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Bangkok For The First Time Traveller

Even for seasoned travelers, navigating Bangkok’s dazzling kaleidoscope of wonders is a balancing act and its intoxicating atmosphere can sweep anyone off their feet. Whether you’re budgeting at chic but cheap Bangkok hotels or indulging in the VIP treatment at a five star resort, first time visitors can find it challenging to keep their proverbial balance in this foreign environment. Staying grounded when faced with the cornucopia of food and shopping markets, entertainment and fascinating sights requires grasping the nuances of dealing with the summer heat, local scam artists, opportunistic shop keepers and questionable street food vendors.

Golden Temple, Bangkok
The Golden Temple of Bangkok

Staying Safe

Compared to its counterparts, Bangkok is actually quite safe for travellers to roam; however a curfew of 9am to 7pm is usually advised if you are not familiar with the nightlife. Of course, common sense never goes out of style and flashing around expensive equipment in dodgy neighborhoods is never a good idea. The biggest danger, though, is in the form of scammers and con men that are likely to prey on gullible tourists. Cabbies will try to divert you into establishments that pay them a commission on sales or hustle you into exotic venues that they say have no cover but wind up adding a hefty sum to your final bill after the taxi driver is long gone. It’s a good idea to find fellow travellers and tour the city with them. The citizens of Bangkok are gracious to tourists, but there is a contingent that makes a living as pickpockets, so always keep your valuables in inside pockets and check to make sure they’re still in place if you’re jostled. The police are quite responsive to visitor’s dilemmas and will try to help if you’re fleeced by scammers or petty thieves. As in any city, it’s wise to keep a notebook with useful contact details as well as on your mobile.

Bangkok Market
Boats in a floating market

Handling the Heat

Chances are you’ve never encountered the kind of heat that Bangkok can generate in the summer between May and early September. Not only does the temperature climb to blistering levels, 32 degrees Celsius each day from July but the high humidity can be suffocating. Be sure to choose a fully air conditioned hotel and restaurants you can haunt. Try to avoid getting out between 12 – 3pm but if you do here are a few suggestions: Wear a hat and put on sun block, pack plenty of lightweight breathable cotton clothing with a loose fit so air flows around you. Tote along plenty of your own bottled water or buy a filtered water bottle, so you won’t be tempted to down local tap water in a hurry, which should be avoided carefully. It’s also a good idea to carry a change of clothing around because you will inevitably get soaked. Don’t be shy about taking a break for a shower and an afternoon nap if the heat is too intense.

Bangkok Temples
Monks in front of temples and pagodas

The Art of Barter

The concept of bartering takes a little courage to try at first, but when you realize how inflated prices are for tourists, especially in the outdoor markets, you’re shopping survival instincts are bound to kick in. Knowing when and where to barter is the important part.

For instance, it’s OK to barter with your taxi driver if they don’t have a meter running, but if they do you should just pay the fare as presented. It’s also not a good idea to try and barter for meals, especially before you order, because you risk getting poor quality in return. The malls and high-end shops with clearly marked prices won’t usually barter with you, but may offer a discount if you made numerous purchases.

However, at the outdoor marketplaces you can count of being quoted at least double the local price. To avoid being a sucker, start your bargaining at half of the suggested price and try not to settle for anything less than half the difference between your offer and theirs. If they hold firm, just use the oldest tactic in the book and put your money back in your pocket and walk away. Nine times out of 10 the vendor will call you back and settle on a reasonable price.

Food In Bangkok, Thailand
Pots of fresh seafood in Bangkok

Food Caution

With all the tempting delicious Thai food and international cuisine in Bangkok, you’ll have to use a little discretion, especially when dealing with the street vendors. If the food is being cooked fresh before your eyes or kept at a low boil, it is usually safe to consume. However, if it’s been made in advance and has been sitting out without refrigeration, you’ll probably want to think twice. To be safe, head for the stalls attracting the most customers, chances are they get a lot of repeat business.

Also use caution with very spicy food — just because you can eat hot peppers doesn’t mean that more exotic spices aren’t going to mess with your internal plumbing. Exercise care at buffets and be aware that studies have shown chances of bacterial contamination in Bangkok are actually higher at western fast food joints like McDonalds.

Bangkok is a vibrant travel destination with so much to discover, it may feel daunting but as long as you stay safe, remember safety in numbers and respect the locals you will have yourself a exhilarating holiday!

2 Good comments on "Bangkok For The First Time Traveller"

  • Peterthebigdude  @ Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    I went to Bangkok last year, oh it beautiful but it is wise to travel in a group people will take you for all you have if you are by yourself but in terms of street food it’s amazing I didn’t care if I got a bad stomach because the food was grrrreat!

    • Mike  @ Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 11:51 AM

      That’s how I felt about India, I enjoyed the food too much to worry about getting sick. I eventually did get sick, but it was worth it.

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