There are lots of smells. Walking down a street in Bangkok you can smell fragrant jasmine and pungent sewage on the same block. It is quite arresting, but something that you’ll remember fondly in the future.
The ice used in Thai restaurants is fine to drink. If you’re somewhere far outside of town and worried about the ice, just get bottled water or beer instead.
Learn a few basic phrases in Thai, but know that English is widely spoken in Bangkok and most everyone is friendly enough to put up with a little pantomiming. A humble and respectful manner will get you far in the land of smiles!
Carry your own tissues and hand sanitizer if you’re not comfortable air drying or using a spray hose next to a squat toilet. Most places we went had “Western” toilets (sometimes called “sitting toilets”), but I encountered my fair share of squat toilets, too.
My advice to the ladies: take a deep breath and pretend like you’re camping. You can do it. Oh, and wear shoes with non-slip soles because those bathroom floors are WET.
Check out a Muay Thai fight at Lumpinee Stadium, but don’t get suckered into buying “VIP” tickets. They are about two feet away from the regular seats and cost four times as much.
Pick a hotel close to public transportation (MRT and BTS). The Sukhumvit neighborhood is especially practical, as the MRT and BTS both have stops just a few blocks apart.
When visiting a temple, pay attention to see if others have taken off their shoes. If so, follow suit.
Get massages. Like, five or six per day. They are fabulous and so inexpensive you’ll never again be able to justify paying $100 for a massage back home. Three bucks for an hour long foot massage? Yes, please.
Avoid massage parlors with signs that read “nice girls,” “happy girls,” or just any mention of girls or women. Unless you are actively looking for a brothel.
There are 7-Elevens EVERYWHERE. I kid you not, there are probably more 7-Eleven’s in Bangkok than there are Starbucks in Seattle.
You can find some really interesting stuff in them, too. I tried this strange quasi-red bull looking drink and it made me feel weird. Very awake, but very weird.
Have a suit or dress made while you’re in Bangkok. You can have one tailor-made to fit for a fraction of what it would cost in the states. Just don’t get tricked into going to a sub-par “fashion store” by your taxi driver.
Do some research ahead of time to find a reputable tailor.
Find a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast, but don’t waste your money on an all-inclusive meal package. There are too many great places to eat (for cheap!) in Bangkok to waste stomach space on hotel food for three meals per day.
I love a good Western-style breakfast, which can be hard to find in Bangkok, so I was happy that my hotel served croissants every morning.
Don’t go in April (like we did). It’s the worst time of year to go, because the humidity is at about 300%.
Or, if you can handle like (like we did), it’s the cheapest time to go in terms of airfare and hotel rates. There are also far fewer tourists this time of year.
Do your research before visiting the zoo. You’ll see lots of weird animals you didn’t know existed, but you’ll also be shocked at the conditions the animals are living in.
I went to the zoo without really thinking about it, but I would’t visit a second time. Same goes for riding elephants — you might look into visiting an elephant reserve or sanctuary instead. Oh, and there’s a 7-Eleven at the zoo.
Show respect for Thai customs by greeting others with the Wai (placing hands palms together at your chest and bowing your head).
Don’t expect the food to taste like the Pad Thai you order back home. It’s delicious and incredible, but it’s not like the Americanized version. Find a place packed with locals and you’ll be fine.
Order several dishes at dinner, but don’t expect all the food to come out at the same time. Bringing out all plates at once, Hell’s Kitchen-style, is a very Westernized concept.
In Thailand, food comes out as it is ready. Plus, since you can order a five course dinner for just a few dollars, you might as well go for it.
Don’t drink the water. Buy bottles of water from street vendors for about ten cents a pop. Or, buy beer on the street for a dollar a bottle.
Don’t touch anyone on the head. I’m not sure why you would do this in any country, but either way, the head is considered sacred in Thailand and shouldn’t be touched.
Oh, and try not to point your feet at others, either. This is somewhat impossible to accomplish on the subway, but if you are sitting directly across to someone while talking, point your feet off to the site a bit to avoid being disrespectful.
Be careful what you order at food carts. If you see cats walking across the produce, you probably shouldn’t eat there. If you can’t see them actually making the food, find a different cart. If there are no locals in line, keep moving.
Don’t eat the pretty radishes. Or tomatoes, or cucumbers. If someone hand-carved that garnish, it could be covered in bacteria.
Eat a croissant. Or ten. Seriously, they were better than the ones I had in France.
It’s okay to negotiate prices with your Tuk Tuk driver.
Be wary if they try to convince you to go anywhere other than your destination (usually jewelry or fashion stores that are having “special sales” – the goods are fake, and the driver earns commission for taking you there).
Bangkok Belly is a real thing. Just ask my poor husband, who spent the entire flight home alternating between fever, chills, and vomiting. I warned him about those radishes.
Yes, those signs on Patpong Road do say “Ping-Pong Show.” I’ll leave it at that.
If you’re travelling to Thailand in the near future, check out the guide book I used while in Thailand at this link.
So, did I leave anything out? Add your own in the comments below!
May 14, 2014 | Last Updated on May 5, 2020 by Linda