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Bangkok Basics

Bangkok is deservedly a popular destination these days. I find that I’m often asked for advice from those who plan to go for the first time. They want to know if they’ll need to take baht (the Thai currency), if they’ll need to book an hotel before they go, and various other such questions. This page is intended to help those who have never been there before to learn a little of the ropes and to get them through day one without any hassles.

I’m assuming that you’re going to arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. This is quite some distance outside the city, as one might expect, so you’ll be wanting to get to whatever area you’re planning to stay in. Bangkok doesn’t have a city centre, as such, but has several distinct areas.

  • Sukhumvit – a business and tourist area (most of the embassies are here too)
  • Silom – another tourist area which includes the infamous Pat Pong night market and general sleaze
  • China Town – where allegedly Lonely Planet types hang out in grubby dormitories, although it’s definitely worth a visit
  • The Indian quarter – as above but with good Indian food (quelle surprise!) and plenty of fabric shops

Having seen all the tourist sites years ago, I tend to hang out mostly in the Sukhumvit area. And anyway, I’m not writing a book here. We’re just talking about day one. If you’re on a package deal, you won’t need much of this, just follow the herd.

OK, so here we are at the airport. There was no point in bringing baht with you, but you’re going to need some now. It’s simply not true that US dollars are accepted everywhere. Where the heck did this piece of misinformation come from? If you want to go on a bus, drink a beer, or eat some food, you need baht. That’s easy. There are plenty of exchange kiosks in the airport offering reasonable rates. Change ten or fifteen quid for starters – you can always shop around later.

The airport bus service used to run from the airport to four different routes in central Bangkok. That’s no longer the case. Instead, there’s a rapid transit train, the Airport Rail Link, from the airport’s transport terminal (a couple of minutes from the main airport terminal building by free shuttle) to downtown Bangkok. The journey takes roughly a quarter of an hour on the Express Line and connects (sort of – there’s a five-minute walk involved) with Bangkok’s Underground (MRT) at Makkasan station (MRT Phetchaburi) and with the Skytrain (BTS) at Phaya Thai. However, the two city stations are served by different Express trains, so make sure you get on the right one.

Aha, but you’ll need to know where you’re staying first before you know where in Bangkok you’re going. Well, you have at least two options. You can take your chance at finding a guest house or cheap rooms – easy enough once you’re there but maybe difficult for a jet-lagged first-timer with luggage. So I think you’d be better booking an hotel. A pretty decent one will set you back less than £25 for a night.

If you are going to stay in an hotel, always book through a Thai travel agent (you can find them in the search engines) as they get good discounts compared to the walk-in rate. (The Travel Agent gets commission from the hotel so this service is free to you.) Guest houses are so cheap that you can just “walk in” to them.

I suggest that you book at least one night in a hotel to give you a chance to find your feet before inflicting yourself on an unsuspecting Bangkok. And then… well, that’s another story…

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for 25 years. She set up the British Expat website nearly 15 years ago, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

2 Comments

Chris 08-05-2014, 04:09

This article was written in 2010 have you got updated information? I think Im correct that the airport bus service is no longer running.

Dave McMahon 09-05-2014, 11:42

Thanks, Chris. That’s right – it went out of service in June 2011, a few months after the Airport Rail Link was opened. Hotel prices have risen a little, too. I’ve updated the page accordingly.

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