Monday 24 July 2017

Bangkok: 10 great things about the Thai capital (and 10 not so great)

Adventures in South East Asia

Bangkok's Grand palace at twilight. Photo: Deposit
Bangkok's Grand palace at twilight. Photo: Deposit
Bangkok's Sky Train. Photo: Deposit
Vendors transport food in boats at a floating market, Bangkok, Thailand
Foreigner entrance fees in Bangkok. Photo: Kieron Wood
Broken pavement in Bangkok. Photo: Kieron Wood
Monks at Chinatown, Bangkok. photo: Deposit
Paradee Goodbye. Photo: Kieron Wood

Kieron Wood

Bangkok has its ups and downs, but Kieron Wood's insider guide should help you navigate a fascinating city.

10 great things about Bangkok

1. Smiles

Thailand isn't called the Land of Smiles for nothing. Its people follow the Thai Buddhist tradition of ‘jai yen’ – a cool heart – and lose face if they quarrel or become upset. It’s safe, as well as genuinely friendly.

2. The weather

It’s hot most of the time. Even when it’s not sunny, in the rainy season from June to October, the rain is short lived – and warm – though it can be heavy.

3. Public transport

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Bangkok's Sky Train. Photo: Deposit

Although the traffic may be terrible, the frequent, air-conditioned Sky Train (above, two routes) and the Metro are fast and easy to use, with one-day Sky Train tickets at about €4. But avoid the rush hour!

4. The river

The Chao Phraya river is the heart of the City of Wild Plums. Boat trips are cheap, regular and reliable – and you can see the sights in comfort.

5. Street food

Available everywhere, cooked instantly while you watch. Choose vendors with plenty of Thai customers. Don't miss the floating markets, either...

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Vendors transport food in boats at a floating market, Bangkok, Thailand

6. The prices         

Cheap, cheap, cheap, especially Chatuchak weekend market and made-to-measure clothes. Buy your souvenirs early – but don’t offer more than half the original asking price on market stalls. And beware ‘cheap’ tailors bearing bolts of cloth (even if marked ‘wool’).

7. Massages

Available everywhere at prices from €3 per hour. Handle the touts with a polite ‘no thanks’ – mai khrap (or mai khaa if female).

8. Hotels

The choice is overwhelming, from hostels to soaring five-star riverside establishments – and even cheaper online. The best hotels have a pool too.

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Monks at Chinatown, Bangkok. photo: Deposit

9. Respect

That should probably come under ‘smiles’, but the Thai people have respect drummed into them at an early age. The hands-together ‘wai’' is universal, as is the respect for monks, who hold a special place in Thai culture.

10. Access

Bangkok is easier than ever easy to get to, with flights from Dublin through airlines like Etihad, including a short stopover in Abu Dhabi (€704 economy class or €2,803 business class), or with Emirates via Dubai.

10 not-so-great things about Bangkok

1. Traffic

Even though Thais drive on the left, the rush-hour traffic can be horrendous. Thank goodness for the abundant supply of (really cheap) metered taxis. Be aware though – a red light means the taxi is for hire, not that it’s taken.

2. Pavements

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Broken pavement in Bangkok. Photo: Kieron Wood

Broken, holed, uneven paths, with the threat of imminent injury from cyclists and motorcyclists riding on the pavements.

3. Noise and dirt

Well, Bangkok is a big city in an Asian country and standards might not be what you’re used to at home – though they are improving.

4. Fake policemen

You may be surprised at the number of ‘policemen’ in Bangkok. Often they’re not policemen at all but security guards – or even car park attendants – in uniform. But if there’s any trouble, the tourist police are always nearby.

5. Beggars

They’re everywhere, and distressing, especially when they’re just children. But the Buddhist Thais ‘make merit’ by giving alms.

6. Admission charges

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Foreigner entrance fees in Bangkok. Photo: Kieron Wood

I find it really annoying and unfair that some of the most popular visitor attractions in Bangkok charge different admission prices for foreigners and Thai nationals. The sooner they scrap this anomaly, the better.

7. Airport queues

You can face lengthy queues in Suvarnabhumi Airport, unless the airline provides a priority pass. But the good news is that an elevated train runs from the new airport right into the centre of the city at a cost of just over €1...

8. Creepy crawlies

If you don’t like spiders or bats – or, even worse, snakes or rats – don’t walk down side streets in the dark. After all, this is southeast Asia.

9. Buddhist holidays

So you’re not a fan of pubs closing on Good Friday? You’ll be even less pleased when you can’t buy your favourite tipple on Buddhist holy days, like the end of their ‘Lent’. Not all bars are closed, but some are, and the government has – officially – banned the sale of alcohol after midnight following the king’s recent death.

10. Wires

One of the abiding impressions of Bangkok is the absolute forest of electricity wires festooning most buildings. The authorities have promised to do something about it, but when?

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