From the moment of stepping off a flight to Bangkok in Suvarnabhumi Airport, a visitor to Thailand's capital can see what’s on offer. Since the airport opened in 2006, it has become something of a symbol for modern Bangkok and is a microcosm of the city itself. Excellent restaurants and high-end designer shops sit in the architecturally magnificent hall, alongside huge wooden statues of Spirit Guards. Old Eastern Buddhist traditions exist happily among new Western commercialism in a bustling, stimulating environment.
It would be possible to spend years in the city and still not see all the huge metropolis has to offer, but most tourists book flights to Bangkok hoping to catch some of the favourites. A visit to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace gives an idea of the city’s history. The shopping is unrivalled, with high-end designer malls and street markets both sprawling throughout the city. Thai boxing (Muay Thai) is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike; both watching a fight and training. The nightlife, of course, is notorious, but it’s not just the red light district of Patpong. The Khao San Road, ever-popular with backpackers, is filled with bars, clubs and even Irish pubs, while the central area has some of the world’s super-clubs and most fancy bars. From sunrise to sunset, there is plenty to see in this friendly, accessible city.
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Bangkok has a tropical climate with annual temperatures averaging 24 to 33 degrees Celsius. March through May have the highest temperatures and humidity, and approximately June through October is monsoon season, and November through February is cooler and less humid. Keep in mind though, that the monsoon season varies throughout the country, so there may be rain in May and November and floods in October.
When to fly to Bangkok
November to March is the best time to take flights to Bangkok. The temperature is in the mid 20s (Celsius) and the humidity is at its lowest. Prices can be twice as high as in the off season, and hotels are often fully booked.
The off-season prices are appealing, especially if you like it hot and humid and rainy. The least-crowded months tend to be May, June, and September.
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Getting around Bangkok
There are many different ways to get through the busy, crowded streets of Bangkok. Hop aboard the Skytrain, which runs on a raised monorail, for great views of the financial and shopping districts. The train is connected with the underground, which is easy to use and covers the parts of Bangkok not connected to the Skytrain.
Buses crisscross the city, but the system can be confusing to navigate. You’re better off taking a taxi or tuk-tuk, both of which are inexpensive.
Don’t rent a car for your stay. You’ll learn quickly that Bangkok drivers are very aggressive and traffic is a nightmare. If you really want your own car, hire a car and driver for the day instead.
Heading out on foot is doable, but you’ll move slowly. Foot traffic crawls along, which is great if you want to experience the colour of the city, but slow-going if you’re trying to get somewhere.
The water taxis lining the Chao Praya River are another popular tourist option. You’ll also find that Bangkok is the centre of Thai travel, so you can find a bus, train or flight to almost anywhere else you’re looking to go.
Bangkok insider information
- The Joe Louis Theatre holds nightly puppet theatre performances. Each puppet is manipulated by three puppet masters, who are on stage and an integral part of the show. The puppeteers are trained dancers and the performances mesmerizing.
- Muaythai, Thai Boxing, is the national sport and, if you have the stomach for it, can be an entertaining evening. It’s an entire performance, including the pageantry of the pre-bout rituals, frenetic gambling and live musical performances.
- About 95 per cent of the population is Buddhist. Ablutions at a temple involve bowing three times, placing the forehead on the ground at the foot of the Buddha, lighting candles and incense and chanting. Tourists are welcome to participate in any capacity, and small monetary contributions are appreciated.
- The National Museum is a good place to learn about the history of Thailand. The Grand Palace, one of the most famous attractions, is the major architectural symbol of The Thai Royal Family and is still used for ceremonies. Bangkok’s oldest, largest, and most famous temple is Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The Reclining Buddha statue is gold plated and inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the soles of its feet.
- For a look at history through Thai residences, the Jim Thompson house is an excellent example of Thai architecture, with an impressive collection of Oriental art and antiques.
- When taking a taxi, make sure it’s metered and the meter is running. Most cabbies speak some English, but have someone write your destination in Thai to avoid any misinterpretations. At night cabbies often try to barter a flat rate; insist that they use the meter as it will usually cost less.
- Nearly every visitor to Bangkok wants to take a tuk-tuk at least once. Be forewarned! All tuk-tuk fares are negotiated; do not get into the tuk-tuk until you have settled on the fare. The exhausts from the surrounding vehicles can be overwhelming and the traffic in central Bangkok is always bad, but one journey by tuk-tuk is an excellent way of discovering the layout of the city.