Introduction Travel Bangkok
– A lot of first time visitors aren’t quite sure what to expect when first arriving in the capital of exotic Thailand, and some may be disappointed by their first impressions on the way into town – endless high rise buildings, busy expressway flyovers and billboards of western companies advertising in English.
Yet while Bangkok has undoubtedly embraced westernization and modernization, you only need to look a little under the surface to see that it remains undeniably a Thai place at heart. In between the skyscrapers and sophisticated shopping centers there’s still the remarkable Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace (pictured), the Temple of the Dawn and many more. Traditions live on too: don’t be surprised, for example, to find a large dedicated spirit house built for good luck alongside almost every major building, or to see files of Buddhist monks making their early morning alms round – and it’s surely one of the only major cities in the world where seeing an elephant paraded round the streets hardly even ranks as being unusual.
- Amidst all of this is what many find one of Asia’s most interesting and exciting cities, but it does have it’s fair share of problems also – not least of which is the heat. Due to it’s location in the tropics, Bangkok’s average day time temperature is rarely much below 30 degrees centigrade at any time of year and the night time temperature is not much cooler.
- The maximum temperature can occasionally top 40 degrees during the hot season in April / May, when it is, not surprisingly, the low season for tourism. Despite the temperature, it is not all that sunny in Bangkok and most days are grey and overcast – meaning many visitors are surprised when they first walk outside Bangkok airport and discover that what appeared to be a cold, cloudy day is actually uncomfortably hot.
- The heat, combined with the humidity and pollution, makes walking a sizable distance in Bangkok almost impossible, and breaking into a sweat after only a couple of hundred meters almost inevitable. The Thai people themselves will rarely walk any significant distance and there’s a very large number of cars, buses, taxis and tuk-tuks to help them get about.
Sadly, these combine to make the traffic jams and pollution that Bangkok is justifiably world famous for. The seemingly permanent rot dtit (traffic jam) is a fact of life in Bangkok, and makes simple journeys that should take 20 minutes end up over an hour, even out of rush hour. The relatively small number of roads, the annual floods in September and October, and the hundreds of new cars flooding on to the roads every day don’t help matters much either.
However, Bangkok’s impressive skytrain and new subway facilities combined now cover much of areas of the city a visitor is likely to go to and provide a convenient way to bypass them.
The Good Side of Bangkok
- Despite all the problems, there’s much to appreciate in Bangkok for those who persevere past negative first impressions and take the time to see it’s attractions. Few of the Thais living in the city would want to forego the opportunities it offers and live elsewhere and for every foreigner who wants to leave as soon as possible, there’s another who falls in love with it.
- The attractions are obvious: the impressive temples and tourist attractions, an endless number of decent restaurants, with food often at bargain prices (a ordinary meal and soft drink at a typical Thai restaurant may only you set you back around 40B (1 US$), and perhaps around 100 to 150B at a tourist orientated restaurant – though it is, of course, possible to pay much more). And wherever you are in the city, you will rarely have to walk more than 100m to find something to eat.
- Getting about the city might be slow going due to all the traffic, but at least it’s cheap and there’s plenty of options. There is a comprehensive bus service that will take you all over the city in varying degrees of comfort, but the price is never more than about 25B (0.6 US$), and can be only 3.5 baht (0.1 US$) on the ordinary buses. Even when going from one side of central Bangkok to another, a taxi fare is rarely above 120B (3 US$), the only real exception being the journey to and from the airport.
- The skytrain was finished in December 1999, and for the areas it goes to, makes getting about quick and easy (although not particularly cheap compared to the taxis and buses). There are canal and river boats that effectively act as buses on the waterways, which are also very cheap and fast.
- The Khlong Saen Saep canal boats, in particular, are sadly underused by tourists as they provide a very quick and useful service, right across the city from Sukhumvit to Siam Square to Banglamphu for only 10B or so. More transport schemes, including a subway, are underway too with notional completion dates in the next few years.
- Shopping is also good value, with a huge variety of goods sold everywhere from street market stalls to upmarket in shopping centers. Shops are open every day, generally until around 9 or 10pm, which is convenient and makes it easy to get what you want, when you want it. It’s a great city for nightlife too, with an massive selection of pubs, bars and nightclubs, along with the famous adult-orientated entertainment.
- Bangkok also benefits from being, arguably, one of South East Asia’s two most important cities (with Singapore). If there’s an international cultural or social event going on in the region, chances are it’s coming to Bangkok too.
- And perhaps most importantly, there’s the Thai people themselves who are surely some of the most friendly of any major capital city in the world. They seem remarkably tolerant of the challenges of life in the capital, and still manage to keep their fun loving and easy-going spirit.
- Try and emulate their jai yen (keeping your cool), a love of sanuk (having fun) and a feeling of mai pen rai (it doesn’t matter, it’s not important), and it will help you get the most from Bangkok. Those who take the time to see what it has to offer tend to be rewarded in Bangkok, while those who spend a couple of days there are likely to only get frustrated with the difficulties.