Your Trip to Bangkok: The Complete Guide

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Bangkok, Thailand's capital city, is a sprawling metropolis of more than eight million people. As the most-visited city in the world (more than 20 million temple-seeking tourists stopped by in 2017), Bangkok draws in travelers looking for excellent street food, rich Buddhist history, and an electric, buzzing atmosphere, from the streets of Chinatown to the backpacker hub of Khao San Road. Many travelers use the city as a jumping-off point for other travels in Southeast Asia, but next time, we encourage you to slow down and savor the sights, sounds, and attractions of the other City of Angels.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Bangkok is plagued by high temperatures and monsoon season, so try to visit when it's dry and cooler (although that's a relative term)—November is a lovely time.

Language: Thai. You'll find a large expat community of English speakers in some places, but it's worth learning a few very essential Thai words and phrases.

Currency: Thai baht. Approximately 30 Thai baht equals $1.

Getting Around: Bangkok has terrible traffic, making travel by car difficult and time-consuming; however, Grab, an Uber-like app, is easy to use for foreigners and very cheap. The BTS Skytrain, the city's elevated mass transit system, is convenient and quick, but only has a few lines.

Travel Tip: Learn about Thai etiquette before you go. Even knowing simple gestures like the "wai," a small bow used as a greeting, shows respect for the kind Thai people and their customs.

Things to Do

Bangkok's temples (called "wats") are a tourist draw for many people, but the city is also home to great food (ranging from $1 street food eats to Michelin-starred cuisine), incredible shopping, and tons of tiny side streets (called "sois") with plenty to explore.

  • You'll almost certainly visit temples during your time in Bangkok, but few are as beautiful as Wat Arun. Located on the Chao Praya, Bangkok's main aquatic thoroughfare, Wat Arun's centerpiece is a 229-foot spire decorated with tiny pieces of glass.
  • Visitors (and a few locals) flock to Khao San Road. The original backpacker's paradise, this bustling thoroughfare is lined with shops, restaurants, and inexpensive lodging. It's a popular stop for travelers planning out the rest of their Southeast Asian adventures.
  • Bangkok's Grand Palace is arguably the city's top tourist destination, drawing in crowds to see the well-manicured grounds and the stunning Emerald Buddha, the most important Buddha image in the country. Go early—the crowds can be fierce.
  • Locals and tourists alike love shopping in Bangkok. Whether you're heading to the new glitzy and glamourous IconSIAM, a billion-dollar complex along the river, the Chatuchak Weekend Market, a frenzied weekend affair of more than 15,000 vendors, or one of the city's many night markets, you'll almost certainly find what you're looking for.

Make the most of your time in Bangkok with our full guide of things to do.

What to Eat and Drink

While it would be easy to make a checklist of must-visit restaurants to visit in Bangkok, one of the best ways to savor the city is simply by walking and tasting. Street food is everywhere here, and adventurous palates will be rewarded with filling, fresh meals for just a few dollars. Look for vendors that have lines and lots of locals, and you'll discover everything from fiery curries to creamy mango sticky rice.

On the other end of the spectrum, Bangkok has become a hub for fine dining. The city's first Michelin Guide was released in 2017, with 17 restaurants receiving stars. From Mezzaluna, a refined tasting menu spot merging French cuisine with Japanese technique, to Nahm, an upscale Thai restaurant led by San Francisco chef Pim Techamuanvivit, Bangkok has enough high-end dining to compete with any world-class city.

It's a great city for bars and nightlife, too. Alcohol's expensive in Thailand, but that doesn't stop bars like Teens of Thailand, a notable gin bar; Tropic City, a rum-focused tiki bar; and Backstage, a theater-themed bar, from packing in the crowds.

Learn more about where to eat in Bangkok, including the best restaurants in the city, the Thai street food dishes you must try, and where to find Bangkok's best nightlife.

Where to Stay

Lodging in Bangkok is inexpensive compared to other major cities—a five-star hotel can be had for as little as $100 per night in some areas—which means that it's easy to stay close to the action.

The bulk of the city's luxury hotels are in Silom, the city's financial district, right along the banks of the Chao Praya. Silom has easy access to the Skytrain and subway, the ferries along the river, and is convenient to Lumpini Park, the Grand Palace, Patpong, and other popular attractions in the city.

Visitors on an extremely tight budget should look toward the Khao San Road area, which is loaded with cheap guesthouses. The downside? The neighborhood has very little access to public transportation, and while the street food here is cheap, it's not as good as other places in the city, thanks to the larger tourist population.

Learn more about Bangkok's different neighborhoods and check out of picks for the best hotels in Bangkok.

Getting There

Bangkok is served by two airports, Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport. The latter was the city's primary airport until 2007, but now mostly serves low-cost and budget carriers. While many of the world's major airlines fly to Bangkok, there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Bangkok, with cities like Seoul, Paris, Beijing, and other hubs serving as frequent connections.

Culture and Customs

For a foreigner, Thai etiquette can seem complicated—which utensils do I use? I can't point my feet at Buddha? What is this bow everyone does?—but luckily, even if you get it wrong, most Thai people are easy-going and gracious. Still, take some time to learn about Thai table etiquette, simple day-to-day etiquette, and temple etiquettes, such as modest dress and shoe removal.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Avoid taxis and tuk-tuk rides in Bangkok. While tuk-tuks are often overpriced, many taxi drivers will refuse to use the meter for foreigners, turning a quick trip into a costly ride. Instead, try Grab, a rideshare service with an easy-to-use app or travel using the boats along the river—riding the entire length of the river will only set you back around 50 cents.
  • Try to limit your ATM visits. ATM fees in Thailand add up quick at around $6 a pop, so try to take out all of the cash you think you'll need in just one transaction.
  • Don't hesitate to eat street food. Bangkok has some of the best in the world, and it's absurdly cheap compared to Western cuisine. Look for vendors with long lines—the turnover means the food is more likely to be fresh.
  • Don't be afraid to haggle. All sorts of vendors in Thailand—from your diving guide to the jewelry maker at the market—welcome negotiation, but remember to keep it lighthearted.
  • If you need some rest and relaxation, Thailand is one of the best places for massages. Skip spendy hotel spas as even massage parlors along the street can be excellent. An excellent foot massage will only set you back $3 or so.
  • Drinking tap water in Bangkok isn't recommended, but many stores and restaurants have filtered water machines where they'll refill your reusable bottle for just a few cents.
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