It is difficult to get to Thong Nai Pan in one long journey. This is to do with the last boat form Koh Samui to Koh Phangan leaving at 5pm. You need to arrive in Bangkok early enough to make all the connections match up to get you all the way to the beach in one go. Even after Koh Phangan airport is opened it is likely that many people will still have to spend a night in Bangkok or Suratthani en-route to Thong Nai Pan.
It is no real hardship spending a night in Bangkok. It is an incredible city and there are some great deals to be found on mid-range accommodation. A travel survey recently found that Bangkok has the cheapest 3 star hotels in the world.
If you have never been to Bangkok then you should consider spending a few days in the city seeing the major tourist sites. There is the sprawling Grand Palace, the massive reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and the iconic Wat Arun. Wat Tramit has the biggest solid gold Buddha in the world.
Other great cultural experiences to be found in Bangkok include trips to see the Flower Market in Chinatown and also the Floating Market. The latter is on the outskirts of Bangkok and is quite difficult to get to by public transport. We recommend joining a tour. One reliable outfit that does online bookings is Isango.
In the evening you can take in the Siam Niramit show. It is one of the largest stage shows in the world. It is an extravaganza that provides an insight into various aspects of Thai culture.
Those who like shopping are spoiled for choice in Bangkok. There is the MBK Centre for clothes, souvenirs and house ware. For computers, tablets, mp3 players and all things electrical the best place is Pantip Plaza.
One of the best places to find an interesting souvenir or snag a bargain is Chatuchak Weekend Market. It is a warren of shops in a covered market that you can get lost in. There are also plenty of bars, restaurants and live entertainment to enjoy.
If you have children with you there are a lot of fun things for kids in Bangkok. There is South East Asia’s largest aquarium called Siam Ocean World. There is the theme park Dreamworld. There is Safari World. There is the Tiger Temple which has tame tigers freely roaming the grounds of the temple. You can see elephant shows, you can see snake farms and you can see elephant shows. You might well be surprised at how much Bangkok has to offer for children.
Accommodation in Bangkok
Those on a budget normally head to the iconic Khao San Road. You can get a very basic room for 300 Thai Baht a night near the Khao San Road. For mid-range hotels Khao San offers poor value. If you can spend $50 or more a night on a room it is better to stay in Sukhumvit, Pratunam or Siam. These areas have some great hotels at very reasonable rates.
Khao San is not connected to the Sky Train or underground system in Bangkok. Tuk tuks are expensive. The ferry boat is scenic and cheap but does eat up your time. For this reason lots of people are put off staying in the Khao San area.
Next to Khao San is Chinatown. This is a vibrant area with some great markets and a few tourist spots to visit. It also has some cool hotels. However, the area doesn’t cater specifically for tourists like Khao San or Sukhumvit. As a result few people stay in this part of Bangkok.
The received traveller wisdom is that it is best to just turn up in Bangkok and get a room; and by doing so you can get a discounted price. Sometimes this is true. The opposite is also true. Competition for guests is great in Bangkok. As a result many hotels offer great promotional deals on rooms booked online.
Nightlife in Bangkok
Bangkok has a nightlife that ranks among the best in the world. The alcohol laws state that places shut down at 2am. Some places such as Soi Cowboy stay open to 2.30am, and some stay open until the wee hours. The closing time laws are only randomly enforced, and Thais have no great belief in following laws that make little sense.
The Khao San area has lots of street vendors selling cheap alcohol. Many of the bars have live music – mostly small bands doing cover versions of Western rock and pop.
For nightclubs the place to head is Sukhumvit. There is the achingly cool Bed Supperclub which combines DJ music with beds and fine dining. There are other popular nightclubs such as Q Bar, Escobar and Narz. Face is the best underground nightclub keeping the house music real.
Sukhumvit also has numerous bars – sports bars, go go bars, English pubs, Aussie bars and bars for high society Thais.
The red light areas are Soi Cowboy (Sukhumvit), Nana Entertainment Plaza (again Sukhumvit) and next to Patpong night market (Silom). Morality aside, these are safe places to visit and do attract a lot of people who just want to see what goes on rather than participate.
It is worth checking online before you arrive in Bangkok if you are a fan of live music. Lots of big artists come to the Big Mango. Lady Gaga recently gave a series of concerts in the city. Also some of the biggest DJ names roll into town.
Getting Around Bangkok
There is no hiding the fact that Bangkok is a congested, crowded and polluted city. While taxis may be convenient and air-conditioned they can be a slow way to get around especially during the rush hours in the morning and late afternoon.
Things have improved greatly with the introduction of the Sky Train (BTS) and underground (MRT) in the city. They both get you out of the pollution and congestion. And they are both relatively cheap to use. Other than Khao San the BTS and MRT serve most of the important areas of Bangkok. As yet there is no joint ticket to let you ride BTS and MRT without buying separate tickets, but this is surely coming.
For the historic parts of Bangkok around Khao San and Rattankosin the best way to go sightseeing is to use the Chao Phraya Express. It is cheap and the breeze coming off the river is welcome. Moreover, the river and the smaller klongs (canals) were the original arteries of the city and along the riverside you will find the ancient monuments of Bangkok.
It is tempting to think that tuk tuks are cheap because they are small. This is often not the case unless your Thai is good and you are street wise to the prices for journeys. More often than not they start high when they see you are a tourist and won’t drop their price.
Motorbike taxis are cheap, but dangerous. Your travel insurance is unlikely to pay for your time in hospital in Thailand if you come off a motorbike.
All cities have con-men, and Bangkok is no exception. The scam most tourists encounter in Bangkok is when they visit Wat Pho. Tuk tuk drivers insist the temple is closed when it isn’t. They then offer to drive you anywhere for 100 Thai Baht. They take you to shops where they pick up commissions. You are subjected to a hard sell in the shop, and are made to feel obliged to buy something.
If something is too good to be true, then it generally is.
Another scam is at the airport. Always go to the taxi counter and wait in line, never flag down a taxi. These drivers will overcharge and can be very rude. If you arrive in Suvarnabhumi at a reasonable time the easiest way to get into the city is to catch the train.
Resources for Bangkok
To help you enjoy Bangkok, find a good hotel, restaurant or a nightclub that suits you check out these websites:
Bangkok Boutique Hotels – This website has separated those hotels that just call themselves ‘boutique’ and those hotels that really have something special to offer. The site also has a great blog about Bangkok crammed full of information.
Sukhumvit Guide – A site devoted to the popular Sukhumvit area. It breaks all the side streets (soi) into understandable sections and lists the most important hotels, bars, restaurants, shopping centers etc. It is also a good website to find hotels offering promotional deals.
Bangkok for Kids – As the name suggests, this website is as great resource for those travelling with kids. It lists the best family friendly hotels as well as the best places to visit with kids. Bangkok is a fun place for both adults and children: this site helps families get the most out of Bangkok.
When your head is swimming with history, when you have bought so many souvenirs you are worried they won’t fit in your suitcase, and when you have had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city, then it is time to head south to the idyllic island of Koh Phangan and stay in Sunrise Villa in Thong Nai Pan Noi. Relax, unwind and rediscover the beauty of nature.