Bangkok, also known as ‘Krung Thep Mahanakorn’ or the City of Angels is the capital of Thailand. It is home to approximately 9.3 million people and is a highly popular tourist destination for people living in the South East Asian region and abroad. In 2016, the Thai capital topped the list of 132 cities receiving the highest number of visitors into the country, it even beat mega-cities like Paris, London and New York. Bangkok is highly famed for its delectable street food, cheap shopping, skilled Thai massages, magnificent temples and more.
However if you have never been to the magnificent Thai Kingdom (how could you?!), it could also be a bit tad overwhelming for you.
Here are some thoughts that might cross your mind:
1. “OMG the immigration line is so long!”
After you leave the plane and walk through the gates to go towards the immigration area, you might be welcomed by a massive queue of people both foreigners and Thai locals waiting to enter the country. Do ensure that your immigration forms are filled up correctly and prepare to have a quick photo taken by the officer. If all goes well, you’ll be on your way into the Thai Kingdom!
2. “Wah the taxis are so colourful!”
The next thing most tourists will see after they exit the airport terminal would be rows and rows of colourful taxis waiting to send you to your next destination. The different colours of taxis are represented by the various companies and the drivers can be pretty loud when trying to get a hold of their potential passenger. “Hello! Hello! Taxi taxi!”
3. “Don’t the taxi drivers turn on or use the taxi meter?”
The first thing you might experience when you get into the taxi would be the usual question of “Where are you going?” and after you respond it might be followed up with an exorbitant price quote to your destination. You’ll probably be confused by the question because you’ll see a taxi meter placed on the dashboard next to the driver but he/she may or may not use it. Do note that not all taxi drivers may do this as there new strict rules enforced with regards to using the taxi meter. If you do encounter a driver that quotes you a price, you could either tell them directly to use the meter, try to negotiate it down to a reasonable price or change to a different taxi.
4. “Why is the highway sooooo long?”
If you’re traveling in a taxi from the airport to the city center, you may first try to orientate yourself to the surroundings and try to soak up the sights around. Most taxis will try to avoid the traffic lights and take the tollway (or expressway), you might even catch yourself thinking “When is this tollway going to end? We’ve been traveling for so long!” It takes approximately 26km to travel from Suvarnabhumi Airport to reach the city center of Sukhumvit Road and 28km from Don Muang to the city.
5. “The traffic jams are insane!”
Bangkok is ranked 12th in the being one of most congested cities in the world and it can be dreadful and an utter waste of time being stuck in one of the early morning or evening peak hour traffic jams. Sometimes it is inevitable that you have to take a taxi or car and endure the jam to get to your particular destination because it may not be close to a train station. I know of some people who take about 3 hours to complete a mere 20km commute from their workplace to go back home. Thankfully, there are alternative modes of transportation that might be useful in avoiding the traffic on the road, like the BTS Sky Train and the MRT (which runs underground just like Singapore).
6. “Wah, everything is so cheap?!
The prices of products in Thailand are much cheaper than many other countries and tourists who travel to Bangkok simply cannot believe their eyes when they look at the prices of food, drinks, attractions, shopping and so on. Imagine being able to leave a mall with about 6-8 pieces of clothing or things and spending only about $40 SGD! There are lots of places selling clothes, bags, shoes and miscellaneous items at unbelievably low prices. That’s one of the main reasons why lots of people love coming to Bangkok to shop until they drop.
7. “So many street food stalls!”
In 2016, Bangkok has been named by CNN as having the “Best Street Food” in the world because of all the delicious simple comfort food you can get off the streets. If you walk down any main street in Bangkok, you’ll be able to see a multitude of push carts, sidewalk vendors, hole-in-the-wall food joints lined up in every nook and cranny. Regardless of whether you’re craving some Chicken Rice (Khao Man Gai), Soup Noodles (Kway Teow) or a Sweet Crispy Thai Pancake (Roti), these street vendors have got your back. For a reasonable price of 30THB or $1.40 SGD, you get get a satisfying bowl of hot noodles soup or a plate of chicken rice. Sadly, there has been news that the administration of Bangkok are trying to clean up the streets by getting the vendors out and relocated to other places by the end of 2017. You should definitely make a trip down to Bangkok to experience the street food culture in all its authenticity at least once before the big relocation and city clean-up.
Another thing that you might notice while walking around Bangkok is the amount of fresh fruit carts located on almost every corner of main streets. Thailand is one of the biggest international exporters of fruits and vegetables. Most Thai people love to eat fruits after every meal and these carts make it exceptionally convenient for them to do so. Did you know that you can easily buy a bag of freshly-cut sweet mangoes, watermelon, papayas and more for only 10-20 baht which is about 40 or 80 cents SGD! There’s no excuse for not getting the Singapore Health Promotion Board’s recommended 2 servings of fruits a day at a highly affordable price.
9. “I can’t wait to get on a tuk-tuk!”
Even if you haven’t been to Bangkok before, you may have definitely heard of the ubiquitously infamous alternative-mode of transport called the tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk or sam lor (three-wheeled motorised bike) is a semi-open air vehicle that known for driving at really high-speed and recklessly weaving in & out of traffic. It has been featured in countless TV commercials prompting Thailand and even movies like Ong Bak. This is definitely a crazy must-experience-at-least-once adventure in a tuk-tuk, as you feel the wind in your hair and breathe in copious amounts of carbon monoxide as the driver weaves through traffic.
10. “Why are there so many monks walking around on the street?”
The main religion which is practiced by 93.6% of the population in Thailand is Buddhism, as such it is quite common to see monks decked in orange robes walking barefooted on the streets to and fro the temples. If you’re up early at around 5:30am t0 7:30am, it is not uncommon to see people (both young and old) kneeling or bowing in prayer on the street as they offer alms (which may come in the form of food or water) and receive a blessing in return from the monks.
11. “There are temples everywhere!”
There are approximately more than 40,000 temples in existence in Thailand. In my opinion, it is virtually impossible to count and keep track of the number of temples in Bangkok alone, as you can probably find one on almost every corner – whether it is a small village shrine or a must-visit temple in the Top 10 list of visitor attractions. The temples in Thailand are highly revered places of worship filled with rich history that are built and sculpted with meticulously, stunning details and architecture. They are a huge attraction for Buddhist pilgrims, locals and even curious tourists who would like to experience the atmosphere, rituals or practices of Buddhism. One of the most respected temples in Thailand situated on the grounds of the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew. Wat Phra Kaew is also know as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha as it houses one of the highly revered statues of Buddha which was carved out of a single jade block. The temple in the photo is known as Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), the temple has a 70m (230ft) spire which has become one of Bangkok’s most notable landmarks. The temple looks exceptionally stunning when it is lit up at night and it is a gorgeous sight especially if you’re having a dinner cruise along the Chao Praya River.
12.”Definitely gotta visit Khao San Road!”
Yes, Khao San Road is the ultimate pitstop for almost every young, hippy backpacker passing through Bangkok. Khao San Road was also made popular in the book ‘The Beach’ and was even nicknamed as ‘the centre of the backpacking universe’. The street is brought to life with luminous neon sign-boards, loud pulsating music coming from one of the many bars & pubs, rowdy drunk tourists, rows of make-shift tents selling clothes, street artists, tattoo parlours, restaurants and more.
13. “Can I eat these bugs? Are they even safe to eat?”
If you’re still hanging around Khao San Road, you would have definitely walked past one of these street stalls. You may have blindly walked past thinking that they were selling some fried chicken or french fries, but if you take a closer look these fried snacks are actually creepy crawlies. Apparently it is a rite of passage for many of these young, impressionable tourists who come to Khao San Road to feast on these insects. These street stalls are literally a fried bug-buffet stocked with options like scorpions, meal worms, tarantulas, crickets, grasshoppers and more! Well, I guess the bright side is that these alternative snacks might actually be the new sustainable superfood?
14. “Cool! The Thais can travel around Bangkok by boat!”
These long-tailed boats or ‘river tuk tuks’ are Bangkok’s answer to alternative transportation, as they skip the traffic lights and travel down the waterways or khlongs. I must add that although they may not exactly be the most luxurious way to travel by, it does get you from point A to point B pretty quickly. The canal boats cover three different routes – across the main Chao Phraya River, through the Khlong Saen Saeb that cuts through Bangkok from the east to the west and the khlongs of Thonburi which are different canals located on the opposite of the Chao Phraya River.
15. “There’s a market on the river?!”
Yeah, wet markets are definitely not as cool as floating markets that’s for sure! This is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market located about 100 km from Bangkok city and about an hour’s drive out. It is one of the most popular floating markets in Thailand and it definitely a great photo opportunity for that perfect Instagram shot. It’s an absolutely fascinating sight to see the vendors row past each other selling their wares. You can buy everything from this market from fresh fruits & vegetables to cooking utensils to fresh papaya salad (somtam) or barbecued seafood made by the vendor on a boat. It’s a great way to experience the simple and regular way of life lived by some of the locals.
16. “There’s a market on a functioning train track?!”
Just when you thought a floating market was cooler than anything else, you get a very unusual location for a market – which is on the path of a functioning train track! This is the Mae Klong Railway Market which is located about 80km outside of Bangkok city. The train is scheduled to arrive at the Mae Klong Station several times a day and you’ll definitely hear the signal horn before it arrives at the station. It’s a pretty amazing to sight to watch the market vendors calmly drag their basket of goods away from the tracks and drawing the overhead tents back to make way for the train. This market isn’t stocked with touristy souvenirs, but it has a plethora of fresh fruits & vegetables, sweet thai desserts, poultry and seafood on sale.
17. “SO. MANY. MALLS!!!”
Where do I begin with this, there just too many malls in Bangkok!! There are approximately 164+ major malls in Bangkok alone, not including the other smaller local malls like Big C & Tesco Lotus which can be found in every single neighbourhood. It’s just fascinating how much shopping one can do in this country. These malls come in all kinds of themes and unique architecture with different target groups – from Terminal 21 to Central Embassy to Platinum Shopping Mall. Don’t even get me started with the shops, restaurants and cafes that you can find in all these malls!!
18. “SO MANY MARKETS!!!”
Bangkok definitely has its share of mega malls, but did you know that it is also packed with street markets (day & night) in every neighbourhood? Yes, this is the home of the popular hipster ArtBox Exhibition Market that recently popped up in Singapore too. These markets give out a perpetual carnival vibe and they come in different scales – with smaller flea markets vs giant ones like Chatuchak Market or Talat Rod Fai (Train Market). You can find almost everything you can think of at these markets, from vintage furniture to pet hamsters and just good food & drinks all around. If you’re looking for a nice place to chill with some live music and a couple of beers, then you could stop by one of the many bars around.