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First-Time Visitors’ Guide to Bangkok

Temple in Bangkok

Travel Guide: First-Time Visitors’ Guide to Bangkok

The first time I visited Bangkok, I felt overwhelmed by the city’s sights, smells, and noises! There was so much going on. Where on earth would I start to explore the city. This is a familiar feeling for most people visiting Bangkok for the first time. However, once you get beneath the surface of the big city, you will discover how fantastic Bangkok and its culture truly are.

Thailand Temple Wat Benchamabophit, Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand Temple (Wat Benchamabophit), Bangkok, Thailand

To help you get the best out of Bangkok, we’ve put together this First Time Visitors’ Guide to Bangkok.

Getting Around Bangkok

One thing you’ll soon notice about Bangkok – it can take hours to travel just a few kilometers! The traffic is notorious, but there are a few ways to make navigating the city easier.

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Tuk-tuks

An experience in itself! This mode of transport is not for everyone, but definitely worth at least one ride. Tuk tuks are cheap, they are everywhere, and they can weave through traffic, take shortcuts that cars can’t, and can usually get you from A to B in half the time. Make sure you negotiate the price before accepting the ride.

Tuk-tuk taxi parked near street market in Chinatown Bangkok - Guide to Bangkok
Tuk-tuk taxi parked near a street market in Chinatown Bangkok – Guide to Bangkok

River taxis and express boats

These offer an excellent opportunity to explore the historic sites and attractions at the riverside. It will also give you an insight into local life. River taxi fares are generally set, so you don’t have to worry about being “ripped off.”

Multi-colored Taxi in Bangkok
Multi-colored Taxi in Bangkok

Like in most major cities, taxis are also a common form of transport. They are cheap and can be found everywhere. Ask for the taxi to use the meter or negotiate a price before accepting the ride.

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Taxis are the easiest way to travel from the airport to your accommodation. Once you exit the airport, you will see a taxi line. Grab a ticket and wait for your taxi. This is quite a secure and effective system.

Skytrain in Bangkok
Skytrain in Bangkok

The Skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT)

This rail system has made navigating the city far easier. They are reliable, modern, clean, and run regularly. Their only issue is that they don’t operate around the historic centers or the most popular tourist spots. They do, however, connect all the main shopping, entertainment, and business areas and also make it far easier to visit the Chatuchak markets, which are located outside the main tourist area.

What and Where to Eat

A good tip when looking for the best places to eat – if the restaurant is full of locals, the food will be good. If the restaurant is full of tourists, the food will probably be overpriced and low-quality.

Food in Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok
Food in Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok

Don’t be afraid to try street food! Some “must-try” street foods include banana roti, coconut ice cream, Pad Thai, sticky rice and mango, egg noodle soup, and coconut pancakes. The Chatuchak markets are a great place to try the local street food.

Fresh Fruits in Bangkok Floating Market
Fresh Fruits in Bangkok Floating Market

Fresh juices and smoothies are also delicious in Bangkok. You will see plenty of juice stalls selling seasonal fruit juices. My favorite is the banana and coconut smoothies.

There are some cheap places to eat around Khao San Road. However, the quality can be “hit or miss.” Avoid the “Western” style restaurants in this area as they are usually of low quality and overpriced. If you miss some “home foods,” head to Siam. Siam near MBK Center has plenty of international restaurants, which are of better quality.

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Every shopping mall in Siam also has a local and international food court. Don’t be put off by it being a “food court”. The food is tasty, cheap, and filling. It is an excellent alternative to try lots of local dishes (such as Pad Thai, sticky rice, and mango and egg noodle soup) if you don’t want to try street food from street vendors.

Pad Thai in Kao San
Pad Thai in Kao San

Another popular place to try “street foods” is the MBK food court. This used to be the place to go to try the food. However, there are lots of other good options out there that I’d recommend trying out some of the other areas first. The MBK food court is still a great place for people watching and watching some of the food being prepared and cooked.

Other unique Thai foods not miss trying are Som Tam (papaya salad), Moo Ping Kati Sod (thin-sliced port (or beef) skewers marinated in coconut milk), Massaman Curry, green curry, and of course, spring rolls.

Where to Shop

The Chatuchak market is one of the biggest outdoor markets in Thailand. It is a labyrinth of quirky stalls selling all kinds of things. It is a great place to pick up a bargain, a few souvenirs, and to try the local street food. Chatuchak is also great for people-watching.

Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak Weekend Market

Khao San Road is a bit of a tourist trap, but still worth a visit for the experience. Khao San really comes alive a night; this is when the markets will be at the busiest.

If you are looking for “upmarket” shopping, head to Siam Square and Central World. This area is considered the “world’s largest lifestyle shopping destination.” All the major brand outlets can be found in this area.

Khao San Road at night
Khao San Road at night

The MBK is also a popular spot for bargain shopping; however, compared to Siam square, this shopping mall looks a bit run-down. I’ve found that most stalls here sell the same things; most of it is tacky junk. However, it is still an experience to check out. If you were looking for a bargain or some souvenir shopping, I’d hit the local markets for better options and quality.

MBK Center
MBK Center

Top things to do in Bangkok

Explore Bangkok’s old quarters. Visit the Grand Palace, the Royal Grounds, and Wat Pho’s reclining Buddha. Once you’ve walked around all the temples and ancient buildings, relax and treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage.

Temple in Bangkok
Temple in Bangkok

Bangkok is also known as the “Venice of the East.” Spending a couple of hours exploring the canals on a long-tail boat is a great and relaxing way to explore the city.

Bangkok is also a great place to take a Thai cooking class. There are plenty of reasonable cooking class options, and most will adapt to all dietary types. May Kaidee near Khao San Road as a good option for vegetarian Thai cooking classes.

Street Food in Khao San Road
Street Food on Khao San Road

Khao San Road is Bangkok’s “red light district” with plenty of shopping, bars, and cheap restaurants. At night is when this area really comes to life! This is also the backpackers’ area, so expect to be hassled by touts. Regardless, it’s still one of the best places to check out the nightlife in Bangkok.

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Now you’re armed with some top tips for your first visit to Bangkok! All there is to do is get out and explore the city!

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Written by Melo Villareal

Melo Villareal is the Online Publisher of Outoftownblog.com. He is an Accountant by profession who left the corporate world at the age of 23 to explore his beautiful country and the rest of the world. Today, Melo works as a part-time Social Media Manager for local and international clients. His full-time work focuses on discovering interesting culture, explore different cuisines and take memorable photos from local and international destinations he's visiting.

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