Thailand's Center

BANGKOK

Global Mark : 14.00 (up)    Top Ten : No8 (up)

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
3 2 5 5 2 5 1 5 3 13.78

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
23 83% (19) 74% (17) 96% (22) 5 to 20 14.22


Description :
The culturally grandiose capital of Thailand, the City of Gods, also well know for its frantic night life or its irritating traffic jams.

Comments : Certainly, this is not Thailand's most pleasant place to stay but it is, overall, one of the most interesting locality of the Kingdom : great cultural attractions, small busy market streets and lots of culture shocks !

What you can do : Master your way around Khao San Road's shops, guesthouses, movies' restaurants, travel agents & internet cafes / Take half a day and proper clothes to visit the magnificent Grand Palace / In the area, visit Temples and the largest National Museum in SE Asia / Take a Chao Phraya River boat to more temples, scenic river banks and no traffic jams / Visit a richly furnished traditional wooden Thai house / Explore Chinatown and its market streets / Climb a temple for a panoramic view of the busy city / Develop your general culture at Patpong red district / Watch more traditional type of Thai dances / Receive Thai massage and, when you know how good it is, learn it ! / Get wild at Thai boxing fights / Follow the advice and "say no" to any touts approaching you in the street / Watch sunset & aerobics lessons at the Fort / Wander around markets (the best being the WE market on Sat & Sund) / 

What you may not like : Khao San Rd's atmosphere & lack of sincere smiles / Visiting too many jammed roads / The round-the-clock activity & accompanying noise / The sticky weather / Fighting your way among the crowd / The various scams (gems, card games, etc) / The expensive internet (1B per mn in Khao San Rd) compared to other cities of Thailand / Being refused entrance to the Oriental Hotel because you wear short, sandals, Ti-shirt or have a backpack. Actually, a sign clearly says "no backpackers" (if you arrive by limousine, it should be no problem though) / The bill after you watched a go-go bar upstairs show / Paying too much for a taxi or Tuk-Tuk / The far-away bus stations /

How long ? At least three days to visit the main sights but 4 to 5 days would be more appropriate. 

Where to stay, Travel Agent, Internet, Money Exchange,etc ?   See Khao San Rd 

Hotels  << Get precise info, book online and save money !  >> Hostels


Tourist Info ?
 TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) Offices are located at the following locations. Those are great places to start a collection of maps & info leaflets about Thailand.

bullet Airport Terminal 1 (523 8972-3) or Terminal 2 (535 2669), open 8 to 24
bullet 4, Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue (Tel : 1155 or 282 9773-6), open 8:30 to 16:30
bullet Head Office : Le Concorde Office Bldg, 202 Ratchadaphisek Rd (Tel : 694 1222 ext. 1000-1004), open 8:30 to 16:30

The Tourist Police can also sometimes provide you with maps and always with info, tips & advices. Smiles or patience toward any strange question are however a rarity near Khao San Rd. / In case you need assistance about safety or dishonest practices, you can also call the Tourist Assistance Centre (281 5051 or 282 1348) or the Tourist Police (1155, free, 24 hours)

Visa for neighboring countries ? Bangkok is an excellent place to store on visa. See Travel Tips 

 

How to keep busy for a few days ? 


The 1st day : 
Khao San Rd is of course the main attraction but it only becomes really interesting at night. This probably gives you the time to check out the old Wat Bowon Niwet (opp..... Post Office), Wat Chana Songkram (west of Khao San) and the relaxing Santichaiprakarn Park, next to the river (sunset point). The small streets north of the Khlong are also worth a look, that is if you do not stay there of course...


Full Day 1 : 

bulletWake up early
bullet Walk toward the Grand Palace via Sanam Luang, the huge public ground where Royal ceremonies take place
bullet If dressing properly, visit the Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew 
bullet On your way back, visit the National Museum 
bullet Take a boat to Tha Sanghi and rush to Vimanmek Mansion for the Thai dance 2pm show 
bullet Walk the area : Dusit Zoo, National Assembly, King Rama V Statue, Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple), King's Residence (no visit), Government House, Rachadamnoen Boxing Stadium (fancy a fight ?), TAT Office (certainly close by the time you reach it), the unique Wat Rachanatdaram and finally the Democracy Monument
bullet Back in Khao San Rd, get yourself a beer and a western movie !


Full Day 2 : 

bulletWake up early (you are used to it now)
bullet Take a boat to Tha Tian and cross the river to beautiful Wat Arun 
bullet Cross the river back and pay a visit to the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho 
bullet Walk toward the Memorial bridge and wander around Pak Klong Talaad Market
bullet Get lost in Chinatown, checking out the great markets in the narrow streets.
bullet When finding your way out, go to Wat Trai Mit also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha, near the Railway Station
bulletContinue on Thanon Rama IV , passing Chulalongkorm University and a snake farm
bulletRelax at huge Lumphini Park
bulletIn the evening, develop your general culture at opposite Patpong district.
bulletIf not too interested by the above, walk along Thanon Silom, the main commercial & entertainment area, toward the River
bulletIf not too late, take a boat back to Khao San area. 
bulletAnother beer maybe or straight to bed ?


Full Week-end day :

bulletWake up when you wake up (WE after all !)
bulletStart your day with a bit of exercise : climb the stairs of Wat Saket or Golden Mount for a superb view of Bangkok. 
bulletWalk South to Wat Suthat and the opposite Giant Swing. 
bulletWalk east on Thanon Bamrung Meuang for about 2km to reach Jim's Thompson's House 
bulletContinue a bit east to reach Siam Square, a big commercial area where young people like to meet. 
bulletTake the sky train from Siam Station to Mor Chit, the last station on the Sukhumwit Line. Walk a bit and you will reach the huge week end market
bulletBack in town, end the day at Sukhumvit area, the place where residents love to have fun.

 

A few sights / attractions ?


Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew
(222 0094). The biggest cultural attraction of Thailand : impressively highly decorated buildings plus the Royal Chapel which houses the Emerald Buddha, considered as the protector of Thailand,  plus the Royal Thai Decorations and Coin Pavilion. A must visit ! Tickets cost an hefty B220 (free for Thai people) but also include a ticket to Vimanmek Royal Mansion (same day ticket). Visitors must wear shoes, long pants / skirts (some ugly ones are available at the entrance) and have the shoulders covered. Open daily from 8:30 to 15:30. 

  Virtual Palaces


National Museum (224 1333), near the above / One of the biggest and nicest museum in SE Asia. Definitively worth a few hours / Open daily except Monday, Tuesday & PH from 9 to 16 / B40.

Vimanmek Royal Mansion (281 1569), behind the National Assembly & Dusit zoo. This is the world's largest golden teak house and it is superb ! Royal objects are also on display in other buildings and there are traditional Thai dancing shows at 10:30 and 14 / Open daily from 9:30 to 15:15 / B50 but free if you have visited the Grand Palace the same day / Dress code

Wat Benchamabophit (281 2501). Also known as the Marble Temple for its big use of Italian marble, it is located south of the Dusit Zoo. The interior is richly decorated and it host a large collection of bronze Buddha as well as a turtles pond. Open daily 9 to 17. Admission B10.

Wat Ratchanatdaram. The temple's main attraction is a 36 meters high structure with 37 surrounding spires, the only one of its kind left in the world. The garden by it is also attractive, with a statue of King Rama III. Beware however of gems touts, active in the area...

Wat Pho (222 0933). One of the oldest & largest temple of Bangkok, it houses a 46m gold plated reclining Buddha. Thanks to its various educational paintings & inscriptions, it is also referred to as "Thailand's first university". It is possible to learn traditional massage there but it may have become too touristy.  Access to the campus cost B20. Open daily 9 to 17.

Wat Arun (465 5640). Its 79m high pagoda is decorated with ceramic tiles and fragment of multi colored porcelain, making it visually striking. It is also called the Temple of Dawn as the best time to see it is from the east side of the river at sunset. Open 8:30 to 17:30. Admission B20. 

Wat Trai Mit. Located near the railway station, it host a 3 meters high 5 tons solid gold Buddha image. Open daily from 9:00 to 17:00. Admission B10.

Wat Saket. Also known as the Golden Mount, it is a an artificial hill topped by an ugly but impressive gilded pagoda. Not much in the temple but a good view from the top. Admission on the upstairs terrace B5. 

Wat Suthat. This temple is famous for its murals which date from the reign of King Rama III and its collection of gilded Buddha images inside the preaching hall. Open daily 9 to 17. The Giant Swing or Sao Ching Cha stand opposite and many shops in the area sell Buddha images. 

Jim's Thompson's Thai House (216 7368). The splendid house of the silk industrialist American who disappeared in 1967 in the Cameron Highlands is certainly worth a couple of delightful hours. The house has been turned into a museum which pay tribute to the Thai architecture and the art of living. It host a range of great Asian artefacts and antiques. Unfortunately, admission is an hefty B100 (B40 if less than 25 years old). Open daily 9 to 17.

Week end market (Chatuchak). Not to be missed on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 8pm. It is now - nearly - a breeze to reach, thanks to the new sky train : just a short walk from Mor Chit Station, the last one on Sukhumwit Line. There, you will find everything and more, from handicraft to all kinds of animals via food, clothes or plants... In all, more than 5000 shops reported !

Pak Klong Talaad Market. Located in the area of the Memorial Bridge, by the river, this is where Bangkok's merchant come to buy flowers, ftuits and vegetables. Unaffacted by tourism, it is at its best from midnight to dawn. 

Patpong District. This red district is nowadays a kind of tourist trap where people are eager to make money fast. It is still fun to walk around but beware of the cost if you head upstairs for a (usually not free although some exceptions reported) show. The atmosphere within the go go bars was rather dark and depressing back in 95 (the girls did not seem to have so much fun, contrary for example to the dancers in Wanchai, HK) and I trust it did not improve. Silom Soi 1 and Soi 4 specializes in the gay businesses. Thaniya Road caters to Asian patrons (in particular Japanese) and is therefore more up market. There is also a market but it is more expensive than at the WE market (where the articles are coming from)

Sukhumvit District. Less touristy and more relaxed, this is where the residents are heading for a night out. Soi Nana (Soi 4) offers lots of bars with lots of girls. Soi Middle East (near Soi 3) has an Arabic atmosphere. In all, more than 71 Soi to discover... Explore ! But beware : according to a recent article, nearly every trendy nightspot can be the scene of violence toward westerners whose girlfriend  appears to be Thai (the favorite pretext). This article was actually recommending to head to Phra Athit Road instead. Good news : this is near Khao San Road ! Bad news : maybe the food is better but it really lack atmosphere !

Thai Boxing : the best fights usually take place at Lumphini Stadium (2514303, Rama IV Rd) every Tuesday & Friday at 6pm and Sat at 5pm. Rachadamnoen Boxing Stadium (2814205) has fights on Mond & Wed at 6pm, Thurs at 5pm & 9pm and Sund at 4pm & 8pm. Tickets prices start at B200 and go up to B1000 for the less atmospheric ringside. If what you see (strangely) makes you wish to learn, contact the Muay Thai Institute (992 0096-9, Pathum Thani). You could also train near Khao San Rd at the end of Soi Rambutri...

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
 
« If you do a tour with the public khlong boat to Bang Yai better go in the morning, because there´s no more public regular boat/boat to nonthaburi after 3.30pm. Then you have to go back by bus or charter a speed boat to Nonthaburi (100 B per person, 300 B at least, great fun, but dangerous). In Bang Yai there´s a Giant Buddha similar to the one at Wat Pho but in the open and for free. Last khlong boat from Central Pier to Banglampoo 6.40 pm  »

Transportations options & Travelogues ?


BUS
  
<< Click there

The trip from the Train Station to Khao San Road : SSSS / R / B3.5 / 45mn / Public Bus No53
To be taken in the front of the Train Station (not on the east side as it makes a 15mn round trip from there). This bus, when not crowded, offer a good tour of some of Bangkok's attractions as it goes toward Khao San Rd area (actually Phra Athit Rd and Thanon Samsen) via Chinatown and the Grand Palace. Not exactly the shortest way but an interesting first glance of Bangkok's activities. 

The trip to Nakhon Pathom : S / Nowhere / B20 / 1.5 hours / Fan
The first step was to go to the South Bus Station but, early in the morning and from Khao San Rd area, it took Bus No30 (B3.5) less than 15mn to reach it. Twice as fast as the usual time...
Buses to Kanchanaburi via Nakhon Pathom leaves every 15mn or so, usually quite empty, to the station gate, 100 meter away. There, it waits, engine running, for about 15mn to fill up a little bit more. And then it goes, full crazy speed with regular full crazy breakings to get more full crazy passengers. This last for about 1.5 hours and take place on a very urban road with little greenery. When you see the huge orange-tiled Chedi, you have arrived. 

The trip to Kamphaeng Phet : SS / L&R / B147 / 5.5 hrs / 2nd class AC
To reach the north bus station is part of the trip and this suppose to wake up early. After waiting for half an hour, a No3 finally showed up. It was unfortunately an air cond one which cost B14 but arrived at the station within 40mn. I was still on time for the expected 6:47 bus !
But it did not really matter as this bus was cancelled, together will all non air cond buses leaving before 8:55. The fact that the computer gave me those schedules just the day before did not seem to bother the staff : changes are part of the game and buses go with the wind... So I had no choice but to take a 2nd class air cond leaving at 7:30. More expensive OK but what a great looking bus : plastic flowers, video, clean seats,... I knew where my money was going !
So I thought until 5 mn after departure, when we where asked to change bus. The great looking one attracts the passengers, the ugly one actually does the trip ! Some things never change... Instead of watching video, it is the mosquitoes that kept us busy for just over 5 hours, including couple of stops to get more passengers and get fed. A smooth ride on a good but somehow boring road...

The trip to Cambodia's border (Aranya Prathet) : S / L&R / B300 (up to Siem Reap) / 5 hrs / AC van
There are several way to reach the border (train or public bus) but the package tour from Khao San Rd to Siem Reap is certainly the most convenient as well as best value for money (B300, sometimes even less). 
We had been told to show up at 6:30 but we were shown our van (several companies are leaving, each connected to various travel agencies) at 6:40 and did not leave before 6:50. It took us 40mn to reach the airport and we stopped soon afterward for nearly half an hour in a gas station for the breakfast of the driver & the last snacks shopping of the passengers. 
We then had a pleasant two hours ride in the comfortable van with good stereo & westerner's tapes but boring highway view until 10am when we stopped again at a gas station, this time to fill up the tank. 
An hour later, approaching the border, we had our passports checked, the first time of a long series... We reached Aranya Prathet at 11:30 and the border, 6km away (a B50 ride on motorbike if coming by train), 10 minutes later. 
At this point, our unexpressive driver was replaced by a smiling guide who took us through all the border formalities : we first sat at a restaurant table to fill up the custom & health forms, then proceeded to the Thailand's departure area (open 7:30 to 17 daily) for a nice quick chop. And then, eventually, we landed in Cambodia ! 

The trip to Loei which turned out as a trip to Mukdahan via Roi Et : Night + SSSS / dark side + L / B207 + B50 / 8 hours + 3 hours
A nice journey, certainly, but not at all where I wanted to go ! May I suggest TAT to teach the staff at the Northeastern bus station how to read the alphabet ? Because, if Loei may indeed sound like Roi Et when pronounced by a falang (and even more when pronounced by a Thai), the letters are clearly different and I did show those letters, in the right order, to at least a dozen people ! In fact, it took me no less than 30mn to buy the ticket which brought me to the opposite direction of where I wanted to go... And I had asked a few passengers for confirmation again once inside the bus. And this time with a map !
I know understand why the 3rd floor of the station is devoted to the NE only : to avoid that a falang wishing to go Laos find himself at the Malaysian border ! Anyway, that was an excellent preamble (or explanation ?) to the fact that few backpackers visit the area. Going to Pattaya certainly poses less risk...
So, someone woke me up once in Roi Et at 5:30, after a good night sleep on a relatively quiet bus (at least after I asked them to switch off the local Rock'n Roll)
This is only when the girl at the station told me that I had to go first to Khon Kaen to reach Chiang Khan that I realized that I had entered the fourth dimension... After a lot of question marks, I finally found Roi Et on the map : at the center of the triangle composed by Khon Kaen, Mukdahan & Ubon. Which one to choose ? Going to Loei was now excluded as it would have required nearly the full day. Ubon was tempting but the AC bus left when I was packing my bag. Never mind : fate had decided that I would go to Mukdahan on the cheap fan bus which showed up at 7am !
The only good thing about this fate stuff was the really nice road. A few minutes after departure, a huge standing Buddha could be spotted if sitting on the left side. It may not be a good reason to come to Roi Et but it was better than nothing. The rest of the journey, on four digit (therefore small) roads was enjoyable from both side : inundated paddy fields with mountains in the backdrop. Lovely !
Stopping a bit too much, we reached Mukdahan at 10:15 only. Well, I should not complain : it was still 8 days before my initial schedule...

See also trip from Trat...