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. Please find below some pointers to keep in mind for first-time visitors to the city.
The number-one safety issue to be aware of in Bangkok is the traffic. Generally speaking, pedestrians always stop for motorised traffic, and not the other way around — even at zebra crossings. Stay aware, and give our pedestrian safety tips a good read before exploring on foot.
While forced muggings are very rare in Bangkok, there are pickpockets and bag-snatchers looking to take advantage of unprepared travellers — be especially alert while on public boats, in Chinatown, and in major attractions like the Grand Palace. Thefts are reported fairly often at cheap guesthouses, so use the safe at reception (if there is one) or take your valuables with you when going out.
Over the past decade, political demonstrations have periodically flared up in Bangkok. The vast majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, but military crackdowns and isolated attacks resulted in several deaths and injuries on a few dark days, particularly in 2010 and 2014. Foreigners have never been targeted, but you should avoid any political demonstrations. It’s also wise to read up on the current political situation before your trip (see news links below).
Bangkok has rarely been the target of terrorism, but in mid-2015 a bombing at the Erawan Shrine near Siam Square killed 22 people, including several Chinese tourists. It’s widely believed that the bombing was retaliation for the Thai government’s deportation of 100 ethnic Uighurs (an oppressed minority group in Western China) who were seeking refugee status in Thailand, though Thai authorities deny this. No subsequent attacks have occurred.
The Tourist Police’s main office is now located near Suvarnabhumi Airport in far-eastern Bangkok. They also often park a van outside of the Grand Palace main gate, and can be reached by telephone at any time.
Bangkok Tourist Police
999 Nong Prue Rd (just east of Suvarnabhumi Airport)
T: (02) 408 0333
24-hour call centre: 1155
The regular Bangkok police have booths at most major traffic intersections. The headquarters of the entire national police force is located right next to Siam BTS station, and another large police station is found at the west end of Khao San Road.
In 2010 Bangkok’s main immigration office moved to a massive government complex (sunratchagan in Thai) 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 visa-exempt stay, which will cost you 1,900 baht. The office is open Mon-Fri 08:30-12:00 and 13:00-16:30, except on public Thai holidays. For more info, see our post on Bangkok immigration.
Bangkok has dozens of hospitals and the standard of care is generally very good. You can expect better English and most likely a more comfortable experience at the private hospitals, but these charge higher prices (assuming you have travel health insurance, you should be covered at any hospital).
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
As with the rest of Thailand, all cash transactions must be carried out in Thai Baht (THB) in Bangkok. All major Thai banks have their head offices here, and international-access ATMs are readily available all over the city. You’ll also find currency exchange booths in the tourist centres.
Expect to be hot and sweaty while in Bangkok. Temperatures routinely reach into the upper 30s Celsius, and humidity levels over 75% are common. Endless concrete structures conduct the heat while obstructing any breeze. See the main Thailand weather page for specifics on what to expect at different times of year.
A strategic approach can help to make the heat more bearable. 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 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.
The majority of travellers stay on or around three of Bangkok’s best-known roads: Khao San, Silom and Sukhumvit. Do take a look at other options before you follow the herd, as the city has thousands of accommodation options and some of the best are found in lesser-known parts of the city. For a summary of what to expect from each of the 10 areas of the Thai capital that we cover individually, start by reading About our coverage of Bangkok.
Travelfish’s Bangkok content includes over 200 reviews of hand-picked accommodation that have all been checked out in person by a professional researcher, generally on an anonymous basis. These are divided up by area (example: Khao San Road). We’ve also inspected countless places to stay that do not appear on the site; the selected properties stood out to us for some reason, be it terrific value, prime location, lively traveller scene, exceptional design — or some combination of all of these and more.
The government-run Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) has a large tourism info centre on New Phetchaburi Rd, just west of Phetchaburi MRT station. It’s open daily 08:30-16:30 and can provide brochures, maps and general help with travel in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. The TAT also has a counter on the arrivals floor at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
TAT Info Centre
1600 New Phetchaburi Rd, Bangkok
T: (02) 250 5500
Call Centre: 1672 (operated 08:00-20:00)
Be wary of private travel agents pretending to be official representatives of the TAT or otherwise using the TAT name. The real TAT does not sell any kind of tour or trip whatsoever.
In addition to Travelfish you’ll find no shortage of other resources — both online and in print — that cover Bangkok from a variety of perspectives.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.