As the capital of Thailand, Bangkok is a starting point for many solo travellers. When I landed in Bangkok two years ago I was both terrified and excited. I’d never been to Asia before and it was my first time properly travelling alone.
The city is alive with colours, smells, sights. It was a heady introduction to Thai culture. Arriving from the UK it truly felt otherworldly. Just writing about it I feel a bit emotional because it holds so many memories for me. People will say you’ll either love or hate Bangkok. I’ve since been back twice and to be honest I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Regardless I think everyone should visit at least once.
Are you thinking of heading to Thailand? Here’s how to survive your first trip to Bangkok.
On my first trip to Bangkok I was excited to try the food but at the same time also kind of terrified. Before I left the UK the travel nurse had told me horror stories of food poisoning and foodborne diseases. The hypochondriac in me took what she said and ran with it. Flash forward several cheap beers later and I was happily munching away on street sweetcorn at 2 am. If you’re worried about getting sick make sure you have medication for food poisoning with you. The last thing you wanna do when you’re sick is haul your sorry ass to a pharmacy.
I’ve never had food poisoning during my travels and I attribute it to 1- eating a lot of vegetarian food and 2 – just going with a feeling. Am I going to eat that mayonnaise with a dead fly in it? Hmmm probably not. Will I eat soup that hasn’t been refrigerated but has been bubbling away for the best part of a day killing any bacteria? A lot more likely.
Lastly, don’t drink the tap water. Just don’t do it. If you saw some of the rivers in Bangkok you’d understand why. While your tummy will likely be able to handle food that’s a little questionable the water is a lot questionable and you’ll spend your day glued to the toilet. Some people go as far as to say don’t have ice or brush your teeth with it but I don’t think you have to be excessively anal about it.
Khao San Road
Ah Bangkok the home of insects on a stick and buckets of cheap alcohol. Of course, there is so much more to Thailand than Khao San Road – but would your first trip really be complete without a visit to this iconic hedonistic street? Popularised by the film ‘The Beach’, which describes the road as “the centre of the backpacking universe” Khao San Road really is something to see. At night it comes to life with vendors offering you everything from ping pong shows to knock of Nikes. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions from awe to just plain disgust. I’d advise that if you do decide to visit make it just that – a visit. Don’t stay directly on the street if you want to get more than a couple of hours of sleep.
Aircon is everything
If you’re staying in a hostel you’ll be faced with the choice of aircon or the significantly cheaper fan room. For the love of all things good and pure DO NOT pick a room with a fan. Bangkok is extremely humid and after your first night breathing in the sweat of several backpacking strangers you will realise the error of your ways. For an extra two pounds trust me it is SO worth it.
While Tuk Tuks are all part of the experience they’re significantly more expensive than a regular taxi. Partly because the drivers thrive on tourism and know they can charge whatever they like. When grabbing a taxi be assertive and ensure that the metre has been started. If they refuse to start the metre get out and find someone who will. It’s a good idea to ask at the hotel desk of wherever you’re staying how much a fair should cost so if someone does try to rip you off you can tell them you know how much it actually costs.
Stay clear of scams
From tuk tuks to temple tours at times it can feel like everyone is trying to mislead you. It’s frustrating because you want to believe the best in people. But you do need to keep your wits about you in a loving but firm way.
You know those e-mails you get from your long lost Nigerian uncle that you didn’t know existed but turns out he’s a prince and you’re like omg I’m totally having a Princess Diaries moment. And all you have to do to claim your fortune and have your Mia Thermopolis make-over and limo is send your card details and security number? Yeah. When something sounds too good to be true it probably is.
If you’re not sure in any situation remember Google is your friend. Is that temple really having a holiday for something you’ve never heard of before or is someone just trying to sell you their own temple tour? If someone feels too pushy don’t feel pressured into buying something say a firm (but loving) no and walk away. You can always go back the offer won’t expire.
Respect the local culture
In most places around Bangkok, you’re free to wear what you want. Just be mindful of how you’re dressed when visiting sacred spaces such as temples. Even if the rules seem a bit unnecessary to you always be respectful or if it’s not for you pick something else to do! Shoulders and knees should always be covered. Always point your feet away from Buddha and don’t forget to take off your shoes before entering a temple.
Thailand is famed for its rooftop bars and wild parties – which can be credited to The Hangover. I actually didn’t go to Sky Bar, which is where they show in the film. Instead, I recommend checking out the Hi-So at SOSofitel. In addition to stunning views, they also have an amazing infinity pool that overlooks the city. The hotel hosts pool parties at the end of every month, sadly I didn’t get to go to one as the country was in mourning. But hey, sometimes things are more important than getting your party on.
I’m sure you’re going to have an AMAZING trip. If you’re ever in doubt it all just comes down to trusting your instincts and being assertive. Now that you’ve got that nailed it’s time to go off into the world and I can’t wait to hear what you get up to!
What about you guys? Have you been to Bangkok before? Do you have any tips on how to survive your first trip to Bangkok?
Let me know in the comments!
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