bangkok travel guide

Savage Traveling’s Down & Dirty Bangkok Travel Guide 2020

Hello! I’m Zach from Savage Traveling and I’m going to discuss just about everything you’ll need to consider when traveling to Bangkok for the first time.

My Bangkok Travel Guide is stuffed FULL of information to help guide you on a great First or 50th trip to Bangkok, Thailand.

But first, a few quick facts about Bangkok.

The city is located in the Chao Phraya River delta and covers 606 square miles. Its population as of the 2010 Census was documented at 8,280,925 inhabitants.

Thailand was actually called “Siam” until 1939 and Bangkok became the capital of Siam in 1782. The capital city before Bangkok was Sukothai. Located about 265 miles to the north of Bangkok.

Let’s Dig In!

The purpose of this Bangkok Travel Guide is to give you the “Need to Know Knowledge” without having to surf the internet for days on end looking for the specific answers you need to survive a few days or even months in this world-renowned city.

Navigating your way around a city such as Bangkok with no prior knowledge or guidance can be expensive and nerve-racking. This isn’t the time for the “trial and error” approach. That’s why I’m writing this Bangkok Travel Guide.

My first time in Bangkok was a head-spinning, whirlwind of unpreparedness that no one should be subjected to. I figured if I could write something from my own experience, it would most certainly help someone.

In this Bangkok Travel Guide, we will cover Money, Travel and Transport, Accommodation, Sim Cards, Safety, Nightlife, Food, and just generally what to expect on your journey to Bangkok and around the Kingdom Of Thailand.

I hope this Bangkok Travel Guide will open your eyes to this wonderful city and country. I aim to inform you and hopefully keep you safe while having the best of time’s in the Land Of Smiles.

Accommodation: Where To Stay

There are countless Soi’s and little neighborhoods that are wonderful areas to stay while visiting Bangkok. Many swanky and upscale places can be found all over the city.

For this Bangkok Travel Guide, I use Agoda and Booking both dot com’s. They will share some of the same listings but both offer properties that are unique to their platform.

One of the more popular areas for hotels, condos and guest houses are along Sukhumvit Road. This is a very busy main road in the city that has many hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, bars, and street vendors.

The BTS sky train runs parallel with Sukhumvit Road and allows you easy, cheap access to major sections of the city. Sukhumvit road seems to be the choice for someone who wants to be in the center of the action and who wants a nice place to call home for a few days.

Bangkok Travel Guide Budget Accommodation

Now if you’re looking for more affordable accommodation then maybe Khao San Road the World Famous Budget Backpacker district is more your style. This area offers tons of affordable places to stay including hostels, private rooms, hotels, and guesthouses.

Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri are the backpacker mecca of Bangkok. Ample bars, street food stalls and multiple sit down restaurants offer cuisine from Thailand and beyond.

The only downfall to staying near Khao San/Rambuttri is that the BTS/MRT do not run anywhere near. This narrows your transportation options down to Taxi, Tuk Tuk, Grab, city bus or hotel/hostel transfer vans.

The area looks like the center of town when looking at the map but it’s really out there by itself when it comes to public transport’s sake.

AirBnb

Let me start this section of the Down & Dirty Bangkok Travel Guide by saying that Airbnb is or was technically illegal in Thailand but you wouldn’t think that by searching the online platform. I’m not for certain at the time of writing this. I’ll update once I have a more sure answer.

There are many, many nice apartments, rooms, and condos for rent on the website and I do recommend using them. I have from time to time and haven’t had any bad experiences or questionable instances.

D & D Bangkok Travel Guide Hot Tip

When using Airbnb don’t tell anyone your business and you shouldn’t have any issues. Thailand has a plethora of laws on the books that I don’t necessarily understand and I don’t think many Thais do either and the Airbnb law is one that definitely gets looked over in most of the country I’m coming to believe if it’s still a law that is.

I love the service and will always give it a check when I’m looking for accommodation in most cities. Just keep in mind that it might be illegal in Thailand and shouldn’t be broadcast too loud when locals are asking about your sleeping situation because it seems people will ask you from time to time.

Many transportation drivers i/e taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi guys will ask if it’s your first time to Thailand. It’s best to tell them No… Some will see first-time visitors as someone they might be able to squeeze for a few extra Baht, so beware.

MONEY TALKS

This wouldn’t be a Down & Dirty Bangkok Travel Guide if we didn’t mention that Cash is King in Thailand and you don’t want to be without. But you really don’t want to carry too much on you all at once either.

Tourists have a way of being separated from large amounts of cash here in Thailand, especially if you’re one to go out and enjoy the seedier things Bangkok has to offer.

Thai currency is called the “Baht” or (THB) and you want to acquire it once you get here. There is no sense in trading or buying Baht in your home country. You’ll pay a premium on the exchange if done that way so it’s most advisable to wait until you arrive in Thailand.

Most other countries I’d advise to bring little cash from your home country and get your Thai currency from an ATM but that is the expensive route in Thailand. ATM’s in Thailand charge a 220 Baht fee for every transaction made. That’s right around $6.60 USD and quite high and only should be used in an emergency situation in my mind.

If possible, use a bank that refunds ATM and Foreign Transaction fees. If able, this Helpful Tip will save you big dollars on ATM fees and you won’t have to bring a large amount of cash with you.

If you’re the type to lose things, I’d just pay the ATM fees and not risk losing your cash. This option isn’t available to everyone is why I just recommend bringing cash if you’re on a tight budget… Fees can creep upwards of $80 during a 30-day stay in the Kingdom.  

Bangkok Travel Guide Quick Tip #1

If you’re in the United States there is a debit card that is perfect for travel and refunds all ATM fees. It also offers a zero foreign transaction fee. It’s the Charles Schwab Investor Checking debit card and it is a great resource to have in your travel toolkit.

Also if possible, have more than one Debit or Credit card to use with a combination of your home currency. Sometimes cards can be denied or flagged for fraud and just plain lost. This could leave you with open hands and empty pockets. Not the most ideal situation to be in several thousand miles from home.

This one is for the Newbies, but always call your financial institutions and make them aware of your trip. There’s nothing worse than getting to a new country and trying to pull cash out at the airport or bus terminal ATM and your card is immediately denied.

Personally, I’ve haven’t had this happen but I do make sure to call and tell them. In all honesty, this sounds like a horrible experience and I want nothing to do with it… So I’d put that at the top of your list if you’re new to this game or you’re just forgetful. With all that goes into preparing for a trip like this, sometimes the important stuff can slip right past us.

EXCHANGING YOUR CASH

The most cost-effective route for exchanging cash is Money Exchange Booths. This requires bringing more cash from your home country but by using the Money Exchange booths or stalls you can avoid using a debit card for most things.

Some banks in the US will refund your cash withdrawal fees so check with your bank to see if that is applicable for you as I mentioned above in a Bangkok Travel Guide Quick Tip.

I usually just Google the day’s current exchange rate to know who’s offering the best rate at that point in time. Don’t worry if you can’t Google right away. They will have the rate posted but I just like to be proactive and aware of all the variables when I’m traveling and exchanging currencies.

When first landing at Suvarnabhumi, if you head straight for the Basement floor. There are a few different Exchange Booths that offer better rates than any other booths in the airport. I suggest going here first if you need to exchange money right away. These booths are worth the walk.

Your Passport will need to be presented to the exchange clerk before a transaction can be completed.

bangkok travel guide

Once you made it to the city, you can find a few different exchange companies located all over Bangkok. Start by exchanging only a small amount at the airport then exchange some every few days as needed.

Rates are slightly higher at the airport than what’s found from the exchange booths around the city. If you need any help finding a booth once out in the town, just use your smartphone to Google locations of whatever you may need.  

SMARTPHONE SIM CARD

The very next thing you should do after taking possession of your bags and pulling out some fresh Baht from the ATM is to purchase a Sim Card for your smartphone.

You will need an UNLOCKED SMARTPHONE. This is more easily addressed before you get to Bangkok. Call your provider or local cell phone shop and ask them about unlocking your phone.

Another idea if your phone isn’t unlocked is to purchase a mid-range unlocked smartphone for your trip that you can buy a sim card for once you land.

In my Bangkok Travel Guide, I recommend getting your sim card in the airport, however, they can be obtained in most 7-11’s, Family Mart’s, mall kiosks or roadside shops in the country.

If you’re a little more adventurous you can choose to wait until you get into the city to buy your Sim card at a retail outlet. It will be cheaper and you will have access to more voice and Data plan options.

You will be asked for your passport when purchasing a sim card or topping up and this is completely normal since late 2017 to combat terrorism and sex trafficking.

There are 3 main tourist sim card carriers to choose from and all offer 3 and 4g Data and are comparable with each other on network speeds. AIS, DTAC, and TRUE MOVE.

All three have kiosk’s at BKK and Don Muang airport’s and provide near the same service. Thailand is exceptionally well connected and you will have service almost anywhere in the country.

There are several different data packages you can choose from depending on your length of stay and data and voice requirements. Tourist Sim cards starting at 7 days, 15 days and 30. Most packages also offer a local Thai phone number that can come in handy when booking rooms or ordering food and getting around.  

Just approach one of the phone carrier’s booths and tell them which package you want. There will be a display or some kind of literature explaining prices and deals.

The booth worker will remove your Sim card and replace it with your new Thai sim. Then they’ll tape your sim card to something so you can keep it safe. They will also restart your phone and make sure your service is working before sending you off into the wonderful and exiting “Land Of Smiles”.

MBK Center

Once you’re connected you’ll be able to access 3g and 4g data, phone and text all depending on what plan you purchased, of course.  

Sim cards and data are affordably priced starting at around 500 Baht or $15 USD for Sim card and 30 days worth of Unlimited Data and limited voice. Getting a Thai sim card is simple, cheap and one of the first things to do when you touch down in the Land of Smiles.

MBK Mall has a whole floor dedicated to Cell Phones and Accessories and is a great place to go if you need airtime or repairs or just anything concerning a cell phone can be handled here for a fair price. Plus 6 other floors of Clothes, Toys, goods of all kinds. MBK has great deals also.

GETTING TO YOUR HOTEL AND AROUND

Hailing a cab is quite easy these days at Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Muang airports. Just make sure to use the Official Taxi Counter. There will be signs near the airport exit. They are hard to miss.

If arriving during the day or early evening you can also take the Airport Rail Link with a connection to the Sky Train or Subway. The rail link will cost 45 Baht a person and leaves every 15 minutes. It will take you 25 minutes to get into the city this way.

If using an official taxi it will cost anywhere between $9 and $15 USD depending on where you’re going in the city. In Thai money that’s 400 to 500 Baht. This is a rough price but covers both airports. There are a couple tolls and a 50 Baht airport surcharge fee included in that price.

Try having your hotel or guesthouse address printed in Thai so your driver can get you to where you’re going with little to no language issues. This has saved my ass more than once. Not many taxi drivers speak or read English. Most only know a few words.

There is also a bus that runs several times a day from Suvarnabhumi to Phaya Thai neighborhood and it also drops off at Khao San Road. The video above details that first bus ride in Bangkok.

Bangkok Travel Guide Quick Tip

A Bangkok Travel Guide Quick Tip for traveling around Bangkok is to always use a “metered taxi” if you have to go the taxi route while out in town. You can tell this by simply asking the driver if he uses the meter for your trip. If they say no, DO NOT USE this taxi and find another. Since this is a big problem in Bangkok with hailing taxi’s from the street I suggest a ride-sharing app you download to your smartphone.

These days GRAB TAXI is the go-to mode of transport for getting around this massive city. With fair upfront pricing all controlled from your smartphone, it’s the only way I get around these days. It can be found in your phone’s respective App Store and charges you through your credit card or you can pay the driver cash upon arrival at destination. Grab Taxi app is quite popular all over southeast Asia.

Here at the Down & Dirty Bangkok Travel Guide recommend not to advertise that you’re using this service.

For example, when you’re waiting on your Grab car on the street and a Tuk Tuk or Motorbike Taxi driver asks you “Where you go?” or to get in their vehicle just say “No Thank You” or as some friends of mine are known to do is pretend they don’t speak English.

The Tuk Tuk and Motorbike Taxi drivers can get upset at you and it’s just easier to avoid these situations. They are not naive and will probably know what you’re waiting on but just keep your cool and keep your actual business to yourself.

Tuk Tuk’s

These methods of transport are synonymous with Southeast Asia and Bangkok especially. Both have a level of danger that some can appreciate and others will absolutely not. Tuk Tuk’s are mainly for tourist, you’ll rarely see Thais riding around in them as passengers.

They’re a nostalgic look into Bangkok’s past and should be treated with respect. They offer no seat belts in most instances and the drivers will take you on a ride you’ll never forget.

Make sure to barter a fair price and to insist on “No Stops” or “No Shops” if he starts recommending places he can take you.

This is an old scam where instead of taking you directly to your intended destination they stop at Gem Shops, Suit Tailors, Massage Shops, or GoGo bars hoping you buy something in return for a commission from the shop owner.

This commission comes from inflating the price you would pay on whatever product you may purchase.

Hiring a Tuk Tuk for a tour of the city is perfectly fine and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s an amazing way to spend a morning or afternoon. Just make sure to negotiate the price and where you’re stopping first. Thais enjoy a good haggling, so don’t be afraid to barter.

Don’t be pressured and negotiate a fair deal. Drivers are known for charging double to three times the amount of the trip. Do not rely on Tuk Tuk’s as your main mode of transport if you’re on a budget.  And also don’t forget to HOLD ON FOR YOUR LIFE!!!  

Tuk Tuk drivers are known for excessive speeds and white knuckle maneuvers through traffic. It’s an experience everyone must try at least once while in Bangkok.

Prices will range anywhere from 30 Baht to 300 Baht depending on where you’re going and how your Tuk Tuk driver is feeling that day ;-). So play it by ear and know your distances and what Thai money is worth compared to your own and try to haggle him down.

If you can’t agree on a price for your destination, walk on. There will be another driver right there or nearby that you can try for a better price in most instances.

Motorbike Taxi’s 

This form of transport is the most exhilarating of the various modes and usually the cheapest too. Go figure, Right?

Head out to the street and flag your nearest “Soi Boy” down and head out on a ride you shouldn’t forget. “Soi Boys” are the guy’s that hang out on the corner on motorbikes and in the reflective vests waiting for you to need a ride somewhere.

Same as with Tuk Tuk drivers, I think these guys do their damndest to scare the crap out of foreigners. Depending on your driver and how fast their motorbike is, this could be a ride you’ll never forget.

Bobbing and weaving through traffic midday will have you asking yourself why you didn’t take a regular taxi but when you arrive across the city in 10 or 20 minutes while all the cars are still setting in traffic, you’ll be glad you took the chance.

A motorbike taxi ride shouldn’t cost you more than 50 to 80 Baht going to most places. Short rides should only cost 20 to 30 Baht.

I would try to haggle the price down on just about any offer they put out there. Unless it’s just dirt cheap, it’s not going to hurt to try for a better price.

An alternative to hailing a motorbike taxi directly from the street, you can use Grab Taxi App and order one up for a predetermined price just like you can a Grab Car.

This isn’t true in every city in Thailand but it’d definitely an option in Bangkok.

Top Daytime Activities

I wanted to break the attractions section up into a couple parts because Bangkok has something to offer almost anyone so I decided to break it up by Day and Night. These list’s are just my top things to do in the city. This is by no means a complete list!!! Just a little taste of the best!!

The Grand Palace

This world famous palace is the former home of the Thai King and the Royal Court. The entry lines can get quite long early so be prepared with proper temple attire and something to hide from the sun with. If you come without the proper dress don’t fret, there is a place to rent proper attire. Entrance tickets are sold from 0830 until 1530 and are 500 Baht.

Image by unserekleinemaus from Pixabay 

Don’t forget to see Wat Phra Kaew! Also known as the Temple Of Emerald Buddha, it is located within the the Grand Palace Complex and is included with 500 Baht entrance fee.

The Emerald Buddha is considered the most important Buddha statue in the Kingdom and the Buddha is carved from jade or jasper, no one is quite sure because it can only be handled by the King and hasn’t been examined or analyzed by professionals. It’s not a giant Buddha by any means but makes up with its overwhelming beauty and importance to the Kingdom.

Wat Pho – Temple Of Reclining Buddha

The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is a must see for anyone looking for important Buddha and cultural sites while in Bangkok. The giant reclining Buddha is 15 meters tall and 46 meters long and is liberally coated with real gold leaf. This amazing statue’s complex is located directly behind the Grand Palace and is only a short walk away. Admission is 100 Baht and their doors are open from 0800 to 1700.

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay 

Take A Bangkok River Cruise

Bangkok sits at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River and offers many opportunities to see the city via boat. You can take guided cruise tours, dinner cruise tours and even take the local ferry across or up and down the river.

Image by travelphotographer from Pixabay 

The river is the heart and soul of Bangkok but at one point they had to start filling in canals to make roads. But as you’ll notice with a ferry ride or river cruise, you’ll see the river is still a major functioning transportation option for the people of Bangkok and tourists alike.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The Chatuchak weekend market is one of the biggest markets in the world but for sure is definitely the biggest market in Thailand. It’s best to give yourself a solid half day to explore this gargantuan treasure trove of goods. If you’re a real shopper and bargain hunter a whole day could be spent wandering around through the stalls and booths. This is no entrance fee and is open Friday 1800 – 2400, Saturdays and Sundays 0900 – 1800.

Be aware of pickpockets as it will get extremely crowded in parts and at times. Keep your valuables close and enjoy your day like you would at any other attraction or market. Since the market is so huge and most visitors are just browsing, pick a point on the opposite side of the map and meander your way to it. You’re bound to see all kinds of things you don’t really need but just have to have. 🙂 Make sure to bring plenty of cash. There are ATM’s but they are few and far between.

Getting to Chatuchak is easy. The weekend market is accessible by BTS (Skytrain), MRT (Subway), and of course car, motorbike taxi and Tuk Tuk. All drivers or a little help from Google will get you there.

MBK Center

There are multiple malls in Bangkok but MBK Shopping center stands out because of some of it’s areas resembling a market more than a mall and it being known as a more afforable shopping experience than other malls in the city. MBK was once the biggest mall in Asia but gave that title up a few years back.

MBK is considered a discount mall and offers 8 full floors with over 2000 shops. From electronics, clothes, branded goods, counterfeit goods, several restaurants, handmade goods, souvenirs, massage parlors and even an 8 screen movie theatre.

MBK MALL

On the ground floor there is a outdoor market everyday of the week. Offering affordable clothes, hot market food and general tourist garb. A great place to grab a cheap bite to eat before going into the mall to explore all day in the awesomely cold Free air conditioning!

Open 1000 to 2200, it’s a great place to spend a day loading up on cheap t-shirts and souvenirs while beating the heat at the same time. Every taxi driver knows the location and it’s even connected to the BTS Skytrain.

ChinaTown

One of my favorite places in Bangkok is Yaowarat Road in Chinatown. This place is a total reality check if you’ve never experienced a true Chinatown. Bangkok has one of the largest and is everything you can imagine.

You can expect a full-frontal assault on the senses coming from street food and street life abound.

Make an adventure out of dinner and explore one of the largest street food collections in the world. You’re sure to find something to suit your tastes. Seafood is popular here along with many other Thai and Chinese dishes.

You can get here by the city’s subway system the MRT. The closest station is Wat Mangkon Station.

Top Nightlife Or Evening Activities

Bangkok’s nightlife is notorious for having some of the wildest clubs and parties in the world. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something for everyone from a calm cool night of dinner along the river to eating scorpions and huffing Nitrous Oxide balloons on Khao San Road. I’ll list a few of the best hotspot’s here so you have an idea of what Bangkok has to offer.

Rooftop Bars

Bangkok has an abundance of rooftop bars and elevated outdoor watering holes with breathtaking views that are a perfect way to spend an early evening before a night out on the town.

Image by marla66 from Pixabay 

There are well over 20 of these types of bars and lounge’s spread throughout the city. Check out Google or Tripadvisor and take your pick!

Soi Cowboy

If loud pumping music and an upbeat atmosphere with scantily clad dancers and fairly priced drinks are your thing then the 20 some odd Go-Go Bars of Soi Cowboy may just be what you’re looking for.

Each bar in the Soi offers its own personality and drink specials. It’s also a fairly safe place to enjoy the evening. My one piece of advice is to pay for drinks as you drink them. No sense in running a tab.

There are many options for accommodation near Soi Cowboy and it’s just a few minute’s walk from Asok BTS.

If you’re still wanting to party, a short 20 minute walk away from Soi Cowboy is Nana Plaza another very famous Bangkok Nightlife Hotspot.

Nana Plaza

Nana Plaza is world-renowned for being one of the Hottest Places for nightlife in Bangkok. It’s impressive 3 Story structure is unique and offers you a 360-degree view of your surroundings depending on where you’re partying.

You’ll know you’re getting close when you see the 3 levels of neon lights and ladies shouting for your attention from every direction.

It can be an overwhelming experience if you’re not used to Red Light Districts or Go-Go Bars but don’t be discouraged if you wanted a unique night out to tell the guys or gals back home about. You’re in the right spot!

Patpong Night Market

Patpong Night Bazaar

Patpong is another famous nightlife spot that’s cleaned itself up some over the years some but still offers rock bottom price shopping with a dash of Red Light District thrown in just for that Bangkok original style.

Don’t forget to haggle for your goods at the night market. Prices are usually quoted quite high first. Don’t be afraid to offend, they’re used to bartering.

Patpong is located in the area known as Silom and offers many mid to upscale accommodation options. It’s a very busy and popular part of the city both day and night situated about 5 minute walk away from Sala Daeng BTS Station.

Khao San Road The “Backpacker Ghetto”

I always laugh when I hear it called the “Backpacker Ghetto” but there’s just something funny about it and I’ll laugh out loud when I hear it used in some English broadcast or when travel “Scare-umentaries” from the U.K. come on Youtube.

You either how amazing the place is or how much someone hates it and how it should be destroyed and all kinds of absurd things. You’ll hear it all if you hang out online enough.

What matters is the Super Cheap, Abundant Accommodation, ample shopping, an extreme amount of night clubs and bars offering booze, nitrous oxide, food and music that will have you rockin’ well into the wee hours of the morning!

It’s not every Bangkok travelers cup of tea and you most definitely don’t have to stay near Khao San Road to get a great deal on anything but it is a unique area with some happening parties and it’s near the Grand Palace.

So even visiting for an hour or two during your trip, I’d say is worth the visit. It’s a spectacle that should be experienced at least once while in Bangkok.

Bangkok Travel Guide Conclusion

Bangkok is a massive city that takes a fair bit of knowledge and know-how to navigate and explore safely. This guide only encompasses small but crucial info for a great start.

I will continually update this post as time and I can gather more info.

I hope this Bangkok Travel Guide has given you the information you need to have a good first day in Bangkok!!

If you enjoyed our Bangkok Travel Guide check out Savage Traveling’s Saving For Travel (7 Tips and Tricks).

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Bangkok Travel Guide FAQ

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