We’ve been in Thailand’s capital four days now and it didn’t take as long to discover — we don’t really fit the system.
A budget of £30 per day (including accommodation) shouldn’t be difficult here. But our skin colour, tourist maps and ready cameras paint a picture of opportunity for Thais relying on rich, naive foreigners for their livelihoods.
We neither fit the mound of traveller nor tourist. And it’s been a learning practice navigating the pitfalls of daily life as a backpacker in Bangkok. Below is a less than comprehensive guide to ‘do’ Bangkok far better than us. To bypass the stinky parts and enjoy the wonders — because there are plenty of both!
1. Getting around
From the get-go we’ve been the target of Bangkok’s persuasive and voluminous tuk-tuk driver community. For the locals it’s the easiest way to skip a half hour walk. For us, not so much…
Severely jet lagged we decided to take a walk from our hostel in Sukhumvit (perilously close to the more infamous parts of Bangkok).
Map in hand, we set out in search of the river.
The map didn’t have a scale, and 40 minutes later we found ourselves a fraction of the way there surrounded by dilapidated buildings, stray dogs and tuk-tuks.
Walking isn’t your best way of getting around Bangkok.
It wasn’t until the next day we had our first tuk-tuk experience. Should have been warning bells when the journey home was pitched at 50B (£1.25).
We ended up taking a detour to the middle of nowhere to ‘Thai fashion’. We stay 10 minutes. Look, no buy.
It was a tailors. They wanted an hour to get us fitted for an expensive suit. The tuk-tuk driver clearly misread us. And we ended up lost for hours.
Hint to watch out for? If they say “Have you seen the standing Buddha?”
I’ve heard that phrase so many times I don’t even want to see it anymore!
Reminded me of the South Park episode where the homeless are portrayed as zombies, hungry for change (terrible I know). Here the tuk-tuk drivers just want gasoline, and they’ll do anything for it regardless of the discomfort that brings their customers.
If you’re ever here, stick to the sky train, metro and tourist boats. Taxis are comparatively cheap, but if you’re skrimping, trains are your friend.
2. Come prepared or pay the price
That brings us to the river. The locale every tourist destination sits on. And it’s inexpensive to navigate, thankfully. £1.25 per journey to be precise, or if you’re more daring, get a local boat for ~37p (or cheaper). We, along with a French guy (Vincent) took a boat to the Grand Palace.
All was going swimmingly… but then we hit a snag.
None of us had packed trousers. A fact we were constantly reminded of by opportunistic street vendors on the short walk to the entrance. So we bought some snazzy harems off them. I’m actually wearing them now, they’re very comfy.
There’s already been a number of cases we haven’t been prepared and paid the price. To my dismay Google doesn’t provide online maps for Bangkok so we’ve been coping using transport and tourist maps to navigate (badly).
Only now are we learning to research instead of going out blind. And another tip for free: don’t take directions from tuk-tuk drivers!
3. Finding food
You can get a meal for anything from 20-30B (50-75p) to thousands from the streets to the fine restaurants. To get the best food on a strict budget don’t just eat the cheapest thing you can find. In Smeagol’s words: “It’s too risky!” Also, when the streets smell like sewers the food is suddenly less appetising… Good weight loss strategy I guess! We actually found the best way to do food on day 1. All the big shopping complexes (our nearest is Terminal 21) sell a variety of dishes in a clean environment for as little as 30B (75p). To think we pay upwards of £10 for a Pad Tai at home.Look at that sheepish face. That’s a man on his second dish of the night.
4. Don’t get attached to your shoes
It’s a sign of respect to remove your shoes when entering a home or temple. Right now as I write, my expensive sketchers are sitting in a shoe rack with everyone else’s footwear.
Yesterday we spent the day in Ayathaya visiting the temples and ruins there. Tom stubbornly refuses to slip his shoes off without undoing the laces — needless to say, a large proportion of our day was spent on shoe related business.
I’ve buried the feeling of unease associated with leaving my shoes unattended.
If you want an occupation in Thailand and don’t want to drive tuk-tuks, maybe set up a black market shoe shop. Just… leave mine alone please?
5. Never take air con for granted
Bangkok at 34 degrees isn’t just hot. It’s sticky. Wear a backpack and you’ll be drenched in minutes, don’t and you’ll probably still be drenched. Look for 7/11s. Like blissful oasis of relief with cheap, cold water to top your fluids back up. Another reason to take the Skytrain would be the air con. It makes travelling a relaxing experience despite the press of bodies during rush hour.
6. Don’t plan everything – just plan for anything
Cliche, I know. But one fear I had going travelling with Tom was that everything would be too well organised.
Thankfully it’s been more like organised chaos, meaning we’ve had time to get lost and make mistakes and even stumble upon some quite unique and spectacular things.
Only the other day, in Ayathaya. We were about to head home, then noticed the streets we’d walked in the morning were completely blocked with market stalls and celebratory decorations. Some kind of anniversary of the Buddha if we heard right? There were elephants and crocodiles and interesting stalls lining every street for miles around.
Unfortunately, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I only photographed the place we got Pad Tai. 40B (£1) for a huge portion. Although the man misunderstood our order and only gave us one portion, so we shared like a disgusting couple.
I’m sure there’s plenty more surprises ahead of us. I’m just sorry I can’t share it all with you!
Right… time to type this up on my phone… oh wait.