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Bangkok

Orientation

The sheer size of Bangkok can be intimidating for the first-time visitor, but with a bit of confidence (and research), you'll find that it's one of the easier Asian mega-cities to tackle independently. The atmosphere is drastically different depending on what part of the city you're in, so it's worth exploring several areas to find what best suits your tastes.

Unlike most big cities, Bangkok has no easily defined "downtown". Victory Monument, Siam Square and parts of Silom, Sathorn and the Chao Phraya riverfront could all be considered "downtown" areas.

Culturally speaking, the heart of Bangkok is its "Old City", which stretches along the Chao Phraya River from Dusit in the north, down through Banglamphu, including Khao San Road, on to Rattanakosin Island and south into Chinatown. Rattanakosin is home to several of the most popular sights in Thailand, including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. A foodie's dream come true, both Banglamphu and Chinatown are a thrill to walk through.

Head east from the Old City and you'll reach the more modern shades of Bangkok. Siam Square sits at the geographical centre of the city and is, along with neighbouring Pratunam, home to most of its world-famous shopping malls. If wanting to get a feel for Bangkok's youthful and stylish side, head to Siam.

Hop on the Skytrain northwards from Siam and you'll hit Victory Monument, a local transport hub and the centre of a colourful neighbourhood with some fabulous street food. This area also has a youthful atmosphere, though with more of a "local" and "hipster" feel than Siam Square.

Continue north from here and you'll pass through several more not-so-touristy neighbourhoods before reaching Chatuchak Market. Apart from Don Muang Airport, there's little of interest north of here. East of Victory Monument you'll find the sprawling Din Daeng, Ratchada and Ramkamhaeng areas -- home to thousands of Thai university students and the interesting nightlife that comes with them.

Sukhumvit Road begins in the Siam Square area and shoots to the southeastern part of the city. Sukhumvit boasts plenty of shopping and accommodation along with a world-class selection of international restaurants. Many foreign expats live around here, and much of the city's best nightlife is found off Sukhumvit, including the upscale wine bars of Thong Lor and the thumping clubs of Soi 11. Sukhumvit is also popular with tourists, though it lacks the charm of the Old City and has a seedy element in and around some of the lower sois.

Head downriver from the Old City and you'll reach the Bangrak area, centered around Silom Road. Silom begins not far from Siam Square at Lumpini Park and shoots west towards the river. With great food, vibrant nightlife and an eclectic mix of people, this is also a fun place to walk around. Bangkok's largest red light district is tucked off the east end of Silom, but it's easily avoided and the seediness doesn't seem to bleed outwards in the same way it does around lower Sukhumvit. South of Silom is the Sathorn area, centered around Sathorn Road. With shiny modern office buildings and luxury hotels, this is Bangkok's business district.

West of the Chao Phraya are the many neighbourhoods of Thonburi, another "old city" that sees few tourists but is worth a peek for those hoping to experience a more off-the-beaten-track side of Bangkok. Thonburi offers a relaxed air defined by artsy youth and stilted teak wood houses perched along the area's many khlongs, or canals. To the south of Thonburi is Phra Phradaeng (aka Bang Kachao), Bangkok's unlikely green lung.

If you're planning on spending a fair amount of time walking around, be sure to drink a lot of water and keep in mind that automobiles, not pedestrians, almost always have the default right-of-way. Use the elevated footpaths to cross roads wherever possible. For more info on getting around, see the transport section.

Bangkok is a city where doing less rather than more can be a very good approach. Get up early before the temperature begins to skyrocket and do one of two things in the morning, take a long leisurely break for lunch and then see one or two more attractions in the afternoon. Spend the late afternoon and the evening sampling the city's wealth of great food, drink and entertainment. Repeat this process for as many days as you're in Bangkok and you'll see your fill of the town at a relaxing pace -- try to do too much and you'll leave feeling like you need a holiday to get over it.

Where should I stay in Bangkok?
Although places to stay are found all over the city, Bangkok has three main accommodation areas where most travellers stay:

Khao San Road is within easy walking distance of the Chao Phraya River, packed with over 100 guesthouses and hotels, and is the heart of the backpacker scene in Bangkok. Aside from Chao Phraya Express and Khlong boats, Khao San is served only by the public bus system and ubiquitous tuk tuks and taxis. Note that the surrounding Banglamphu area offers some lovely and far more low key places to stay away from Khao San itself.

Sukhumvit Road is Bangkok's expat ghetto -- characterised by 3-5 star hotels, excellent restaurants and nightlife, and good mass-transit access. It's located at the opposite side of the city from Khao San Road, with sights and attractions few and far between, but it is within easier striking distance of Suvarnabhumi Airport than either Khao San or Silom.

Silom Road and the surrounding area south to Sathorn is as close to Bangkok gets to a CBD, with a mix of mid-range through to business hotel options along with a handful of budget places around Soi Ngam Dupli. This area is also home to several plush riverside hotels and is very well served by public transport. With Chinatown and Khao San reachable by river and Sukhumvit and Siam Square accessed via the sky train, Silom makes a good middle ground from a geographical standpoint.

For more information, take a look at our story: What is a good guesthouse in Bangkok?

What are some good Bangkok resources?
Aside from Travelfish, the best way to get the most out of Bangkok is to pick up a good map, a guidebook and to make a visit to the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT).

There are hundreds of different Bangkok maps -- available as free-standing maps (for sale and free), in magazines, brochures and various flyers. Some of the more popular maps of Bangkok include (affiliate links):
Lonely Planet City Map Bangkok
Nancy Chandler's Map of Bangkok
Periplus Bangkok Travel Map
International Travel Maps and Books Bangkok City Map

The Official Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) office is located on Phetburi Road, near National Stadium BTS station. They also have two information counters at Don Muang Airport. Be wary of other travel agents pretending to be an official TAT office -- the real TAT does not sell any kind of tour or trip whatsoever. Contact details for the official office are:
Tourism Authority of Thailand: 1600 New Phetchaburi Road, Bangkok 10400. T: (02) 250 5500 (120 automatic lines), Fax: (02) 250 5511. http://www.tourismthailand.org. Open daily 08:30-16:30
TAT Call Centre 1672: Operation hours 08:00-20:00

Loved or loathed, just about every traveller and backpacker you meet will have a guidebook. Here are some of the best-known publications (affiliate links):
Lonely Planet Bangkok
Mini Rough Guide to Bangkok
Moon Handbooks: Bangkok
Frommer's Comprehensive Travel Guide: Bangkok

There are two main English news daily newspapers in Bangkok, The Bangkok Post and The Nation. The Post runs its travel section on Thursday, the Nation on a Wednesday.

In the unlikely situation that you need to be hospitalised, rest assured Bangkok has some of the best hospitals and highest standards of medical care in Southeast Asia. Likewise the Tourist Police can be very helpful in an emergency.

Top hospitals in Bangkok include:
Bangkok Hospital: 2 Soi Soonvijai 7, New Petchburi Rd, Bangkok 10310. T: (02) 310 3000, F: (02) 318 1546. http://www.bangkokhospital.com/
BNH Hospital: 9/1, Convent Road, Bangkok 10500. T: (02) 686 2700, F: (02) 632 0577-79. http://www.bnhhospital.com/
Bumrungrad Hospital: 33 Sukhumvit 3 (Soi Nana Nua), Bangkok 10110. T: (02) 667 1000, F: (02) 667 2525. http://www.bumrungrad.com/
Samitivej Hospital: 133 Sukhumvit 49, Bangkok 10110. T: (02) 711 8000, F: (02) 391 1290. http://www.samitivej.co.th

The Tourist Police can be contacted anytime, anywhere in Thailand be telephoning 1155. The Bangkok police also have booths at most major traffic intersections. If you cannot find a police officer in an emergency, try the first office or storefront you can find.
http://tourist.police.go.th

The provincial Bangkok immigration office moved in 2010 to a sprawling, space-age government complex at Chaeng Watthana Soi 7 in far northern Bangkok. You'll need to go here if wanting a 30-day extension on a tourist visa or a seven-day extension on a visa free stay, both for 1,900 baht, as well as to report your address every 90 days if you have a long-term visa. The office is open Monday to Friday 08:30 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:30, excluding Thai holidays. For detailed information on getting there, see our post on Bangkok immigration.

Internet cafes are scattered all over Bangkok, particularly in tourist areas. Rates are extremely low -- as little as 20B per hour. Wireless access points are slowly becoming more common at cafes and some restaurants and bars.

All major Thai banks have their head office branch in Bangkok. ATMs can be found all over the city, often near 7-elevens and also within skytrain and subway stations. Some of the main banks include:
Bangkok Bank
Kasikorn Bank (previously Thai Farmer's Bank)
Bank of Ayutthaya
Thai Military Bank
Siam Commercial Bank

Foreign Banks
Standard & Chartered
HSBC

The Central Bangkok GPO can be found at 40-42 Chareon Krung Rd, Bangkok. There are branch offices in all districts of Bangkok. Small postal agencies can also be found in some skytrain stations. http://www.thailandpost.com

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