Bangkok is one of those places that you either visit once and flee at your first opportunity or keep coming back, drawn in by its magnetic forces. The love or hate relationship is Thailand's capital’s beauty. It does overwhelm you, it is impossible to find your way around in, it is loud, chaotic and messy but these are the exact reasons why some absolutely love it and others hate it with passion. The best thing you can do is to fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride!
Bangkok is usually either the start or the finish destination to many gap year adventures. It’s famous for its Grand Palace, multiple temples and Kao San Road – the SE Asian backpacker Mecca. Do your sightseeing here before heading off to the famous Thai islands and beaches.
Bangkok has multiple opportunities for English teachers and there are many more options now than 10-15 years ago. Apart from private language schools, there are openings available in Thai primary and high schools.
Even though Bangkok is not the main volunteering destination in Thailand, if you dig deeper, it offers fantastic projects and opportunities to help local communities; from working with blind and disadvantaged children to helping at the refugee camp. These are usually organised on either weekly or monthly basis for those that are in the area for longer. As in most of the South East Asian destinations, there are also numerous English Teaching opportunities available across the Thai Capital.
Planning Your Trip
Cost of Living in Bangkok
Hostels and simple guesthouses, depending on location are usually around 700-1000THB ($23-32) for a double or twin room while dorms will cost you anything between 400-500THB ($13-16) per person. Higher standard hotels will be considerably more expensive, however it is worth checking booking sites for discounts and offers.
Food and drink around Kao San Road is relatively cheap and won’t break the bank. You’re spoiled for choice around there but beware that it may be difficult to find real, traditional Thai cooking of good quality. Do your research and speak to fellow travellers for the best spots. Street food – 40-50THB (~$1.5) per dish (usually Pad Thai or other noodle based dish), 10THB ($0.3) each for barbecued meat skewers. Restaurant meal for 2 (2 main courses and a beer each) 400-500THB ($13-16). Singha or Chang beer 50-70THB ($1.6-2.3). Water bought at 7/11 could be anything from 13-20THB ($0.4-0.6) while a couple of ice cream cones will be 35-40THB (~$1.3). A bag of fresh fruit bought from a street vendor is usually 20-30THB ($0.6-0.9).
Thai massages and reflexology will set you back anything between 300-600THB ($9.7-19.5) per treatment, depending on location. Entry to the Grand Palace is 400THB ($13) per person and visiting Wat Pho and the reclining Buddha will cost you 50THB ($1.6). If you decide to visit the Sky Bar for a drink with an amazing view, make sure you increase your budget that day significantly. Two cocktails on on the State Tower will be anything around 1350-1500THB ($44-49).
Where to Stay in Bangkok
For the backpacker feel, lots of guesthouses and small hotels head over to Soi Rambuttri, just around the corner from Kao San Road madness. Silom will give you the upmarket feel while Thewet is where you look for the old and traditional Bangkok guesthouses. To mix with the expats and get the cosmopolitan vibe of Thailand’s capital, head East to Sukhumvit Road.
Must See Attractions in Bangkok:
- The Grand Palace: The dazzling mosaics, glistening roofs and the Emerald Buddha are what draws all to the immense complex, prepare yourself for at least half day sightseeing as the Palace’s grounds are very impressive in size indeed
- Wat Pho: To experience the sight of the world’s largest reclining Buddha and one of the best Thai massages and reflexology treatments
- Wat Arun: One of Thailand’s most picturesque temples and logo of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, different to all other temples in its architecture, definitely worth visiting
- One of Bangkok’s amazing sky bars: For that high-flying moment on a tight backpacker budget, one of all time favourites is The Sky Bar at Lebua, State Tower, where you indulge in fancy cocktails “The Hangover” style
- Khao San Road: The backpacker Mecca, street food, fried insects, hair braiding, fake IDs and bottomless buckets, this is where you go to experience it all
- Chatchak market: The haggling central, where you can practice your bargaining skills, get all your souvenirs sorted to then grab a quick bite and a beverage to end your busy day
- Lumphini Park: Best place to unwind in the urban jungle, grab a coffee and watch the world go by, it is where locals practice tai chi do their aerobics and tourists engage in people watching
- MBK Shopping Centre: For out of this world shopping experience where the surreal mixes with unbelievable, fake everything from clothes to Iphones right next to original retailers, 7 floors of absolute madness
- Take a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River: The best way to experience Bangkok from the water is to jump on one of the public transport boats whizzing up and down the river from early morning into the evening hours, make sure to familiarise yourself with the hierarchy of the seats and standing spaces first (i.e. the back of the boat is usually reserved for the Buddhist monks)
Contributed by Marta Napierala
Health & Safety
Bangkok is one of the safest large Southeast Asian cities. The biggest problems are pickpockets in the main crowded tourist areas and fast riding motorbikes that may be a danger to disorientated pedestrians. Make sure you have all your belongings safely tucked away in zipped pockets and that you look around you while crossing the road. Your safest bet is to do it with locals; after all, they are the best at the ‘know how’.
You also need to be aware of the higher than anywhere else in Thailand scam rate, therefore never let your taxi or tuk-tuk driver take you off your agreed route. There will be plenty of local tour offers or you will be told that your destination of interest i.e. a museum or a hotel is currently closed. Politely decline any unwelcome offers, insist on a meter being used in a taxi or agree on your journey price in advance if you decide to jump on a tuk-tuk.
If you decide to visit one of the many infamous go-go bars, make sure you familiarise yourself with ‘the rules’ first.
Due to the hot Thai climate, be wary of raw foods, especially meats, and egg & dairy based sauces. Bottled water is widely available and you can check with your waiter if the ice you are being served has been made of filtered water.
If unwell anywhere in SE Asia, Bangkok (together with Singapore) is probably the best place to seek help. With many international medical clinics and hospitals with English speaking staff you are sure to find the right place to be looked after. Make sure you have sufficient travel insurance that covers any potential procedures.