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Bangkok for first timers

December 20, 2018
Bangkok (BK) is one of my favourite cities. For first-timers it can be very overwhelming though, so I’ve put together a few tips that I hope will be useful.
ARRIVING at Suvarnabuhmi airport 
* Be aware that South African citizens may have to fill out certain forms which then need be signed by a doctor on site. The forms and the medical team are located near the arrivals hall – you’ll be advised if you’re required to comply so keep a lookout for signage once you enter the airport 
* NB the immigration queue is  VERY long and it can take up to an hour or two to get your passport stamped;
* There are helpful officials everywhere, with spare immigration forms (you usually get given these on the plane) and pens;
* Get a local sim card at the airport once you’re through immigration: the AIS/DTAC networks offer amazing, inexpensive packages 

The Q at the airport…people for days (pls excuse the poor image quality)
* Be courteous- women greet saying ‘Sawadee Kha’ and guys say ‘Sawadee Khap’. It’s also appreciated if you put the prayer hands together under your chin in response to the same. 
* If you’re worried about getting lost from the airport, book a shuttle through your hotel (pricey, up to 1,200 THB) or take a taxi- and barter up front – the fare shouldn’t cost you more than 400-500 THB into Sukhamvit. Uber (cashless) operates in BK too but I’ve had bad experiences in BK.  If you do use the service, opt for Uber Black.
* If you’re confident re your directions (as I am by now) and only have 1 carry-on bag (one can really travel light in Thailand), take the airport bus (30 THB) to the Mo Chit BTS station and then a skytrain to your hotel (cheap and fast).
* For getting around in the city, Tuk Tuks are fun but impractical and way overpriced – cool for a once-off experience but that’s about it;
* The BTS Skytrain is the way to go -the easiest and so cheap. Buy day/week passes. Exchange bank notes for coins at the info booth and they will happily assist you.
* You can also catch a ride with the licensed scooter guys (they wear lumo jackets) parked near the BTS stations…it’s a lot of fun for short distances, and from 5-10 THB depending on where you’re off to;
* Don’t eat on the platform / station / train. Keep your grub out of site.
* Obey the yellow arrow markings on the platform that tell you where to stand safely when Q’ing to get on the train and let passengers out before climbing on.

Typical BTS station -the circled numbers denote the cost to each destination

*Try a Tuk Tuk once for fun…but be prepared to bargain!

*Blow your hair back on a scooter… such FUN and really useful if you need to get from the BTS to your hotel when the walking distance is too great
* Choose accommodation close to a BTS (Skytrain) stop. I can recommend the Galleria 10 in Soi 10, Sukhumvit, right between BTS Nana and Asok – it’s stylish, well priced and has a fab rooftop pool, bar and deck. Option two would be the @Mind Suites in Sukhamvit and if you feel like splurging, book into Siam @ Siam– superb!
MOSQUITOES – all day, all night
* Never leave your hotel, day or night, without generously spraying repellent (NB to use an eco friendly brand); leave no patch of skin unprotected-the blighters will find it and have a feast! 
* To soothe itchy bites, use tiger balm (sold at 711’s) or Dermovate if you react badly to BK mozzie bites like I do (from 7/11’s, pharmacies and Boots, that stay open very late)
* Totally safe, delicious, traditional and oh-so-cheap – sit and eat…it’s a great experience and you have to try the incredible noodle dishes and the sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and mango (for the best, go to Mae Varee in Thong Lor , one of my fave areas as well);
*Eat at Jay Fai ‘s shophouse, the Michelin starred ‘street food’ chef – the crab omelette is a must and Mae Varee for mango and sticky rice is the ultimate!
*a good indicator of the best street food sit-down spots is when you see locals eating there and businessmen after work;
* Those orange drinks you see on sale on the street in the small skinny bottles are loaded with extra sugar fyi; let them make it in front of you- very refreshing when done right;  the mango smoothies are incred!
* Bottled water only people, even when rinsing after brushing your teeth

Mae Varee

* If that crown comes loose and you need a dentist in a hurry, the Dental Hospital is very good-I’ve been and can vouch for the top notch treatment they offer.
* Be prepared, it can be really stressful when you see some of the more neglected dogs on the street and for sale at the markets. Street dogs aka soi dogs aren’t all used to being petted; those with collars are usually ok but be cautious and check first with the person/owner nearest to the animal. I want to love them all but you need to approach carefully

Cat love
* There is superb coffee throughout Bangkok, as good and sometimes even better as what’s on offer in Cape Town. Try Hello Strangers and Library for starters.
* Beer is nothing like what we’re used in Cape Town ie our fabulous home grown craft varieties, but go for Singha when in BK and make it even more refreshing by adding a few blocks of ice. Yes, trust me, with eish.
* There are tons of shopping centre monoliths in BK but I prefer the slick environment with the best movie house in town at Siam Paragon;  right next door is the Siam Centre, an ode to emerging designers and high end retailers. Central Embassy with it’s winning design and architecture, although shopping here is mostly for those with black plastic;
* Shopping at street stalls (try the ones across from Siam Centre where there’s also a fabulously basic little mall) is my first choice though for floppy pants, vintage style voile shirts and cool T’s. Browse the pavement markets as well where stalls are set up from around 5pm every day;
* Fake big name brands are everywhere: Cartier watches, Louis Vuitton bags are available at all the markets. If you must buy them, NB they only last around 6 months, and look cheap, imo. 
MASSAGES on/off street 

* Amazing and cheap but take care to suss out how clean the beds and/or therapy chairs are, before committing.

* Drop it off at any street laundrette – it comes back beautifully packaged, ironed and ready to wear. Way more reasonable than at your hotel. Prices start at 30 THB per kilo. (Leave your Prada shirts for the pro laundromats at home)

*There is so much to do/see and I have loads of favourites. I love Chinatown – great food, coffee, rooftop bars, temples, markets, architecture and more. It’s a really authentic experience!
* Bring extra Ziploc bags and 100ml empty plastic bottles. You can’t find those easily in BK.
* Re tipping, it’s not expected but why not show some love and do it anyway. 
* Never voice negative opinions about the late or current King of Thailand or his Family. People have been arrested for doing that, foreigners included, not a word of a lie;
* When you hear the national anthem, pause wherever you are – like everyone else does – until the song is done;
* Leave your shoes outside establishments where it’s required. Never fear, they’ll be there when you go back for the them. This is a country where stealing isn’t a national pastime. 
Bon voyage! การเดินทางที่ปลอดภัย !
  Until next time,

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