Bangkok can be considered the ultimate in extremes. Seen by some as a congested and polluted city, Bangkok has a reputation for seediness with prominent red light districts, brothels, and other adult ‘amusements’.
But, there’s also a wealth of culture, history, arts, and cuisine to explore. It’s just a matter of where you look.
Home to eight million people, Bangkok sits at the southern end of the country on the Gulf of Thailand and is known locally as ‘Krung Thep’. Sitting on the Chao Phraya River delta, Bangkok lies in the South Asian monsoon area so from mid-May to around September it’s going to be very wet. October to February are the drier months but also the coolest.
Temperatures all year round are between 75F-85F, with humidity more intense in summer.
Bangkok Airport is actually two airports. Don Muang Airport used to be the main hub for international visitors but since 2006 Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is where the vast majority of tourists will land.
Bangkok Airways operates dozens of daily flights into BKK, which is a vast, state of the art airport 19 miles from the city.
The Airport Rail Link is the best way to get downtown and avoids all the traffic. If you also want to sample the neighboring countries of Vietnam and Laos then look into purchasing a Bangkok Airways Discovery Pass, which offers numerous regional
flights at a fraction of the normal cost.
Once in the city center, take your time exploring. Siam Square is a good place to start. In addition to hundreds of bars, restaurants, and many of the city’s tourist hotels, it’s also the retail center of the city, so if you like to shop this is the place to come.
Silom, just south, is a well-behaved business district by day, but a wild party destination by night. Silom also houses Bangkok’s largest park, Lumphini Park. Sukhumvit sits at the eastern end of Siam Square, and is home to both a higher class of hotel and restaurant and, paradoxically, the notorious Soi Cowboy red light district and the Nana Entertainment Plaza.
If you want to visit the older sights of Bangkok head to Rattanakosin, west of Siam Square. The streets can feel quite claustrophobic, but it’s worth the effort to see Wat Pho Buddhist Temple and the vast Grand Palace which will easily take up an entire day.
Yaowarat Road is Bangkok’s multicultural center, with large Indian and Chinese communities, and some of the best restaurants. Backpackers will be drawn to the budget hostels, bars, and clubs of Khao San Road, in the northwest.
You can also chill out by the river and Phra Sumen Fort, and watch the street entertainment or grab lunch from one of the many bug vendors. Yes, you read correctly – BUG vendors. Some bugs are considered very popular snacks and are sold on the street just like popcorn or hot dogs in New York City.
Neighboring Dusit, is full of lush green parks, and large European- style embassies and government buildings. Here you’ll find the beautiful Vimanmek Mansion, the world’s largest teak wood structure. Cross the river into Thonburi to find floating markets upon the canals or become a local for the day and go shopping around the malls and markets of Pratunam or Phahonyothin.
There are two main methods for getting around Bangkok. The Skytrain covers most of downtown, especially around Siam Square, while the Metro (MRT) connects the two main train stations, Hualamphong and Bang Sue.
Or, use the ferries that run up and down the Chao Phraya River, which is the best way to get to Khao San Road. While in Bangkok brave the tuk-tuks, which might be dirty and noisy, but certainly an experience. Always agree a price before you get in, though as the drivers for these auto rickshaws can be a little shifty.
Bangkok is home to over 50,000 restaurants so you’ll never go hungry, but if you’re looking for a certain type of crowd you’ve got to know where to go.
Ratchadaphisek, along the Royal City Avenue strip, is usually a great place to find the young, hip crowd. If you’re interested in people watching, Sukhumvit or the open-roof bars of Silom are always a good bet.
If you do want to see the naughtier side of Bangkok life, head to Patpong for the plethora of go-go bars.