A Practical Guide to Thailand Travel
A Pre-Getaway in Bangkok
If one has yet to visit a Southeast Asian country, it’s difficult to plan out a trip. There are various guides printed, pieces of various travel highlights, but I have yet to find a complete series that satisfied what fiance Brian and I were looking for in our excursion.
How to Fly
Booking flights to and within Asia from America is similar to the first time I tried any type of Asian food. I asked a lot of questions about what I saw in front of me, I received very few responses and then proceeded to consume what was in front of me regardless of my lack of information. This has led to poor purchases, but also super pleasurable dining experiences. Below is part one of an undetermined length series on a Practical Guide to Thailand Travel.
- International Flight: Best airlines are ANA and EVA air, but they are also the most expensive. We booked Air China via Momondo and were perfectly happy. When they ask you on the plane if you’d like a fish or chicken meal, always say chicken (unless shrimp is an option, then say shrimp). The fish is a mystery to me. When they offer beef or chicken with noodles you are on your own. Anytime you’re offered drinks, a beer can be ordered for free even if it’s not suggested. Don’t bother calling or trying to confirm your flight the day before. I waited on hold for 1 hour and still had no answer. Just show up 3 hours before your flight (recommended for International travel) and check-in at the airport. Try to pack light or with a lighter bag…see why in next tip…
- Within Thailand: Air Asia > VietJet. Air Asia allows free checked luggage up to 15 kgs, VietJet only allows for 8kgs. They charge $30 extra for anything over that weight and then you’ve doubled your flight price. Basically, VietJet is the Thai equivalent to Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant in the States. Save yourself the hassle and book on Air Asia.
- Getting out of the airport: Grab is Southeast Asia’s version of Lyft/Uber. It’s reliable, less than a cab and much quicker than public transportation from BKK. Download here and don’t worry if the first card you enter doesn’t work. We had to try three cards before it would accept one. No reasoning why, but all the charges went through ok.
- Within the city: BTS Skytrain for trips across longer distances and TukTuk for quick rides. Our friends who live in Bangkok let us use their Rabbit card. Depending on how long you’ll be in Bangkok, there are various ways to pay for BTS. (See more detailed info here) We found that loading it with 100bht ($3.50USD) every day worked out great.
- Traveling by riverboat: The riverboat picks up passengers up and down the river (see map). We jumped on (literally) near the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (stop N1) and took it to Tha Thien to see the Wat Pho temple (N8) with the reclining Buddha. The folks on the boat are just going to yell numbers, so keep a map handy and peep out from where you’ll likely be packed in like a sardine to make sure you don’t miss your stop. We stopped off on one side and had to take a little boat across the river for 8bht to get to Wat Pho.
The good news? It’s pretty difficult to miss as there are HUGE temples on either side of the river at the correct stop.
The better news? Total cost is 30bht each way ($1USD).
Places to Stay
The neighborhood I recommend is North of Yan Nawa. It’s near a BTS stop, the river, and lots of restaurants/bars.
We stayed in the Silom Corner AirBNB and I’d recommend it if you want an intimate/stylish space with a wine bar underneath. The stairs are pretty narrow and there are two full flights to travel up to get to the room. This wasn’t an issue for us (just a major workout with luggage), but if that is too much, I included other affordable yet modern recommendations in the same neighborhood:
Places to Eat
Coffee Club – Upon arrival, our friends who live in Bangkok started us off at Coffee Club. It has the feel of an upscale American breakfast spot and a perfect introduction to local dishes. Recommendation: Thai Egg Cup, Eggs Benedict (Directions– just one but they are everywhere)
Soul Food – I have dreams about the Yam Som-O salad and the ambiance feels like a jungle hideaway amongst the urban chaos. Recommendation: Yam Som-O Salad, Isaan Chicken Wings, Sticky Tamarind Ribs, Fish in a Leaf, Gaeng Hang Lay w/ Lamb, Stir Fried Morning Glory, Lycheegrass Collins…all cocktails! (Directions)
Mariott Hotel Bangkok – Yes, you can stay here, but we went for a rooftop cocktail. The views are breathtaking and it’s worth the visit if you love a sunset. Recommendation: Maybe stay here on a first night in Bangkok ($139USD) to transition and explore this neighborhood before heading to Silom area. (Directions)
Baan Pad Thai Looking for the best Pad Thai you’ve ever had in your life? Look no further. The Pad Thai has a depth of flavor and freshness I haven’t experienced anywhere else and the bright teal walls make for a killer ambiance. Recommendation: Pad Thai Moo Yang, Pad Thai Gai Yang, and Pad Thai Goong Yang, Chang (Pronounced “Chung”) beer large. (Directions)
LeDu – Fiance Brian earned major points by taking me here for a surprise dinner to celebrate our recent engagement. Wander down an unsuspecting alley to reveal a trendy yet welcoming space. We enjoyed the creativity of the 4-course tasting menu. If there is a way to enjoy durian it’s in their pannacotta. Instead of sampling crickets at night markets, Brian reserved his insect-tasting experience for ant larvae with blue swimming crab, young bamboo and southern style curry. Recommendation: make reservations, opt for the wine pairing with either the 4-course or 6-course tasting menu, and be sure to check out the bathrooms…amazing wallpaper & fixtures! (directions)
Street Markets – We ate lunch of Silom road. It’s a business district so there are many locals with one-hour lunch breaks which means there are lots of street carts along the way. The noodles throughout Thailand are some of the best I’ve had in my life as they are incredibly fresh and super wide. Recommendation: if something looks good, order it! BUT stay away from street hot dogs and any street food that’s not cooked in front of you as it is a mystery how long it’s been sitting at that temp.
Things to Do
There is a wide variety of things to do in Bangkok. Keep in mind though, it’s a big city and all the activities can be exhausting. Personally, I can only handle about two activities per day and that depends on how far I need to travel for said activity. One of those activities is usually eating…
Jim Thompson House – If you like architecture and beautiful spaces beyond the typical viewing a temple activity, this is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon in Bangkok. Jim Thompson is an American who fell in love with all that is Thailand and built a home in the city. He is responsible for introducing Thai silk to the world and built his house entirely of teak without using a single nail. Recommendation: Take the one hour tour. The hosts are so nice and it’s a quick learning experience. (Directions)
Wat Pho – Home of the reclining Buddha (measuring 46 meters long), Wat Pho is a beautiful temple with one of the largest courtyards in the city. It’s a place to wander, explore, and relax. We were in awe of the tapestries and amount of detail on each individual structure in the courtyard. Recommendation: Bring exact change as the entry fee is 100bht ($3USD) and book a massage at the school if you have the time.
Giant Swing – This swing was constructed in 1784 and stands at 30 meters tall. I knew I had to visit and when I arrived I just stared straight up. We walked here from Wat Pho (1.2km/15 min) and saw a variety of political offices/buildings. This gave us an idea of how much Thai people love their king. Note: At this point, we didn’t understand that political structure of the country, but if you’d like to learn more, check out a summary here.
Foot Massage – Take the time to get as many foot massages as possible while in Thailand. Prices in the city range from 200-300 bht ($6-9 USD) and we tipped 100bht per session. They can be found anywhere in the city. Your feet will thank you for this one hour of relaxation! Recommendation: Avoid the massage places with a pink painted border as they offer “happy endings”.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – This Sunday market is easily accessible by BTS, but at 35 acres with over 8,000 stalls, oh wow, is it a maze once you arrive. We found ourselves weaving through the aisles with shop stalls on either side filled with shirts, handmade soaps, handbags, sandals, spices, wooden toys, and silk scarves. The outside of each “section” (is there a map I missed?) has a food cart of some variety. I wish I could’ve tried everything. One Thailand regret I have is not coming with a bigger appetite. Recommendations: Coconut ice cream in a coconut, fresh mandarin orange juice, Hawaiian shirts 500bht for 3 (directions)
That is all for my Bangkok recommendations. Stay tuned for Chaing Mai activities and Ko Yao Yai!