Abandon the throng of glassy-eyed farang watching “The Beach” on Khao Sarn Road and get to know the real Bangkok, or Krung Thep, as the Thai call it. This massive city of 6 million (conservatively) can feel overwhelming, but it’s got more than a few riches in store for those who care to break away from the confines of backpackerdom. Public transportation will take you to most of the sites you’ll want to see, while an aimless stroll might lead you to the unexpected—like a ramshackle restaurant that presents the best, hottest curry you will ever sweat your way through. For a cultural crash course, visit the enormous golden Buddha towering on its perch in Wat Intharawihan or take in a traditional Thai marionette performance at the Joe Louis Puppet Theater. Glimpse the golden spires of the Grand Palace and purchase an amulet from a saffron-robed monk. Experience the latest in Thai fashion by browsing the handicrafts of Bangkok’s top designers at Gaysorn Plaza. There aren’t many places where you get your legs wrung out like towels during a yoga massage, and then cringe with empathy at the wicked bodily contortions of the night’s kickboxing match. Bangkok is a city with limitless offerings. Let your sense of adventure lead you, and there’s no limit to what you might find.
From Suvarnabhumi International Airport, an a/c airport bus service operates every 15 mins, 0500-2400, ฿150 to Silom Rd (service AE1), Khaosan Rd (service AE2), Wireless/Sukhumvit Rd (service AE3) and Hua Lumphong train station (service AE4). Each service stops at between 12 and 20 popular tourist destinations and hotels. The airport offers full details at the stop located outside the Arrivals area on the pavement. Some of the more popular stops on each line are: Silom service (AE1): Pratunam, Central World Plaza, Lumpini Park, Sala Daeng, Patpong, Sofitel Silom. Khaosan service (AE2): Pratuman, Amari Watergate Hotel, Asia Hotel, Royal Princess Hotel, Democracy Monument, Phra Artit, Khaosan Rd. Wireless Rd service (AE3): BTS (Skytrain) On Nut, BTS Thonglor, Rex Hotel, Emporium Shopping Centre Sukhumvit 24, Novotel Sukhumvit, Westin Hotel, Amari Boulevard, Majestic Grande, Central Silom and Nana. Hua Lumphong service (AE4): Victory Monument, BTS On Nut, Asia Hotel Ratcha- thewi, Siam Centre, MBK/National Stadium, Hua Lumphong train station. Many visitors will see the ฿150 as money well spent (although if there are 3-4 of you travelling together then a taxi is just as cheap, or cheaper). However, there will still be the hardened few who will opt for the regular bus service. This is just as slow as it ever was, 1½-3 hrs (depending on the time of day), prices for a/c buses linking the airport to the city are now a flat rate of ฿35. The public bus station or ‘public transportation centre’ is linked to the airport by a free shuttle bus service which picks up passengers at the Arrivals area. Public buses are crowded during rush hours and there is little room for luggage. However, the new bus station is well signposted and organized with some English-speaking information services. Local bus services to Pattaya and Nong Khai are also available. From Don Muang Airport, Thai Airways operates a City Air Terminal bus from just outside the terminal to Lad Prao metro (0400-2000, every 20 mins); the service is free if you are flying with THAI and takes between 30 mins and 1 hr. Buses to the airport leave from opposite the metro station; you can also check in here, 3 hrs before your flight leaves.
Many upmarket hotels will meet passengers and provide free transport to town. Check before arrival or contact the Thai Hotels Association desk in the terminal.
It takes 30-60 mins to get to central Bangkok from both airports, depending on the time of day, the state of the traffic and how insane the driver is. There is an official taxi booking service in the Arrivals hall. There are 3 sets of taxi/limousine services. First, airport limos (before exiting from the restricted area), next airport taxis (before exiting from the terminal building), and finally, a public taxi counter (outside, on the slipway). The latter are the cheapest. A public taxi to downtown should cost roughly ฿300-400. Note that tolls on the expressways are paid on top of the fare on the meter and should be no more than ฿40 per toll. If taking a metered taxi, the coupon from the booking desk will quote no fare – ensure that the meter is turned on or you may find that the trip costs ฿900 instead of ฿300. There is a ฿50 airport surcharge on top of the meter cost. Keep hold of your coupon – some taxi drivers try to pocket it – as it details the obligations of taxi drivers. Only official taxis are allowed to serve airport visitors and are required to use their meter, but drivers often try to make an opportunistic buck from new arrivals in town. Don’t be surprised if your driver decides to feign that he does not know where to go; it’s all part of being a new boy/girl in a new town. If in doubt, call your guesthouse or hotel and ask them to speak to the driver. Also be wary of scams like turning the engine off on arrival so that the meter price disappears; politely ask for the engine to be turned on again and it will reappear. Regular airport visitors also recommend going up to the Departures floor and flagging down a taxi that has just dropped passengers off. Doing it unofficially like this this will save you around ฿50 and possibly a long wait in a taxi queue. Secure an agreement to use the meter before you get in – many drivers refuse, in which case you’ll have to negotiate a fare. There have been cases of visitors being robbed in unofficial taxis. To tell whether your vehicle is a registered taxi, check the colour of the number plate. Official airport limousines have green plates, public taxis have yellow plates – a white plate means the vehicle is not registered as a taxi.
Construction of a 28-km overhead city rail link between downtown Bangkok and the airport is underway. Travel time between the airport and the city centre is expected to take around 15 mins on the Express service and 27 mins on the Commuter service. Currently scheduled to be completed in 2009, the Commuter service will connect Suvarnabhumi Airport with city air terminals along the East rail track including Phayathai, Ratchaprarop (Skytrain interchange), Makkasan/Asoke (MRT/underground interchange), Ramkam- haeng, Huamak, Bantubchang and Ladkrabung. The Express service will be a direct MRT link at Makkasan/Asoke station. You can still get the old overground train from Don Muang to either Hualamphong in downtown Bangkok or north to Ayutthaya and beyond. It’s cheap but very slow and trains are often late.
The official name for Thailand’s capital city begins Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattana- kosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchani- wetmahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. It is not hard to see why Thais prefer the shortened version, Krungthep or the ‘City of Angels’. The name used by the rest of the world – Bangkok – is derived from 17th-century Western maps, which referred to the city (or town as it then was) as Bancok, the ‘village of the wild plum’. This name was only superseded by Krungthep in 1782, so the Western name has deeper historical roots.
In 1767, Ayutthaya, then the capital of Siam, fell to the marauding Burmese for the second time and it was imperative that the remnants of the court and army find a more defensible site for a new capital. Taksin, the Lord of Tak, chose Thonburi, on the Western banks of the Chao Phraya River, far from the Burmese. In three years, Taksin had established a kingdom and crowned himself king. His reign was short lived; the pressure of thwarting the Burmese over three arduous years caused him to go mad and in 1782 he was forced to abdicate. General Phraya Chakri was recalled from Cambodia and invited to accept the throne. This marked the start of the present Chakri Dynasty.
Bangkok: the new capital
In 1782, Chakri (now known as Rama I) moved his capital across the river to Bangkok (an even more defensible site) anticipating trouble from King Bodawpaya who had seized the throne of Burma (Myanmar). The river that flows between Thonburi and Bangkok and on which many of the luxury hotels – such as The Oriental – are now located, began life not as a river at all, but as a khlong (canal). The canal was dug in the 16th century to reduce the distance between Ayutthaya and the sea by short- cutting a number of bends in the river. Since then, the canal has become the main channel of the Chao Phraya River. Its original course has shrunk in size, and is now represented by two khlongs, Bangkok Yai and Bangkok Noi .
This new capital of Siam grew in size and influence. Symbolically, many of the new buildings were constructed using bricks from the palaces and temples of the ruined former capital of Ayutthaya. However, population growth was hardly spectacular – it appears that outbreaks of cholera sometimes reduced the population by a fifth or more in a matter of a few weeks. An almanac from 1820 records that “on the seventh month of the waxing moon, a little past 2100 in the evening, a shining light was seen in the northwest and multitudes of people purged, vomited and died”.
Venice of the East
Bangkok began life as a city of floating houses; in 1864 the French explorer Henri Mouhot wrote that “Bangkok is the Venice of the East (making it one of several Asian cities to be landed with this sobriquet) and whether bent on business or pleasure you must go by water”. In 1861, foreign consuls in Bangkok petitioned Rama IV and complained of ill- health due to their inability to go out riding in carriages or on horseback. The king complied with their request for roads and the first road was built in the 1860s – Charoen Krung (‘New Road’). It was not until the late 19th century that King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) began to invest heavily in bridge and road building; notably, Rachdamnern Avenue (‘the royal way for walking’) and the Makawan Rungsun Bridge, which both link the Grand Palace with the new palace area of Dusit. This avenue was used at the end of the century for cycling (a royal craze at the time) and later for automobile processions which were announced in the newspapers.
In the rush to modernize, Bangkok may have buried its roots and in so doing, lost some of its charm. But beneath the patina of modern city life, Bangkok remains very much a Thai city, and has preserved a surprising amount of its past. Most obviously, a profusion of wats and palaces remain. In addition, not all the khlongs have been filled in, and by taking a long-tailed boat through Thonburi it is possible to gain an idea of what life must have been like in the ‘Venice of the East’.
Bangkok is built on unstable land, much of it below sea level, and floods used to regularly afflict the capital. The most serious were in 1983 when 450 sq km of the city was submerged. Each year the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority announced a new flood prevention plan, and each year the city flooded. The former populist Bangkok governor, Chamlong Srimuang, was perhaps the first politician to address the problem of flooding seriously. His blindingly obvious approach was to clear the many culverts of refuse, and some people believe that at last serious flooding is a thing of the past. This may be over-optimistic: like Venice, Bangkok is sinking by over 10 cm a year in some areas and it may be that the authorities are only delaying the inevitable.
In 1900 Bangkok had a population of approximately 200,000. By 1950 it had surpassed one million, and by the end of 1999 it was, officially, 5,662,499. This official figure considerably understates the true population of the city – 14 million would be more realistic. Many people who live in the capital continue to be registered as living upcountry, and the physical extent of the capital has long overrun its administrative boundaries. By 2010, analysts believe Bangkok will have a population of 20 million. As the population of the city has expanded, so has the area that it encompasses: in 1900 it covered a mere 13.3 sq km; in 1958, 96.4 sq km; while today the Bangkok Metropolitan Region extends over 1600 sq km. Bangkok dominates Thailand in cultural, political and economic terms. All Thai civil servants have the ambition of serving in Bangkok, while many regard a posting to the poor northeast as (almost) the kiss of death. Most of the country’s industry is located in and around the city, and Bangkok supports a far wider array of services than other towns in the country.
There are countless exchange booths in all the tourist areas open 7 days a week, mostly 0800-1530, some 0800-2100. Rates vary only marginally between banks, although if changing a large sum, it is worth shopping around. ATMs abound in Bangkok and most can be used with credit cards and bank cards. They are open 24 hrs a day.
Embassies and consulates
Australia, 37 South Sathorn Rd, T02-287 2680. Mon-Fri 0830-1230, 1330-1630. Burma (Myanmar), 132 Sathorn Nua Rd, T02-233 2237. Cambodia, 185 Rachdamri Rd, T02-254 6630, 0900-1100. Canada, 15th floor Abdulrahim Place, 990 Rama 1V Rd, T02-636 0541. Mon-Thu 0730-1615, Fri 0730-1300, visas Mon-Fri 0800-1200. Denmark, 10 Sathorn Tai Soi Attakarnprasit, T02-213 2021. Mon-Thu 0900-1530, Fri 0900-1230. France, 35 Customs House Lane, Charoen Krung, T02-266 8250. Mon-Thu 0800-1700, Fri 0800-1600, visas Mon-Fri 0800-1200 (there is also a French consulate at 29 Sathorn Tai Rd, T02-285 6104). Germany, 9 Sathorn Tai Rd, T02-287 9000. Mon-Fri 0830-1200, visas 0830-1100. Israel, 25th floor, Ocean Tower II, 75 Soi Wattana, Sukhumvit 19, T02-204 9200. Italy, 399 Nang Linchi Rd, T02-285 4090. Japan, 1674 New Phetburi Rd, T02-252 6151. Mon-Fri 0830-1200, 1330- 1600. Laos, 502/1-3 Soi Ramkhamhaeng 39, T02-539 6667. Mon-Fri 0800-1200, 1300- 1600. Malaysia, 33-35 Sathorn Tai Rd, T02-6792190. Netherlands, 6 Wireless Rd, T02-254 7701. Mon-Fri 0900-1200. New Zealand, 93 Wireless Rd, T02-254 2530. Mon-Fri 0730-1200, 1300-1600, visas 0900- 1200, 1300-1500. Singapore, 129 Sathorn Tai Rd, T02-286 2111. South Africa, 6th floor, Park Place, 231 Soi Sarasin, Rachdamri Rd, T02-253 8473. Spain, 7th floor, Diethelm Building, 93 Wireless Rd, T02-2526112. Mon-Fri 0900-1430, visas 0830-1200. Sweden, 20th floor, Pacific Place, 140 Sukhumvit Rd, T02-3020360. Mon-Fri 0800-1200. Switzerland, 35 Wireless Rd, (GPO Box 821, Bangkok 10510, T02-254 6855. Mon-Fri 0900- 1200. UK, 1031 Wireless Rd, T02-253 0191/9. Mon-Thu 0800-1100, 1300-1530, Fri 0800- 1200. USA, 95 Wireless Rd, T02-205 4000. Mon-Fri 0800-1100, 1300-1500. Vietnam, 83/1 Wireless Rd, T02-251 7202. Open 0800-1130, 1330-1630, 2 photos required, normally takes 3 working days, same-day visas available at a price (฿2700).
There are literally thousands of internet cafés scattered around the entire city. Most offer high-speed access and away from the tourist areas will cost from ฿10 per hr while along Khaosan and Sukhumvit prices are ฿30-60 per hr. The majority of shops congregate around the Khaosan Rd, Silom and Siam Sq and even in the furthest outposts you’ll find net shops choc-a-bloc with game-playing pre-teens. In addition most hotels and guesthouses offer the service. For the BYO laptop crowd, coffee shops and cafés from Starbucks to the local corner coffee shop now offer free or paid Wi-Fi services.
True, http://www.trueinternet.co.th, one of Bangkok’s premier providers, now has over 20 True Lifestyle stores in and around Bangkok, all of which offer modern coffee shop surrounds and extensive services. The flagship True Urban Park in Siam Paragon is a space-age sight to behold with, armchair seating, personal iPod bubbles dangling from the ceiling and a wall of images streamed direct from Paragon’s huge aquarium. The more upbeat Thonglor branch invites live bands to play at the weekends. The peaceful Khaosan Rd branch offers a pleasant escape from the crowds.
Bangkok’s immigration offices are at Sathorn Tai Soi Suanphlu, Silom district, T02-287 3101.
Bangkok has scores of language schools. The best known is the AUA school at 179 Rachdamri, T02-252 8170.
British Council Library, 254 Chulalongkorn Soi 64 (Siam Sq). Tue-Sat 1000-1930, membership library with good selection of English-language books. National Library, Samsen Rd, close to Sri Ayutthaya Rd. Daily 0930-1930. Neilson Hays Library, 195 Surawong Rd, T02-233 1731. Mon-Sat 0930-1600, Sun 0930-1230. A small library of English-language books housed in an elegant building dating from 1922. It is a private membership library, but welcomes visitors who might want to see the building and browse; occasional exhibitions are held here. Siam Society Library, 131 Sukhumvit Soi 21 (Asoke). Tue-Sat 0900-1700. Membership library with excellent collection of Thai and foreign-language books and periodicals (especially English) on Thailand and mainland Southeast Asia.
Bangkok Adventist Hospital, 430 Phitsanulok Rd, Dusit, T02-281 1422, T02-282 1100. Efficient vaccination service and 24-hr emergency unit. Bangkok General Hospital, New Phetburi Soi 47, T02-318 0066. Dental Hospital, 88/88 Sukhumvit 49, T02-260 5000, F02-2605026. Good but expensive. Clinic Banglamphu, 187 Chakrapong Rd, T02-282 7479. Dental Polyclinic, New Phetburi Rd, T02-314 5070. St Louis Hospital, 215 Sathorn Tai Rd, T02-212 0033.
Central General Post Office (Praysani Klang for taxi drivers): 1160 Charoen Krung, opposite the Ramada Hotel. Mon-Fri 0800- 2000, Sat, Sun and holidays 0800-1300. The money and postal order service is open Mon-Fri 0800-1700, Sat 0800-1200. Closed on Sun and holidays. 24-hr telegram and telephone service (phone rates are reduced 2100-0700) and a packing service. There are small post offices in most districts and many shopping centres.
Tourist police 24-hr hotline T1155, 4 Rachadamnoen Nok Av, Dusit.
Bangkok has the unenviable reputation of having some of the worst traffic in the world. The Skytrain – an elevated railway – along with the newer and still sparkling Metro have made things a lot easier for those areas of the city they cover. Plentiful buses travel to all city sights and offer the cheapest way to get around. There is an endless supply of metered taxis. A taxi for a trip within the centre of town should cost ฿50-100. All taxis now have meters although some drivers may refuse to switch them on. If this happens either insist they put the meter on or just get out of the car – most drivers will turn it on at this point. Alternatively, just wait for another cab. Bangkok’s taxi drivers will sometimes refuse to pick up fares at all, particularly if they feel your destination is troublesome. This can be frustrating but don’t get angry with drivers as they can have a very aggressive streak and reputation for violence. Tuk-tuk (motorized three-wheeled taxi) numbers are dwindling and the negotiated fares often work out more expensive than a taxi. Riding in an open-sided tuk-tuk coats you in Bangkok’s notorious smog by the time you arrive – tuk-tuk drivers also target tourists and have a deserved reputation for rip-offs and scams. Walking can be tough in the heat and fumes, although there are some parts of the city where this can be the best way to get around. For an alternative to the smog of Bangkok’s streets, you can hop on board one of the express river taxis – more like river buses – which ply the Chao Phraya River and the network of khlongs (canals) that criss-cross the city; it’s often quicker than going by road .
[Extract from Bangkok Inside Out by Daniel Ziv & Guy Sharett, Equinox Publishing]
Buses in Bangkok epitomize the city’s diversity. As is the case with accommodation, food and sex, the options are mind-boggling. Little green buses costing B3.5 (around 10 cents) per ride; big blue air-con ones charging B8-16 (20-40 cents); and even swankier ‘microbuses’ where a B20 (50 cents) ride usually includes a soft “sawatdii kha” greeting from the conductor.
The Bangkok Bus Experience begins at the bus stop. For starters, passengers usually opt not to wait there at all (boring!) and instead stand 30 meters before it. They fear the driver might somehow fail to notice their frantic jumping and waving and shoot right on by. Then comes boarding. Buses don’t actually come to a full stop, but glide towards passenger-hopefuls so that some may have a slim chance of actually hopping on. Once they do, the conductor - normally a woman with a voice shrill enough to rival Frau Farbissina of Austin Powers fame - shouts “Pai!” (“Go!”) at the driver, who dutifully stomps on the accelerator with all his fatalistic might.
‘Frau’ then approaches newly boarded passengers with her krabok - a heavy cylinder-shaped metal case full of coins and paper ticket rolls. Bank notes are folded in meticulously fan-like structure between her thick, sturdy fingers, allowing her to dish out change even during harrowing jolts and turns. Frau shakes her krabok loudly when pacing down the aisle, so nobody can ignore her and avoid paying the fare.
Upon receiving fares, Frau tears a ticket along the edge of the krabok in a quick, one-handed, pirouetted movement. This is Bangkok performance art par excellence. Frau completes the act by handing passengers their ticket and change with a push of her finger into their palm to ensure the ticket won’t fall out. Then she’ll go sit on the hot engine cover next to the driver and chat him up until approaching the next stop. Like male drivers pretty much everywhere, Bangkok bus drivers are obsessed with one thing: passing through traffic junctions before the light turns red. This is what allows them to ignore frantically jumping and waving commuters at bus stops (see paragraph 2, above).
For all the chaos transpiring inside this speeding, vibrating wreck, passengers manage to remain composed and ‘supaap’ (polite). People gladly offer their seat to mothers and toddlers, and seated passengers will hold the books and bags of people standing beside them. On the other hand - according to a 2003 survey – nearly 25% of female passengers experienced sexual harassment on buses, including men standing uncomfortably close to them, touching their breasts or hips and “looking at them strangely”.
[Extract from Bangkok Inside Out by Daniel Ziv & Guy Sharett, Equinox Publishing]
Conceptually, do-it-yourself dining joints seem like a dumb idea: One normally goes to restaurants to get out of the kitchen and relax, not pay good money to sit around a table, cook one’s own food and still get screamed at by Auntie Jaeng for letting her tiger prawn go Cajun by forgetting to flip it in time.
Yet such is the popularity of DIY dining in Bangkok, especially among raucous groups of students, that any self-respecting shopping mall will have at least one of the four big chains - MK, Coca Suki, Daidomon or BBQ Plaza - and many malls host all four. The Suki restaurants offer Japanese-inspired Sukiyaki: raw ingredients ordered off a menu and dumped into a big pot of boiling water in the center of the table, to be stirred by, added to and served from by the customers themselves. Raw ingredients include seafood, meat, vegetables, wontons, eggs, and other fresh delights. The Daidomon version places a sunken grill in the table center, with diners huddling through the smoke to flip meat, bask in the aroma, and maybe even manage a conversation.
me gustaria ir a visitar esa ciudad ya que toda tailandia incluso la cultura y todo lo demas zonas que tiene maravillosas me gustaria visitarlas.. pero claro si fuese unos dias me gustaria saber si alli hablan algunos nuestro idioma o si se necesitaria un guia y tal.. espero su respuesta.
Beautiful City, very very busy 7/24, massive air pollution!
Does: Shopping (Markets), Massage, Grand Palace & Co, Floating Markets, lets tailor some suits, dresses and shirts, enjoy price luxury hotels!
Donts: Never buy Blue Sapphires, Don't let Tuk Tuk Drivers decide where to go, Don't take Taxis without Taximeters