Bangkok is a great place for foodies, whether it’s indulging in the wide variety of street food, hitting the incredible wet markets, dining out in local joints, or sampling cuisines of the world in Mexican, Indian, or Israeli restaurants. Join us on a short video tour to “Eat Your Way Through Bangkok.”
Many dream about it, few actually go through with it, and even fewer actually do it all themselves. Planning a trip to Thailand is something that simply exists in daydreams for lots of people. Some follow through and make the trip, but leave all the planning to travel agents and tour guides. For those willing to put forth the effort to do it themselves, however, a DIY first trip to Thailand can be one of the most amazing experiences of your life, provided
it all most of it works out in the end. Having taken quite a few trips through the Kingdom of Smiles and advised several friends on theirs, I feel like it’s time to share a bit of advice with our great readers. If you’re considering making your first trip to Thailand, read this post and then go ahead and book your ticket – it’s a tough decision but one you won’t regret!
1. Decide on the Duration
Before you start planning your Thai getaway, you’ve got to decide how long you’re going to stay. Now, I realize that seems like a silly thing to point out – of course you have to decide on the duration of your trip before you plan it. If you’re an American planning this trip, though (or someone from any other country that involves a long flight), you need to take into account the time it’s going to take you to get there and back, plus the time you’ll need to adjust to the time difference. For many countries, you get 30 days visa free on arrival at the airport, and I would highly recommend you use up every last one of them. Even with a full month in Thailand, you’ll have to be picky about where you go and what you do – there’s really that much to do here! In my not-really-an-expert opinion, the absolute shortest trip you should take to Thailand is two weeks. While I realize that for many people out there this will be all of your vacation days, just trust me and do it.
2. Make a List of Possible Destinations
Are you looking for sun and sand? Do you want to get your scuba diving certificate? Would you like to explore the country’s sparkling Buddhist temples? Is trekking and elephant riding something you absolutely have to do? Or are you just content with wining and dining your way through Bangkok? There are endless possibilities in Thailand, but as we’ve already discussed, you probably don’t have endless time. Making a list of the places you really want to hit will help you craft your perfect and doable itinerary in the end.
3. Make a Budget
Once you’ve figured out how long you’re going to stay for, it’s time to figure out how much you have to spend. Again, this should seem like common knowledge, but it’s something that simply can’t be ignored. Deciding on your budget will help you settle a lot of vital points related to your trip: how many places will you go, what kind of transportation will you use, where will you stay, and what activities you’ll take part in. If you’re coming from the Western world, Thailand is going to be much cheaper than what you’re used to at home, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t easy to blow through your money. Think about what you’ll have to spend on your flight and domestic transport, and then do your best to make a daily budget. Unless of course you’re flush with cash – in that case, please hire me to be your private tour guide!
4. Use a Variety of Research Tools
Lonely Planet guide books are great and all – we even carried one for our entire first trip in Thailand – but it’s best to use a variety of research tools when planning your trip. Be aware that guidebooks are limited in what they can list when it comes to things like accommodation and restaurants, and these listings often change. You might find a great-sounding restaurant in your book only to find it’s been closed down and turned into a go-go bar by the time you get there. Guidebooks are a great resource for getting the lay of the land and learning a bit about Thailand, its people, culture, and history, but it’s best to also employ online sources that are more up to date. Some of my favorites include Travelfish and Southeast Asia Backpacker. There are also a million travel blogs out there these days – most of which are totally free – so take advantage of those and make a mixed bag of resources for planning your trip. Another thing you’ll want to do is pick up some Thai with us before you go!
5. Choose Your Start/Finish Points
If you’re flying internationally, chances are you’ll end up in the Bangkok airport. Should you not be interested in the big city, though, never fear – you can easily connect to tons of other places in the country with one more short flight. From most destinations, your best bet is going to be to book a round-trip flight in and out of Bangkok and then another domestic flight or two depending on where you’re going.
6. Check Holiday/Event Schedules
Should you find yourself traveling in Thailand during Songkran (Thai New Year), you can expect it to be tough to get tickets and hotels. This holiday falls from April 13-15 and is the busiest, most important one in the country, but there are plenty others. Check the public holiday schedule before you go to make sure they don’t mess with your plans. Other things to consider are special events such as the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha-Ngan. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on who you are, so you might want to look into them before you go.
7. Figure Out Your Route
Do you want to go from north to south, the other way around, or all over the place? It’s easy getting around Thailand, but you’ll want to have some idea of the route you want to take just to make it easier on yourself, save time and money. The main reason for taking this into consideration is figuring out your transport – which places you can fly to, which you can take the train to, and which you need to take a bus or hire a driver for. Another aspect of this is how many days you think you might want to spend in each place. After thinking about this for a while, you just might have to re-visit steps #1 and 2.
8. Be Ready to Change Everything
Thailand has a way of making people fall in love with it. Every time I’ve been, and every time friends have gone, I hear the same sentiment echoed over and over again – “I never want to leave!” Chances are you’ll get the urge to change your flight and stay longer. Should that not be an option, there’s still a high probability of you finding a place you like so much that you want to stay there for a week instead of the three days you had planned for. Weather happens, flights get cancelled, and plans have to change. Budgets are great and all, but sometimes you find something you’ve just got to splurge on. It’s nice having a perfect itinerary ready to go, but sometimes you just have to throw those out the window. You’ve done a lot of planning and that’s great, but sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow. I wouldn’t recommend missing your flight back home, but I highly recommend being open to the possibilities of changes in your trip, extended stays, and random adventures. After all, if you’ve made it this far, why stop now?
One of the five things I love about Bangkok is the city’s culinary scene. Whether it’s munching on some local snacks in the street, hitting one of the city’s many amazing markets, or enjoying a meal in a nice restaurant, there’s a lot to keep your belly full and happy in the Thai capital. For me, one of the highlights of visiting this great city is simply eating my way through it. Here are some of the best parts about the foodie scene in BKK:
Some people are understandably hesitant to eat street food when traveling in a new country. It looks a bit dirty, it’s hot and muggy outside, and sure, you may see a rat scurrying under your stool from time to time. Should you work up the courage to try it, however, you just may be pleasantly surprised. Street food in Bangkok is so varied and prevalent that you could try a different snack three times a day for a whole week and still not put a dent in the menu. Eating this way is also incredibly cheap – you can fill up for $2-3 on a good street food meal. To be honest, I’ve had better meals in the street for a fraction of the price that they would be in restaurants. Should you find yourself traveling in Bangkok, don’t be scared and give the street food a try.
Bangkok is a city known for its markets, but it’s not just souvenirs and knick-knacks that are up for sale here. In addition to the big tourist markets like Chatuchak, you can also find some incredible wet markets throughout the city. Whether you’re looking to do your grocery shopping or just load up a plate full of Thai specialties for a couple of bucks and a great lunch, these are well worth visiting. One of the best in the city is Or Tor Kor, which is located just a stone’s throw from Chatuchak.
Local Lunch Markets
When I was studying Thai for a week, one of my favorite things to do was hit the local lunch market next door. From curries, to pad Thai, to fresh fruit juices, everything in these markets is delicious and very, very cheap. A typical meal in one of these places will set you back 30-50 baht, which is only about $1.5-2. You’ll get your main dish, rice, a bowl of soup, and some veggies. Add a drink for another 20 baht or so and you’ve got an amazing lunch for well under $5. Good luck finding that in the touristy areas! To find these places, look for clusters of office buildings; they tend to be around busy work areas and are set up to feed the masses during the lunch break. If you want a smaller crowd, wait until after 1 to head in.
If you’re like me, you probably cringe at the idea of shopping mall food courts. For Americans, that usually means nasty fast food, fake Chinese, and greasy subpar pizza. Not being particularly fond of shopping malls either, I usually try to skip out on this experience entirely. It’s a different ballgame in SE Asia though, especially in cities like Bangkok. People love to shop in BKK, and they love to eat just as much. As a result, you’ll find some amazing food courts in the city’s futuristic shopping malls. One of the best around is Eathai, which can be found in the basement of the Central Embassy.
Eating in the street and local markets is great and all, but sometimes you just want to sit down and enjoy a quality meal in a nice restaurant. You’ve got thousands of choices in Bangkok when it comes to dining out, so the hardest part is choosing what type of cuisine you’re going for. Whether it’s Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Mexican, or anything in between, you’ll find it in Bangkok. Of course, your best bet is to stick with the local cuisine. Some of the best Thai restaurants in the world can be found in this city, so book a table and check out at least one on your visit.
Once you’ve got a full belly, it’s time to take advantage of another of the amazing aspects of Bangkok – the nightlife. Subscribe to the blog and check back next month as we dive into the raunchier side of the Thai capital to party down!