My Personal Guide to Bangkok
Updated June 2018
I wrote this for a friend that asked for some advice but it got so long that I decided to make it into a proper article. I’ve been in Bangkok for about a year and a half, initial for school but now also for work. I have had the unique experience of living like a local with a normal 9–5 schedule and also needing to live very frugally at first.
During school, my weekday budget was $10/day for food and housing but I recommend budgeting a lot more than that. $10 is totally possible if you eat only cheap food, drink no alcohol, walk a lot, and get the cheapest airbnb possible with no A/C. People reading this are likely on vacation so budgeting more should be no big deal.
Getting around Bangkok isn’t too hard though it’s not very quick due to congestion. I recommend picking up a sim card at a 7/11 or at a mall. Sim cards at the airport because they are incredibly overpriced but sometimes it’s worth it if you have to take a taxi straight from the plane and you need a map. You can get a month card at the mall for about $10 with internet and for around $30,at the airport. Then you will always have a map and communication. The typical Bangkok way to get around is to take a train to the stop closest to your destination and then either take a motorcycle taxi (for 1 person) or a cab (for many). General rule of thumb for a taxi in fast traffic is a 15 min ride cost about 60baht. If they don’t want to turn on the meter, don’t use the cab. Also, cab drivers rarely know where anything is (in English at least), so having a gps map to be able to give them navigation advice is sometimes helpful. Usually, if you try to show them the map directly they don’t understand what their looking at. Otherwise, I tell them the closest place with a Thai name, like a train station or temple, and they understand that. Then walk a bit. If you need to go some place really specific, I recommend an GrabTaxi. Uber has been replaced by Grab so don’t waste time trying to get an Uber here. You can put your destination in on the phone and the driver will know exactly where to go and then also you don’t need to spend cash. Slightly more expensive than a normal cab but worth the ease of using the app and avoiding language problems. I really don’t recommend you try to take a taxi between 5–7pm if you are anywhere close to central Bangkok. Sometimes you can get stuck for nearly an hour in traffic and if it’s raining it’s much worse.
Tuk Tuk’s are always a bad deal but it’s worth it one time to see what it’s like. They usually say 200baht for a ride and never come down in price. There are also busses but if you don’t know the traffic I wouldn’t recommend them because they are slow, get stuck in traffic a lot, and are hot. They are very cheap though and go to many places that trains don’t. Maybe you want to try it out? I ride them every once in a while if I need to. Jump on and sit down and a lady will come and shake a change box at you. Tell here where you want to go. She probably won’t understand where you mean but give her 20 baht and it will likely be ok.
The trains in Bangkok are great and easy to use. They also provide a nice moment of A/C if you’ve been out all day. I recommend figuring out which train is by your residency and then buying a reloadable card so that you don’t have to stand in line for a ticket everytime you get on. The BTS is the above ground train that goes to all the malls, and lots of other places. The MRT is the underground line that goes to Chinatown, Chatachak market, a few malls, and more. The Airport line connects to both the BTS and MRT at the same place which is called Makkasan (airport line), Asoke (MRT) and Phetchaburi (BTS). 3 stops all connected by walkways. Sometimes the lines for tickets are really long so having money on a reloadable card lets you skip that. Otherwise, wait in line to get coins and then wait in line to put the coins in the machine. Price is based on distance but the range is 15baht to 45 baht so it’s really cheap and is the fastest way to get around. Google maps makes figuring your route very easy. By the way, no train goes to the Palace/Old City/Khao San road area. For that, you need to take a water taxi or a regular taxi.
Be sure to take River Taxi’s while you’re here. The orange flag boats go to every stop and cost 14baht which is less than 50 cents. You can take the river taxi to the Palace or to the Amulet Market or anywhere around the Old City. This is another moment when google maps is helpful because it’s really hard to determine which stop you’re at without GPS. If you don’t get a ticket before you get on (sometimes you can’t) then pay the woman who shakes the change box at you and she will give you a paper ticket.
Bangkok is a city designed around shopping so if you like to shop, you will be very happy. The BTS train goes to many mall districts, but the biggest and brightest of them called Siam. It’s worth having a look even if you aren’t into shopping because the sheer decadence is a spectacle to witness: Themed multi-million dollar shopping centers that have footbridges to other shopping centers. Luxury shopping isn’t what drives my soul but I’ve browsed them a bit for a view into that world. Most of Bangkok is set up into districts so as you explore it, you might notice themes, such as a neighborhood full of car parts, a neighborhood full of bathroom showrooms, a neighborhood full of gems and jewelry, a nieghborhood full of tools, a neighborhood full of disposable plastic bags. Shopping and commerce seems to be what makes Bangkok move so you will see it everywhere you go. Bangkok’s industry is not hidden from public view the way it is in other places. It’s usually right on the sidewalk and street with everything else.
If you are into gems and jewelry, make sure you visit Silom road and the Jewelry Trade Center. It’s like a mall full of gems and the neighborhood around the JTC is all gem shops. Bangkok is the heart of the world gem trade so I recommend checking it out. When else can you see huge rubies and sapphires in piles in shop windows?
Chinatown (Yaowarat Road) is the neighborhood for gold and Chinese food. They have an annual vegetarian fest in early October which is great. Well worth a look as it also has some interesting architecture and the whole neighborhood has a more old fashioned feel than a lot of the more renovated parts of Bangkok.
The Amulet Market is an interesting place to visit. It’s a sort of micro-neighborhood containing lots of little and big statues, coins, and other lucky things. Get there in the morning because it closes around 4. Worth a look and maybe a good place to get an inexpensive yet authentic souvenir.
I would also recommend the Little India neighborhood which is also the fabric district. Phahurat Market is the name of the fabric center. About a block from there is the Indian Emporium which is a 4 story mall of fabric. Just to the left of the entrance of Indian Emporium is a soi (alley) that has about 30 Indian food stands and is really cheap. The food is good. Phahurat is interesting but totally claustrophobic. A site to see.
Not too far from Phahurat is the Flower Market which is also spectacle to see. It’s huge, it’s open about 24 hours, and if you’ve never seen a flower market, this is a bustling one. I’ve heard that 2am is the best time to witness it because it’s so busy but I saw it during the day and it was still impressive.
The dirt cheap mall is called Platinum and if you take the BTS to Siam and then take the overground walkway to Central World and then walk through Central World and then take another overground path, you will arrive at Platinum. Or just take a Taxi. It’s 3 building long and 5 floors per building giving you access to hundreds of stalls. It has a sort of Flea Market vibe and people usually bring a rolling suitcase because they buy so much. Thing here are priced between $1 and $20. T shirts for $2–3, Chinos for $12, etc. Bulk buy gives big discounts. Next to Platinum is Pantip Plaza (Pantip Pratunam on Google Maps) which is a 5 floor mall of all computer and cell phone stuff. Very very cheap prices here.
Another mall worth mentioning is MBK. A great place to buy shoes, fake watches, cell phone accessories, cheap clothes, expensive clothes, and more. Also, it’s across the walking path from the Cultural Center so you can stop for the good ice cream before you visit MBK.
Chatuchak Market, also called JJ Market, is the thing to do on Saturday morning. It’s a huge outdoor market that sells just about everything you can imagine from art, to housewares, to food, to animals, to clothes and clothes and clothes. It’s claustrophobic, hot, crowded, and well worth a visit. Words can’t truly describe this place. It’s vast and almost unbelievable.
Inside the Siam Paragon mall there is a movie theater that I highly recommend visiting. There is a thing called 4DX which means that during your normal 2D or 3D Hollywood flick, the seats move according to the action, there are fans to blow you when the wind in the movies goes, there are little things by your ear that replicate actions like bullets whizzing by and sometimes they use subtle scents, too. Tickets are around $12 it’s worth it at least one time. Also, the same theater has a 3D IMAX theater which is the biggest in Thailand. I saw a movie there for about $12 and it was a great movie experience. If you like movies, I highly recommend seeing a few in BKK.
For a more vintage experience, check out the Scala theater which is across the street from Paragon. Tickets are around $5 and it’s a cool environment though not as fully immersive as a 3D IMAX.
After you’ve made you pilgrimage to the sacred centers of money, get out of there and see other stuff.
There are so many temples in Bangkok. They are all awesome and beautiful and ornate. I recommend the Golden Mount which is a temple on a tall hill. It cost 20baht which is less than a dollar and the view is great. It’s different than most temples and has a 360 degree view of the city. Definitely worth a visit and a view. Wat Pho is right next door to the Royal Palace and is where the famous reclining Buddha is. You should also dedicate a day or at least an afternoon for the Royal Palace. It’s orate and extravagent and a little expensive but it’s very interesting. Men and women need to wear pants and long sleeves or some sort of covering to visit the Palace.
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is a different from most temples in that it’s a Hindu temple. It’s near the Jewelry Trade Center and it’s incredibly beautiful and free to enter. You need to wear respectful clothing which means covering the arms and legs.
Bangkok is a fashionable city and the natives are accustomed to the hot and humid weather that Thailand experiences all year. If you want to show up looking like a tourist, wear a t-shirt, khaki shorts, a money belt, and sandals. If you want to blend in to the local fashion scene, you’ll need to up your game. No shorts. Thai people do wear shorts but it seems like hardly ever. Skinny jeans. Skinny shirts. Skinny everything. Fashionable lightweight dresses. That’s the Thai way because they’re skinny I guess. For men, button up shirts are the way. Look sharp with a slim, tailored cut. Sandals are great for everyone. Make sure they are something you can walk all day in. Skinny jeans with sandals is a regular trend for men and women here. One warning I will give you is don’t come to Thailand with one outfit and assume you can buy all new clothes. I did that once and I met a girl recently that tried that and it’s a bad idea. Thai people are tiny and I couldn’t find anything at all that I could fit into. Also the dirt cheap clothes are very poor quality. Better just to bring well fitting clothes and maybe you will get lucky and find some choice garments while shopping. Even after one and a half years I still have a really hard time finding fitting clothes in Bangkok and I usually buy a lot when I go home to the states once a year.
If you are into art, there are several good things to see. The Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center is free and has lot of stuff to see and also has a really good ice cream shop on the 2nd floor. It’s very big and modern and has a circular design that slightly reminded me of the Guggenheim. It’s off the National Stadium BTS train stop and very easy to get to.
The National Gallery is free or near free depending on the day. It’s more traditional and worth a look though. It’s not huge though it has several rooms and a sculpture garden. A nice thing to see if you don’t want to spend all day looking at art.
On a totally different scale is Gallery VER. It’s run by local Thai artists and has the freshest and “on the pulse” vibe of all the art I’ve seen. It’s off the beaten path and requires a cab ride to get out there but it’s well worth it.
When you are tired of being around chaos and concrete, head to Lumphini Park. It’s the biggest park in Bangkok. There you will see lots of runners, walkers, and sports people. There is a pool and a basketball court. There are big ponds that you can take swan boats out on and benches to enjoy the view. There are also huge dragon looking lizards that live wild in the park.
The other nice place to go is the “Lungs of Bangkok” or more properly titled Bang Krachao. It’s a peninsula on “the other side of the river” that has hardly any buildings and is super green and full of nature. You can rent a bike once you cross the river on a ferry and then ride around all day visiting markets, small fish farms and other find places. Maybe more suitable for a long term visit but definitely a good way to get out of the urban chaos of the city.
Food is abundant in Bangkok and comes in all shapes and sizes. I am usually looking for good deals. At the cheapest end, food starts at 40baht (which is about a dollar) and goes up infinitely. The only things you can usually find for 40 baht is Thai food and mostly that price gets you Pad Thai. A usual cheap dinner for one might be 200baht and a decadent dinner gets into the thousands. Chinatown is known for food though I don’t eat meat so it can be hard to tell whats what. Food in the malls is obviously much more expensive. Food on street carts is cheap and tends to be some of the best food. I eat from a food stall for lunch 5 days a week and its cheap and provides some of my favorite meals.
For veg food, I recommend:
Mai Kaidee near Khaosan Road, is probably the best place but I find the location too far to be a regular. The have veg Thai cooking classes, too.
Suki Jeh Ru Yi has great veg Thai food with interesting meat imitations.
Phahurat Little India for lots of veg Indian food.
Bad Burger for veggie burgers, gluten free and vegan buns, and alcoholic milkshakes.
Attica Sky Lounge for Labanese/Israeli food on a rooftop with a view.
Suananda Vegetarian Garden for good Indian food.
(Not Just) Another Cup for Breakfast
Heritage for French Brunch Food
Ciao Pizza for wood fired Italian style pizza and buy one get one free lunch time drink specials
Kalapapruek has a nice backyard outdoor patio to sit in, good Thai food with a dedicated veg menu and amazing french style deserts
In the basement of Siam Paragon, there is a floor of food and there is an amazing vegan place with some really great deserts and ice cream. I can’t remember the name but it’s next to the IHOP. Highly recommended.
FarmFactory is a great place to get a customized salad and fresh juice for $9.
Beirut and has good Lebanese food.
Nadimos has great Lebanese food. :)
Broccoli Revolution has good rice bowls
You can find more here.
Definitely try Fried Morning Glories in a Thai place. So good and you rarely see that dish in the States. Try all kinds of fruit. If you’ve never had it, try a durian. It’s a mix between melon and garlic. Try lychee, jackfruit, dragon fruit, rambutan, try mango, try any fruit because they are all good and unusual! Also, if you are a Kombucha junkie like me, there are several local companies that make it, the cheapest being Le Kombucha and the most expensive being Pure Luck. Both are good and available at a number of different shops that you can find on google.
Alcohol is not nearly as cheap as you would hope. To me it seems like midwestern US prices. Cheaper than a western big city but not nearly as cheap as the food is. If you buy a can of beer in a 7/11 or grocery it can be around $1.5 but in a bar or restaurant it’s much more. I went to a great bar the other night called the Havana Club and mixed rum drinks were around $10 each. By the way, I highly recommend Havana Club. It has a really cool Cuban vibe, very mellow with good music, and nice plush couches and chairs.
If you’ve been walking all day and don’t feel like finding food, there are a lot of good delivery options. Download the apps for FoodPanda or Grab and you can find so many things that will arrive in your lobby in 45 minutes.
Whether you are a tourist or an expat, you might find advice, recommendations, help, and ideas in online groups. Here are the best ones I’ve found:
Desperately Seeking Bangkok (the best Facebook group)
Bangkok Expats (The other best Facebook group)
Bangkok Healthy Living (facebook group)
Bangkok Expats Classifieds (facebook group for buying things)
Bangkok Classifieds (facebook group for buying things)
Bangkok Young Expats (facebook group)
r/Thailand (reddit sub)
r/Bangkok (reddit sub)
Other things to know. Don’t put toilet paper in the toilet. Get good at the “Bum Gun” because it’s awesome and a lot of public places don’t have toilet paper. (Watch a youtube video if you need instructions). Always have cash in your pocket because credit cards are not how Thai’s do business. Don’t drink the water though you can brush your teeth and rinse with it. 7/11’s are everywhere and have cheap water and snacks. The really touristy street is called Khaosan Road. Every tourist seems to want to go there but I always avoid it. If you want to hang out with a bunch of western people with backpacks and get harassed to buy things every 5 min, go there. I guess if you want to party and club and everything, go there. You will meet people. That’s not my thing and I never go there. I prefer to meet people other ways. Bangkok is pretty friendly either way. Drugs are really really illegal here. Night markets are awesome and you should seek them out. Night markets in other Thai towns and villages are usually the only things that are going on at night and they usually have great food and interesting wares for sale. If you are going to have clothes made, go to one of the best tailors. A good suit cost $500 so don’t even consider getting a $99 one. Bring your own sunscreen as all the sunscreen here has skin whitener in it. Good luck. Have fun. Talk to people. Eat weird food. Smile a lot. Learn some Thai. Experience the wildness that is Bangkok.