The journey has begun! Andrew and I have spent about a week and a half in Southeast Asia and already have learned so much.
Our first stop was Bangkok.
This is Andrew’s first backpacking adventures and my first time in Thailand, so we certainly hit some bumps in the road. Luckily for you, I’m collecting all of those bumps and putting them in one place. This is all of the questions we had about Thailand, and all of the things we researched, frantically.
If you are American like us, you will not need to get a visa to get into Thailand. However, if you need one, visas are about 10,000 baht ($) and can be purchased on arrival at the airport.
Customs asks that you provide your passport, travel documentation (will be provided at the airport or in front of customs,) and proof of your return date. I don’t have a flight booked home, but we didn’t have any issues. (I also had my Vietnam visa in case I was questioned.) You will, however, need to provide the address where you will be staying in the country.
We arrived at 1:30 A.M. with a few other delayed flights, and the wait to get into customs was close to 45 minutes. Keep this in mind if you are heading to a destination with a time limit. Our AirBNB host was luckily a gem and let us in at 4 A.M. when we finally arrived.
Our host recommended that we take a taxi to our AirBNB, and I took his advice. The ride was fine and easy to access; signs at the airport clearly point to where the taxis are, and all you need to do is get a number a la delis. The ride was 600 baht ($), but would have been 200 baht cheaper if we got an Uber.
We relied on Uber for most of our time there. Taxis are also available, as well as public transportation, and of course, tuk tuks. The public transportation seemed a bit confusing for first-time tourists, but …. I have a section on using a tuk tuk while you’re touring below…we ran into an issue or two not knowing how tuk tuks drivers operated.
WHERE TO STAY AND WHERE TO GO OUT – A BACKPACKER’S MAP OF BANGKOK
We stayed in a wonderful AirBNB in Banglamphu, above a pizza shop. There are tons of hostels in the area if you want to mingle and party, and you’ll find yourself in walking distance from the big tourist attractions like Wat Pho (200 baht) and The Grand Palace (500 baht). Around Banglamphu, you’ll find super cute cafes and restaurants that cater to tourists and backpackers. We ate at Jaywalk Cafe and loved it. For going out, Banglamphu is right near Khao San Road.
Let’s talk about Khao San Road, because, backpacking. It’s the “center of the backpacker universe.” So, funny story. We had passed Khao San Road earlier in the day and were confident walking to it from our AirBNB on Friday night. We sat down, had a quick snack, and people watched, enjoying the backpackers and Thai locals mingling amongst the bars. We headed to Brick Bar, which is well-known on the street….and soon realized we hadn’t been on Khao San Road. Ooooooops. It was one of those cases where you thiiiink you’ve hit the attraction, go “WOW,” and then go a little farther and realize that you had not been where you thought you were, and the first place paled in comparison to the real thing? That ever happen to you? Yeah.
Once we hit Khao San Road, we realized that this was a very different street. Super crowded, filled with men selling suits and Ping Pong shows (the list of uh…spectacles…was scarring enough. “P***y smoking cigarette” was the only one I saw, and that was enough for me.) Andrew and I also played a game in which we would quickly look at the custom bracelets that were sold throughout the street to find the most atrocious and offensive ones. I don’t want half of those words on my blogs so imagine what you wish, then make it 10x more offensive.
In between these attractions and Banglamphu, during the daytime, is a super cute area called Tha Maharaj. I just want to give a shout out to this little area because if you want the familiarity of cute coffee shops and food that doesn’t raise any questions, this is a nice pit stop after touring. Favour Cafe and Chounan were on the pricier side, but made us feel more comfortable transitioning to the city and this new region of the world in general.
If you are more of a hotel and nightclub kind of traveler, you may find yourself looking for accommodation in Sathorn or . I’ll admit, we didn’t spend too much time in that area (it’s usually 30 minutes by taxi, including the fare for tolls.) We did cross over when we went out for a nicer dinner and killed time at the MBK Centre (a very large mall and market with coffee, food, bowling, a movie theatre, and 7 floors of clothes and tech stuff) as we waited for our night train. For more information on what to do around the area, I suggest the following blogs:
I grabbed a free hour of public wifi next to my AirBNB, but other than that, I relied on coffee shops for WiFi.
SHOWERS AND BATHROOM STUFF
If you’re used to a more Western bathroom, just know that yes, they do want you to throw the toilet paper in the trash, and no, it doesn’t make the room smell awful. No, the showers don’t have drains, and yes, you’re going to get everything wet.
TIPPING AND BUDGET
Where do you tip in Thailand?
Restaurants – Not necessary. Most restaurants we went to cost about 500 baht between the two of us, except for the night we went to a rooftop bar across the city. Street food is cheaper, but it’s fair to be wary of it (more on that below.)
Massage – It’s recommended that you tip 100 baht per hour of massage. Most massages are going to charge around 200-350 baht per hour, which turns out to be — to — USD. Not a bad price for a really good quality massage.
Taxi – Round up if you’d like. Most of the time, we agreed on the fare before we got in so we left it at that.
Hotels – Small fares, around 20 baht, are recommended for staff who help you with your bags and whatnot.
Some restaurants and tourist attractions will have tip or donation boxes out, so give as you please.
I’ll keep these budget tips brief because I added the cost of things to do around Bangkok in this post. As a general tip, know that Visa charges 1% for each international charge. Bangkok is a very cash-friendly city anyway, so we usually got larger sums of cash from ATMs once every few days. Just know that the ATM is not going to be the nicest at reminding you to take your card back.
It’s hard to “blend in” as a tourist but it’s important to be respectful (and avoid getting denied at a hotel or club.)
Khoa San Road – This is pretty laid back. Shorts, tank tops, sandals…it’s not too much different than a Western dress code.
Temples – If you’re planning on entering a temple, keep your knees and shoulders covered. The longer the pants the better. You will have to leave your shoes at the foot of the temple, so slip-ons are recommended (sandals are acceptable as well.) Outside most of these attractions are vendors who sell scarves and long flowy pants (100-200 baht.) We ended up getting a pair each on Khoa San Road during the day. While you stick out a little bit, you get a pretty new piece of clothing/souvenir on the cheap.
Clubs and Rooftop Bars- If you’re heading over a nice dinner or club, you will also want to cover up. Some restaurants will have their dress code on their website, but to be safe, pack closed-toed shoes (men and women alike) and a top that covers your shoulders.
This isn’t exactly dress code, but it goes along with respecting where you are. Be respectful of the Buddha. You’ll see many signs telling you that a tattoo or decoration of Buddha is disrespectful. Buying a small Buddha in Thailand may be possible, but you may have some trouble with the law trying it out of the country. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and best to be respectful.
EATING IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Andrew and I are still Southeast Asia newbies and both of us have been a little weary of eating anything that would get us sick. On top of that, I don’t eat meat and Andrew doesn’t eat dairy. We didn’t have the prime experience of eating fried scorpion on Khoa San Road or munching our way through Night Markets, but I’ll give you a tip or two to ease your mind if you’re worried about getting sick.
- Bottled water is wildly cheap. Stick to that (including when you brush your teeth, if you’re especially anxious about getting sick.) Drink a lot throughout the day always to stay hydrated and keep your system moving. When it comes to ice, it’s more common for restaurants to buy ice from filtered water…you’ll be able to tell because it’s shaped like a tube. So you’re safe to pour your water in a glass of ice.
- Two weeks before you arrive in Bangkok, get immunizations. Andrew and I both got typhoid and hepatitis shots.
- This is an odd tip, but I’ll go for it. My stomach didn’t feel the best after eating at a Starbucks in the MBK Center, but I got a foot massage and immediately felt cured. Reflexology, you know? Even if it doesn’t help you, there’s no problems with getting a nice hour-long foot massage.
KNOW YOUR BUDDHIST HOLIDAYS
Let’s talk about Buddhist holidays. We arrived in Bangkok a day before Asalha Puja and the start of Buddhist Lent. Fun background: Asalha Puja is the day that Buddha gave his first sermon in India. Buddhist Lent is a period of time where monks restrict themselves from traveling during the rainy season. (Insert joke about Catholic guilt and Lent here.)
So, for July 8 and 9 (the majority of our stay) the sale of alcohol is prohibited under Thai law. It was pretty wild seeing Khoa San Road completely shut down at midnight. (We ended up at a Rasta bar the next street over until the police showed up an hour later. An experience.) It was a little disheartening knowing that we were in Bangkok for some of the only dry days of the year, but we used the night that we had planned to go out to the club district to get a massage and dinner in the evening. Our stomachs were still getting acclimated anyway, so honestly, it was for the better. The one night we did go out on Khoa San Road we spent 100 baht on beers each (same price for buckets); it ended up being the part that hit our wallets the most.
Moral of the story: check this list of Buddhist holidays to know what celebrations and holidays will be happening during your stay. It may change the list of available things to do in Bangkok. It was interesting to see how expansive the celebration of changing the Buddha’s robes on July 8 was, but it also caused a hiccup in our plan (the Grand Palace closed at noon.)
HERE WE GO—TUK TUK SCAMS.
A common way to get around Bangkok is by tuk tuks, the pedicabs or rickshaws of the city. If you know how to haggle and negotiate with the drivers, they can be a great way to get around.
So here’s what’s going to happen. Someone on the street, or a tuk tuk driver, is going to ask you where you’re going. They’re going to tell you that said temple or attraction is closed. It’s not…unless it’s the afternoon during one of the highest Buddhist holidays. You’ll get an offer to make a few stops at the Golden Mountain (20 baht, highly recommend for good views of the city) and different temples for a ludicrously low price (we were offered 40 baht.) Included in the itinerary is a Thai factory that is ~~open to the public today only, it’s the last day of a big government holiday.~~ It’s not.
We took the tuk tuk driver’s offer, figuring that if we were being scammed, being scammed out of 40 baht wasn’t that bad. The Thai factory was second, and we left quickly because we didn’t need no damn custom-made suits. This is where we should have known better.
Basically, tuk tuk drivers get vouchers for fuel when they take tourists to these factories. While it’s annoying and awkward for tourists, some have used it to their advantage to get a free tuk tuk ride. “Bring me to X number of factories and X number of tourist attractions for a cheap rate” type of thing. Once we were taken to the next attraction, the tuk tuk driver abandoned us. Andrew’s data plan explained our quandary, and we hired another tuk tuk driver (“no factory, no factory”) for 300 baht. We had to hit up two more places anyway. This is a more typical rate if you want to hail a tuk tuk like a taxi. To us, getting a day’s worth of a tuk tuk for 300 baht wasn’t terrible, and we learned a good lesson about researching and how tourists are lured into traps in Bangkok.
In general, you have to be confident when you don’t want to buy something or when you need to get somewhere. At border crossings and ticket offices, you may run into “officials” and scammers who want more money (and your time) when you can just walk into the correct office and get what you need.
Now that we’ve seen the scams in action in Bangkok, we did more research and I’ll provide more info on getting across the Cambodian border and other tricky tasks in future posts.
PHEW. Was that enough information or what?
Okay, so this was thorough, and didn’t even begin to cover all of the things to do in Bangkok (or all the food you can eat in Bangkok, scams you’ll run into, etc.) I would love to hear your opinions: of Bangkok, of this type of post (very different from my usual posts,) and of acclimating to Southeast Asia in general. Let’s chat!