Bangkok Travel Tips and Etiquette - Information the Guidebooks Never Mentioned
Essential Travel Tips for a Safe and Memorable Stay in Bangkok
Traveling to a country that doesn't speak your native language and where the people look absolutely different than you takes a certain amount of courage.
This is especially true if you're planning to go to Bangkok. So it's natural for anyone to start buying guidebooks and start doing some homework to prepare for the unexpected.
It's what I did when my company shipped me off to work in Thailand. They even provided me with the guidebooks too. The books proved helpful in providing facts about historical sights and how to get around in general.
Long story short and eight years later I found a lot of information the guidebooks either left out or just didn't have any clue about. I mean it's good if you want to know where the main cultural attractions are. Or where the best luxury hotels are found, but it's missing essential information such as situations to avoid and watch out for in Bangkok.
Growing up in New York City I've developed a sense of street smarts. It's something that can't be taught but learned from experience. And street smarts is what guidebooks don't supply.
After living and traveling back and forth to Thailand for over 8 years I've developed my sense of street smarts over there. The information that is written here are all derived from my personal experiences, which I happily share with my friends and their friends who visit Bangkok.
I'm happy to share these valuable tips to you so that you may have a safe and enjoyable trip.
**Top Bangkok Hotel Tip**
There are lots of not so well known hotels in Bangkok that offer great service and value. But all the rooms are not consistent in quality. Which is why hotels have mixed reviews.
If you end up with a room that you don't find satisfactory here's what you should do. Before you speak with reception to request a room change, you should dress as nice as you possibly can. I'm not suggesting you wear a tuxedo. I'm suggesting you don't dress like you just came back from the swimming pool wearing flip flops with a wet towel around your neck.
Thai society is based on a social hierarchy. The better dressed you look, the higher you are deemed in the social order. Thus the more respect you'll receive from the hotel's front desk who will work harder to fulfill your room change request. Matter of fact this rule applies everywhere doesn't it? But in Asia, it's an integral rule when interacting with customer service.
Choosing the right hotel is the difference between a great vacation or a dismal holiday experience. We all have a certain comfort level that we can't live without, and we all take vacations to get away from stress, not add to it. And nothing is more stressful than getting stuck with a room you're not happy with when you come back to your room from a long day of exploring.
When people search for hotel information the first thing they want to know is how many star ratings the hotel has. 2 stars, 3 stars and so on. What most people don't know is that the majority of hotels in Bangkok rate themselves, usually by management or the property owners.
The only exception to this case are the major hotel names such as the Peninsula Bangkok (Consistently rated as one of the best International hotels), the Banyan Tree Bangkok and the Conrad Hotel Bangkok. All of those hotels and more were written up at least once or twice in major magazine publications such as Condè Nast for excellent service and hotel quality.
This doesn't mean that all the hotels not mentioned in a magazine in Bangkok are horrible with dungeon like conditions. In most cases the star ratings are on par. But you should take star ratings with a grain of salt and just do a fraction more on your hotel research.
The Internet is full of great websites to find independent reviews about hotels in Bangkok. Check out TripAdvisor.com, hands down the best informational site about travel world wide. Then are other more focused information such as Bangkok's Best Budget Hotel Guide which has hotel reviews from previous guests.
The only problem with lesser well known hotels in Bangkok is the inconsistent service and quality. Most likely the employees speak a limited amount of English. If this is your concern than it's best to book a upper mid range accommodation or super luxury hotels that are able to hire better trained staff.
** Top Shopping Tip in Bankgok **
You're walking around Gaysorn Shopping Center, a remarkably well air conditioned mall mostly visited by tourist. You see a set of intricately designed chop sticks in a fancy boutique. You really like it and it'll look good in that display case back home you use to showcase souvenirs from your travels. It looks expensive and it is for 800THB, but why not, it looks unique so you buy it.
Saturday rolls around and you're in the outdoor Chatuchak Weekend Market (JJ Market) and you're strolling through hundreds of small stalls selling everything from souvenir trinkets to puppies in the sweltering heat. You stop at a stall and see a familiar set of chop sticks. You examine it more closely and yes it has the same markings and fine details. Everythings the same. Except the price is150THB and with room to bargain.
The lesson here is when it comes to locally made souvenirs and trinkets it's best to go to places such as Chatuchack Weekend Market. The chop sticks at Gaysorn were expensive because you're helping to paying the store's expensive rent.
Shopping in Bangkok
Bangkok has some of the finest shopping malls in Asia and you can find most of these places along the Bangkok Sky Train route with convenient walkways connecting to department stores.
Most people think they can save a lot of money by buying electronics and genuine luxury merchandise such as Prada handbags in Bangkok. After all there's a huge disparity between western currency and the Thai Baht. At the time of writing it's $1 USD to 35.41THB. Bangkok sounds like a shopper's paradise right?
Not exactly true. There's a good chance electronics such as cameras and computers in Bangkok are about the same price as your country if not slightly cheaper. Back in the USA I know major electronic stores and manufacturers offer money saving rebates. There's no such thing in Bangkok.
Take for example SD memory cards for digital cameras. They're dirt cheap on Amazon.com and Buy.com which includes free shipping. In Bangkok even in non tourist shops, original SD cards cost up to 8 times more.
If you think you'll save money on a Gucci handbag for your wife by buying it in Bangkok you're dead wrong. Bangkok has a huge luxury tax, and on top of that the prices are still just as high as back home. Luxury tax applies to loads of expensive merchandise in Bangkok such as foreign manufactured cars and even perfume.
There is such a thing as Value Added Tax (VAT) in Thailand and you will get some money back. But are you really going to fly halfway around the world to buy a handbag you can get cheaper back home?
My best friend's girl friend works as a flight attendant for Thai Airways. She and all of her coworkers buy luxury goods outside of Thailand. And their salaries are comparable to western standards, yet they still buy luxury items during layovers.
My Favorite Movie About Con Artists
How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off in Bangkok
Thai people are kind and very welcoming to tourist. Unfortunately there are those who wish to take advantage of tourist who need assistance on finding where they want to go or what they need. By all means you shouldn't let these roaming scoundrels scare you. You may not even come across a scam artist in during your stay in Bangkok. But just in case here are some simple rules.
1st rule is never accept information or advice from anyone who approaches you, especially near tourist attractions. For example right by the entrance of the Grand Palace are a couple of guys who will tell you that it's closed. Yet you see still see a large mass of tourist strolling inside. Thai scam artist can lie without blinking easily in hopes that you will take their advice to go on a shopping tour where they can earn commissions.
2nd rule is never accept a ride from a taxi parked outside a hotel. Always walk out to the street and stop a taxi that is moving with traffic. Taxis parked outside hotels will hassle you to go places you don't want to go. They'll try and convince you to go look at gems stones or go shopping for a suit and so on and so on, just to get a commission from the shop owners. There are lots of taxis in Bangkok, and the overall rule is if you get out of your hotel and a taxi driver sees and waves at you just ignore him.
3rd rule is never hold a map of Bangkok out in plain sight. Many tuk tuk drivers are also opportunist looking to take you to places you don't want to go as well.
4th rule is never take the Airport Limousine. Though the operation is legitimate they charge way too much to take you from the airport to your hotel. Instead look for the signs for the regular taxi stand, they're easy to find and far cheaper.
5th rule is always make sure the taxi driver turns on the meter. If he says it's broken, then it's a sure sign you're going to get ripped off. The driver will charge definitely quote you an inflated flat rate. Just get out of the taxi if they refuse to turn the meter on.
6th rule and this is understandably controversial, don't make friends with people who are overly kind and helpful to you. Especially Thai men who are well dressed. If you've ever seen the movie "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" you'll know what I mean. They'll try to gain your trust to the point you'll believe whatever they say.
Etiquette for Interacting with Thai People
One mistake most travelers make is speaking too fast. One day I was in a hotel lobby helping my friend check into his room. We watched a man with a thick English accent speaking to the receptionist as if English is her native language. He was talking to her so fast even I couldn't understand him. It was apparent she was having difficulty following his words yet he kept rambling on. Speak slow and as clear as possible, you'll only make things go smoother for everyone.
I've read one guidebook that said Thai people don't show anger because it's a serious loss of face. What a bunch of bulls***t. Don't get me wrong, Thai people are nice, kind and patient. But they do have a boiling point just like the rest of us. I've seen plenty of Thai shop owners cursing at obnoxious tourist who don't want to pay 20THB extra.
Which leads my next point. Thai shop owners have a general idea of the currency rates. They know that 20THB is a small sum of money to a tourist. And it is, we know it and they know it. So don't give them a hard time over a such a small amount of money.
Part of the traveling experience is interacting with people who are much different than you with different point of views about life. So as a traveler one must accept the fact that not everyone thinks, acts or reacts the same way back home.
My Final Thoughts
Bangkok is a great city to explore with so many things to see and learn. Try and keep an open mind and don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try the local street food, you can't go wrong if you see lot's of local Thai people eating at the same food vendor.
By all means please don't eat at foreign fast food restaurants such as Mcdonald's. Those hamburgers are meant for the local people. Flying halfway around the world to eat at a Mcdonald's is illogical and takes income away from local restaurants who need it more.
I know there were somethings I mentioned here that may put Bangkok under a negative spot light. Compared to other western cities, say the United States, serious crime in Bangkok is low and violence against foreigners is quite rare.
As for con artist, lets face it. Every country has them. Every time I come back to NY I always get some taxi driver offering to give me a ride, which is illegal. And of course I never use them because I know they'll rip me off.
The same is true for wherever you travel to. But after reading this I hope you'll be prepared and have a safe journey into the Land of Smiles.