Many travellers start their exploration of Southeast Asia in Bangkok, and the city can be rather disorienting for first-timers. After three trips to Bangkok over a period of 20 years, certain things haven’t changed much. The following tips, often omitted by guidebooks, are guaranteed to greatly improve the quality of your trip your first time in Bangkok.

Grand Palace complex in Bangkok (first time in Bangkok)

7 tips for your first time in Bangkok

Have your destination written in Thai for taxi drivers

People who work in the tourism industry in Bangkok generally speak some English, with one notable exception: taxi drivers. You can’t expect taxi drivers to understand or be able to read an address written in English. Asking your hotel (or restaurant) to write your destination in Thai script will make taking taxis a lot easier.

Don’t spend all your evenings on Khao San Road

Khao San Road is the centre of backpacking culture in Bangkok and you’ll find everything a traveller needs including shops, a tourist-oriented night market, and entertainment. The food is cheap, but you will find better and more authentic street food elsewhere. Get out of that tourist ghetto if you want to experience real Thai culture.

A night market in Bangkok (first time in Bangkok)

A local night market in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Don’t order a Western breakfast on Khao San Road

One under-cooked egg, a piece of sandwich meat or hot dog sausage, and one or two slices of white toast, is what passes for a Western breakfast in those Khao San Road cafés. If you’re daydreaming of North American or Australian-type brunch food, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Look for a Scandinavian bakery instead, or settle for a Thai breakfast of rice porridge.

Don’t believe that an orange robe necessarily makes one a holy man

Young Buddhist monks at leisure in Bangkok (first time in Bangkok)

You’ll see many groups of orange-robed Thai monks walking around all over Bangkok and Thailand. Most have truly embraced Buddhism and follow the many precepts of monkhood such as refraining from killing any life form, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and using intoxicants.

However, some are just boys enrolled as novices at a temple for a variety of reasons, and don’t necessarily take the whole thing very seriously.

(Read my weird monk story about my first time in Bangkok in 1995.)

Don’t fall for the “I need to practice my English” ploy

This is not unique to Bangkok, but locals often approach foreign travellers wanting to “practice their English” or needing help to translate a letter, etc. Often, this is just a ruse to get you to follow them into a shop, a tuk-tuk, or even their living quarters! If you want to have fun with language, just find a group of kids and crack open your phrasebook (or translation app).

Don’t forget to ask if your hotel has hot water

Unless you don’t mind cool showers, make sure that your hotel has hot water before you book. Especially in budget hotels, this is not always the case. Hot water may also only be available at certain times of day. Even if the hotel has hot water, you may need to flip on a switch somewhere in your room and wait a while before you can enjoy it.

An (electrical) hot shower in Bangkok (first time in Bangkok)

A water heater in a Bangkok shower

Avoid eating in your room

There is no rule per se against chowing down in your room in Bangkok, but you’re in a tropical developing country, which means gaps around the doors, no window screens, and giant cockroaches. You do the math.

Some practical information about Bangkok and Thailand

Best time to visit Bangkok: November to February. This is considered the “cool” and dry season (still pretty warm by northern countries’ standard). Come March, the city becomes uncomfortably hot.

Currency: Thai Baht. At the time of writing, US$1 = 32.5 THB

Electricity: 220 volts and 50 cycles/sec (like Europe). Most electrical outlets accommodate both flat and round prongs, although many can fit only two prongs (no ground).

Language: The Thai people speak Thai, a devilishly difficult to learn tonal language with its own script. People working in the tourism industry and tourist restaurants speak some basic English.

Religion: Thailand is a very homogenous country where about 95% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism and about 5% (mostly in the Southern provinces) are Muslim. Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized.


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