Beautiful, cultured, and frenetic, Bangkok is one of the world’s most intense, energetic cities, and if you want to slip seamlessly into the frantic pace of life here, there are a few things you need to know. From common pitfalls to pointers that will help you see the best of the city, here are 12 rookie mistakes to avoid on your Bangkok trip.
1. Disrespecting Local Customs in Bangkok
While you’re unlikely to point your feet at anyone (a highly offensive gesture in Thai culture), there are certain situations where it pays to be aware of cultural sensitivities. First things first: Never disrespect the King, who has a seemingly unwavering level of adoration throughout the country. Perhaps more prescient, dress and act appropriately when visiting the temples in Bangkok (Wat Arun and Wat Pho are two of the best). This means removing your shoes, wearing long sleeves and pants to cover your shoulders and knees, and treating the beautiful structures with respect.
2. Not Exploring Beyond the Major Tourist Attractions in Bangkok
Malls are great for escaping the sweltering humidity in Bangkok, the Grand Palace is a must-see, and Chatuchak Market provides stellar bargains, but every tourist will visit these spots a trip to Bangkok. In addition to checking out these top attractions, make sure to deviate from the typical tourist trail and discover your own version of the city. Try the gruesome Siriraj Medical Museum, the quirky Shrine of Goddess Tubtim (an ode to the female fertility spirit), or the JJ Green Market.
3. Skipping Old Bangkok
Created from tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, khlongs (or canals) run through Bangkok. Take a longtail boat ride to explore the old side of the city, and you’ll find a bustling series of waterways that still retain plenty of life. Sure, much of the city has moved on, but seeing the lean-to stilt houses along the banks of the canal is reason enough to take to the khlongs for an afternoon.
4. Falling for Tourist Scams in Bangkok
Most big cities have their fair share of tourist scams, but Bangkok’s fast and frenetic pace means falling for one here is even easier. Beware of ‘helpful’ strangers telling you attractions are closed and offering you a tour of somewhere ‘better.’ These people are paid to take you on a journey to different businesses (that you almost certainly have no interest in visiting), and the de facto tour guides charge a costly price. Another big one to avoid is the broken taxi meter scam. If you get into a taxi without a meter, the driver is free to charge you any figure – likely a large one. It might take a little longer to catch a cab, but always make sure to use a taxi with a driver willing to put on the meter.
5. Mistaking Khao San Road for the Only Version of Real Bangkok
If you’re a backpacker, chances are you’ll spend a hefty chunk of your time enjoying the bars and clubs on Khao San Road. Even if you’re not backpacking around, it’s worth checking out the famous road and its immediate surroundings, but be warned: Once you fall for its charms, it can be hard to leave. As any local will tell you, Khao San Road does not offer a glimpse into real Bangkok, so don’t spend too much time hunched over brightly colored booze buckets surrounded by international tourists.
6. Ignoring the BTS Skytrain in Bangkok
First off, the Skytrain is quicker than sitting in traffic, so don’t be shy of taking advantage of it. It’s also cheap and convenient to use, which means you’ll save on inflated taxi rides and pitch up to a range of destinations across the city (although it doesn’t cover all of Bangkok).
7. Only Eating in Restaurants in Bangkok
If you only eat in hotels and restaurants, you’ll miss out on one of the main attractions of Bangkok — the street food. Areas like Yaowarat (Chinatown), Victory Monument, and Dusit have plenty of amazing street food stalls, but Bangkok is a city where you can find tasty fare on every corner. From pork larb to spicy noodles, fish soup to hoy tod, you can have a gourmet meal for less than $5.
8. Not Using the River Boat in Bangkok
Unlike longtail boats that sail the khlongs, river taxis should be used for getting from point A to point B rather than seeing the sights. The best thing about the river route is that passengers can enjoy a cool breeze from the water while also reaching places like Chinatown and the Grand Palace. Look out for colored flags on the taxis, which indicate stopping points. Your hotel should be able to give you a short rundown on what the different colors mean.
9. Being Too Polite to Haggle in Bangkok
Whether you’re too polite or too nervous, you shouldn’t let that stop you from haggling in Bangkok. Food stalls are generally off-limits given that the cost of food is already reasonable, but most other markets are ideal spots for honing your bargaining skills. From fresh flowers to clothing, you should always be prepared to negotiate a lower price. Make sure to get the exchange rate correct in your head before haggling because lowballing with an insulting offer – whether accidentally or intentionally — is not polite.
10. Not Giving Up Your Seat for a Monk
When riding on public transportation, keep an eye out for seats reserved for monks. If you were wondering about that sign above your seat depicting a man wrapped in a yellow robe, that’s the one. Feel free to sit in these seats, but make sure to give it up if you see a Buddhist monk.
11. Taking Expensive Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok
Tuk-tuks are a rite of passage in Bangkok, and some say you haven’t really experienced the city until you’ve ridden in one. Whizzing through traffic in the open-sided vehicles is certainly fun and wild. The mistake that tourists make when it comes to tuk-tuks, however, is picking the wrong one. Always agree on a price in advance (drivers are notorious for inflating the cost once passengers are inside), and don’t allow your driver to stop off at various destinations around the city. Be firm and don’t let them take you for a ride – pun intended.
12. Smoking in the Wrong Place in Bangkok
Bangkok is on a public health quest. Smoking is being targeted in areas across the city, so don’t light up in the wrong place or be prepared to pay a fine. Airports, restaurants, and bars are mostly covered by no-smoking codes, but tourists also need to watch out for designated zones on city streets that police patrol for the sole purpose of collecting fines. Don’t smoke near public entrances and exits to buildings – even if you see locals doing so – or near heavily populated tourist attractions. It’s a bit of minefield for visiting tourists, so be warned.
Our Pick for a Luxury Hotel in Bangkok: SO Sofitel Bangkok
With trendy interiors created by French fashion icon Christian Lacroix and plenty of amenities, the SO Sofitel Bangkok attracts luxury-loving travelers. Set in the heart of Bangkok, on picturesque Lumpini Park, the building offers stunning views from many rooms and all common areas, including the outdoor rooftop pool, the Park Society bar and restaurant, and the decadent spa. Plus, each room is outfitted according to a theme — Water, Earth, Wood, or Metal — and comes with a soaking tub and Apple TV entertainment.
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