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Bangkok Travel Information

Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, a few kilometers upstream from its  outflow into the Gulf of Siam, Bangkok sprawls across a flat alluvial plain. It is the capital in every sense of the word.
It is where the Royal family resides, it is the seat of government and administration, and it is the focal point for virtually all major industrial, commercial and financial activity. It is the country's main port and home to one tenth of the Kingdom's population.

Since Bangkok has a big international airport many tourist stay in this city for a short time. This first thing you have to know, that 3-5 days in Bangkok is not enough to feel and see the real Bangkok. So keep in mind, unless you stay one month in bangkok, the impression you get is not of the real city. 

Don't believe people who tell you that Bangkok is noisy, stinky, crowded etc.Those people probably have been 3-4 days in Bangkok. It's true, the North is nicer, but if you know where to go, and you have enough time, Bangkok is a great city.
Bangkok can soothe or ruffle, depending upon your circumstances. If you're contemplating the sunrise at Wat Arun temple along the Chao Phraya River, you'll marvel at what peace can be found in the midst of such a chaotic metropolis. But if you're stuck in a typically nasty traffic jam, you'll wonder if any magnificent sight or the warmth of Thai people could possibly be worth the frustration of trying to get from one place to the next.

Bangkok, Thailand's major gateway, casts an irresistible spell of enchantment. To the Thais it is Krung Thep, "City of Angels", and you'll find it truly a magic place, one that captivates the imagination.

Known to be the capital with the longest name ........ 
 "Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattanakosin
Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan
Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit"
Bangkok is the Orient's most cosmopolitan city and has attractions to stimulate even the most jaded travellers. Created as the Thai capital in 1782 by the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty, Bangkok is a national treasure house and Thailand's spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic centre.

More than anywhere else in the country, Bangkok expresses Thailand's uncanny ability to blend the old with the new. This lends a thrilling sense of discovery to one's sightseeing and adds an element of surprise when exploring what is the Orient's most fabled city.

Joyfully exuberant, Bangkok embraces modern development and presents an initial picture of thrusting office towers; of world-class hotels offering deluxe comforts; of glittering shopping plazas packed with treasures of the East such as silks and gemstones; of restaurants serving Thailand's acclaimed spicy specialities and virtually every other national cuisine worthy of the name; of neon-lit entertainment spots where the fare ranges from classical dance to laser disco.

Thailand's "City of Angels" is, indeed, a magic place where possibilities are limited only by the imagination. You'll marvel at past glories, delight in present opportunities and love every minute of it.

Today's Bangkok serves as illustration of the fortunes befalling the Asian Tigers -- countries whose economies emerged from the shadows of the Third World and grew by leaps and bounds. Most of Bangkok's deluxe hotels and gleaming skyscrapers have sprung up just since 1987. Thailand had for a decade one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, fueled by Japanese investment. But in mid 1997, gross economic mismanagement, corruption and reckless borrowing culminated in a major crash. Ultimately, the baht, its currency, lost half its value.

Bangkok has been called a city of villages, and its various districts range from near old time squalor to high-tech gleam. The one constant is the terrible traffic, which almost everyone predicts will get worse before it gets better. Fifty years ago, when Bangkok still had hundreds of canals (klongs), it was called the Venice of the East. Today, most of the canals have been filled in and paved over, adding more congested roads.

Most businesses and hotels are located in the city center, east/southeast of Old Bangkok in the Silom and Sukhumvit areas. The Sukhumvit Road district is the tourist heart of the city, with many fine restaurants and high-rise hotels. The Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza nightlife areas thrive there, as well as tailors, antique dealers and movie theaters. 
The infamous red-light district, Patpong Road, is located in the Silom area. Around Ploenchit Road-Rama I Road (at Phyathi Road) is Bangkok's major shopping hub with blocks upon blocks of shops.

Across the river is Thonburi, the former capital of Thailand and now a part of Greater Bangkok. North of the city is the busy Din Daeng/Lat Phrao commercial district. Farther north still is Don Muang, site of the international airport.

Note: In reading an address, be aware that the number following the street name is a soi number. A soi is a small side street or alley. In an address, the first numbers usually indicate a building, followed by a street name and then a soi number. Example: 21/3 Sukhumvit 11 would mean that the building 21/3 is off Sukhumvit Road and down Soi 11.

Whatever your preferences, you'll discover Bangkok makes sure there's never a dull moment. With many interesting attractions and places of interest in and around Bangkok, visitors can have a variety of " do-it-yourself " day trips to keep your holidays fun-filled and enjoyable.

Population

8,000,000-10,000,000.

Area of City

City of Bangkok: 626 sq mi/1,622 sq km. Bangkok is the largest city in the country and more than 10 times larger than the second-largest city.
Bangkok is its own province. There are 38 districts in Bangkok Province.

Weather

Hot climate with little variation in temperature. High temperatures combine with humidity May-October. Heaviest rain in September and October. For further Bangkok weather information check Thailand Weather

What to wear

Light, loose cotton clothing is best. Nylon should be avoided. Sweaters are needed during cool season evenings or if visiting mountainous areas or national parks. Jackets and ties 
are required in a very few restaurants and night clubs. Neat clothes are required for entering temples or palaces.

Banking Hours

Monday-Friday 9:30 am-3:30 pm. Banks do not close for lunch.

Currency Exchange

The baht used to be a very stable currency. From 1987-1997 it was pegged to a U.S. dollar-weighted basket of currencies, hovering around 25 baht to the US dollar. No longer. If Thailand continues to follow the regime prescribed by the International Monetary Fund, analysts forecast that by the end of 1998 the baht will settle somewhere between 38 and 42 baht to the dollar. Tourists need to check the rate daily and change money when their currency is on the upswing. Keep receipts of all exchanges.

Banks and currency exchanges can be found in all major tourist areas, as can automated teller machines (ATMs). Most ATMs accept such international connecting systems as Cirrus, Plus and NYCE. Rather than carry large amounts of cash or traveler's checks, you may withdraw between 20,000 baht and 40,000 baht per day using these cards.

Note: While ATMs at some of the major banks have 24-hour service, many shut down after 9 or 10 pm.

American Express offers a full range of services. Monday-Friday 8:30 am-5:30 pm. For stolen or lost cards, call 273-0044, 24 hours a day. You can report thefts, renew a card, replace damaged checks and get travel advice. You cannot, however, secure traveler's checks or cash them. Offices are in the north part of town, past the Victory Monument, 399 Phaholyothin Rd., phone (24 hours) 273-0033, 236-0376 or 235-0990.

All banks and currency exchange booths will issue cash advances on your Visa or MasterCard. (Given the prevalence and variety of credit card fraud, it's probably a safer bet to interact with a person than with an ATM.) If carbon paper is used in the transaction, be sure to take the paper with you. Most kiosks are open 9:30 am-7 or 8 pm, and are closed on many holidays. (However, the booths on Kaosan Road -- the Banglampoo area -- are open until 9 pm and also on holidays.) Hotels will change money around the clock, but the rates won't be as advantageous.  

Transportation

Arriving by Air

Bangkok's new Don Muang Airport international terminal, adjacent to what is now the domestic terminal, has relieved congestion and handles international passengers with modern efficiency. As you leave customs, you'll find an array of desks where you can arrange for taxis into Bangkok and transport to other destinations; a reservation desk for Bangkok hotels (no fee); and a TAT desk with free brochures and maps (tel. 02/523-8972). Both terminals have luggage-checking facilities (tel. 02/535-1250).

There is a tax of B500 for international departures and B30 for domestic departures.

A word of caution: The airport has more than its share of hustlers out to make a quick baht, who often wear uniforms and tags that make them seem official. They will try to get you to change your hotel to one that pays them a large commission, perhaps claiming your intended hotel is overbooked. They will hustle you into overpriced taxis or limousines. Do not get taken in.

Between the Airport and Town

By Bus
Airport buses busying between the Don Mueang Airport and the major downtown destinations are a bit of ripoff with their 70 Baht fare, but avoiding a likely trip around Bangkok by taxi (with the fare clocking up all the way on the taximetre), it's still a bargain. There are 3 routes of the Airport Bus:

A-1 goes to the Silom Road business district via Pratunam and Rajdamri Road, stoppping at big hotels like Indra Regent, Grand Hyatt Erawan, Regent Bangkok and Dusit Thani.

A-2 goes to Sanam Luang via Phayathai Road, Lan Luang Road, Rajdamnoen Klang Road and Tanao Road; comes in hady for those travelling to the Siam Square ir Banglamphu areas.

A-3 goes to the Phrakanong district via Sukhumwit Road.

You can also catch local air-conditioned buses on the main road that passes the airport. Bus 4 goes to the Rama Garden Hotel, Indra Regent, Erawan, Hyatt, and Dusit Thani hotels, and down Silom Road (last bus at 8 PM). Bus 10 goes to the Rama Garden Hotel, the Northern Bus Terminal, the Victory Monument, and the Southern Bus Terminal (last bus at 8:30 PM). Bus 13 goes to the Northern Bus Terminal, Victory Monument, and down Sukhumvit Road to the Eastern Bus Terminal (last bus at 8 PM). Bus 29 goes to the Northern Bus Terminal, Victory Monument, Siam Square, and Bangkok's main railway station, Hualamphong (last bus at 8:30 PM). Cost: B15.

By Minibus

Thai Airways has a minibus service between the airport and major hotels. They depart when they are full. Cost: B100. Complimentary orchid nosegay included.

By Riverboat Shuttle

A bus-and-boat service leaves every 30 minutes, 6 AM-9 PM. This service is really for the benefit of guests at the Oriental, Royal Orchid Sheraton, and Shangri-La hotels, but others can use it if there's space. The bus takes you from the airport to the river, where you transfer to a boat for the half-hour run to the hotels. Fare is $28 (B700); overall time is under an hour

By Taxi

Don Mueang is 25 km (15 mi) from the city center. The road is often congested with traffic. Be prepared for a 90-minute journey by taxi, though there are times when it can take less than 40 minutes. obtain a reservation and prepay the fare at the counter (at either terminal), and a driver will lead you to the taxi. The fare to downtown Bangkok depends on the exact location and, to some extent, the time of day. Count on B300-B350 from the international terminal and B250 from the domestic. Taxis to the airport from downtown Bangkok are approximately B130. Use a metered taxi and agree to pay for the toll road, an extra B50.

Otherwise, upon arrival you may want to procede upstairs, to the Departure Hall and catch a taxi that has just dropped the passengers. Insist on charging by the metre, it's the buyers' market in Bangkok now. It will hardly ever be more than 250 Baht when travelling within the city limits.

By Train

Bangkok Airport Express trains make the 35-minute run every 90 minutes from 8 AM to 7 PM. Check the schedule at the tourist booth in the arrival hall. Fare: B100. You can also take regular trains from 5:30 AM to 9 PM. The fare is B5 for a local train, B13 for an express.

Arriving by car

Speed limit on the major highways is 50 mph/80 kph. Because Bangkok is the center of the country politically, economically and geographically, all major roads pass through it. Highway 1 goes north to Chiang Rai, Highway 3 goes southeast to Pattaya and Rayong, and Highway 4 goes south to the Malaysian border. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to bypass the city. The elevated toll road, the Bangklo-Jangwatana Expressway, is an attempt to alleviate traffic problems, but often you can look down and see street traffic moving faster. Toll for the expressway is 30 baht-40 baht, depending on which exit you take. The Don Muang Tollway can cut the trip to and from the airport by at least 20 minutes. It costs 20 baht-40 baht more.

Roads in Bangkok seem to be constantly in a state of repair. Sukhumvit Road, the main street of Bangkok, always seems to be torn up in one location or another. Even without construction, traffic is horrible. Our strong recommendation: Leave the driving to someone else.  

Arriving by train

The main train station in Bangkok is Hua Lampong Terminal. Information and advanced booking: Rama IV Road, phone 223-0341. The Chiang Mai Express from the north arrives daily at Hua Lampong Terminal at 6 am and 9:40 am. The Hat Yai Express from the south arrives at the terminal daily at 9:30 am and 10:35 am.

A taste of former glory, the Oriental Express travels in luxury from Singapore to Bangkok and back with stops in Sukothai, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur and Hua Hin, Wang Po and Kanchanaburi. The trip takes three days each way. Prices start at around 25,000 baht. Call the Oriental Hotel, 236-0400, or E&O Services (in Singapore), 65-227-2068, for more information.  

Arriving by bus

Bangkok has four major bus terminals, one for each direction of travel outside the city. It's nearly impossible for a non-Thai-speaking person to make reservations by phone. Use one of the many local travel agents in town.

The one where you'd most likely arrive (or depart from) is the Southern Air-Conditioned Terminal on Charansantiwong Road (it's actually due west of Old Bangkok). This station is the jumping-off point for the Rose Garden, Demnoen Saduak Floating Market, the River Kwai Memorial, Phuket and other places west and south. These air-conditioned buses are clean and comfortable. The VIP buses that travel overnight even have reclining seats. It's possible to buy tickets weeks in advance, but you must get them at the station (or a hotel staffer or a travel agent will do so for a small fee of 50 or 100 baht.

Getting around

Buses - There are three types of public buses. By far the most comfortable are the privately owned, air-conditioned gray-and-red microbuses. All of them  charge 25 baht. Place your money in the box near the driver. No change is given. Once all seats are filled, no other passengers are allowed on board (a point definitely in the company's favor). However, there's no route map, and routes change often. Stops listed on the side of the bus are written only in Thai. Best way to utilize this inexpensive, comfortable mode of transport: Have someone write down your destination in Thai, then hand it to the driver, or to the people at the bus stop. Microbus owners are discussing the possibility of a bilingual route map.  

The city operates both "regular" and air-conditioned buses. Fare on the "regular" ones is generally 3.50 baht, on the air-conditioned ones 6 baht. Most run 5 am-11 pm. The problems presented to visitors by these buses include the absence of a bus map, the frequent adding of new routes or changing of old ones and the difficulty of communicating in the Thai language. Carbon monoxide fumes may cause faintness. The buses are dangerously crowded. (Novices will find it especially chaotic traveling during rush periods, 7-9 am and 4-9 pm.) Because it's so difficult to get on and off, children should not be brought onto a crowded bus.  

Taxis - Although it's possible to hail a taxi on the street just about anywhere, you can easily order one, in English, by phone for a 20-baht surcharge: Call 319-8911. All taxis plying the street are now metered. Make sure the meter is on. Flagfall is 35 baht, with the fare increasing by an additional 6 baht for each kilometer beyond two kilometers. When the taxi is stopped in traffic, the meter switches to a clock, and the fare goes up 2 baht for every minute the speed is below 6 kph. Four passengers maximum; no additional charges per person. Tips are not required, but are often well deserved. Few drivers know much English, although they like to practice. It's always a good idea to have the hotel clerk write down your destination in both Thai and English.  

Water taxis - These really should be called "water buses," since these boats ply regular routes -- the Chao Phraya River and the city's canals (klongs). They're cheap and relatively efficient, because there's less congestion on the waterway. Fares start at 5 baht on the Chao Phraya Express River Taxi. This is the preferred mode of transport if the pickup and drop-off points are convenient. Boats will not stop if no one asks, so tell the conductor your destination. 

Note: Your destination may not always be at a regular stop on the water-taxi route. If you wish to visit, say, Wat Arun on the Thonburi side of the river, get off at the dock most directly across the river (in this case, Tha Tien). From there you can catch a small ferry that crosses the river for 1 or 2 baht. Pick up a copy of Nancy Chandler's famous Map of Bangkok from any bookstore for river taxi pickup points.

The principal klong (canal) taxis run along Klong Saen Saep, beginning close to Wat Saket and the Golden Mount and continuing eastward as far as Klongtan. Jim Thompson's House (the Phyathai), Ratchadamri Road and Soi Asoke are a few of the stops. These motorized longtails are much smaller and less stable than the river boats. You must be agile to jump on and off them. Using a klong taxi provides a fascinating glimpse of the city's backside, but the water is black and malodorous.

Other waterway options - They include river jets (used as hotel and airport shuttles and for sightseeing -- any travel agent or the Oriental Hotel can hook you up), as well as long-tailed boats (for trips up smaller canals).  

Tuk-tuks - These are three-wheeled contraptions that are half motorcycle and half golf cart. They offer exciting and unsafe-at-any-speed transportation. They're more expensive than taxis, and since there's no meter, you must bargain with the driver on price. Tuk-tuk drivers are sharp bargainers, and you could go broke using them exclusively.  

Motorcycle taxis - You'll know them by the young men in fluorescent vests who hang around intersections and the driveways of hotels and shopping centers. They offer a viable, though dangerous way of getting around. In a city where traffic often sits for half an hour before creeping up a few inches, motorcycle drivers can get you to your destination in good time. However, drivers defy traffic laws, good sense and even the laws of gravity. You must bargain the fare, which won't be cheaper than a taxi. Hire only the driver who lends you a helmet. (Check the neck of your motorcycle driver for a blue line and triangle peeking out above his collar. If you spot these tatoos, choose another driver. Many young Thai men go to occult shamans who ceremonially tattoo their backs, chests and necks with protective symbols that, the young men believe, make them immune to danger.)

Walking - This can be a good way to get around, and it's always an adventure. But don't expect Thais who are driving to give right-of-way to pedestrians. Even if they see you, that doesn't mean they'll slow down or stop. When you're not scanning for traffic, keep your eyes glued to the ground ahead of you: Uneven sidewalks, open trenches and exposed sewer drains have been known to incapacitate more than the occasional pedestrian. Keep in mind, too, that in the tropics where heat and humidity are usually high, a midday jaunt of more than 15 or 20 minutes will leave you looking and feeling more than a bit soggy and limp.

Health Care

Emergency Health Care

The following hospitals provide 24-hour service. All have some English-speaking staff. They'll accept credit cards and fill out insurance forms. In terms of equipment and sanitation, Bamrungrad and Samitivej look the most like Western hospitals. All have dental clinics. If you're involved in a traffic accident requiring hospitalization, you are supposed to be taken to a "police hospital," such as the one across from Erawan Shrine. Insist on being taken instead to one of these safe and clean hospitals:

International Medical Center (IMC) in Bangkok General Hospital, 
a department especially for foreigners.
They speak 18 languages here (also English, German, Dutch, Japanese, French, etc.).
Telephone: 02 - 310 3101-2 or 3106

St. Louis Hospital, in the south part of the city, 215 Sathorn Tai Rd., phone 2100-3348; Bangkok Christian Hospital, on the west side at 124 Silom Rd., phone 233-6981; Bamrungrad Hospital, 33 Sukhumvit Rd., Soi 3, phone 253-0251; Bangkok Adventist Hospital ("Mission Hospital"), 430 Phitsanuick, phone 281-1422 or 282-1100; Samitivej Hospital, 133 Sukhumvit, Soi 49, phone 382-0010 or 392-0061.

Emergency Pharmacies

The hospitals listed above have 24-hour pharmacies. Most other pharmacies close by 10 pm. Quality is generally reliable, especially for drugs manufactured in Thailand by Western companies. Registered pharmacists can read English and speak some English; if they're located near hotels and tourist areas, they'll speak it better. The clerks manning pharmaceutical counters in supermarkets and department stores are not pharmacists.

South East Pharmacy is a good and comprehensive pharmacy in the tourist belt. The owner, Mr. Tong, is a very pleasant man who speaks good English as well as Mandarin Chinese and his native Thai. Open daily until 10 pm. 207-9 Sukhumvit, Soi 15, phone 252-8241 or 250-0651. Also consider seeking out the British Dispensary, Sukhumvit Road, between Soi 5 and Soi 7, phone 252-8056; it's part of a clinic staffed by British-trained doctors, and English is understood and spoken well.

Mail and Package Service

Stamps can be purchased at hotels. The main post office, near the Oriental Hotel, is the only post office that can clear international parcels. Packages need to be open so that customs officials in the post office can check the contents. There's a 24-hour telecom annex on the grounds providing the highest-tech and probably cheapest international service in Thailand, connecting you instantly with a long-distance operator in Europe or Australia or North America. Post office is open Monday-Friday 8 am-4 pm, Saturday 8 am-noon. 1156 Charoen Krung Rd. (New Road), phone 233-1050.

DHL Worldwide Express will deliver and pick up. 24-hour service. New Petchburi Road, in the Grand Amarin Tower, 22nd Floor, phone 207-0600. Federal Express provides door-to-door delivery of documents, packages and freight. Phone 367-3222. TNT Express Worldwide provides the same services. 599 Klong Chong Nan See Rd., phone 249-0242.

Newspapers and Magazines

There are three English-language newspapers: The Bangkok Post and The Nation are general-interest dailies. Business Day is a conservative business daily, heavily subsidized by the Singapore Straits-Times. Many hotels and outlets provide the International Herald Tribune, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the British International Express, The Weekly Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald and Weekend Australian.

Sources beyond your hotel:

The newsstands east and west of Villa Supermarket, 593/5 Sukhumvit Rd., corner of Soi 33, are rich troves selling such specialties as Eastern European, Indian, Russian and Taiwanese newspapers. Asia Books, Bookazine and DK Books sell imported English-language magazines at stratospheric prices: Time, The Economist and other newsweeklies, as well as computer magazines and celebrity gossip rags.

For More Information

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is always a good starting point, whether your question deals with a festival date or a bus route. Unfortunately, TAT phone numbers seem to change very frequently. If those cited below don't work, try dialing 13 for directory assistance:

For the TAT (Tourism Authority), call 694-1222, extension 1000/20, Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30 pm. At other times, try the new 24-hour hotline by simply dialing 1155.
Main office of the Tourism Authority is at 202 Le Concorde Building, Ratchadapisek Road. One branch office is at 4 Ratchadamnoen Nok Ave., open weekdays 8:30 am-4:30 pm, phone 282-9773. If you're not too jetlagged, collect brochures at the airport branch, phone 523-8972. It's open daily 8:30 am-6 pm. (The booth on Na Phra Lan Road, near the Grand Palace, has closed.)

The Tourist Assistance Center at TAT's 4 Ratchadamnoen Nok branch mediates conflicts between tourists and shopkeepers, scamming gem dealers and the like. Their phone number is 282-8129 or 281-5050. The Tourist Police also have an office at this branch; they speak English and are receptive to questions: Simply dial 1699 at any time.

 
 
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