I have had more pressure to write a bachelor’s guide blog for Bangkok; so thought maybe a family guide would be the best way to start. Bangkok is the world’s most frequented city – followed by London, Paris, Singapore, New York, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Barcelona – as per most top ten surveys, Forbes to CNN. Hence Bangkok being categorized as ‘sex city’ or ‘sleaze vacation’ is extremely unfair.
I thank readers/friends for keeping faith in my guidance and encouraging me to continue giving travel tips – some tell me to open travel agency too! With no disrespect to the other nine cities (of the Top 10 most visited cities), Bangkok is the most vibrant, colorful, exciting, secular, extreme yet balanced, high on culture and yet pocket friendly city of the world. I will never suggest 3-4 day trips to Bangkok. The Thailand capital is best visited with long 2 week stays – eat street food, shop cheap wholesale garments, get yourself pampered with massages and yet stay within budgets. We visit Bangkok often (almost once every 18 months) and will continue to do so.
Tourist Basic Tips
- Most taxis in the touristy areas will refuse to go by meter, so better to bargain a low fare upfront.
- Irrespective of if you are alone, with spouse or with friends – massage parlors will call you and girls will smile at you. Smile back. It’s a humane thing and you represent your country.
- It’s a safe city; at night 2am if you are walking in semi dark alleys with short skirts you are safe – the thumb rule of any sleaze city is that girls are safer there. That’s why they operate in so high density. It also means people are out on the streets till late and enjoying. Mumbai never sleeps as people are stuck on traffic returning home, but Bangkok never sleeps as people are busy enjoying the night.
- Pick pocketing and currency frauds are your responsibility, be aware.
- Cosmopolitan, cheap food courts and cheaper street foods – at almost every nook and corner, some for 24hrs. But be prepared to be shocked by certain food (read: living beings) shapes, sizes and smell being cooked.
- Halal food is bit of a challenge here, but very much around the corner. The Al Huseini restaurant Nana probably serves the best cheap tasty halal food at a restaurant, in this part of the world.
- Excellent train network, although for families, taxi is still better bet and recommended as it spares the walking. Colourful taxis get kids excited too.
- Fairly clean city.
- Sharpen your haggling skills – in wholesale markets you will end up buying stuff cheaper than anywhere in the world.
- No mandatory tipping culture. But people will love you more if you tip, as they are poor.
- Learn basic Thai words, more as respect to the locals, and you will be dealing a lot with them. Most will only speak Thai, and they look cute when doing so too.
- Extremely warm, friendly and polite people (barring some taxi drivers and off course if a sleaze deal goes wrong).
- Do not get your hotel to send airport pickup – they will charge 800 THB upwards. The standard taxi counter fare to most tourist areas is barely 300-400 THB = 10 USD = 15 SGD = 700 INR.
Stay at Bangkok
- For vegetarian/halal friends who prefer to stay at low-budget, it’s best to stay in touristy areas – Asok/Sukhumvit, Nana or the Siam/MBK range. You will get massive food range to pick.
- If you have kids and don’t have extensive sightseeing plans then stay at a spot that is walking distance from Siam malls, MBK and Platinum wholesale malls. The best medium budget hotel I have recommended to half a dozen friends (and everyone liked it) is ‘Hotel Evergreen Place’. Ticks all boxes.
- If you are seeking more of healthcare (Bachelors read: Night life and Massages) or medical tourism then ‘Aspen Suites’ in Nana is the perfect balance of family stay and yet within ‘striking’ range.
- The above shouldn’t hide the fact that Bangkok has oceans of hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast and apartment options. Most of them are in cheap to medium budget, so pick one, rated well by others.
- But most importantly pick a hotel in a location which isn’t too noisy but walkable to your evening options – dinner or massage or drinks or ‘hunting’. It’s a big let down getting stuck in evening traffic trying to reach a happening area. Rather stay somewhere around.
What to avoid: Certain hotels in Nana area which are ‘extremely busy’ hotels. I must mention – Grace Hotel and Hotel Rajah here which are ‘busy’ and popular hotels. However Bachelor’s alert! these are good spots for pick up – ranging Middle East to Russian girls. Hotel Rajah top floor operates with European service providers all within the 3000 TBH = 120 SGD = 85 USD = 6000 INR range. Very budget fare! That apart, post 6 pm, every bar, massage parlor, nook and corner is your hunting ground.
Eat at Bangkok
I have covered a separate must read blog on best of Bangkok Food, must read! Bangkok houses the best food court and best budget street foods of the world.
Your ideal itinerary
Bangkok is very well placed from India and rest of Asia, so am expecting most people will land Friday late night or Saturday noon. Plan a 5-7 nights stay at Bangkok at the minimum or if your feet are too itchy to be on the run then 4 nights Bangkok stay and 4 nights Phuket.
You are on a weekend, so Chatuchak market must be covered upfront. The earlier you get exposed to the stuff and wholesale rates and food diversity, the better to keep a benchmark rest of the trip.
Avoid peak traffic and leave hotel around 10am, take taxi to Chatuchak weekend market (120 baht from the areas of stay mentioned above). It’s only open on weekends and closes 6pm. It’s 15000 shops in one area and an experience in itself. Try the coconut ice-cream, Spanish seafood paella, raw mango slices with chilli sauce mix with jaggery and various other dishes. Shop. It’s the cheapest place to shop, bargain and gives a unique experience with its setting. Take taxi to return and your kids would have been tired at this outing.
So in evening, just walk to the nearby busy streets (Nana/Asok or the MBK or Siam malls). You have work there! Search for smallish Tours/Travels shops. Bargain for two items
- a Dinner Cruise for Day two with hotel pickup and drop.
- a DreamWorld theme park trip on Day three with hotel pickup and drop.
- a Ayutthaya tour with guide on Day four
- a Siam Niramit show on Day five
Small shops will always give better bargain than Internet cruise/theme park sites itself – That’s another uniqueness of Thailand.
Either leave very early (before the traffic starts) like 7am or leave 10am after breakfast .. take random taxi to do only 3 temples (not more)
- Wat Pho (Temple of reclining buddha)
- Wat Phra Kew (Temple of emerald Buddha)
- Wat Arun
- Flower market is also close by, unique and can be covered.
Stop at this. Grand Palace is not that grand (do watch forts in India for grandeur). Nothing more required.
Evening – do the Dinner cruise. The food in Dinner cruises are mind blowing though a bit limited for vegetarians and you need to check for halal certification. The view of same temples at night is awesome, from the cruise. Your family of four can do a dinner cruise for as cheap as 3000 THB = 120 SGD = 85 USD = 6000 INR.
Your Dreamworld theme park trip day.
Dreamworld is the poor man’s Disney land, but enough to get your kids super excited. It has snow world, cable car, cheap merchandise shopping, lunch (including Indian vegetarian and Halal buffets), Hollywood live action show (absolute 5/5 stunner show) and all rides for as measly as 4000 THB = 150 SGD = 120 USD = 8000 INR including pickup and drop.
Have a look at the Dreamworld Hollywood action stunts!
Do remember to take hotel pickup and drop as that theme park is so far flung that getting taxis wont be easy. Day Three will likely be a Monday, working day so less crowds and less queue time.
The Tiger Temple at Kanchanaburi has been closed for now, so going for the Floating market trip (both are outside of Bangkok) make little sense. I personally am not too impressed with Floating market, but if you must go then hire a car and do Floating market (leave early morning 7am) and Rose garden and culture show. The second one is good. Not need for package tour. Just hire a car and rest of it is self explanatory at both the venues.
If you don’t want that, then get enriched in history – assuming you are very historical minded, then book a car and do full day Ayutthaya tour – hiring a guide will make sense.
Keep a ‘shop + hopping’ = shopping day amidst your travels in the heat and humidity. MBK, Platinum Fashion Mall and Indra Square are your real budget shopping areas.
Indra Square will give you the cheapest deals for clothes to footwear to electronics. Clothes – buy in wholesale (3-6 pieces) and get amazing deals. Buy a suitcase there too, they have great suitcases and cheap prices. Approach a good tailor for stitching dresses too. Do Bargain.
Eat at Kuang Seafood near to it.
For bachelors, watch a kickboxing game live and go for massages. The tip for a good massage parlour is if the serving people ‘don’t let you choose a masseur’ and/or have mostly guys or muscular aging ladies doing the job. A good massage is more refreshing than a 30min workout. The tip for a hanky panky massage parlour is pretty girls sitting outside and giving you the option to select them! You will feel like the ancient Hindu tradition of ‘Swayamvar’ though!
Take a cab in the morning and visit the train market (a market where train runs amidst the scurrying vendors!)
Do a street food trip to Chinatown at noon.
In the evening book tickets for Siam Niramit show with pickup and drop.
Take a cab to Asiatic – great food, good scenic place, lots of cheap kid rids incl Go kart. Asiatic is a great place to spend a relaxing evening at Bangkok. Very approachable by train, with free boat ride.
Visit the Siam Malls – Go to Kidzania, Aquarium and Madame Tussad’s places. The Siam malls are all within walking distance of each other and these three spots will take more than a day. Eat at Somboon Seafood and After You!
By now you would have realized why Bangkok needs more than a week! Which also gives you reason to return to Bangkok, again! And Again.