The Complete Guide to Bangkok travel

July 07, 2019
Nancia Leggett
Tour Leader @
Bangkok Urban Adventures

Colourful, chaotic, beautiful Bangkok is the first spot for many travellers eager to explore Southeast Asia. But Thailand’s capital is also a must-see city in its own right for a variety of reasons, from cheap and delicious street food to awe-inspiring cultural attractions. Whether you’re just passing through or settling in for a few days of sightseeing, here’s everything you need to know before and during your trip to Bangkok.

Getting to and from BKK and DMK

You’ll likely be getting into Bangkok via one of two main airports, Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) or Don Muang Airport (DMK).

If you’re flying within Southeast Asia and travelling via a low-cost carrier such as Air Asia or Nok Air, you’ll likely be arriving via DMK and your best bet for getting to the city is in a metered taxi, especially if you have luggage. The trip should take 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic and the fare should be roughly 200 THB, plus an additional 50 THB airport surcharge in addition to the fare on the meter. The taxi driver will usually ask you if he can take the highway which will save time, but there are additional toll fees to be paid directly as you reach each toll booth, depending on the location of your hotel this will be around 120 THB

From BKK, if your hotel is close to an MRT (subway) or BTS (Skytrain) station your best option for travel to and from the airport is via the Airport Rail Link Service, which operates between 6am and midnight. The airport rail link connects to MRT underground at Makkasan City Interchange Station (MRT Phetchaburi Station) and BTS Skytrain at Phayathai Station. The trip takes around 30 minutes and you can buy a token from vending machines at the station or from the ticket office. A ride will cost around 45 THB.

If you prefer to take a taxi the trip should take between 40 minutes and an hour depending on traffic, in rush hour it might be over an hour. The fare should be roughly 300 THB and as with DMK the 50 THB airport fee and highway toll fees (70 THB) are to be paid on top of the meter rate.
If you’re taking a taxi from either airport be sure to use the official taxi booths that are clearly sign-posted as you exit, you’ll be given a ticket to show you which taxi to take.
You’ll need cash in THB to pay for taxis and tolls, and it’s worth noting that most taxi drivers won’t carry enough change if you pay with a 1000 THB note so it’s best to make sure you have some smaller notes.

BTS Skytrain Bangkok

Getting around via Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain | Photo via Pixabay

Getting around Bangkok

The best way to get around the city of Bangkok really depends on where you are going to and coming from, as public transport continues to be developed. The BTS (skytrain) or MRT (subway) are fast, inexpensive and easy to use and they connect most of the central city districts. Tickets can be purchased from machines or at counters inside each station with cash, fares start at 16 THB and trains operate between 6am and midnight. Both the BTS and MRT have the option to buy a card that you can pre-load with cash, but unfortunately, it’s a different card for each system so most visitors choose to buy tickets as they go. You can change between the MRT and Skytrain easily at BTS Asok /MRT Sukhumvit stations by exiting one and following the signs to the other system.

The old city sights such as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho aren’t connected to the BTS but the MRT is being extended and by the end of 2019 there should be a new station called Sanam Chai right in front of Museum Siam (one of our favourite sights), close to Wat Pho which is a short walk from the Grand Palace. In the meantime, a fun way to reach the old city is using the Chao Phraya river boat. The most comfortable option is the Hop on Hop Off tourist boat which has an open roof deck for the best views, toilets and commentary about the sights you’re passing along the way. Fares start at 60 THB. There is a local Chao Phraya Express boat service as well with fares starting at 14 THB, but there may be standing room only and getting on and off can feel a bit precarious – they aren’t always perfectly moored at each pier. The Orange Flag route stops at all the places visitors are likely to want to get to.

Central Pier connects with the BTS at Saphin Taksin and is clearly sign-posted. The hop on hop off tourist boat service runs from 9am-8:30pm daily and boats leave every 30 minutes, while the local Chao Phraya Express ends its service around 7pm.

Most visitors to Bangkok use metered taxis to get around, these pass frequently on main roads so you can easily flag one down but if you’re going somewhere off the beaten track it’s best to have your destination written down in Thai as not all taxi drivers speak English. When it’s busy (rush hour or raining) drivers may quote you a fixed fare instead of putting the metre on, so you’ll get to practice your negotiating skills! Or just wave that taxi on and wait for the next one instead. Beware of rush hour traffic (from around 4:30pm onwards) as it can double the length of your journey. Grab is the local taxi-hailing app, the main benefit of using it is that you don’t have to explain where you’re going to the driver or negotiate the fare.

Tuk Tuks are another fun way to get around and as they’re smaller than cars they can squeeze through the traffic more easily, but they’re open to the elements so if you get stuck behind a vehicle pumping out exhaust fumes in a traffic jam they’re not so much fun. They’re best for short distances. Fares are usually higher than a taxi and depend on the distance, the time of day, the weather, the traffic and the driver’s mood… You’ll have to negotiate with the driver to agree a price. Beware of drivers who offer to take you to secret shopping places, on sight-seeing tours, or offer a ridiculously cheap ride (20-40 THB) these are usually the ones that have a scam going and they probably won’t take you straight to where you want to go. Just say no thank you with a smile walk away and look for another one.

Things to do in Bangkok

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (on the same compound) are not to be missed in Bangkok and combine into one of the city’s top attractions. The palace was once home to Thailand’s monarchy and the decorated halls, courtyards, pavilions and inner palaces on the sprawling grounds are worthwhile for the intricate architecture. The temple (Wat Phra Kaeo) inside the Grand Palace is Thailand’s holiest shrine and home to the Emerald Buddha, the most revered image in the kingdom. If you go, go early. The grounds can get insanely crowded as the day goes on. It’s also important to dress respectfully. Read the full dress code on the official website – otherwise there are plenty of vendors around the exterior of the grounds willing to sell you sleeved shirts for marked-up prices!

If it’s great views you’re looking for alongside a dose of culture, head to Wat Arun, known as the Temple of Dawn. This large temple complex is one that visitors are encouraged to climb and if you brave the steps to the top you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Chao Phraya River and city below.

Wat Arun Bangkok

Grounds of Wat Arun | Photo by Evan Krause on Unsplash

Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famous for the giant reclining Buddha it houses. The massive Buddha measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf. Wat Pho is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage courtesy of the traditional Thai massage school on the grounds. It’s an easy 10-minute walk between Wat Pho and the Grand Palace so it may make sense to combine them into one trip.

Chatuchak Weekend Market is among the largest markets in the world and the best place to go for souvenir shopping. You can find anything from housewares and clothing to books, antiques, plants and handicrafts. There are also many places to eat in and around the market so you won’t go hungry. Despite the fact t There are more than 8,000 stalls here and it might feel like you’ll get lost but if you remember the gate number you entered through it’s easy enough to find your way back to it to get out again. Come early to beat the crowds and the heat.

If the heat and humidity is too much or you’re not in Bangkok on a weekend, head to one of Bangkok’s famous malls. MBK and Terminal 21 are the indoor equivalents of Chatuchak featuring independent local boutiques as well as plenty of places to eat and drink. The newest and biggest mall in the city is Icon Siam on the Chao Phraya river, although it’s mainly high-end international stores the ground floor is called Sook Siam and features Thai handicrafts from all over the country as well as local food in a floating market style setting. The view of the river from Icon Siam’s outdoor terrace is worth seeing as is the 400m long fountain light and sound show every evening at 6:30pm, 8pm and 9pm

If you want to get a taste of old city local life spend late afternoon in Bangkok’s Chinatown, often overlooked by visitors but always a highlight for those that explore it. While there are Chinatowns all over the world, none quite compare to Bangkok’s, it’s the biggest in the world and an assault on the senses… in a good way! This is the heart of the city’s street food scene, famous for its markets, narrow streets and historic hidden lanes. Chinatown’s Soi Nana has become one of the city’s trendiest hidden bar-hopping areas, Tep Bar is a tapas and Thai cultural bar with creative cocktails using traditional Thai herbs and liquors where traditional Thai musicians play with a modern vibe; Teens of Thailand is the city’s first gin bar while Asia Today is a simple bar with a focus on exotic Thai ingredients.


Bangkok Day Tours

Looking for more things to do? Urban Adventures offers day tours in Bangkok, all led by local experts and that will give you a taste for local life:

Temple & River of Kings
In between the skyscrapers, towers, traffic and buzz of humanity, Bangkok hides a secret: a network of waterways that you can travel on without the stress of fighting traffic. Join this Bangkok tour to ride a longtail boat along the canals to see another side of Thailand’s relentless capital, as well as two of the city’s highlights The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho.

Tuk Tuk Experience
Try to imagine Bangkok without the tuk tuks. It’s just not the same, is it? Join this Bangkok tour that uses everyone’s favourite compact ‘car’ to see some of the city’s unique markets, magnificent temples, and hidden gems.

Bangkok by Bike
Do your bit to relieve traffic congestion in Thailand’s capital by joining this Bangkok tour that trades in the tour bus for the humble bicycle. Cycle through Bangkok’s backstreets, along canals, past temples, and houses to see a side of this city that few visitors get to see.

Chinatown Food Discovery
Join this Bangkok walking tour to explore and snack your way through one of the old city’s most authentic and vibrant spots: Chinatown. Be blown away by the blend of Thai-Chinese food, history, and culture in what is known to be the largest Chinatown in the world. We’ll walk down hidden lanes, step into the most important temples, and make our way through bustling markets while tasting food the way the locals do – from street carts, old-time cafes and market stalls.

In Focus: Thai Cookery Class with Courageous Kitchen
Do you love Thai food? Do you want to learn how to make some of your favourite dishes? Do you want to give back to the local community during your stay in Bangkok? If so, this tour is for you! We’ll shop for the ingredients at our favourite market before heading back home to cook three tasty treats with the help of Courageous Kitchen, an inspiring non-profit organisation that encourages community leadership through the power of food!

Bangkok by Bike
Do your bit to relieve traffic congestion in Thailand’s capital by joining this Bangkok tour that trades in the tour bus for the humble bicycle. Cycle through Bangkok’s backstreets, along canals, past temples, and houses to see a side of this city that few visitors get to see.

Watch for a sneak peek some of the delicious dishes you can try on our Off-Grid Food Adventure!


Bangkok on the big screen

There are several movies to watch to get you in the mood for your trip to Thailand. A few to add to your list include The Beach, wherein Leonardo DiCaprio’s character starts his adventures in the infamous backpacker area of Bangkok’s Khao San Road; and The Hangover part II, which uses Bangkok as its backdrop, and showcases Lebua State Tower Sky bar to the point that it became known as “The Hangover Bar” for a while.

Bangkok on record

Get ready for your trip to Bangkok with a list to Welcome to Thailand by popular local band Carabao.Or have a listen to Bodyslam. The front-man of this local band Artiwara Kongmalai (better known as “Toon” Bodyslam) created history in 2017 with his 2000km, 55-day charity run across Thailand raising 1.2 billion THB for 11 hospitals.

Bangkok in books

A Geek in Thailand: Discovering the Land of Golden Buddhas, Pad Thai and Kickboxing by Jody Houton is a good pre-travel read before heading to Bangkok.

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