6.7 million registered (10-11 million is considered a more accurate estimate and includes those registered in Bangkok as well as those still registered in another part of the country, but who actually live in Bangkok)
0- 9 ft. (Much of Bangkok is even below sea level, as it was built on unstable low land. Parts of the city are being submerged each year.)
in the south central part of Thailand.
612 square miles
GMT/UTC+7 (when it is noon in Bangkok, it is 9pm the previous day in Los Angeles, California, and midnight in New York City.)
Telephone area code:
Average Temperatures (In Fahrenheit):
January – March 93F 68F
April – June 95F 76F
July – September 90F 76F
October – December 99F 68F
January – .3″
February – .8″
March – 1.4
April – 2.3
May – 7.8
June – 6.3
July – 6.3
August – 6.9
September – 12.0
October – 8.1
November – 2.6
December – 0.2
Throughout the year, the temperature in Bangkok reaches the high 80s to mid-90s Fahrenheit . Lows are in the high 60s and 70s. Humidity is high all year, reaching between 90% and 94% each day.
Packing: Light cotton or other natural-fiber clothing is appropriate; drip-dry is an especially good idea, because the tropical sun and high humidity encourage frequent changes of clothing. Avoid “dry clean only” fabrics.
Thailand is generally informal: A sweater, shawl, or lightweight linen jacket will be sufficient for dining and evening wear, except for top international restaurants, where men may be required to wear a jacket and tie. A sweater is also a good idea for cool evenings or overly air-conditioned restaurants, buses, and trains.
The paths leading to temples can be rough. A pair of sturdy and comfortable walking shoes is always appropriate when traveling. Shoes will need to be removed before entering shrines and temples.
Prepare for the tropical sun by bringing along a hat and sunscreen. Mosquito repellent is also a good idea, and toilet paper is not always supplied in public places.
It’s easy and safe to walk around Bangkok, though you’ll find the traffic congestion generates so much air pollution that you’ll limit your walking to certain neighborhoods and smaller streets. Bangkok sidewalks are covered with hazards: buckled tiles, loose coverings, and tangled wires. When crossing streets, a tip is to find Thais who are also crossing and follow them when they head out into traffic. Otherwise you could be left standing on the corner forever, not sure when to jump out.
Thai and foreign banks are open weekdays 8:30-3:30, except for public holidays. Most commercial offices in Bangkok operate on a five-day week and are open 8-5. Government offices are usually open 8:30-4:30 with a noon-1 lunch break. Many stores are open daily from 8-8.
New Year’s Day, January 1
Chinese New Year (two days), toward the end of January or early February
Magha Puja (on the full moon of the third lunar month)
Chakri Day, April 6
Coronation Day, May 5
Visakha Puja, May, on the full moon of the sixth lunar month
Queen’s Birthday, August 12
King’s Birthday, December 5
Government offices, banks, commercial concerns, and department stores are usually closed on these days, but smaller shops stay open.
Thai is the country’s national language. As it uses the Khmer script and is spoken tonally, it is confusing to many tourists. What may sound to a foreigner like “krai kai kai kai” will mean to a Thai, said with the appropriate pitch, “Who sells chicken eggs?”
In polite conversation, a male speaker will use the word “krap” to end a sentence or to acknowledge what someone has said. Female speakers use “ka.” It is easy to speak a few words, such as “sawahdee krap” or “sawahdee ka” (good day) and “khop khun krap” or “khop khun ka” (thank you). Thais working with travelers in the resort and tourist areas of Thailand speak sufficient English to permit basic communication.
Mail: Thailand’s mail service is reliable and efficient. Major hotels provide basic postal services. Bangkok’s central general post office on Charoen Krung (New Road) is open weekdays 8-6, weekends and public holidays 9-1.
You may have mail sent to you “poste restante.” Usually, there is a charge for each piece collected. Thais write their last name first, so be sure to have your last name written in capital letters and underlined.
The basic unit of currency is the baht. There are 100 satang to one baht. There are five different bills, each a different color: B10, brown; B20, green; B50, blue; B100, red; B500, purple; and B1,000, silver. Coins in use are 25 satang, 50 satang, B1, B5, and B10. One-baht coins and B5 coins both come in different sizes and can be easily confused-get the feel of them quickly. The B10 coin has a gold-colored center surrounded by silver.
The baht is considered a stable currency whose rate of exchange is based on the U.S. dollar. (See our home page for currency exchange tables). All hotels will convert traveler’s checks and major currencies into baht, though exchange rates are better at banks and authorized money changers. The rate tends to be better in Thailand than in the United States. Major international credit cards are accepted at most tourist shops and hotels.
Customs Associated with the Wats (Buddhist Temples):
Each of the many temples in Bangkok is unique and has its own architecture, history, and spiritual importance. The best times to visit temples is in the early morning. The air is cool, monks busy themselves with morning activities, and the complexes are less crowded. Monks awake between 4am and 6am and eat breakfast by 7am, after which visitors are welcome.
Feel free to make a contribution to the sangha, the Order of monks. Thais make regular offerings to monasteries as an act of merit-making. Their belief is that supporting the monks brings one closer to Buddhist ideals, and increases the likelihood of a better life beyond this one. Many shops near temples sell saffron-colored pails filled with everyday supplies such as toothbrushes, soap, and other common necessities . Pick one up to take to the temple, ask to see the abbot, and present him with your gift. Women should take care to place the gift on the saffron cloth he lays before him (never make physical contact with him). Put a small monetary contribution on top of the pail. You will be blessed with a sprinkle of jasmine water and prayers. Follow the actions of those around you. Wai (bow with your hands together) deeply, with your hands pressed together at forehead level (a show of great respect), and do not expect the abbot to wai in return–monks do not participate in this ritual. Also, do not expect him to say thank-you. It is you who must thank him for giving you the opportunity to make merit.
There is a tax of B250 for international departures and B30 for domestic departures.
A 7% Value Added Tax is built into the price of all goods and services, including restaurant meals, and is essentially non-refundable.
To use your U.S.-purchased electric-powered equipment, bring a converter and an adapter. The electrical current in Thailand is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take either two flat prongs, like outlets in the United States, or Continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.
Passports & Visas:
All U.S., Canadian, and U.K. citizens need only a valid passport to enter Thailand for stays of up to 30 days.
Most nations maintain diplomatic relations with Thailand and have embassies in Bangkok. Should you need to apply for a visa to another country, the consulate hours are usually 8-noon: United States Embassy (95 Wireless Rd., 02/252-5040).
The Immigration Division (Soi Suan Sathorn Tai Rd., 02/286-9176) issues Thai visa extensions. Visas are not required for visitors from the United States., but tourists are permitted to stay only 30 days in the country without an extension. If you go beyond your specified stay by a few days, there are no serious consequences. You will just be required pay a B100 (approx. $3) per day fine as you go through emigration at Bangkok’s airport.
Most banks will exchange foreign currency Monday to Friday 8:30am to 3:30pm. Exchange booths affiliated with the major banks are found in all tourist areas, open daily from as early as 7am to as late as 9pm.
Dentists & Doctors:
Thailand has an excellent medical care system. Most medical personnel speak English and many were trained overseas. Most of the better hotels have doctors and/or nurses on staff or on call who can treat minor medical problems. Check first with the concierge for assistance, then contact the consulate if you need further help.
In any emergency, first call Bangkok’s Tourist Police at 1155 or 02/694-1222, ext. 1. Someone there will speak English. In case of fire, call 199 or 02/246-0199. Ambulance service is handled by private hospitals; see “hospitals” below, or call your hotel’s front desk. For medical evacuation and ambulance service call 02/255-1133. For operator assisted overseas calls dial 100.
There are optical shops in all the major shopping areas of the city, most of which can provide replacement glasses within 24 hours at reasonable prices. For eye emergencies: Rutnin Eye Hospital at 80 Sukhumvit Soi 21 (Soi Asoke), 02/258-0442.
In Thailand, the major health risk is posed by the contamination of drinking water, fresh fruit, and vegetables, which causes the intestinal ailment known variously as Montezuma’s Revenge and traveler’s diarrhea. To prevent it, watch what you eat. Stay away from ice, uncooked food, and unpasteurized milk and milk products, and drink only water that has been bottled or boiled for at least 20 minutes.
Hospitals offering 24-hour emergency room care and ambulance service: (passport and a deposit of up to 20,000B ($526.30) are needed before you are admitted. Bills must be settled before you leave. Your domestic medical insurance policy will probably not be accepted for payment, though major credit cards are. ) Among the hospitals with English-speaking staff are Bumrungrat Medical Center and Hospital, 33 Soi 3, Sukhumvit Rd. ( 02/253-0250); and Bangkok Nursing Home, 9 Convent Rd., between Silom and Sathorn roads, south of Rama IV Road ( 02/233-2610).
The Community Services of Bangkok, 15/1 Sukhumvit Soi 33 ( 02/258-4998), provides long and short-term counseling,. Also call CSB for places and times of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Bangkok.
The highest concentration of cafes are around Khao San Road and in Patpong. Prices range from as low as 2.5B (5¢) per minute to 300B ($7.90) per hour in the cafes, that serve coffee and sandwiches. Most guest houses and shopping malls have usage areas, and these charges are more affordable than using the business center in your hotel.
If you have lost anything or had your valuables stolen, call the Tourist Police, Crime Suppression Division, Vorachak Road 02/513-3844
Both the domestic and international terminals of Don Muang airport offer luggage storage from 7am to 10pm in the domestic terminal; 24 hours a day in the international terminal. Most hotels will store luggage while guests are away on side trips.
If shipping a parcel from Bangkok, take advantage of the Packing Service offered by the GPO; open Monday to Friday 8am to 4:30pm, Saturday to Sunday and holidays 9am to noon. Small cardboard packing cartons cost 5B to 17B (15¢ to 45¢); they pack things for you for 5B (15¢)!
Newspapers & Magazines:
Metro Magazine, at many better hotels and bookstores is the best single source of current information about what’s happening in Bangkok, especially the entertainment and social scene. Where and Look East are slick monthly English language magazines are distributed free. Both emphasize events and features about Bangkok, along with coverage of other Thai cities and provinces.
Bangkok has a great many pharmacies, though the drugs dispensed may differ widely in quality. Among the better outlets is the British Dispensary, on the corner of Charoen Krung Road (New Road) and Oriental Lane ( 02/234-1910).
Call the Tourist Police ( 1155 or 02/694-1222 ext. 1), open 24 hours, for assistance.
The General Post Office (GPO) is on Charoen Krung Road (New Road), between the Oriental and Sheraton Royal Orchid hotels ( 02/233-1050). Telegraph and telephone service are available in the north end of the building. GPO hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday to Sunday and holidays 8am to 1pm.
Television channels include 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11, which offer some English-language programming. Check the Bangkok Post or the Nation for listings. Most hotels offer in-house cable TV and English-language movies.
Telephone, Telegrams & Telex:
The main government telephone office occupies a separate building on the grounds of the GPO (General Post Office) on Charoen Krung Road (New Road) between the Oriental and Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotels and is open daily 24 hours. This office is for international calls. The procedure for making a call is as follows: Book your call by filling out a form at one of the desks, specifying the telephone number you wish to call and an approximate length of your call; take the form to the cashier and pay; wait until you are called to a booth. Beware of the hotel surcharges on international calls, usually 25% to 40% (check with the operator before dialing). A credit-card or collect call placed from your room also carries a service charge.
There are also blue or the newer silver long-distance telephones in strategic places throughout Bangkok (such as the airport), used for domestic long-distance calls, at rates from 6B to 18B (15¢ to 45¢) per minute. You will need a pile of 5B coins and can observe your running total on the meter, putting in more coins as needed. For information within the Bangkok metropolitan area, dial 13, or find an English-language copy of the Greater Bangkok Business Listing; for the provinces dial 183.
Telegraph services, including fax service and telegram service, are offered in the telephone and telegraph office of the GPO, open daily 24 hours.. Every hotel offers normal fax service as well.
The capital’s central location makes it both the region’s and the country’s major transportation hub. Bangkok has a huge modern airport (which may not be the most modern facility, but is one of the most efficient in Asia), three bus terminals, and a centrally located train station. Within the city, taxis and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized trishaws/pedicabs) cruise the broad avenues and provide inexpensive, reliable transportation. The brand-new elevated rail line which opened in 1999continues to add new lines, and reaches many parts of the city.
Arriving & Departing:
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; and a TAT desk with free brochures and maps ( 02/523-8972). Both terminals have luggage-checking facilities ( 02/535-1250).
There is a tax of B500 (about $15, but check with your airline for updates ) for international departures and B30 for domestic departures.
A word of caution: The airport has some con artists loitering there who seek to take advantage of tourists. They 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 be taken in.
Thai Airways International (485 Silom Rd., 02/234-3100) is the national airline, and most of its flights come in and out of Don Muang. It has direct flights from the West Coast of the United States and from London, and also flies daily to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan.
Bangkok is 18 hours from Seattle, 17 hours from San Francisco, 20 hours from Chicago, and 22 hours from New York. Add more time for stopovers and connections, especially if you are using more than one carrier. East-coast travelers departing from New York or Washington, DC, should inquire about using Virgin Atlantic/Thai Airways via London for 19-hour flights to Bangkok.
Getting to and from the Airport
Though the airport is just north of the city, it can seem much farther (half an hour late at night, with a bus taking as long as 2 hours during rush hours). Plan on an hour-long taxi ride from the airport into the city, and at least that long from one end of the city to the other. Most of the larger hotels will pick up guests from the airport if requested in advance, at a typical charge of between $17-$20., or you can hail a cab and pay metered fare (about $10-$12). You can easily arrange for an air-conditioned minibus, taxi, or limousine to your hotel; these are found outside the arrival hall of both the international and domestic terminals (ground floor level).
Taxis are hailed outside the arrival halls at both the domestic and international terminals. They’re usually lined up in a long queue. Charges will be according to the meter, plus a service charge for airport service. The driver will almost always ask if you would like to take the expressway. Chalerm Mahanakhon Expressway connects the airport with downtown Bangkok, and is a true relief during rush hour traffic. If you agree (which you should) he’ll ask for about $1.50) once you reach the toll booth, so make sure you get change before leaving the airport.
Private limousine services have air-conditioned sedans for hire from booths in the arrival halls of both international and domestic airports. Trips to town start from about $20. For advanced booking call 02/535-5931 for international arrival and 02/535-1894 for domestic arrival.
The Airport Bus is a convenient and inexpensive alternative. With 24-hour service, stopping regularly at international and domestic terminals, three bus routes serve the city’s various well-traveled points-Silom and Chaoren Krung Road near the river and in the business district, Khao San Road in the historic district, Sukhumvit in the shopping/Embassy area, and many other destinations. At the stops outside the arrival halls, helpful staff wait to advise travelers. Tell them your hotel and they’ll direct you to the correct bus. Pay on board (around $2)
Public buses no. A4 (through Historic Bangkok and the Business District); A10 (to the Northern Bus Terminal, Dusit area and Southern Bus Terminal); A13 (Sukhumvit Road in the Shopping/Embassy Area to the Eastern Bus Terminal); and A20 (to Siam Square in the Shopping/Embassy Area, and the Hua Lamphong Railway Station), are the most relevant lines. the cost is less than $1.00 for each of the above lines.
City buses are an alternative, but they become very crowded and there is very little room for luggage, as well as ample opportunity for thieves. The fares are even lower than the Public buses.
The Airport Express Train runs between the Don Muang station near the airport and the central Hua Lampong Rail Station four times a day Monday to Friday only in each direction. If your destination in Bangkok is near Hua Lampong Station, consider taking the train there; for about 25¢ . Trip time: 1 hour.
Standard train service is somewhat erratic-approximately every half hour during the day-but if you’re traveling light during the day or early evening and in no great hurry, you can take the elevated footbridge between Don Muang Station and the airport terminal and make the trip for as little as 15¢ third-class, 25¢ second-class.
The quickest way downtown is the helicopter that lands at the Shangri-La Hotel. However, the fare is around $200. (US)
Thai Airways has a minibus service between the airport and major hotels. They depart when they are full.
By Riverboat Shuttle
A bus-and-boat service leaves every 30 minutes, 6 AM-9 PM. The bus takes you from the airport to the river, where you transfer to a boat for the half-hour run to the hotels. Overall time is under an hour.
Getting Around the City and Environs:
Sky Train BTS
One of the most advanced type of urban railway, the Bangkok Transit System (BTS), an elevated heavy rail system running above the business district of Bangkok. millennium, BTS offers its passengers speed and reliability and a very attractive alternative to road travel. The Sukhumvit and the Silom lines have recently been added. Tel: 617-7300 Fax: 617-7133 call for schedules and fares.
Hualamphong Railway Station (Rama IV Rd., 02/223-0341), the city’s main station, serves most long-distance trains. Bangkok Noi (Arun Amarin Rd., 02/411-3102), on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, is used by local trains to Hua Hin and Kanchanaburi.
The State Railway of Thailand has three lines, all of which terminate in Bangkok. The Northern Line connects Bangkok with Chiang Mai, passing through Ayutthaya and Phitsanulok; the Northeastern Line travels up to Nong Khai, near the Laotian border, with a branch that goes east to Ubon Ratchathani; and the Southern Line goes all the way south through Surat Thani-the stop for Ko Samui-to the Malaysian border and on to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, a journey that takes 37 hours. (There is no train to Phuket, though you can go as far as Surat Thani and change to a scheduled bus service.)
Most trains offer second- or third-class tickets, but the overnight trains to the north (Chiang Mai) and to the south also offer first-class sleeping cabins. Couchettes, with sheets and curtains for privacy, are available in second class. Second-class tickets are about half the price of first-class, and since the couchettes are surprisingly comfortable, most Western travelers choose these. Do not leave valuables unguarded on overnight trains.
Tickets may be bought at the railway stations. Travel agencies can also sell tickets for overnight trains. Reservations are strongly advised for all long-distance trains. Train schedules in English are available from travel agents and from major railway stations.
Fares are reasonable. An air-conditioned, second-class couchette for the 14-hour journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai costs about $15 and first class is about $30.
For information on schedules and passes, call the Bangkok Railway Station Advance Booking Office ( 02/223-3762 or 02/223-0341).
Bangkok has three main bus terminals.
Northern/Northeast Bus Terminal (Phaholyothin Rd., 02/272-0296 or 02/279-6222), often referred to as Morsit, serves Chiang Mai and the north.
Southern Bus Terminal (Pinklao-Nakomchaisri Rd., Talingchan, 02/435-1199), on the Thonburi side of the river, is for Hua Hin, Ko Samui, Phuket, and points south.
Eastern Bus Terminal (Sukhumvit Rd., Soi 40, Ekkamai, 02/391-2504 or 02/392-2391), usually referred to as Ekkamai, is for Pattaya and points southeast, to Rayong and Trat province.
Water taxis and ferries (“river buses”) ply the Chao Phraya River. The taxis are long-tailed boats (so called for the extra-long propeller shaft that extends behind the stern) that you can hire for about B300 an hour. Ferry fare is based on zones, but B5 will cover most trips that you are likely to take. You’ll also have to pay a B1 jetty fee. The jetty adjacent to the Oriental Hotel is a useful stop. In about 10 minutes and half a dozen stops, you can get to the Grand Palace, or to the other side of Krungthon Bridge in about 15 minutes. It is often the quickest way to travel north-south.
Brave the Thai roads or hire a driver for a small cost. If a foreigner is involved in an automobile accident, he or she is likely to be judged at fault.
In Thailand your own driver’s license is acceptable, providing that it is in English.
It is better to make your car rental reservations once you reach Thailand, as you can usually secure a discount.
Rules of the Road
Driving is on the left; speed limits are 60 kph (37 mph) in cities and 90 kph (56 mph) outside.
These unmetered three-wheeled motorized vehicles, called tuk-tuks, are slightly cheaper than taxis and are best used for short trips in congested traffic. The fare may be higher than a taxi.
A word of warning: Tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for trying to talk travelers into shopping trips (if you’re a woman) and massage jaunts (if you’re a man). Touts are always a scam, as drivers get commission for bringing people into certain establishments. Insist they take you where you want to go via the most direct route.
Songthaews seat passengers on side bench seats and can serve as minibuses or as private taxis. If they travel as a minibus, they will follow a fixed route and the fare is set. If they are used as a taxi, the fare must be negotiated.
Meters have been installed in most Bangkok taxis. The fare for the first 2 km (1.2 mi) is set at B35 and then increases a baht for about every 50 meters. If the speed drops to under 6 kph, there is a surcharge of one baht per minute. A typical journey of about 5 km (3 mi) runs about B60. before engaging a taxi, make sure its meter is working.
On the River: Although the Chao Phraya River runs far beyond the city limits of Bangkok, this area contains Bangkok’s upscale riverside hotels as well as the River City Shopping Complex, and some other smaller shopping malls.
Bangrak, as the Business District is known, is bounded by Rama IV Road on the east, Chinatown on the north, Chaoren Krung Road (or New Road), near the river on the west, and South Sathorn Road on the south.. Many banks, businesses and embassies have offices in this area. There are also many shops and malls, good restaurants, high-quality hotels, and the famous Patpong nightlife area.
Historic Bangkok: This area, the site of the original Bangkok capital, lays within the confines of Rattanakosin Island, created as a defense measure by King Rama I. A klong (canal), now called Klong Ong Ang, was dug from a point at a bend in the Chao Phraya River (near what is now the Memorial Bridge), running north, then turning east near Wat Saket, where it became Klong Banglamphu, and rejoined the river north of the Phra Pinklao Bridge.
The area includes a majority of the tourist sites, beginning with Wat Po, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, then continuing north to the Dusit Zoo and Vimanmek Palace Museum. There are numerous historic temples (wats) , the National Museum, and the National Theater and Library.
Travel on the river is as much a mode of transportation as it is an attraction in itself. While efficient, it’s a fairly tranquil way to get around and provides a remarkable window to local life, as well as good views of the city. Branching off from the river is the ancient network of klongs (canals), most of which are serviced by the basic long-tail boats (hang yao).