Bangkok (BK) is one my my favourite places. It's an onslaught on the senses to which I'm so accustomed by now, but it can be very overwhelming for first timers and solo travellers, so I've put together a few tips to help ease you and my fellow SAfricans smoothly into BK. May your experiences in this unique city be amazing at every turn…
At Suvarnabuhmi airport (don't even try pronounce that) ~
* Be aware that African and South American citizens have to fill out Ebola forms which must be signed by a doctor on site. The forms and the doc are at a booth near to where you disembark from the plane;
* NB the immigration queue is long, can take up to an hour to get your passport stamped;
* Make sure you fill out the arrival/departure forms on the plane or do so in the Q-there are helpful officials everywhere;
* Get a local sim card at the airport once you’re through immigration: AIS/DTAC networks etc, all offer amazing inexpensive packages – you'll have no need for 'roaming' and can negate those hidden expenses that tend to pop up no matter what.
Greeting Thai people ~
* Be courteous- women greet saying 'Sawadee Kha' and guys say 'Sawadee khap'. It's also appreciated if you put the prayer hands together under your chin in response to the same.
Transport to & in town ~
* If you’re worried about getting lost, book a shuttle through your hotel (pricey, up to 1,200 THB);
* Or take a taxi- and barter – the fare shouldn't cost you more than 400-500 THB;
* Or, my choice if I have a lot of luggage, Uber (cashless) – rather use Uber Black in BK and make sure you have downloaded the app before you leave SA (if you're an Uber newbie, use my Uber code uberCTdiva for a once-off free ride in SA);
* If you’re confident re your directions (as I am by now) and only have 1 carry-on bag (one can really travel light in Thailand, even if you're a 'diva'), take the bus (30 THB) to the Mo Chit BTS station and then a skytrain to your hotel (cheap and fast).
* Re getting around in the city, Tuk Tuks are fun but impractical and way overpriced – cool for a once-off experience but that's about it;
* The BTS Skytrain is the easiest and so cheap. Buy day/week passes. Exchange bank notes for coins at the info booth and they will happily explain how the system works.
* You can also catch a ride with the licenced scooter guys (in lumo jackets) parked near the BTS stations…it's a lot of fun for short distances, and from 10 THB depending on where you're off to;
* Don't eat on the platform / station / train. Keep your grub out of site.
* Obey the arrow markings on the platform that tell you where to stand safely when Q'ing to get on the train
* Choose accommodation close to a BTS stop. I can recommend the Galleria 10 in Soi 10, Sukhumvit, right between BTS Nana and Asok – it's stylish, well priced and has a fab rooftop pool, bar and deck.
* Never leave your hotel, day or night, without generously spraying repellent (NB to use an eco friendly brand); leave no patch of skin unprotected-the blighters will find it and bite it!
* To soothe itchy bites, use tiger balm (sold at 711’s) or Dermovate if you react badly to BK mozzie bites like I do (sold at Pharmacies / Boots that stay open late, like pretty much everything else in BK)
Street Food ~
* Totally safe, delicious, traditional and oh-so-cheap – sit and eat…it's a great experience and you have to try the incredible noodle dishes and the sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and mango (for the best, go to Mae Varee in Thong Lor , one of my fave areas as well);
* Those orange drinks you see on sale on the street in the small skinny bottles are loaded with extra sugar fyi; let them make it and also pomegranate juice in front of you- very refreshing when done right;
* Bottled water only people, even when rinsing after brushing your teeth
Emergency dentist ~
* Dental Hospital. 88/88 Sukhamvit 49
Street dogs & cats ~
* Don’t assume they’re all friendly-they're not all used to being petted; those with collars are usually ok but be cautious and check first with the person/owner nearest to the animal. I want to love them all but need to approach carefully…(collared) cats on the other hand…
Coffee & Beer ~
* There is superb coffee in very stylish coffee shops in Bangkok, as good and sometimes even better as what's on offer in Cape Town. Try Rocket in Central Embassy, Hello Strangers, Blue Dye Cafe, Library ;
* Beer is nothing like what I am used in Cape Town ie our fabulous home grown craft beer, but go for Singha when in BK…and make it even more refreshing by adding ice. Yes, trust me, with eish.
* There are tons of shopping centre monoliths in BK but I prefer the slick environment and the best movie house in town at Siam Paragon , and right next door is Siam Centre an ode to emerging designers, and of course Central Embassy showcases it's winning design and architecture, although shopping here is mostly for those with black plastic;
* Shopping at street stalls (try the ones across from Siam Centre where there’s also a fabulous little mall) is fantastic, if you’re after those floppy pants and vintage style voile shirts and quirky frocks. Stalls are set up from around 5pm every day;
* Fake watches, and all other labels, at the markets…rather not. They only last around 6 months. And they look cheap.
Massages off street ~
* Amazing and cheap but take care to suss out how clean they are before laying your tired bod down on a grubby towel
* Drop it off at any street laundry service – it comes back beautifully packaged, ironed and ready to wear. Way more reasonable than at your hotel. Prices start at 30 THB per kilo. (Leave your Prada shirts for the pro laundromats at home)
* Bring extra Ziploc bags and 100ml empty plastic bottles. You can't find those easily in BK.
* Re tipping, it's not expected but why not show some love and do it anyway.
* Be respectful of the King of Thailand and his family.
* Leave your shoes outside establishments where it's required. Never fear, they'll be there when you go back for the them. This is a country where stealing isn't a national pastime.
Bon voyage! การเดินทางที่ปลอดภัย !