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A friend asked me for Bangkok tips and tricks for his sister. I thought I may as well publish them here in case they’re useful to anyone else.
Cultural day trips
Grand Palace is a *must*. Need “respectable” clothing (no shorts, exposed shoulders or figure-hugging clothes. Or you have to queue to borrow other clothes & pay a deposit)
Wat Pho – with huge reclining Buddha. Close to grand palace.
Canal trip – at pier opposite grand palace you can get a long-tail boat up the quiet canals on the other side of the river. 20 mins, and you’re in the countryside surrounded by temples and coconut fields. Can be expensive on a tight budget (but you should always haggle for anything.) There’s a commuter boat (“express boat”) that goes up the Chao Phraya river. It’s 14 baht (about 35p). You can go as far as Nonthaburi, which takes about 30 mins, and is a very nice trip. Get out, poke around the market, then buy a ticket back.
The three above can all be packed in 1 (exhausting) day if you’re short on time.
If you’re there on a Sunday lunchtime, the 5* Shangri-La hotel has a buffet & tea dance. High society BKK ladies and their very camp Latin dance teachers do the fox trot while the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra play light classics, while you eat great Thai/ Western food next to the river and drink all the tea and coffee you can manage. Open to all, for under £20/ head.
Restaurants: there are many, many good restaurants in BKK. All street food is good; if a place has lots of customers, you can trust its quality. One of my faves is “Cabbages and condoms” – set up by Mr Meechai who basically stopped AIDS in its tracks in Thailand by encouraging condom use. It’s good, simple food at reasonable price, and proceeds go to family planning education for hill tribe people etc. http://www.pda.or.th/restaurant/ (“And remember, our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.”)
In restaurants, to signal for the bill, raise your hand, point your index finger downwards and draw a circle. The Thai word for bill is “checkbin”. It’s fine to hold up a bottle of beer and 2 fingers, for example, to ask for 2 more bottles of beer. “Not spicy” in Thai is “mai pet”. “spicy” is “pet”. If she doesn’t eat meat (nutter) I wrote How to eat vegan in Thailand.
Shopping – locals go to MBK, a giant shopping mall where you can buy practically anything from $4 t-shirts to giant teak furniture. It’s airconditioned, has great reasonable restaurants (try ‘Fuji’ for japanese food on floor 6, IIRC). Posh shopping can be done in Siam Square (next door) and its associated malls. Or, at weekends, go to Chatuchak market for a real Thai experience. Haggle. You get what you pay for.
Longer day trips: Kanchanaburi – Bridge over the river Kwai. You can stay overnight cheaply or negotiate a taxi to take you from BKK, drive you around and return you. Ayutthaya – a beautiful ancient capital full of old temples. The elephants parading through town at sunset as they return from working in the jungle is breahtakingly spectacular.
When in Thailand: all food is good; Thais are scrupulous about hygiene. Ice is edible, too – it’s bought from factories. Bottled water is cheap and trustworthy. Always, always make sure you have some next to your bed or you’ll dehydrate overnight. If your urine isn’t clear, drink more water. Salt in Sprite makes good rehydration fluid. You can clean teeth etc in tap water in BKK -= water is clean just heavily chlorinated.
Skytrain BKK is very good if she’s near a station.Lots of steps. Buy a stored value card.
Taxis are very cheap and *obliged* to use meter within BKK. If they won’t, simply get out. Many drivers don’t speak English; get a card with name of hotel written in Thai to show driver.
Tipping isn’t normal or required. I might leave loose change, eg if a bill was 490 baht, I’d leave the 10B change.
Smaller shops don’t take credit cards.
Avoid Koh Sarn Road; it’a full of gap-year entitled wankers getting drunk with fellow Westerners, in what they regard as a theme park staffed by yellow people.
Never, ever engage in conversations about the king, except to say how great he is. Generally, avoid politics or religion. Never touch someone’s head or point with your feet (or point your feet at anyone). If she has a partner, holding hands is the maximum public display of affection possible. Public kissing might as well be fucking and will shock people. Generally, displays of emotion are considered toddler behaviour.
I like to have a drink at http://www.bestrestaurantsbangkok.com/THE_DECK_BY_THE_RIVER.html at sunset to see the temple of the dawn glowing. Also Riva Surya hotel has a nice outside terrace for watching the river at happy hour.
If she wants to see sleaze, Nana Plaza / Soi Cowboy are racier, cheaper and less touristy than Pat Pong. The Thermae for late-night drinking surrounded by desperate hookers, rent boys, ladyboys and clients is great fun.
Wear factor 7 billion suncream *all the time*. It’s one of the hottest cities in the world, and this is the hottest time of the year: drink water, all the time (6 litres a day, minimum).
Unless you’re there for business, casual clothing is fine. (But reasonably modest; it’s a city not a beach.) Wear comfortable shoes; pavements are uneven and you have to walk up lots of steps to cross roads by footbridge.
oh: and generally, BKK is a very safe city. Certainly safer for women than lots of western cities. Just take reasonable care with valuables, money etc. I leave passport in hotel safe.