DESTINATION: Bangkok, Thailand
NEAREST AIRPORT: Suvarnabhumi (BKK)
FLIGHT TIME FROM LONDON: Approx. 11 hours & 30 minutes
AIRLINE RECOMMENDATIONS: Thai Airways, EVA Air and British Airways
TIME DIFFERENCE FROM UK: Currently +6 hours from BST / +7 hour from GMT
CURRENT EXCHANGE RATE: 45 Baht = £1 (As of May 2017)
Transport into the city
There are police and authority regulated taxi ranks in the city which are required by law to use meters to take you into the city and prices can vary depending on your destination but fear not, even in 1 hour + gridlock traffic, you will never pay more than £10 (450 baht) and some destinations will cost a fraction of that, so ensure your meter is switched on at all times. Taxis from the airport are usually not problematic however getting a taxi back to the airport can often be an altogether more tricky affair. If staying at a reputable hotel, have the staff call you a taxi and agree the price in advance. Most taxis will agree a fixed-price fee of 400 baht (about £9) to take you back to the airport. Alternatively you can take a train from the airport and connect to the local Sky Train transport system called the BTS which is incredibly efficient, cheap to travel on, air-conditioned and by passes the traffic rather effortlessly. Check to see where the nearest BTS stop is to your destination.
Phone & data connection
Whilst most cafes, bars, hotels and restaurants in Bangkok offer complimentary Wi-fi, most UK mobile service providers offer unlimited data and call time (subject to individual terms) for around £5 per day, which is well worth it if you intend on being out and about, especially as using maps on your phone to find your destination can prove to be quite useful as not all of the city is easy to get to and taxis aren’t always familiar with every area and naturally, don’t always speak English.
Getting around the city
Pound for pound, the BTS Sky Train system is by far the city’s most efficient way to get around Bangkok, much like the London Underground, it offers a reliable, speedy and cost effective way to breeze through the city without getting stuck in the gridlock traffic which seems at its worst from 7:30am-10:30am and then again from mid-afternoon until 9pm and later at weekends.
Not every area has a BTS stop nearby and if you are staying close the river side, then taxis and boat shuttles may be your best and most reliable bet. Ask your hotel for the best advice on how to get around and never accept a taxi ride or private car journey without a meter. Also, you may find it will be useful to ask for the address of where you are staying as well as your destination address to be written down for you in Thai to ensure you get around more easily.
For the more brave among you, you can always jump on the back of someone’s moped. This seems to be a very common mode of transport around town in exchange for a few Baht and it is (sort-of) regulated but obviously, it isn’t the most safe option in my humble opinion. And if it’s Tuk-Tuk travel you are after, I would warn you that whilst locals do sometimes rely on Tuk-Tuks, by and large, the ones that you and I will end up finding, will essentially take you all around the houses and often stop off in garment or souvenir shops (after a little sob story plea) to get you to buy something. They aren’t exactly harmful but if inhaling masses of traffic pollution whilst sweating buckets in the heat aren’t your thing then I would forego the lure of the Tuk-Tuk and stick to taxis or BTS.
Whilst Bangkok is well-known for it’s colourful nightlife culture, I would say that the reality is that Thai people are rather more genteel and conservative than you think. Politeness and a calm attitude go a long way in Thailand as aggressive, rude behaviour is greatly frowned upon and viewed as incredibly disrespectful. Locals are very friendly and the pace of life can vary from the relaxed and informal to the glamourous and fast-paced. Be polite and respectful at all times, because honestly, it will get you so much further in this city. It’s good to keep in mind that the Royal family of Thailand are pretty much next to God for the Thai and being mindful and respectful of this fact, is really quite important if you don’t want to offend locals or even worse, find yourself in trouble with the police.
I must admit, I never was much of a hostel kind of girl and having spent many years working in 5 star hotels in London, I really do prefer to stay in higher end accommodation and guess what? Bangkok is the PERFECT destination for treating yourself to lovely accommodation at very reasonable prices and 5 star accommodation prices can range from £65-£350 per night but most of them charge around £85-120 per night. For a wider range of accommodation at all budgets, try Expedia or Agoda.
My favourite hotel is The Siam Kempinski Hotel with a beautiful internal courtyard and large swimming pool, 3 restaurants and direct entry to Siam Paragon shopping centre and Siam BTS station, its very central and has a lot to see and do close by.
The Shangri La Hotel by the river side is also quite lovely and has a gorgeous swimming pool on the river. The other hotel I have stayed at quite often which is definitely more budget-friendly hotel with a great location adjacent to a shopping centre and Asok BTS station, is the Grand Centre Point Terminal 21 Hotel.
My food recommendations
If you want the best street-food recommendations in Bangkok, then I must confess, I am not your girl and to be honest, everywhere you turn in Bangkok, there is always something exciting and delicious to eat, morning, noon and night. But I do have a couple of brilliant friends who can help you more with this… The first is the very lovely cook and author Kay Plunkett-Hogge, who wrote this rather brilliant piece for The Guardian but you can also find her at www.kaycooks.com or @kplunketthogge on Instagram. And also John Chantarasak a Chef friend who works at Som Saa in London who is @englishhippy on on Instagram for his travels and beautiful cookery.
My favourite Bangkok restaurants, in no particular order;
- Soul Food Mahanakorn - Elevated non-fussy street-food style creations, heavily influenced by the wonderful flavours of Northeast Thailand and great cocktails. Too many favourites to choose from, the whole menu is so good.
- Khua Kling Pak Sod - VERY spicy Southern Thai food, not for the faint hearted but unlike anything else in Bangkok and absolutely fantastic but cash only!
- Supanniga Eating Room - Revival of some of the more classic home-cooked dishes, delicious and different to so many eateries, definitely choose the fermented sausages, stuffed crab shells and the pork curry with cassia leaves.
- Nara Thai Cuisine - Offering the more broadly classic Thai menu with some stunning dishes like Cowslip Creeper, deep-fried mulberry leaves with fiery prawn and pork relish and grilled aubergines with pork mince, lime and eggs
- Sru Bua by Kiin-Kiin - Probably one of the most special and memorable meals I have had in Thailand. Ignoring its hotel location, the tasting menu was absolutely mind-blowing. Whilst it is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Bangkok right now, I was surprised at how beautifully they had captured the essence of regional Thai street food and cuisine but with a very high end interpretation. Probably one of the better meals of my life and definitely one of the most unforgettable.
- Food Courts in Shopping Malls - Whilst food courts seem to be dirty words anywhere else, Bangkok food courts are revered and patronised by everyone from all walks of life. They ate a fantastic way to experience proper Thai cooking and many regional and street-food style dishes whilst sat in an air-conditioned building with better hygiene than can often be associated with street-food the world over. Dishes do cost a little more but when I say more, I literally mean from 75p-£1.20, max. Still one of the best ways to try many different dishes all under one roof, you go to the kiosk at the food court, charge a card with cash credit and use that to make your purchase. Any funds not used shall be returned to you on your departure. Genius really.
- Markets offer some excellent food, naturally and to determine where the best food is, just look at the queues and you will find your answer.
Any other useful pointers/information
On top of all the beautiful tourist sites like temples, the reclining Buddha, the royal palaces and the like, I really love the beautiful night flower market. Never have I seen so many orchids of so many colours, shapes and sizes and it’s a great place to be brave and try late night grilled scorpion and cricket skewers as well as watch the whole of Bangkok come to buy their beautiful blooms.
Also very colourful and the size of about 5 football pitches is the legendary Chatuchak weekend market which sells plants, antiques, food, ceramics, furniture, décor, clothing and books… its an absolute madhouse and the most wonderful place to visit. Nearest BTS is Mo Chit and opening days are Friday from 6pm-12am and Saturday and Sunday from 9am-6pm.
And if you want to explore Southeast Asia a little more, then check out flights on Air Asia to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar and more because it is incredibly cheap and very easy to get around or hop to Islands (Koh) such as Koh Samui, Koh Chang, Koh Lipe, Phuket or even up north to Chiang Mai.
Wherever you go, whatever you choose to do, Bangkok is absolutely hypnotic and every trip I make there proves to offer an experience, entirely different from the previous one. I love Bangkok and its people, its food and its hustle and bustle. I cannot recommend it enough to people and whilst I may be no expert, I remain one of this beautiful city’s greatest fans.