First Time in Bangkok? Here’s everything you need to know …
So many backpackers and travelers begin their adventures here in Bangkok and for good reason. Thailand is a beautiful country full of exotic experiences, glittering temples, gorgeous beaches, steaming jungles and fiery curries that offers possibly the most easily accessible exotic holiday and your first time in Bangkok is bound to be an exciting experience!
Bangkok is a city fusing the ancient, the futuristic and everything in between together at the same time in a hot, heady mix. Golden temples, elaborate gabled rooftops, ancient stupas and spires and traditional Thai riverside stilt houses jostle for space amongst the modern gleaming skyscrapers, trendy malls, pumping bars and neon lights.
Add the fact that it’s cheap, fun, relatively safe and the chances of meeting other like minded travelers are high and Thailand is the perfect place to start traveling.
Daily Backpacker Budget for Bangkok: 700 Thai Baht a day / US$20
Best Things to do and Places to Visit in Bangkok
So what you should you do on your first time in Bangkok? Along with the famous sights there are many other essential Bangkok experiences to try:
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
An essential stop for a first time in Bangkok is the Grand Palace. This is Bangkok’s most famous attraction and for good reason. The elaborate splendour and intricate decoration on the stunning Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) really has to seen to be believed. Every surface is covered with intricate, mirror and glass mosaics that glint in the sun while shimmering golden chedis rise up toward the sky adorned by hundreds of mythical creatures.
Expect to cover up and just don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you it’s closed as the area around the palace is well known for scam artists. See my Tips for visiting the Grand Palace
Neighbouring the Grand Palace is Wat Pho. This temples is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok and is home to the famous, 46 meter long, golden reclining Buddha and the biggest collection of Buddha images in the country. There is also an air conditioned massage center and training school here.
Take a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River
The Chao Praya is the watery artery of Bangkok, an insight to when Bangkok was the ‘Venice of the East’ and still a good commuting option in this grid locked city. Hop on a boat with the locals for a beautiful way to see this city of old and new, enjoy the welcome respite of the breeze and take in traditional riverside houses, temples, modern skyscrapers and rainbow coloured long tail boats as you ride down the river.
Climb Wat Arun
Situated on the other side of the river from the Grand Palace and forming an iconic silhouette is Wat Arun also known as Temple of the Dawn. From far away it doesn’t look too detailed but up close it is covered in colourful mosaic tiles. Brave the steep climb up to the top for great views over the river.
Also check out:
Museum of Siam – If it’s your first time in Bangkok and you want to learn more about Thailand’s history, art and culture and Buddhism then the fun exhibits at this entertaining museum housed in a heritage palace building should bring it to life.
Jim Thompson’s House – Jim Thompson was a merchant and former American spy in Thailand in the 1950s. His house is a beautiful, old fashioned, teak filled traditional Thai style home and garden right near modern Siam Square.
More essential Thai experiences
Have a Thai Massage.
Thai massage is everywhere, you can enjoy it at temples like Wat Pho, on the street around Khao San Road, in malls and beauty salons, you can even get a massage from a blind person. If its your first time ask the masseuse to go easy though as it can sometimes feel like a bit of a work out.
Watch a Muay Thai Fight
Muay Thai is very popular, fighters train for years and the sport is taken very seriously across Thailand. The Muay Thai fights on the islands are very touristy so try to watch an authentic match with great fighters in Bangkok and take in the atmosphere from the crowd as well.
Do Aerobics in Lumphini Park
Lumphini is Bangkok’s central park and a nice place to relax and escape the city. When the heat settles at about 5.30pm people do Tai Chi, run or work out in the park aerobic instructors crank up the Gangnam Style in parks across Bangkok and whole classes begin their aerobics routines but at precisely 6pm this all stops while the national anthem is blared out across public spaces. Join in or just wander the park and watch the action.
Where to Stay on your first time in Bangkok
Of course there are thousands of accommodation options in Bangkok from luxury hotels with stunning views from the rooftop swimming pools (you might be surprised at how cheap nice hotels are in Bangkok!) to budget guesthouses and backpacker hostels.
There are so many hostels and places to stay in Bangkok that choosing the right one can be a little overwhelming so read on as I’ll describe the best areas of the city to stay in and my recommendations for the best hostels and guesthouses in each place.
Most first time backpackers either stay in backpacker central around Khao San Road but make sure you also venture away from Khao San to see the ‘real’ Bangkok. There are also some great accommodation options in more central areas like Sukhumvit, Siam Square and Silom where it’s also easier to get around the city on the skytrain.
Where to Stay around Khao San Road and Banglamphu
Thailand is a bit like a backpacker’s mecca and in the center of it is Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road – no longer simply the reserve of dread locked hippies staying in grungy hostels. Nowadays Khao San Road’s appeal has spread much further; travelers can expect stylish, modern, clean hostels, budget hotels complete with rooftop swimming pools, international stores and fast food chains along with a multitude market stalls, clothes stalls, bucket bars and the odd deep fried cricket vendor.
Khao San stretches far further than just one street – the whole Banglamphu area has plenty going on for backpackers. For your first time in Bangkok Khao San Road is a great place to stay due to the ease of meeting other travelers and the plethora of services the area offers to tourists.
Hostels and Budget Guesthouses near Khao San Road
You can quite easily just turn up and check out a few places along Khao San but being right in the heart of the action can get a bit noisy so if you want a quiet nights sleep then its better to head a couple of streets back form the action. The streets just behind Khao San Road still have a lot of bars, restaurants and things going on but a bit of a quieter and more chilled out vibe.
Khao Sand Road itself only has a few hostels as traditionally most of the cheap backpacker accommodation was in guesthouses. Some of the best hostels around Khao San are popular Nap Park, the new stylish boutique Nitan Hostel Khaosan, modern and sophisticated Pillow Hostel or if you’re looking for something with more Thai character check out super cute wooden Suneta
Budget travellers in Bangkok are not just limited to hostels either, although many also have private rooms, especially if you are traveling as a pair or couple sometimes it can be more cost effective to share a room in a guesthouse. D&D Inn, Buddy Lodge and Rikka Inn are Khao San Road favourites and even have a rooftop pool!
Where to stay in Bangkok if you don’t want to stay on Khao San Road
Khao San Road is a great place for people watching, nightlife and to meet other travellers, especially if its your first time in Bangkok, but sooner or later everyone needs to explore the real Bangkok. Khao San Road is not that conveniently connect to the rest of Bangkok so staying near the skytrain makes it much easier to get around this increasingly congested city.
The areas around Sukhumvit, Siam Square and Silom are centrally located and have a lot going on (although some areas, especially around Sukhumvit near Nana BST, are quite on the seedy side)
Some cool hostels and places to stay away from Khao San Road include the awesome, funky and popular Lub d Silom and Lub d Siam Square These hostels are centrally located and good places to met other travellers away from Khao San.
Another one of the most popular and best hostels in Bangkok is the clean and chic Yard Hostel and Siamaze, a modern and bright hostel with free cooking classes and BBQs both located near the skytrain near the Phaya Thai area. Bodega is a lively sociable party hostel in a great central Sukhumvit location and Smile Society is a popular chilled out and friendly place near Silom.
I also loved Refill Now it’s a really nice, stylish, chilled out place with a cute mini swimming pool in a typical Bangkok neighbourhood. It’s a bit far from the center of Bangkok but a nice place to chill and the closest cheap option to the airport.
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Looking for something a bit more luxurious!?
If Bangkok is your first experience of Asia it might be a good way to ease yourself in and minimize culture shock but staying in a nicer place for the first few days. You might be surprised at how affordable some of the more upmarket and luxury hotels can be in Thailand, especially if get a good deal, there are some fabulous luxury and high end hotels that are a bargain compared to hotel prices in the West.
It’s also great value to rent an apartment in Bangkok on Air BnB, especially if there is a large group of you and I always find that I feel a lot more like a local with an apartment. To get you started here’s $25 off your first Air BnB booking!
Eating and Drinking on a Budget in Bangkok
Try Some Street Food
In Thailand it’s often cheaper to eat out than to buy food and cook it at home. Your first time in Bangkok is a great place to start trying street food, it’s everywhere and usually it’s pretty safe and hygiene, just chose a stall that looks busy and popular and you should be fine. The neon lights of China town is an especially good place to go for food. The food is usually cheap and fresh, you must try the ubiquitous Pad Thai but don’t forget to add the chilli, fish sauce, sugar and peanuts to make your taste buds really pop for a proper, authentic taste. If you’re a foodie you can eat your way around Bangkok on a foodie adventure tour with a 2 day Bite Sized Bangkok Break with Intrepid Tours
I also love the delicious fresh fruit juices and shakes, tom yum soup (it can be super spicy but most of the time they can tone down the spice) or if you are feeling adventurous it’s kind of a right of passage to try a fried cricket or scorpion on a stick after a few beers on Khao San Road.
7/11 has to deserve a mention because they are everywhere in Thailand and sell everything you need for a great price, even hot food like toasted sandwiches, cold beers, toiletries and offer a delicious air conditioned escape from the steamy streets.
Nightlife in Bangkok
Yes, like in the song – One Night in Bangkok! A night out in Bangkok just has to be done. Bangkok is best at night, the city is lit up and comes alive, explore the night markets, bars and street food.
Enjoy the party atmosphere and cheap drinks in the many bars along Khao San Road, dare your friends to eat bugs, get asked 100 times to see a ping pong show, shop and dance in the street before hitting a night club – Route 66 on Royal Court Avenue is a fun and popular nightclub with backpackers.
If you’re after something a little more classy you could drink cocktails in a posh rooftop bar over looking the river, Eleven sky bar is an amazing free entry sky bar on the 33rd floor of the Fraizer Suits, on Soi 11 in Sukhumvit or Ku De Ta in Silom in Silom. Hotels also have fun pool parties at the weekend. Bangkok’s nightlife may be seedy in places but it’s certainly lively! See more about where to party in Bangkok here and best bars in Bangkok here
Shopping in Bangkok
Hope you haven’t filled up your backpack to much because Bangkok is a great place to shop! From super smart and modern malls to bustling markets. Everything you could ever need, and some things you really don’t, can be found in Bangkok often for lower prices than in the West. Learn how to haggle if you want to get a bargain.
Malls in Bangkok
Bangkok is a shopper’s heaven, from hunting for bargain electronics in the huge MBK mall, to the high end Paragon and Central World malls and stylish Siam Center. I love Terminal 21 – it’s themed like an airport and each floor is a different country there’s even mini San Francisco bridges and things inside. Even if you are not buying the air conditioned comfort is bliss and the food courts are nice.
Markets in Bangkok
There are many markets in Bangkok but one of the most popular is Chatuchak Weekend Market is a massive weekend market, the size of many football pitches, is one of the most popular markets and things to see in Bangkok. It’s a pretty crowded experience at the weekends but you can find everything and anything you could ever imagine at cheap prices including fake designer brands and an amazing food stalls.
How to get to Bangkok
Do you need a visa to visit Thailand?
Most nationalities are eligible for a 30 day free visa on arrival in Bangkok. If you need longer you can usually apply for a longer visa before you leave home or you could do a visa run to a neighbouring country and re-enter to get another visa. Thailand has recently introduced a new 6 month multiple entry tourist visa. The easiest way to get it is by using a agent like Visa HQ
Cheap Flights to Bangkok
Bangkok is a great place to start a trip around Southeast Asia and is a good air hub. There are 2 airports – most long haul international flights come in to Suvarnabhumi and budget airlines in the region leave from Don Mueang.
There are loads of cheap flight deals into Bangkok search on Skyscanner to find the best deals. (I always search for whole month to find the cheapest day to fly and can save alot of money by being flexible with dates.) Air Asia are great for cheap flights around the rest of Southeast Asia and Bangkok has great connections by bus and train to the rest of Southeast Asia.
How to get from Suvarnabhumi airport to Khao San Road
So when you arrive, the first thing that most backpacker shave to figure out is how to get from the airport to Khao San Road without getting ripped off. There are many ways to do this – you could take a taxi (just make sure you demand him to use the meter) the price should be about 400 Baht including the tolls and airport surcharge and takes about 30 minutes if the traffic is not too bad. To avoid any hassle you can even book your transport online here before you arrive.
You can also take a bus AE-2 heading for Banglampu for 150 baht. It takes over an hour and drops you off near the end of Khao San Road.
If you are not staying on Khao San Road you could take the train. You could either take the express Line to Makkasan and then change onto the MRT, or you can also take the Cityline to Phaya Thai (BTS) station and connect to the rest of the city or get a taxi from there. The trains are frequent, cheap and quick but this option wouldn’t be convenient if you are staying on Khao San.
How to get around Bangkok and the rest of Thailand on a Budget
Navigating public transport around Bangkok and Thailand is not too difficult and transport from Bangkok leaves to destinations all over Thailand and the whole of Southeast Asia.
Getting Around Bangkok
Bangkok is all too often grid locked by traffic jams, the best way to get around the modern part of Bangkok is using the cheap, fast and efficient sky train and you also get a pretty great view over the rooftops of the modern metropolis too.
Taxi’s are cheap and blissfully air conditioned just make sure the driver uses the meter and goes the direct route. Taking a motorbike taxi as it weaves through the traffic is also great fun.
I tend to avoid tuk tuks are they are often a bit of a tourist trap – they will try to over charge you or take you to a shop or something where they get commission, when taxis in Bangkok are such good value I don’t see much point in taking a tuk tuk apart from the novelty.
Traveling along the river by boat is great too and if you need to get back to Khao San Road, a quick and easy way is to get off the Sky train at Saphan Taksin and catch the boat up the river disembarking at Tha Phra Athit (Tha Banglamphu) for Khao San.
Where next after Bangkok
Buses and Trains from Bangkok
Bangkok is really well connected with the rest of Thailand and the whole of Southeast Asia and getting around Thailand independently is easy. From Rome to Rio is really great website if your trying to figure out how to get to the next destination.
The main bus stations are Mo Chit (at the Northern end of the BST) Ekkami (to head East) most hostels and guest houses can help you sort out onward travel and you can also book buses tickets in Thailand online. Minivans are also a popular and affordable transport option, minivans to most destinations leave from the Victory Monument.
Most of Bangkok is accessible by the Skytrain (apart from Khao San Road) Sleeper trains up to Chiang Mai or heading south to Chumphon or Surat Thani where you can then connect to reach the islands leave from the main train station Hua Lamphong. Taking a sleeper train in Thailand is comfortable and safe and the restaurant car sometimes turns into quite a party! Taking the train to popular Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is quite an experience, you can even book train tickets online here to guarantee your preferred travel dates and save the hassle of going to the train station or a travel agent to book.
Easy day trips from Bangkok
Some nice days trips from Bangkok are the photogenic but (touristy) floating markets at Damnoen Saduak or Amphawa. Explore the ruined ancient city of Ayutthaya. The town of Kanchanaburi is only about 2 hours from Bangkok and a good base to see the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and the beautiful waterfalls at Erwan National Park.
The nearest beach resort to Bangkok is Hua Hin and the closest island is little Koh Samet both about 3 hours away. Lovely Koh Chang is worth a visit but I steer well clear of sleazy Pattaya. All these trips are quite easy to do independently or there are many day tours from Bangkok. A good site to use for finding and booking tours and day trips from Bangkok is Viator and Get your Guide.
Should you travel alone in Thailand or take a tour?
Bangkok and Southeast Asia are great places to start backpacking because travel is easy and cheap. There are so many people doing the same thing you will soon make friends and meet someone going the same way. Even solo females shouldn’t have any troubles traveling Southeast Asia.
It’s also not necessary to plan out all your travels and pre book accommodation – it’s easy to just go with the flow and hop on a bus and then find somewhere to stay at the next town.
But it is pretty daunting flying half way across the world on your own for the first time. If you want to get your trip off to a good, stress free start and met like minded people the taking a group tour can be a fun and hassle free way to ease yourself into your travels.
The Best Tours in Thailand
There are hundreds of Thailand backpacker tours but make sure you choose a reputable company to go with. The best and most popular tour operators all run tours around Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia. I love Geckos Adventures, they do really great value, super fun tours especially for 18 – 29 year olds. My favourite is the 16 day Essential Thailand Tour which starts in Bangkok and then heads North to explore historical Sukhothai, cultural Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai including a visit to a hill tribe village before taking an overnight train to the tropical island of Ko Samui. You’ll also visit the beautiful Khao Sok National Park and explore the beaches around Krabi and Ao Nang. Geckos tours are some of the cheapest Thailand backpacking tours. Click here for more details.
G Adventures are one of the most popular tour companies of all time and run great sustainable tours that also get off the beaten track a bit and include lots of extra fun and cultural activities. They have a huge variety of tours, the YOLO ones are the most fun and best for backpackers. My favourite is the 16 day Thailand on a Shoestring tour which visits the highlights of Bangkok before jumping on an overnight train to explore Thailand’s cultural city of Chiang Mai and spending 3 days trekking through the stunning surrounding countryside and visiting hill tribe villages. After a quick stop in Bangkok the tours heads South to explore Khao Sok National Park and the beautiful islands of Ko Samui and Koh Tao. G Adventures tours are more expensive but include lots of added extras, click here for more details and to book. Also check out the last min deals and special offers and you might be able to get a bargain.
Another leading tour company is Intrepid. They have a great selection of fun and adventurous tours all over Thailand with local guides including food adventures and cycling tours and even hike, bike and kayak adventures. Some of Intrepid’s tours are only a couple of days long so you could mix and match your trip with time spent exploring independently and time spent on a tour. If you are traveling South from Bangkok check out the 15 days Bangkok to Singapore tour which visits Khao Sok National Park, explores the stunning beaches around Krabi and Ao Nang and stays in a village homestay. Next you’l cross into the cultural melting pot of Malaysia and visit the interesting and charming towns of Penang and Melaka as well as the capital Kuala Lumpur before ending up in modern Singapore. See more details here and check out Intrepid’s last min deals to get 25% off.
Tru Travels also offer fun and affordable tours for backpackers in Thailand. Taking one of their tours (the 8 day Thai Experience Tour goes from Bangkok to the popular backpacker island (and home of the full moon party) Koh Phangan via the stunning national park at Khao Sok. You can also get 5% off all TruTravels tours with the code ‘globalgallivanting’
If you can’t decide or just want to see all the best tours in one place then check out Tour Radar its a great way to compare all the best tours and read reviews. They also have a page with 60% off Asia tours which has some amazing savings.
Taking one of these tours would be a great way to spend your first week traveling and meet awesome people to travel onwards with, plus they want to give you the confidence to travel Southeast Asia alone and some, like Tru Travels, will support you with your onward travel plans after the tour finishes.
Backpacking Thailand and Southeast Asia
Many backpackers take a night train down to make a beeline to Thailand’s islands but the North of Thailand is also really worth exploring head for Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and chilled out Pai. Head into neighbouring Cambodia and check out the impressive temples at Angkor Wat or do the whole thing and take a loop around all of Southeast Asia.
Read More: For more info the Lonely Planet Guidebooks are great – packed with useful, practical information. Try either the Lonely Planet Thailand or if you are visiting the whole Southeast Asia region the popular guidebook – Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring is practically a backpacker’s bible. Also check out this Backpacking Thailand Guide by The Broke Backpacker.
How was your first time in Bangkok? Do you have any more tips for first time visitors?
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