You’ve been in the Penh for a couple of months and are now starting to feel a little stir-crazy. You need to get out’a town and Kep doesn’t sound exciting enough. Time to head for Bangkok.
Don’t even think about taking the bus. Overland to Saigon is doable: it’s only a day trip, but doing the same to Bangkok is a two-dayer and it’s doubtful you will save a cracker by the time you pay for food and accommodation in Poipet or Aranyaprethet for the night, let alone if you get tempted to enter one of the casinos! The same applies to taking the route via the south through Koh Kong.
The best deals are on Air Asia, just so long as you have time to book in advance. Of course, the earlier you book, the better the deal. The flight takes less than an hour so no frills shouldn’t be a problem. If you leave it to the last minute, however, then you might as well go with a full-service carrier, especially if there is a risk that your baggage allowance is overweight.
Heading out to the airport, you are better off calling up a taxi, such as Choice at Tel: 023 888 023 or 090 882 882, than trying to get there in a tuk-tuk. In the latter, either you get there all hot and sweaty or you get caught in a shower of rain. Nothing worse that entering the chilled interior of an airplane when you are damp. You could end up spending all your time in Bangkok nursing a miserable cold.
You should get to the airport two hours before your flight but it’s pretty relaxed here and an hour early should suffice. Don’t try to cut it too fine as some flights have been known to leave Phnom Penh before their advertised departure time. Also, don’t forget you will need to (queue and) pay departure tax!
Once you have arrived in Bangkok, you don’t have to worry any more about being ripped off by the taxi drivers that wait like vultures at the exit: they seem to have an uncanny ability to spot someone new to the City of Angels. Now you can head directly to the bottom level of the airport and catch the purpose-built train into town. Currently this costs only 15 baht (around 50 cents)! A taxi should be around Bt300, depending where you wish to go.
Bangkok has no shortage of hotels and, while prices have risen over the last couple of years (especially if you’re paying in dollars) there are still plenty of bargains – if you know where to look. Time spend surfing the web to help ferret out a good deal that suits your pocket is time well spent.
There are three key areas that foreigners tend to stay in. The riverside area on the banks of the Chao Phraya River near the Silom Business District, the Sukhumvit Road area (known locally as the farang – meaning foreigner – ghetto), or the backpacker section at Khaosan Road. The first two have the advantage of being very central whereas Khaosan, out in the suburb of Banglampoo, is a distinct area with a culture of its own; full of budget hotels and backpackers. A ferry ride back into the city from here can be a delight on its own.
The Thais take shopping very seriously, so if you think it’s time for a new wardrobe, this town is shopping central. Spotted along Sukhumvit Road (and its extension, Rama 1st Road) are a number of high-end shopping malls: The Emporium, Central Chidlom, Central World (once more back in action) at the Ratchaprasong Intersection or, a stone’s throw away, Paragon on Siam Square. Actually, there are numerous others, but this is a good start.
If you’re a bloke and feel compelled to do blokeish things while in Sin City, don’t bother checking out Silom’s Patpong. This seedy adult entertainment area is well past it’s used-by date, full of transsexuals, touts and rip-offs. If you must, head over to Nana Plaza on Sukhumvit Soi 4 in the early evening, or even better, further down Sukhumvit, Soi Cowboy, about 100 meters from the corner of the Ashoke Intersection, on the right side of the road.
Rather than Patpong, Silom Soi 4 is much more fun than Patpong itself, even if you’re straight.
Bangkok traffic can be trying, so get used to the excellent Skytrain (BTS) or the underground MRT.
If Thais are serious about shopping, this is nothing compared to their obsession with food. Thai cuisine is one of the great cooking styles of the world and some of the best Thai food can be brought very cheaply straight off the street. Just look out for a vendor with lots of local customers. If this is too challenging, try one of the many food courts in the malls.
There are also plenty of high-end eateries in Bangkok but generally these will not seem much of a bargain – in fact, they can be expensive and the food pretty indifferent.
Touts and beggars can be a pain as in any big Asian city. If you only manage one phrase in Thai, learn to say “My ow, kar” (“my ow, krap”, if you’re a bloke) which means “no thanks”. They will assume you are up with the play and leave you alone.
Never be aggressive, as this is regarded as very poor form in Thailand, and always smile, after all, you’re in the “Land of Smiles”.
For a guide to Bangkok’s pubic transportation system, click here.