Bangkok Travel Guide: Navigating Asia’s Sin City

I spent two glorious weeks in Bangkok, and in this Bangkok Travel Guide I’ll give you a run down of all I learnt.

This Bangkok Travel Guide has largely been written from a personal perspective of all I’ve seen and done. In it I tell you all about how I entered the city, where I stayed, what I spent, my private haunts, and everything in between.

However, I still can’t call it a “comprehensive” Bangkok Travel Guide. That’s mostly because Bangkok is such a large and diverse city that I’m sure different people would see it differently.

Furthermore, I didn’t partake in enough “tourist activities” for me to be able to write about all the temples, all the sights, and all the hotels. Instead, I was focused on living and feeling the city of Bangkok as it could be if I were to stay there for a longer period.

I’d heard lots about Bangkok. How could I not have? The city has one of the most infamous nightlifes in Asia, perhaps even the world! We’ve all heard tales about the vast acceptance of the ladyboy culture, go go bars, and ping pong shows (no it’s not an actual ping pong game.)

Some might be averted by Bangkok’s sexual penchant and all of its hedonistic excesses. But I come from a culture of deep sexual suppression, so the other extreme called to me like a bright and shining beacon of light.

Bangkok Travel Tip #1: Visa Process

Thailand provides a Visa-on-Arrival stamp for tourists who intend to visit for a period of up to 15 days. If you’re from one of the eligible countries, you can simply land in the airport, fill out a form, make the payment, and waltz right in. It’s quite simple.

I couldn’t be hassled with having to apply for a visa before hand so I decided to freestyle it with a visa-on-arrival. After landing in Suvarnabhumi Airport, there were two services counters available. I had to first fill up the Visa-on-Arrival form, and then join the queue. I found two separate queues, one for the standard visa-on-arrival, and the other for the fast checkout.

Thai Visa on Arrival
Visa on Arrival, Suvarnabhumi Airport | Image Source: ThaiEmbassy

Visa-on-Arrival Fee

Standard Fee: ฿1000 (Approx. ₹2000 | $30).

Fast checkout: ฿1200 (Approx. ₹2400 | $35).

Documents to Carry

1. Passport: It needs to be from one of the eligible countries, and needs to have at least 6 months of validity left on it.

2. Application Form: You’ll find the Visa-on-Arrival form opposite the service counter. You need to fill it up.

3. Passport Size Picture: You need to bring a few 4 x 6 cm passport pictures. If you don’t have them, there are services available in the airport.

4. Arrival and Departure Card: You’ll be given an arrival and departure card on the flight.

5. Proof of Onward Travel: You need to prove that you’re either leaving the country or have a return ticket to your own country within 15 days.

6. Accommodation details: This is something that you don’t much have to worry about. They’ll ask you to fill in the name and address of the hotel or person you’re staying with. However, they don’t check or verify it strictly. At least not in my experience.

7. Travel Expenses: I haven’t seen this happen yet, however you can technically be asked to prove that you can sustain yourself while you’re in Bangkok. As such, you need to have at least ฿10,000 per person or ฿20,000 per family. That’s approximately ₹20,000/ $300, or ₹40,000/ $600.

8. Visa-on-Arrival Fee: You need to carry the fee, as mentioned earlier, in Thai Baht currency only.

This is the Visa that I used. However, if you want to stay in Thailand longer, you can find out about the other Visa Types through the Thai Embassy website.

Fair Warning

You can only pay the visa-on-arrival fee in Thai Baht. As such, you’ll have to convert your own currency into Baht from the currency exchange counters. In order to do so, you should bring plenty of your own currency along, as they don’t have any ATMs in the airport before the passport check.

Furthermore, the currency exchange offices don’t exchange all currencies. As such, you should ideally convert your own currency into a popular currency like US dollars before you arrive, and then exchange them.

Also, the baggage counter comes after the passport check, so you need to make sure you’re carrying enough money in your hand baggage.

Bangkok Travel Tip #2: Currency

The currency used in Bangkok is called Baht (THB), denoted with the sign ฿.

฿1 is approximately ₹2 or $0.03 in value. XE Currency Converter can help you gauge the current conversion rates.

You should know that Thailand has a strong coin economy, with the most valuable coin being ฿10. As such, most of the street shops, restaurants, and cabs, will be dealing in coins. So you should carry a pouch with plenty of coins at all times.

Thailand Currency
Thai Notes and Coins | Image Source: ShoreExcursions.Asia

Currency Conversion

It’s fairly easy to get your hands on some Bahts. You’ll find plenty of currency exchange desks in the airport itself. You’ll also find several currency exchange stalls all around Bangkok. Alternatively, you can simply withdraw cash from the ATMs, though they’ll take a processing fee from you.

Fair Warning

Don’t get all your currency exchanged in the airport. It might be convenient, however they’re a complete rip-off. They gave me currency value about 1/4th times weaker than what I got from the currency exchange spots around the city.

Bangkok Travel Tip #3: Internet Connectivity

Bangkok is quite well connected. As such, you’ll find great WiFi in pretty much any hostel, bar, or restaurant that you go to. However, in case you want to stay connected even during the transit periods, or when you’re in temples, or touring, you can get a Tourist SIM.

I got the TrueMove Tourist Sim from one of the kiosks immediately after leaving the airport. I got it for a period of 15 days, and it only cost me ฿599 (Approx. ₹1200 | $18). The SIM gave me 8GB of usable data for the 15 days period, along with 50 baht local talk time.

If 15 days is too much for you, you can also get the SIM for 7 days.

These can easily be recharged at any 7/11, Family Mart, or Tesco Lotus convenience stores.

Thailand Tourist Sim
TrueMove Tourist Sim | Image Source: Suvarnabhumi Airport Website

Bangkok Travel Tip #4: Where to Stay

This is a completely subjective personal opinion based on the locations that I stayed at, or heard about. These are also the most tourist friendly locations in Bangkok.

Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit is located quite on the outskirts of central Bangkok. It’s far from all the “tourist activity” areas. However, it’s a beautiful cosmopolitan part of Bangkok which thrives in extravagant malls, luxury hotels, luxury residential blocks, restaurants, etc. If you’re looking for some racy entertainment, this is also home to the infamous Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, both of which are filled with go-go bars, ping pong shows, and other forms of adult entertainment.

I stayed with a friend of mine in Sukhumvit for a period of 5 days, and from what I gathered, it seemed like a place thronging with expats. While this is a great place to live and settled down at, I won’t recommend this as a destination for those who are traveling by.

Fair Warning

Don’t be surprised if a random dominatrix playfully whips you in the behind as you’re walking down Nana Plaza.

Silom

I personally fell in love with Silom while I was in Bangkok. It’s the center of Bangkok and as such it’s well connected to all important sights and destinations. It also has quite the sophisticated transportation network with its Sky Train (BTS) and underground Metro (MRT). Furthermore, Silom is home to Asia’s most famous nightlife in Patpong district, with all of its gay bars, pole dancing shows, and other forms of hedonistic experiences.

Patpong Road in Silom, Bangkok
Patpong Road in Silom, Bangkok | Image Source: Bangkok.com

Khao San Road

This is famously known as the center of Asia’s backpacking culture. The streets here will be lined with cheap hostels that you can simply walk into with your backpack, without any prior booking.

Furthermore, walking down the streets you’ll definitely be hectored by a number of  street sellers determined to sell you clothes, or trinkets, or make you eat scorpions.

It’s not a large district like Silom or Sukhumvit, it’s simply a large 1km long road. However, it bears a culture and vibe all of its own.

This is a great place to hang and meet other backpackers. However, you can’t stay here any longer than 3 days for fear of developing a migraine. As such, Khao San Road can be both good and bad, depends on what you’re looking for.

khao san road bangkok
Asia’s Backpacker Capital, Khao San Road | Image Source: Bangkok.com

Bangkok Travel Tip #5: When to Visit

Bangkok doesn’t have any visitation restrictions based on weather. It’s pleasant and charming all-year round. However, if possible, you should plan out your trip to Bangkok based on one of its festivals.

Songkran is the most popular festival in Bangkok, and it happens between the 13th and 15th of April. The festival includes the entire city coming out onto the streets and straying each other with fountains of clear water. April also happens to be the hottest month in Bangkok, so it’s a lot of fun to go out to the streets and enjoy street games and water fights with friends and random strangers.

I only found out about the festival on my way to Bali. Too bad, if I’d done a bit of reading before hand, I could have joined in the celebration.

songkran festival bangkok
Songkran Festival in Bangkok | Image Source: TheNation

Bangkok Travel Tip #6: Accommodations

Bangkok is a major city and as such you can find all kinds of accommodations catering to different people. The cost of accommodation can be both extremely cheap and insanely expensive.

1. Hotels

If you’re looking for a budget hotel, the cost starts from around ฿400. However, you probably won’t find these hotels in prime locations, and they might not have proper air conditioning. The cost rises higher depending on your needs. And, of course, the prices can keep rising infinitely depending on how luxurious you want it to be.

You can use booking.com to find budget hotels in Bangkok.

2. Hostels

Hostels in Bangkok are really cheap. If you opt for a hostel without AC, you can even get them for as low as ฿100. However, if you’re looking for luxury hostels, the prices can be as high as ฿700. However, the latter is a total rip-off.

I would recommend finding good hostels in the ฿250 to ฿400 range. I stayed in a hostel called Three of a Kind in Silom, which I absolutely loved, and it only cost me ฿250 per day for an AC dorm.

You can use booking.com to find budget hostels in Bangkok.

Read: Review – Three of a Kind, Gay-Friendly Hostel in Bangkok

gay-friendly hostel in Silom, Bangkok
Three of a Kind Hostel’s Common Room

In case you’re averse to hostels because of the lack of privacy, you can also get a private room in a hostel. That may cost you about ฿500 to ฿800, which is still a lot cheaper than hotels, but you also get to interact with other backpackers! This is usually what I resort to when I’m in desperate need of privacy but I also don’t want to be completely alone in a hotel.

3. CouchSurfing

I couch surfed with a friend of mine for the first 5 days I was in Bangkok. I know some people love couchsurfing, but I’m not really a big fan. Considering how cheap hostels are, it doesn’t really save you a whole lotta’ money.

Furthermore, couchsurfing makes me nervous. Because even though I’m not paying my host in money, I feel like I still have to pay them in personality and by being entertaining. So it makes me feel like I’ve got to be ON all the time, which is pretty exhausting.

Sometimes I just wanna’ walk by people without having to smile at them, but that’s probably my antisocial half speaking.

Bangkok Travel Tip #7: Transportation

Bangkok is a pretty vast and modern city. As such, transportation is really no trouble at all. There are a number of different modes of transportation you can use, all of them fairly reasonable.

Forms of Transportation

1. City Buses: If you can figure out the route of the buses, and if you don’t mind how crowded they can be, these are the cheapest means of transportation. They only cost ฿10 to ฿15, depending on whether you get an AC or Non AC bus.

2. SkyTrain and Underground Metro: Bangkok has two forms of metros, one underground, and the other overground. SkyTrain is definitely a lot more modern in nature. However, they can both take you pretty much anywhere at ฿15 to ฿50. If you’re gonna’ be traveling around a lot, you should get a day pass.

bangkok sky train
BTS Sky Train in Bangkok | Image Source: Wikipedia

3. Taxis: Getting a taxi is easy, they’re everywhere. You should make sure to use the meter, and you can get anywhere around the city between ฿60 to ฿150, the latter for really far off places.

4. Tuk-Tuk: These are readily-available three-wheeler bikes. They’re the preferred means of travel to relatively short distances. They cost between ฿30 to ฿80.

Tuk tuk bangkok
Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok | Image Source: Asia Sea Plane Tours

5. Uber: Uber is widely functional in Bangkok and they’re as cheap as they are anywhere else. However, they often get stuck in traffic and take a long time to arrive. Furthermore, this is just my experience, but a lot of Uber drivers can’t seem to understand the GPS well and so they call you. This can be problematic because they don’t generally understand a word of English. At least that’s what my experience has been like.

Bangkok Travel Tip #8: Food

When you’re in Bangkok, you have a number of great food options to choose from. You could of course go to the proper cafes and restaurants wherein you’ll end up spending over ฿200 (Approx. ₹400 | $6) per meal. However, I personally preferred partaking of all the street food options available. Not only are they far cheaper, but they’re quite delicious, and they offer you a more authentic experience of what it’s like to be in Bangkok.

Street Vendors

A proper meal comprising soup, pad thai, etc, will cost you just ฿30 (Approx. ₹60 | $1) at a street vendor. You can add a cup of iced tea or coffee for just ฿20 (Approx. ₹40 | $0.60). Additionally, I really enjoyed eating from bags of freshly cut fruits available on the streets, also available for a mere ฿20.

Street Food in Bangkok
Street Food in Bangkok | Image Source: Eater

Small Restaurants

If you go to lower end restaurants and cafes, you can get local Thai food comprising rice, prawns, and a glass of coke for about ฿60 to ฿80. This was generally my favored option on a daily basis as it was cheap and it came with the luxury of a full meal enjoyed at your own pace and in a clean air conditioned environment.

Small cafe, bangkok
A meal of Fried Rice and Prawns at a small Cafe in Sukhumvit

Convenience Stores

If it’s late at night and you find that all the street vendors and restaurants are closed (as it often happened with me), your only option is to hop into the nearest 7/11. These are available around every street corner. The 7/11 provides a variety of sausages and burgers at a range of ฿20 to   ฿50.

Food Courts

Finally, another cheap option is to eat out at the food courts in malls. The top floor of the malls always come with a food court with a very wide variety of options. A whole meal, including noodle soup, grilled chicken, dumplings, etc, complete with desserts, will set you back just about ฿80.

food court in bangkok
Food court at Terminal 21 Mall, Sukhumvit

Bangkok Travel Tip #9: Things to Do in Bangkok

No Bangkok Travel Guide can be complete without a brief list of things to do. As such, even though I’m listing them all out for your sake, I haven’t personally participated in all of these activities. I’ll refrain from commenting on activities that I don’t have personal experience with.

1. Grand Palace

The Grand Palace was built in the 18th century by King Rama I, and is considered to be the official residence of Thailand’s monarch. However, it’s only used for ceremonial purposes. The entry fee is ฿500 (Approx. ₹1000 | $15.00).

Grand Palace
Grand Palace | Image Source: PlanetWare

2. Explore all the Wats (temples)

“Wat” in Bangkok literally means “Temple.” The temples in Thailand, and all around Southeast Asia really, are stunning. However, unless you really enjoy diving into the history of the different temples and exploring the minutiae of their differences, they all start seeming similar after a while. The most popular temples in Bangkok are Wat Pra Kaeo, Wat Po, and Wat Arun.

Wat Pra Kaeo is home to the 15th century Emerald Buddha. Thailand’s monarch rotates the robes of this Buddha thrice every year.

Wat Po is home to the famous golden reclining buddha. The fee to enter this temple is ฿100 (Approx. ₹200 | $3.50).

Wat Arun translates to Temple of Dawn, and it’s the most famous temple in Bangkok. Even if you’re not religious or don’t care about temples, it’s still worth climbing it at sunrise for a panoramic view of the city across Chao Phraya River.

Wat Arun
Wat Arun | Image Source: What’s on Sukhumvit

3. Lumpini Park

Lumpini is Bangkok’s most famous park, located in Silom. It’s vast, and has a lake in the middle. You can simply relax there or use it as a jogging ground.

Lumpini Park
Lumpini Park | Image Source: Bangkok.com

4. Floating Market

I personally didn’t get the chance to explore the floating market. However, I’ve heard a lot of praise about it. All the commerce in this market occurs via boats.

The two primary floating markets in Bangkok are Taling Chan Floating Market and Klong Lad Mayom Floating Market.

Floating Market Bangkok
Floating Market | Image Source: Bangkok Attractions

5. Go Mall Hopping

Bangkok is the bedrock of excessive consumerism in Southeast Asia. This consumerism is evident in pretty much all walks of life in Bangkok. Even street vendors in the city offer a far more diverse range of options than street vendors anywhere else that I’ve been so far.

This consumerist haven and/or nightmare finds its epicenter in the malls of Bangkok. Two of the most kitschiest and most popular malls in Bangkok are Gateway Ekamai, and Terminal 21.

Gateway Ekamai is a Japanese themed mall, and every restaurant, cafe, and shop in the mall is filtered through that aesthetic.

Terminal 21 is even more kitschy in both concept and execution. Every floor in the mall is designed in the creative likeness of Airport Terminals throughout the world. They have floors designed like London, Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco, Rome, amongst others.

terminal 21 mall
Terminal 21
Terminal 21
“San Francisco” in Terminal 21

6. Nightlife

Finally, no Bangkok travel guide can be complete without at least touching upon the city’s famous nightlife. Whether you like it or not, you need to at least explore it once to experience what all the hype is about. There are three main red-light districts in Bangkok —  Nana PlazaPatpong, and Soi Cowboy.

These areas range from being almost comical in their offering, to being really quite serious and adult. You can find go-go shows, live sex shows, stripper shows, drag shows, and everything else imaginable.

Furthermore, Bangkok is an extremely LGBT+ friendly city and boasts the most vibrant gay nightlife in all of Asia. You can read all about it in my Gay Bangkok Guide.

Read: Going to a Drag Show in Bangkok for the First Time

soi cowboy
The Dizzying Sensory Overload of Soi Cowboy | Image Source: Soi Cowboy Bangkok

Bangkok Travel Tip #10: What NOT To Do in Bangkok

Bangkok is a pretty free and liberating city. However, like any other places, there are certain things you shouldn’t do, or should be careful about. You’re in a foreign land after all with cultural differences, and you might offend someone without actually intending to. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just a couple of DO NOTs based on my observations.

Do NOT Touch a Monk if you’re a Woman: 

Monks can’t touch women. It’s a pretty strict rule for them. As such, if you’re a woman, you should avoid touching a monk voluntarily. The metros have reserved seats for monks, so you should also be careful not to sit on them. If you find yourself seated next to a monk, it’s best to scooch aside just a little so that you don’t accidentally touch them.

Do NOT Dress Inappropriately in Temples:

There’s a strict dress code for people of all gender identities. You can’t go to temples showing much skin. You can’t wear sleeveless shirts or tops, and you can’t wear skirts or shorts.

Do NOT Act Inappropriately with Ladyboys or Drag Queens:

This one really fucking pisses me off. Bangkok is famous for its widespread acceptance of ladyboys, and the drag shows here are some of the best in the world. However, mainstream media often treats the subject of Thai Ladyboys as a subject of mockery, scorn, or derision.

As a result, I’ve seen a lot of people (mostly guys, straight guys) be downright offensive to them. These straight boys seek out the ladyboys only to gape and mock at them. This is NOT right.

In fact, gay guys aren’t all too innocent in this either. I’ve seen plenty of gay guys act inappropriately with drag queens. However, that’s a whole other blogpost.

These DO NOTs are largely intended to keep you from becoming an asshole of a tourist. However, there are plenty of other DO NOTs you should adhere to so as to remain safe.

Read: How to NOT be an Obnoxious Tourist in Southeast Asia

Conclusion

Well, that’s it for my Bangkok Travel Guide for first timers! I hope you enjoy your stay at Bangkok as much as I did. If you have any other questions, feel free to drop me a message or comment down below!

How Much Did I Spend In Bangkok (Approximately)

Days in Bangkok: 14 days

Total Money Spent: ₹70,000 | $1,100

Accommodation: ₹6,000 | $100

Flight from Delhi to Bangkok: ₹10,000 | $165

Flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh: ₹4,000 | $65

Activities + Food: ₹50,000 | $750

Bangkok Travel Guide