First time travelers to Bangkok will probably get confused initially from surfing the net looking for things to do. Thailand is a very vibrant city that has something for everybody — whether it be a religious, cultural, adventure, or shopping experience. A four-day trip is a relatively short one to experience everything so don’t feel bad if you leave anything out on your first visit. So even before you land, make sure that you plan what type of trip you will embark on and what areas you want to see. But here are some tips that may help you maximize your time and money during your vacation in this part of Asia where the old meets the new in harmony.
1. Take a tour of the city. For hard core adventurers, booking a city tour is a major no-no. However, if it’s your first time to arrive in a city that has more streets and crevices that look almost identical, touring the city is a great way to get a lay of the land and visit the most important areas. While you’re at it, make sure to weigh the pros and cons of each tour to get the essentials out of the way on your first day. My friend and I made the mistake of scrimping on the first day tour, and booked only the temple and city tour, leaving our the Grand Palace and the Emerald Temple thinking that we could get off after one of the temples near the area (Wat Po: Marble Temple). Major mistake, because of the number of activities that we wanted to do and the area in which they were located (Grand Palace is a bit of far off the normal route), we weren’t able to go back to see the major landmark.
PROS: When you tour, you get a backgrounder of the areas that you pass through, leaving out the hassle of checking out your guidebook every so often. Use the tour on your first day and for areas that are not easily accessible by commute such as the Tiger Temple in Kanchanburri (area four hours away from the city). While checking out the city, carry a pen to note areas (on you map) that may be interesting to return to. Touring for long distances is also more practical than traveling by bus or by taxi since the cost is spread out among the members of the group. In Bangkok, check out Khao San Road to shop for the best and cheapest tour packages. Tour operators are lined up along the road, and they offer competitive prices. Touring is also a great way to meet friends.
CONS: Tourist vans usually book 10-14 people and the members of this group usually stay at different hotels/inns. If you live in a hotel that is not at the heart of the city (like ours), expect your pick up time to be around 6-6:45 am, and going around the hotels to pick up your groupmates will not end until around 9 am. This is the only time the tour will commence. While touring, you also have no control over your time as some will be spent waiting around for people or waiting for the schedule of the tour. Even if you finish early, don’t expect the van to leave early.
2. Explore your environs. Check out the areas near the place where you’re staying. Familiarize yourself with the area so you will be able to find your way home easier when you commute. Additional note: Do not use 7-11 as a landmark. In our area alone, there were 4 7-11s not several meters away from each other. We went the wrong way when we first got off the train because I got disoriented by which of the 7-11s we should follow. Going the wrong way could make a five minute walk to the inn last 30 minutes or more.
Additional note: Take the calling card of your hotel (usually found at the reception desk) and use it when you want to ask for directions or for taxis.
3. Bring an umbrella. The weather in Thailand (especially in September) is a bit unpredictable. Some days, it is cloudy with a chance of rain while for others, the sun is scorching. An umbrella would protect you from direct heat or rain.
4. Bring water. Expect the humidity to sap your strength. Hydrate regularly and bring a bottle of water wherever you choose to go. Bottled water in Thailand is relatively cheap (7-15 baht) so stock up on the agua.
5. Apply sunscreen. When its hot in Thailand, it gets very very hot so if you burn easily (even if you don’t), it would be advisable to apply a layer of sunscreen to protect your skin. I returned home several shades darker than when I left. 🙂
6. Learn to commute. Traveling by BTS Sky Train is a very practical way to get around the city. It is cheaper and it saves you time because the traffic in the city is absolutely horrible. Some taxi drivers see this as an excuse not to use the meter, but don’t be victimized by opportunists. We got cheated once when a driver charged us 220 baht from the MBK PLaza (shopping mall in Pratunam) to Suhkumvit near Thong Lo (we took a cab because we were carrying a lot of stuff). But he got his karma when we got stuck in traffic for 2 hours. If he used the meter, he may have gotten more. If we took the train though, the cost for two people would have been 60 baht tops.
For long distances, make sure that you hop on a taxi with a driver who knows English. When we took a cab to Dreamworld, the cab driver asked us to pay 250 baht for the toll on top of the 250 baht on the meter when we thought he meant 250 baht for the whole trip. It was a good thing that we asked Information before we left the theme park because there was a van that went to Victory Monument that charged only 35 baht per person. So be wary of stuff like this so it doesn’t happen to you. The trip to Dreamworld was worth it so I’m not dwelling on the cab experience. The same goes for Tuktuks. Be conscious of people whom you ask for directions, when they are overly friendly and offer you too much information, they might be agents for Tuktuk tours that take you around the city to places that you don’t really want to go. Then they charge you for it. So before you get on a Tuktuk, negotiate on the price and don’t pay until you get to your destination.
7. Don’t leave without a map. When you get off the airport, there are many free maps available — city map, BTS map, bus maps as well as airport link maps which will be very helpful when going around the city. Our phones are a bit low tech and do not have access to wifi and google maps so a real map is just as well. And when you have it, don’t lose it. A map of Bangkok costs 45 baht upwards. I lost mine in Khao San and had to buy another in order to get directions.
8. Learn key phrases, negotiate. In Thailand, it is customary to greet people with Sawasdee Kah (for women) and Sawasdee Krup (for men). This is a generic greeting for hello, good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Sawasdee is read as Sawahdee and is often accompanied by a bow with two hands clapped together. Thank you is Kohb kun Krup (male)/Kah (female). Most of the Thais are appreciative of efforts to learn a bit of their language so they are more receptive to bargaining. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for discounts, especially in flea markets. Everybody’s doing it. Smile and use signs and motions to communicate for sellers who do not speak English.
9. Wear shoes that are easy to remove. If you are visiting temples, it will be wise to wear shoes or sandals that are easy to take off as they don’t allow footwear inside the temples as a sign of respect for the holy place.
10. Work out a system with your travel buddy. It is advisable to travel with someone who shares the same interests as you but there will be times throughout the trip that your priorities will differ. My friend likes to shop for gifts for home and I get hungry easily, so we arrange to meet at a certain area after half an hour to an hour, so we are both happy at the end of the day.
It is natural for travelers not to be able to do everything in a span of four days, perhaps due to time or budget constraints. It is also natural to make mistakes when in an unfamiliar location. But don’t feel too bad about these small stuff as these will help you become a more seasoned traveler in the future. Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy your vacation more and guide you into making your stay in Bangkok, an enjoyable and fruitful one.