Bangkok is a lot like som tum, the spicy papaya salad that’s so famous in Thailand. Som tum is a mishmash of ingredients — semi-sweet papaya and tomato, pungent garlic and fish sauce, savory peanuts, tangy lime, and flaming hot chilis — that make a magically delicious dish when mixed. Bangkok, a sprawling, sweltering city of ancient temples, luxury shopping malls, buzzing night markets, grungy backpacker ghettos, towering highrises, and infamous red-light districts is much the same. The diverse areas of Bangkok complement and enhance each other, making it a fascinating and exciting city to explore.
The one thing that remains the same all across the metropolis, the one ingredient that pulls it all together, is the friendly and open Thai people. Anywhere you go in Bangkok, you'll encounter welcoming, smiling locals who are eager to chat.
The city’s sheer size and frantic energy can be intimidating, but if you explore it one area at a time — and take breaks for cheap foot massages in the muggy afternoons — it can be as addictive as a spicy plate of som tum.
Bangkok has three seasons: hot and rainy from May to October, hot and dry from November to February, and very hot and dry during March and April. The number one factor to consider when visiting Bangkok is the rain since most travelers will visit the southern beaches or northern mountains on their trip, and the weather can impact outdoor activities.
During the rainy season, mornings are often sunny and humid, giving way to booming thunderstorms and torrential rain in the afternoon. In general, the air is clean and cool after the storms. If visiting during the rainy season, do like the locals and carry an umbrella at all times to block the powerful sun or pounding rain, whoever is occuring at the time.
During the dry season, which is peak season for tourists, the overnight lows rarely dip below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Evenings are pleasantly warm — perfect for eating street food or drinking beer at a night market.
April is the hottest month with daily temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s also a great time to visit since the Thai New Year, or Songkran, takes place from the 13th to the 15th. Locals celebrate the new year with refreshing water fights.
The baht, about ฿34.47 per 1 USD, is the official currency of Thailand. Most ATMs dispense 1,000 baht notes, which can be a challenge to use. Break them at the ubiquitous 7-Elevens and use small bills in taxis or local shops. Most hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists accept credit cards, but otherwise, you'll need cash.
Tipping is not common in Thailand. Most sit-down restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to the bill. At informal restaurants, Thai people generally leave small change. For example, if you eat lunch for 95 baht, leave a five baht coin as a tip.
One exception to tipping is at massage parlors. A traditional Thai massage costs less than $10 per hour, so treat yourself and get them often. In general, a 50 to 100 baht tip is appropriate.
Thai is the official language, and learning a few words or phrases is beneficial. Thai people love it when foreigners speak the language and will shower you with praise if you make an effort. Speaking even a few words in Thai will open doors and enhance your experience.
Thai people often attach a softener word when speaking with strangers or elders. In general, men should add "krap" and women should add "ka" at the end of sentences to show politeness.
When Thai people greet each other, they place their hands together in a gesture known as a wai. Especially when meeting older people, accepting a gift, or expressing sincere thanks, be sure to wai.
If you want to learn some Thai or plan to travel away from the main tourist areas, pick up a Thai phrasebook and check out Matador Network’s guide to learning Thai. Here are a few phrases to get started:
<ul><li>Sawat dee krap/ka — Hello</li>
<li>Kwap khun krap/ka — Thank you</li>
<li>Mai bpen rai — No worries, no problem, everything is okay</li>
<li>Hong nam yuu tee nai? — Where is the bathroom?</li>
<li>Tao rai? — How much?</li>
<li>Pet — Spicy</li>
<li>Mai pet — Not spicy</li>
<li>Check bin — Check please (informal)</li>
<li>Mai ow krap/ka — No thanks or I don't want any</li>
<li>Kaw tot — Excuse me</li>
<li>Rot tit — Traffic jam</li>
<li>Chong gao! — Cheers! (Literally: crash glass)</li>
<li>Chok dee! — Good luck! (Often said by taxi drivers when they drop off passengers)</li>
<li>Krung Tep — The Thai name for Bangkok. If being hassled by a tout who says, "Hey, where are you from?" Reply, "Krung Tep," and they'll look for an easier target.</li></ul>
The Airport Link sky train connects Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to downtown Bangkok. If staying near a metro station, use the Airport Link to save time and money. Otherwise, getting a taxi from BKK is simple: Follow the signs to the taxi queue, take a number, and go to the assigned lane to meet your driver.
Not so long ago, gridlocked roads made travel in Bangkok a nightmare. Although congestion remains, the city recently opened hundreds of miles of train tracks, and today metro lines criss-cross the city. When booking a hotel room, look for a location near one of the 111 train stations.
Getting a taxi in Bangkok can be a challenge. Most drivers who hang out in tourist enclaves refuse to use a meter. It’s best to hail a cab from the street and agree on meter usage before getting in the car. Thailand does not have Uber or Lyft. Instead, use the excellent Grab app to call a taxi or car. By using Grab, you won't have to worry about language barriers, going to the wrong address by mistake, or haggling.
At some point, you will want to ride in an iconic tuk-tuk, the noisy and colorful motorcycle taxis that buzz around the city. Tuk-tuks are used for shorter journeys and don't have meters. Bargain hard.
Bangkok has a large network of canals. Boats on the Chao Phraya River and the Saen Saep Canal take passengers to points along the water. The boats can be crowded, but they are never stuck in traffic and are a fun way to see the city.
Getting around Bangkok by bike is not for the faint of heart. A lack of dedicated bike lanes and reckless traffic make it a dangerous way to travel in most areas. However, the Green Lung in southern Bangkok is an urban oasis that’s perfect for a biking day trip.
Bangkok is a safe and welcoming city, but there are some scams and hassles. Taxis sometimes refuse to use meters and may overcharge by large sums. Never get in a cab that won't use a meter. Beware of the curiously too-cheap tuk-tuk ride. Instead of going to your destination, the driver might take you to shops and pressure you to buy.
Bangkok is a party city. Penalties for using recreational drugs are severe. If you chose to hang out in the infamous red-light districts, be aware that thefts and druggings of unsuspecting tourists do happen.