Getting by in Bangkok: Five Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand’s capital

Visiting a new city for the first time can be tricky and even a bit daunting- especially when it’s a city as culturally different as Bangkok.

The current political situation in Thailand only adds to any anxieties you might have. The troubles do appear to have calmed since the outbreak of violence on 10 April, however you should keep an eye on the news channels to be on the safe side.

You can get all the lastest information and advice on the troubles on the British Embassy’s website.

Aside from the political unrest, here is a list of five do’s and don’ts which will help you get by if you’re planning a trip to the Thai capital.

Do’s:

1. Dress Modestly

Do- Wear clothing that covers up your body

Thais are laid back people and aren’t going to completely shun you if you decide to spend your time in hot pants and a bikini during your stay in Bangkok. However, at the same time, Bangkokians are unlikely to be super-friendly and approving either.

Thai and Buddhist culture is conservative and modest clothing plays an important part in this. If you want to fully immerse yourself in Thai culture and gain the full respect of the locals, then ditch the short shorts in favour of some traditional Thai dress. In any case you’ll need to dress modestly to be allowed in any of the temples anyway!

2. Buy a good map

Don't- Reveal shoulders or show leg

There’s nothing worse than getting lost when you’re on your travels. Lugging around a backpack in the blistering heat whilst trying to read indecipherable street names is no one’s idea of fun, especially in a city as big as Bangkok!
The solution is simple- invest in a decent map that has street names in both English and Thai. This will prove invaluable, believe me!

Another thing to consider alongside is that Bangkok is huge. It’s not like European capitals where you can walk to many attractions- taxi journeys and use of public transport is unavoidable. Our advice would be to plan ahead to make the most out of your time. Don’t rule out the possibility of an inexpensive Bangkok tour either.

3. Carry around your hostel address written in Thai

While the vast majority of taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers understand at least basic English, there are times where things are lost in translation. This is never convenient but one situation when you definitely don’t want this to occur is when you’re trying to get back to your hostel after a night out. Carrying around a copy of your hostel address written in Thai should prevent this from ever being a problem.

4. Keep a copy of your passport/photo ID with you at all times

Do- Keep a copy of your passport ID with you

Carrying ID is an absolute must in Bangkok. People ask for it everywhere you go and it makes no difference how old you are- if you don’t have ID you won’t get in even if you’re 45! Rather than drag your passport around with you everywhere and run the risk of losing it every five minutes, get a photocopy made as this is considered perfectly acceptable by all bouncers and bartenders.

5. Carry around some loo roll/tissues in case of an emergency

Bangkok may suffer from heavy pollution but it’s not essentially a dirty city. However, not everywhere you stop is as clean as it could be and you should always carry some toilet roll or tissues for use to avoid getting caught out in the toilet of a bar which has no toilet paper!

Don’ts:

1. Bear the soles of your feet

Don't- Bear the soles of your feet

Buddhist culture considers the feet the most unclean part of the body so bearing the soles of them is not something that Thais welcome. In fact, Thais consider the showing of the soles of your feet an offensive gesture.

Fortunately, Thais are very laid back people and it’s unlikely that bearing the soles on your feet by mistake will be met by a hostile reception; however you don’t want locals to consider you an ignorant and vulgar tourist, so if you feel like putting your feet up, think again!

2. Don’t let tuk-tuk drivers take you for a ride

Tuk-tuks are a great way to get around the city and contrary to all reports in guidebooks like the Lonely Planet aren’t accidents waiting to happen! However, the tuk-tuk drivers are no strangers to the odd trick or two.

One of the most popular scams is the gem shop scam where the driver will drive you to your intended destination before making up a bogus claim that it’s actually closed and taking you to another destination, via a gem shop.

Once the tuk-tuk stops at the gem shop the unsuspecting tourist is funnelled into the shop and harassed and harried into buying cut price jewels which are made out to be the bargain of the century.

Avoid becoming a victim of the scam by bearing in mind the following with tuk-tuks:

  • Never get in a tuk-tuk if the driver offers to take you somewhere for anything less than 40 baht- the chances are that this price is just too good to be true.
  • Never believe people who say that your intended destination is closed- get the driver to take you to the destination first so you can make up your own mind.
  • If you do end up being taken to a gem shop, walk out immediately and don’t get engaged in any form of conversation.

3. Go to an ‘Upstairs Bar’

Don't- go upstairs at a go-go bar

Upstairs bars are a recipe for disaster and will leave you 1000s of baht out of pocket when you are finally able to get away. Pretty girls feign interest to get you to buy them drinks, while your cheapest beer will be hundreds of baht in price. Once you add on surcharges to the bill, you’ll soon find yourself owing the ‘reputable’ establishments thousands of baht which you will be forced into paying by big bouncers that aren’t afraid to get physical to get their money.

Never has the old adage ‘there is no such thing as a free dinner’ wrung more true than with the case of upstairs bars- for all the touts assurances about free shows you won’t come home with any cash in your wallet if you do stray inside to watch the ping-pong experts.

4. Negotiate a fare with taxi drivers

Do- use taxis with a meter

All taxis in Thailand are required to have a meter. If your taxi driver doesn’t have one then do not get in his cab as it’s likely to be unlicensed and unsafe.

Likewise, don’t get in the cab if you’re driver refuses to turn his meter as no negotiated fare will cost less than the fare on the meter. Besides, unless you’re a Bangkok regular, you’ll have no way of knowing whether he’s offering you a good deal anyway!

Alternatively, try travelling by another mode of transport like tour bus or river taxi.

5. Be aggressive when bartering

The first rule of Bangkok is if there’s no label or set price then it’s haggle time! The second rule to Bangkok shopping is to be polite and patient when negotiating your price. No one likes being given the hard sell and the same principle applies when trying to soften the resolve of the vendors.

Smiles go a long way in Bangkok and the best way to approach a deal is to ask them what their best price is first. After that, you need to work on chipping away at that price- you should be able to get anything between 10% and 40% off the merchant’s original price.

And there you have our top tips on surviving in Bangkok. If you’ve got any tips that we’ve missed out, we’d like to hear from you! Become a fan of HostelBookers on facebook and let us know about them.

Thanks to Ringo Ichigo, worak, RandyA38, OakleyOriginals, Tiger Heart, g33ndata & veranda barooah for the flickr images.

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