’s a crop of boutique hotels around the riverfront by the Grand Palace itself – very convenient, but the influx of daily tourists might drive you a bit mad. Have a look at Sala Rattanakosin (yes of the bar I mentioned above) or Riva Arun.
The business district this is lined with office blocks and glitzy five-star hotels – rubbing shoulders with the madness that is Patpong.
I have never stayed here personally, but you’ll be unlikely to go far wrong with established names like the Bayan Tree
Other Useful Advice When Visiting Bangkok for the First Time
Hopefully all the above will mean you have an awesome time on your first trip to Bangkok and come away loving it not hating it – but just before you go off to plan heaps of cool stuff, there are just a final few things that might smooth things out for you.
31. Don’t drink the water, don’t even brush your teeth in the water. Most hotels offer bottled water or pick it up from the 7-11. There will be one close to your hotel – they are everywhere.
32. Use all the normal sensible advice on eating to avoid food poisoning.
33. Take Bimuno Travelaid Pastilles before you leave. They are prebiotic pastilles that feed the gut bugs that fight off tummy troubles. I swear by these and have literally eaten off the same plate as The Boyfriend when using them and he’s got sick and I haven’t.
34. Buy a SIM card – Bangkok is enormous and if you want to walk anywhere you’re going to need maps. I get all my SIM cards in Asia via Klook as it means I can order them in advance and pick them up at the airport.
35. Carry ID with you. It’s a legal requirement and we have been stopped and asked for it before
36. Pack a top that covers your shoulders and skirt or trousers that cover your ankles. You’ll need it if you’re going to go into any of the main temples or the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace dress code is particularly strict. As well as the above (and a scarf to cover your shoulders won’t cut it), you can’t wear anything tight fitting, anything see-through, anything that shows your middle, back or cleavage or anything ripped. It’s also best to wear closed toe shoes.
37. You might see ++ on a restaurant or hotel bill. This means that your bill will come with a 10% added service charge plus local taxes (around 7%). If a bill says nett these are included already.
38. If you have a large Thai banknote, got to 7-11 and buy a drink to break it – they always have change.
39. Stop looking for anyone carrying a pig on a motorbike – that’s Vietnam ( I know I was disappointed too). There are a lot of dogs on scooters though!
40. You will at one point during your trip get the song One Night in Bangkok stuck in your head – I can’t help you with that one.
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