Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is a city of contrasts. It’s a place where ultra-modern skyscrapers share the skyline with ancient temples. Three-wheeled taxis called tuk-tuks weave through traffic jams filled with expensive luxury vehicles, and monks in orange robes walk side by side with suited businessmen. Bangkok is fast-paced and potentially overwhelming, so don’t try to cram a visit into one or two days.
Getting to Bangkok
Many major airlines fly to Bangkok, but Thai Airways provides an authentic Thai experience. The flight attendants are garbed in traditional Thai dress, and Thai flowers and herbs scent the cabin. Pad Thai might be on the menu.
The Thai baht, as of June 2012, equals approximately 31 cents in American money. There are currency exchanges at airports, kiosks and hotel desks; but the rate at these outlets may be less favorable than what you would find at a bank. Some Bangkok banks have separate currency exchange offices, which are open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
When to Go
Bangkok’s temperatures are most comfortable between November and February. They average 68 degrees Fahrenheit during that period. Temperatures can soar to 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit from March to May. May to October is the rainy season. Songkran, which is Thailand’s New Year, takes place in mid-April. This can be either an exciting or an annoying time to visit the city, depending on your perspective. Water throwing is a Songkran tradition, which signifies a spiritual cleansing for the new year. Crowds of people gather on the streets and douse each other using buckets of water, hoses and enormous water guns. If you visit during this celebration, the cold water might provide welcome relief from the April heat, but be sure to protect your camera. Thai tap water is not safe for drinking, so keep your mouth closed while you are getting doused.
Since most of Bangkok’s temples and museums are located near the Chao Phraya River, the city’s ferries and water taxis are a convenient and often dramatic way to visit these attractions. If you’d prefer land travel, the Bangkok Transit System, also called the Skytrain, is an elevated rail network that travels to most of the popular tourist sites. The city also has an underground subway system and a few bus routes. Tuk-tuks are Bangkok’s signature taxi cabs. These engine-powered rickshaws are not the most convenient way to get around, but they may be good for a one-time novelty ride.
Bangkok, like many large cities, has its share of scam artists. One of the most common scams occurs at temples. As you approach, a friendly Thai may tell you that the attraction is closed. He will then say that he is a “specially trained tour guide” and offer to take you to a gem store or tailor shop, which typically sells overpriced items.