If I had to nominate a country as the traveler capital of the world at this very moment, it would be Thailand. It seems to be at the top of, or very near the top of any and everyone’s wander list. While in Thailand, you’ll see longterm and short term travelers of all types: backpackers, vacationers, expats and everyone in between.
I’ll cut to the chase. Bangkok has tons of gorgeous temples, but also traffic that could drive a calm person to murder, loads of pollution and an underwhelming amount of typical touristy things to see. Most people use Bangkok as a pitstop between the party islands to the south, or the more laid back perennially chill vibes of Chiangmai to the north. Bangkok is much more than a midway point between other parts of the country.
If Bangkok was a girl, she’d be smoking hot, then you’d get to know her and she’d be sort of reserved for the first few dates (or Netflix & Chills), but eventually reveals herself to be an insanely good time. You just need to work for it. She won’t simply hand herself over to you.
Aside from the horrid traffic, Bangkok is very easy to navigate. Getting to know the city is easiest if you combine the following types of transportation:
Khlong Boats: These boats run every day from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm (7:00 pm on weekends). Two lines connect from East to West Saen Saep Canal (Khlong Saen Saep). The central/interchange station is Pratunam. You can also catch buses that connect via the Khlong stations, but keep in mind how hectic traffic may be. Pay for your fare onboard the boat, it’ll be between 10-20 Baht (.40 – .80 CAD)
Taxis: You can grab the multicoloured taxis anywhere in the city with minimal effort. Flag one down by holding your hand out horizontally with your fingers facing the ground. That’s how things work in Bangkok. Riding around in taxis is cheap, just make sure you tell your driver to turn the meter on. If he or she refuses, hop out and grab another.
Tuk-Tuks: A short trip in a tuk-tuk can be a good time, but they’re definitely more expensive than taxis. If you factor in the air conditioning in cabs compared to the lack thereof in tuk-tuks, it’s a no brainer, taxis are the better bet. Not to mention, tuk-tuk drivers will flat out scam/overcharge you without hesitation.
Walking: Bangkok is a pretty big city to walk around. That being said, its tourist attractions (mainly temples and pastel coloured government buildings) are all a stone’s throw away from each other in the Ko Ratanakosin area. If you’re staying in the Khao San Road area (backpacker central), you’ll probably find yourself on one of the modes of transportation listed in this section.
BTS Sky Trains: Open daily from 6:00 am to midnight. A single ticket journey costs anywhere from 15-52 (.60 CAD – 2.00 CAD) Baht and a day pass costs 130 (4.90 CAD) Baht. Both lines connect via Siam station. Need to switch to the MRT (subway)? Crossover at Asok sky train station.
MRT: Also open from 6:00 am to midnight daily, the trains run every 5 minutes during busy periods (6:00 am to 9:00 am/4:30 pm to 7:30 pm). During calmer periods, the trains arrive less than 10 minutes apart. Buy your token/tickets from the machines at each station for between 8 – 40 Baht (.30 CAD – 1.50 CAD).
Thai food is good. Scratch that. Thai food is insanely delicious. I love it. I can’t get enough. I’d probably sacrifice a body part or two for a lifetime supply of it. Do you know what else Thai food is (or at least can be)? Super cheap. I always suggest doing groceries and saving as much as you can by eating fruits, snack bars, easy to make sandwiches and WATER (crucial in Thailand). As always, book a hostel with free breakfast or a cheap in-house menu.
BUT, Thailand more specifically Bangkok, is a very affordable place to eat. I confess, aside from a few bottles of water or juice, I didn’t do groceries once on my recent trip there and stayed well within my budget. You can get a delicious 3 fruit shake for 30 Baht (1.15 CAD), a plate of authentic Thai food for 100-150 Baht (3.80 CAD – 5.69 CAD). You can go even cheaper with tasty street food, especially in the food markets 50 Baht (1.90 CAD).
Note: Make sure the street food stand seems proper. Extreme heat and food don’t mix very well. We wouldn’t want you coming down with a case of food poisoning and ruining your trip now, would we? Yea, thought so.
Hotels/Motels: You can find pretty cheap and modest hotels or motels in Bangkok for roughly 700 Baht (27 CAD). As usual, it pays to book in advance or to book in less busy seasons (if that exists in Bangkok).
Hostels: Hostel pricing in Bangkok sort of feels like you’re stealing free accommodation, except the whole city is in on it. I kid you not, you can find hostels for as little as 100 – 200 Baht (4 CAD – 8 CAD) per night. It doesn’t get any better than that, aside from couch surfing or housing swaps perhaps.
I stayed at Pridi Hostel in Bangkok – a non party hostel about 30 minutes away from old Bangkok (where the action is) It was clean, affordable and the staff/owners were great.
I also stayed at Back Home Backpackers hostel in Bangkok. It’s small, has great vibes, it’s cheap, and located 4 blocks away from Khao San Rd. Depending on what type of hostel experience you’re looking for, look these two spots up on hostelworld to book your stay.
Accommodations Alternatives: Speaking of couch surfing, Bangkok is full of hospitable and charming people who are more than willing to share their lodging with you. Sign up on the couch surfing website right now. Don’t be shy. Another cheap way to sleep for free in Bangkok (and many other places) would be to work at a hostel in exchange for a few nights of sleep and maybe even a few free meals.
EXPERIENCE BANGKOK ON A BUDGET
Temple Tantrums: Bangkok is well-known for its multitude of beautiful golden and colorful temples. Here are some of my favourites:
Wat Pho: Admission 100 Baht (3.80 CAD) – You can also get a massage here for less than 300 Baht per hour (11.40 CAD). Both the temple and the massage service open at 8:00 am and go until 6:30 pm and 5:00 pm respectively.
Wat Phra Kaew: Admission 500 Baht (19 CAD) – 8:30 am to 3:30 pm – to get in, you have to wear a full length pair of pants or a full length dress and a shirt/top that covers at least your biceps. The good news is, you can rent the necessary clothing free of charge on site (200 Baht/7.50 CAD deposit). The bad news is, the length of the queue to rent the clothes and to get your ticket can border on ridiculous. But it’s worth it.
Wat Suthat: Admission 20 Baht (.75 CAD) – 8:30 am to 9:00 pm
Wat Traimit: Admission 40 Baht (1.52 CAD) + an additional 100 Baht to enter the museum – 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Wat Arun: Admission 50 Baht (1.91 CAD) – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
What’s better than dirt cheap prices? No prices at all, obviously. Bangkok has tons of free things to do. Here’s a short list that I’ve put together for you.
Lumphini Park: Opens every day at 4:30 am and closes at 9:00 pm. It’s located on Rama IV Road, Pathumwan. Exit the MRT at Silom or Lumphini and you’ll be directly across from this awesome green space. This is in the Silom area of Bangkok where its financial/sex industries also thrive.
Free Temples: I don’t mind paying a small admission fee to enter a place as serene as a beautiful temple. But there are still tons of free temples all over Bangkok to choose from. You won’t be let down.
Mediation Classes courtesy of Wat Mahathat: Not satisfied with a multitude of free temples huh? How about some free meditation classes to get you centered and zen-like? What Mahathat is open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm and it’s on Phra That Rd, walking distance from the National Museum/Grand Palace.
Amateur Muay Thai: One of the world’s most lethal forms of martial arts, Muay Thai, is synonymous with Thailand. Now watching pro fights can easily run you 1000 Baht (38 CAD), but if you want a dose of Thailand’s favourite sport without breaking the bank, head down to the MBK Shopping Centre on Wednesdays between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm to catch amateur fights free of charge. Exit the BTS Sky Train at National Stadium to find your way there. While at MBK mall you can also find scores of knockoff clothing (even if the mall is a legitimate one).
Khao San Rd: This is the most famous backpacker street in the entire world. If you have any traveler friends that have been to Bangkok, you can bet your life that they’ve been to Khao San Rd and probably enjoyed it. Khao San has everything from restaurants, shops, massage parlours, henna stands and more. None of these activities are free, but it’s a great street to visit, make friends and enjoy a backpacker atmosphere. This is in the Banglamphu area of Bangkok.
Note: You’ll be offered Thai massages, tailored suits, tuk-tuk rides, scorpions and everything else while walking down this road, it can be overwhelming, but as they say in Thai, Sabai Sabai (which loosely means relax/chill … life is good).
Chatuchak Weekend Market:
This enormous market is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm every weekend. I challenge you to go there and NOT find something you like. In typical market style, there’s a little something for everyone at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. You’ll find souvenirs, food, vintage goods and a lot more. Missed the weekend market? There are a few other great markets to choose from, like the Khao San Market or Patpong Night Market.
Alright, I know there’s a Chinatown in most major cities. And much like many actual Chinese neighbourhoods, this Chinatown is crammed with stalls and carts featuring great food and other treats. But this one is definitely worth a visit. There’s also a long shopping street nearby. If you’re feeling materialistic (literally, they sell fabric there, but figuratively too), this is where you want to be.
Baan Silapin Artist’s House:
In an initiative to uplift the youth and maintain local performance arts and creativity, traditional Thai puppetry is taught here. Go there to see puppet shows of popular or traditional Thai tales. You can also find beautiful paintings, great reading and tasty food there. The puppet shows are free and any other spending you could do at the Artist’s House is for a good cause.
You can catch a sweet view of the Bangkok skyline at this temple. You’ll have to climb a few hundred steps (don’t worry, they’re short), but getting to the top is a great reward. It’s open from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm and costs 20 Baht per person (.75 CAD). It’s great around sunset. Oh, and there’s free wifi up there. Do it for the ‘Gram and/or Snap chat it up!
Pro Muay Thai:
As a huge fan of mixed martial arts, I have a ton of respect and admiration for the people of Thailand and this sport. If you’re the type to get squeamish at the sight of violence or blood, you may want to avoid the pro muay thai fights. Then again, it’s a huge part of Bangkok and Thailand’s culture, and rightfully so.
SOCIALIZE & PARTY
One does not simply travel to Bangkok without partying and making new friends. Here are a few places to check out if you’re feeling friendly in Bangkok.
Gulliver’s Travelers Tavern (Khao San Rd): Go here if you want to be around backpackers from every inch of this earth. You’ll hear lots of commercial pop songs and have a great choice of drinks/beer.
Khao San Centre (Khao San Rd): This is a large venue with a pretty decent food menu as well. It’s reasonably priced (for its location) and from there you can people watch all the different travelers and locals passing by. But fair warning, some of the staff there can be a little … unpleasant. As always, go see it for yourself.
Lava bar/club (Khao San Rd): Tucked away into a little basement, go to this drink hole for good music, good vibes and good people.
Spicy Nightclub (Rong Muang Rd): Just a short tuk-tuk ride away from Khao San Rd, this wild nightclub will definitely have you dancing. They serve shisha/hookah, have great Djs, affordable liquor and friendly staff.
Tip: Bargain like your life depends on it. Whether its an unmetered taxi, tuk-tuk, a market stall or street food, if you want the best price (or at least a better one), as a foreigner, you have to bargain. It may take you a little while to get used to, since the western world generally doesn’t allow for bargaining. But in Bangkok, it’s all good, and actually, it’s pretty fun!
Another Tip: The majority of establishments have wifi and are more than willing to give you the password if you’re a patron.
Note: There are thousands of activities to do, places to see, restaurants/bars to try and so much more in Bangkok. It’s hot, high octane, friendly and hospitable. This guide is by no means a comprehensive one, but it will definitely point you in the right direction.
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Have you ever been to Bangkok? What was your experience like? Drop a few lines in the comment section! Let’s share our experiences.
Until next time,