The City of Angels
Flying into Suvarnabhumi Airport on a balmy September morning, I could not have guessed that I would settle so comfortably in Bangkok and fall in love with both the city and its people. Bangkok is a fascinating fusion of traditional Thai culture and modern 21st century global living. You can ride the air-conditioned Skytrain along the Silom and Sukumvit lines and you will find yourself in a modern metropolis, but down at street level it can sometimes be a different story. Street hawkers, food sellers and local restaurants line the streets at various points of the city, catering to tourists and Thais alike.
Many Bangkok residents eat out rather than cook at home due to the cheap price of street food. An average meal from a street vendor will usually cost around 40-50 Baht (a little over one euro!!!) You can sample the delights of Thai red curry, noodle soup, Tom Yum Goong and Somtam whilst shopping for low price goods from questionable sources at any one of the many markets around the city. For sheer size and scope you cannot beat Chatuchak weekend market which runs on Saturday and Sunday, including a huge night market on the weekend.
Shopping is one of Bangkok residents’ most popular activities, and there are no shortage of huge modern air-conditioned malls, the likes of which you can find all over Asia. Designer shopping, restaurants, electronics superstores and modern movie theatres can be found in every area of Bangkok. The movie theatres in particular are very impressive – check out Siam Paragon Cineplex with it’s 4DX state of the art technology, multiple luxury lounge-type screens and huge IMAX…all well worth a visit. Siam Paragon is accessible from the BTS (Skytrain) system that runs through parts of the city (with more stations being added every few years.)
There is also the MRT (Underground) system to access other parts of the city, or you could just take a taxi (or Tuk Tuk) for a fraction of the price you would pay in western countries (for example, 350 baht for an hour taxi ride). Just be aware that the Bangkok traffic can be chaotic and gridlocked at times. To beat this you could always try a motorcycle taxi for an exhilarating (and terrifying) experience!!!
Accommodation varies in price across the city, with luxury hotels rubbing shoulders with smaller traditional guesthouse-type accommodation and short-term apartments. The prices, as you would expect, do tend to rise significantly the closer you get to the BTS and centre of the city. The average price for accommodation ranges from 8,000 baht to 40,000 baht depending. Another thing worth mentioning about Bangkok is how safe you feel all of the time. Even though it is a huge and sprawling metropolis, the locals will make you feel safe and looked after, and this leaves the majority of tourists with a very positive impression of Bangkok and its residents.
You will never be bored here– there in a nearly inexhaustible list of activities to keep you occupied. During the day you can visit one of Bangkok’s many temples, museums, art galleries and parks. Then you can relax with a traditional Thai massage in the evening before sampling Bangkok’s legendary nightlife in one of the many entertainment hot spots and live music venues across the city. Those of a more sensible disposition can also take in a show at the theatre or enjoy a night of classical music, ballet or opera with Bangkok’s ever-broadening variety of culture.
The vast majority of Thais, especially the younger generations and those that live in or around the country’s popular tourist destinations understand and are very much aware that foreign visitors, or ‘farangs’, have their own unique cultures and customs, many of which will also probably seem a little strange to them too! Therefore, many social and behavioral mistakes will be forgiven in Bangkok without anyone even thinking twice.
That said it is important that you are polite and courteous during your visit; after all, that is only basic good manners when in a foreign country.
- Respect anything to do with the King, The Royal Family, and Buddha
- Always remove your shoes or footwear before entering a temple, someone’s home, and certain shops (a majority of shops do not require this)
- Relax and try to always stay calm (showing extreme emotion is very frowned upon in Thai culture)
- Always treat Buddhist monks with respect
- Smile a lot! Thailand is nicknamed “The Land of Smiles” – A majority of Thai’s will be happy to return a friendly smile
- Have fun and enjoy yourself.
- Don’t be disrespectful in any way, shape or form to the Royal Family or to the Buddhist religion. Thai’s are forgiving of foreigners but not with the two topics above.
- Don’t raise your voice or get angry as it is a sign of disrespect in Thailand. Never become aggressive. Again, Thai’s are understanding of foreign differences, but shouting or becoming angry isn’t just seen as disrespectful, but also that you lack self-discipline or control. They may smile or laugh to try and diffuse the situation, but please know that they are not laughing at you.
- Do not touch a Thai person on the head. According to the Buddhist religion, the head is sacred.
- Don’t use your feet to point at anything. As the head is the most sacred part of the body, the feet are the least.
If you remember these basic guidelines and learn a few phrases of Thai before your visit, you cannot fail to enjoy your time in Bangkok. Although a new culture may seem daunting at first, the best phrase to sum up the Thai philosophy is “Mai Pen Rai.” Roughly translated, it means “No worries.”