Tuesday, July 17, 2007

10 tips on how to enjoy Bangkok

I spent last week in Bangkok. It is a city of contradictions: Stunning beauty and appalling pollution attack your senses; ancient temples and brand new shopping centers compete for space; Buddhist monks and prostitutes walk the same crowded streets. I am totally fascinated by this strange and wonderful city.

By guest writer Susanne Koch.

Here are my top 10 tips for your first visit to Bangkok:

  1. If it is at all possible, try to spend more than a couple of days. There are so many impressions, sites, sounds and smells, you’ll need a week to find your bearings.

  2. Bangkok traffic is infamous. Whenever possible, use the Sky Train, a network of fast, efficient, air conditioned elevated trains. There are only two lines, but they take you to many interesting destinations like the weekend market at Chatuchak, shopping around Siam Square, relaxing in Lumpini Park and gawking in Pat Pong.

  3. If you are going anywhere near the river, you don’t have to worry about traffic jams. Use the river boats. This is a great way to see the city – you can even design your own sight seeing trip this way. Take the Sky Train to Satorn Pier and catch the Chao Phraya River Express – it’s so cheap it’s practically free. Not all boats stop at all piers, so ask the staff for help if necessary.

  4. Stay away from the helpful “guides” loitering around the most popular sightseeing spots. They will tell you that the spot you are trying to visit is closed for the moment, and will then go on to recommend an alternative sight in another part of town. The whole point is to get you to the shopping centre that is paying them for hijacking tourists. Be warned, they are very charming and have even learned all major capitals by heart. “Where are you from? Norway? I have been to Oslo!” etc. etc.

  5. If you are suffering from a “Far East Culture Chock” (which is not unusual), start slow. Visit one of the amazing super malls before going out into the noisy streets. Paragon at Siam Square can be easily reached by Sky Train, and is the largest, most professional and modern mall we have ever seen. Make sure that you visit the exotic food department.
  6. Drink a lot of water. Then drink some more. The heat will wear you down sooner or later, but with plenty of water inside, you will last longer.

  7. Think twice before you try the tuk-tuks. These 3-wheeled moped taxis are an integral part of Bangkok and they look very charming. But riding a tuk tuk places you – quite unprotected – in the middle of Bangkok’s crazy traffic. And the air pollution is so bad it literally made my eyes water. I’ve never experienced anything like it!

  8. The regular taxis are safer than tuk tuks. Select one marked Taxi Meter, and make user that the taxi driver turns on the meter. Alternatively, ask for a fixed price. If you don’t, you risk seeing more of Bangkok on that trip than you bargained for.

  9. Enjoy the food. By going to a foreign country you always risk getting stomach problems. Still, you can reduce the risk significantly by going to clean establishments with a lot of visitors. (If the restaurant is full, queue up! If it is empty, avoid it!). Do eat the salad. Do not avoid Thai food, even if you are having problems with spicy food. Not all Thai dishes are hot, and the waiter will normally be able to help you along.

  10. The Thai people are very polite and friendly, but do not misuse their hospitality. They find it hard to stomach displays of anger – be polite. Learning a couple of phrases in Thai helps.
Susanne Koch is an Internet professional who works as an e-learning and web communication adviser at the University of Oslo. She blogs about search engines and search engine optimization at Pandia.com. Susanne loves to travel and blogs about her journeys at Susi's Souvenirs. You may also want to have a look at Susanne Koch's homepage.

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