by Tom Vater, The Telegraph, February 17, 2017
Expert guide to Bangkok
Thailand’s capital is south-east Asia’s most enigmatic city, a head-on clash between tradition and modernity. First-time visitors may be a little taken aback by the concrete canyons and futuristic, billboard-covered skyscrapers, but take a few steps away from the main roads into one of the city’s countless alleys and traditional Thai culture is everywhere – an urban cornucopia of smells, tastes, sounds and sights that one is unlikely to forget.
Bangkok gets the balance right between the expensive, the esoteric and the profane. The squeaky-clean sky train and underground system make most of this huge metropolis navigable, whisking visitors from their luxury accommodation to a sparkling Buddhist temple or an ancient amulet market within minutes – a kind of time travel possible in few other cities of 11 million people.
River trips, museums, shopping centres and, of course, Bangkok’s nightlife (which has come a long way from gaudy to cosmopolitan) make for the defining Far Eastern urban experience. While Thailand has been ruled by a repressive military regime since 2014 and law and order tend to be rather selectively enforced, Bangkok remains one of the world’s safest cities; violent crime against foreign visitors remains relatively rare. Still, visitors should keep away from demonstrations that can turn violent and be wary of the police.
The summer heat puts many visitors off, though Thailand’s excessive New Year’s celebrations (Songkran is celebrated in mid-April) are a sight to behold. For a week, the capital turns into a battle zone for children and grown-ups alike, who roam the streets armed with water pistols, buckets of water and talcum powder, which is shot or hurled at all passers-by - and watch out, foreign visitors are favorite targets. Despite the heat, it’s really a fun time to visit and partake in Thailand’s most important festival.
The Thai capital brims with palaces, museums, temples and great markets, especially along its historic riverbanksWhen to go
Bangkok is at its best during the cool season, from November to February, after the monsoon and before the sweltering heat sets in at the beginning of March. April, May and June are infernally hot - sitting on a motorbike in the day time is like riding through a fire storm - though by mid-June, the rains usually arrive, bringing much needed respite, taking the dust out of the air and making the plants grow in record time. The rainy season is actually a great time to visit - few tourists, lower temperatures and the occasional monsoonal downpour that floods the streets and brings the kids out to play.
Where to go
Bangkok is a city comfortably suspended between the sacred and the profane. For an impression of the former, head to Rattanakosin District by the Chao Praya River, to visit the Royal Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po, as well as Wat Arun across the water. To enjoy the latter, a trip to the downtown shopping and nightlife areas - as well as the spectacular Jim Thompson House - around Sukhumvit Road is not to be missed.
Know before you go
British Embassy: 00 66 2 3058333; 14 Wireless Road. Open Mon-Thur, 8amm-4.30pm. Fri, 8am-1pm. MRT Lumphini
Tourism Division; Culture, Sports and Tourism Department: 00 66 2 2257612; 17/1 Phra Athit Road. Open daily, 9am-7pm. Phra Athit pier
Tourist Police: dial 1155, 1699
Telephone code: dial 00 66 2 for Bangkok numbers from outside Thailand, 02 from inside Thailand
Time difference: +7 hours
Flight time: 11hr 25min
Local laws and etiquette
It is strictly against the law to criticise the monarchy. Smart appearance goes a long way in Thailand. Visitors to Buddhist temples should be covered up, take their shoes off and never point the soles of their feet at Buddhist icons.
This article was written by Tom Vater from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.