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Surviving a holiday in Bangkok – tips for the non-traveller

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Unlike most people of my generation, I never caught the travel bug. I’m not adventurous, I’m easily uncomfortable in strange environments, and I don’t like trying new things. But I recently had some time off from work and decided to have a go at this travelling thing that everyone keeps going on about on Instagrams and Facebooks, and it didn’t go as badly as I thought!

If you’re a boring (and a scaredly cat) like me, here are some tips to coax you out of your small, tiny world and into the big one.

Travel with friends

Take it one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll have enough courage to travel alone and eat-pray-love the crap out of the world, but for now, make plans with friends, preferably adventurous ones. They’ll take care of the itinerary for you so that all you have to do is drag your lazy bum out of your hotel room and at the very least, you get to check in at different places on Swarm and rack up the gold coins. When invited to go somewhere, keep the complaining to a minimum, and don’t overthink it. Just go.

Do some research

I can’t imagine what it was like for people travelling before the internet (I’m told it was fantastic), but I’m so grateful for it. Bangkok is great if you’re looking to experience some culture but also want to stay in your comfort zone of city living. For a few days during my trip, my friends jumped off to another city and I found myself alone, fighting the urge to lock myself up in my hotel room and enjoy cable TV and room service for the next 48 hours. The struggle was real.

It only took about 15 minutes of Googling “Top Things To Do in Bangkok” for me to decide to haul-ass. Before you go out, though, remember that Bangkok streets are jammed forever, all the time, and it might take double or even triple the normal time to get to your destination. So keep a copy of the city map on your phone, as well as the train routes (there are 4 lines). Most of the stops are right at the notable places to visit or are at least a few minutes’ walk from the nearest train station.

Book early

Obvi this is the standard operating procedure for seasoned travellers (or even the average person), but if you do book in advance, you get a better chance of nabbing a great deal with a 4- or 5-star hotel. Most serve breakfast buffet (although you can skip that and get a cheaper room, and go for Thai breakfast in a local place) and a free shuttle to the airport or train station or any other landmark nearby.

Some things to remember about Bangkok:

  • Most people don’t speak English, even in places where you “expect” them to, like the airport or the mall or the hotel. Don’t be an asshole about this, just try to communicate as well as you can, without shouting (they can hear you, they just don’t speak your language). Use simple words, don’t talk too fast or too much, and don’t be rude.
  • Try not to take the tuk-tuk or taxi that’s waiting by the curb especially in tourist hot spots. They’ll charge you about 30-50% more than they should. If you must, negotiate the price or insist on the meter. Use Uber, though, as most Uber drivers speak English, are friendly and will give you some tips on what to visit and how to get there, have decent cars and are cheaper than other modes of transport.
  • If you’re going to the temples, dress decently – no exposed shoulders/arms and legs (no shorts and tank tops), no tight-fitting outfits (no leggings or tight jeans!) or else you’ll have to cue up to borrow loose garments to cover yourself up and pay a deposit of US$6, which is a hassle. Also, bring something to fan yourself with because the heat can get oppressive.
  • Bring cash. Not everywhere takes cards. They use a lot of coins in Bangkok, so bring a coin purse and use those coins up as much as you can while you’re there, unless you want to bring back home a whole bunch of them (currency exchange places normally won’t change them for you).
  • Thai food, like Tom Yam for instance, at a mall restaurant, say, costs about US$7, and while that sounds cheap, you could get it cheaper and more “authentic” if you go to a local restaurant. It’s even cheaper if you get it from a street food vendor. A huge meal with several dishes to share between 3 people might cost on average about US$17 at a hipster local food joint.
  • Take interesting photos that tell a story! Don’t stick to the tired old photos. Have fun with your camera and document your trip. Many people, especially if they’re not in a hurry, are nice about having their photos taken. They might even chat with you if you’re friendly (and if you want that). Maybe skip the selfie every now and then (or the foodstagram) and do Humans of Bangkok, because what the hell, might as well get on every photography bandwagon ever.

Airport Stuffs

If you’re getting to Bangkok in a low-cost flight, you’ll probably land at the Don Mueang Airport, which is near the main international airport but is like a crappy version of it. For instance, none of the self-check-in kiosks worked at the Don Mueang Airport, nor was there Wi-Fi, but it has most things you’d need (currency exchange, ATMs, convenience stores, restaurants).

If you’re an ASEAN passport holder, you have your own lane, so don’t crowd the foreign passport holder lane. They’re not as strict about liquids in your carry-on as they are in other places (when I went to Cambodia, for instance, they told me to pack liquids properly or leave them behind), but it’s still good to be smart about it and pack properly, rather than be hassled later on.

Also, try not to wear a short skirt on your flight, unless you’re okay doing a Marilyn Monroe and giving everyone a nice view of your backside while you’re getting on a plane – some planes have to be boarded via steps attached to it (as opposed to the connecting tube), and the breeze can be a jerk.

These are as many tips I want to share as they are reminders to myself because I’ll likely forget these things when I travel next. In about two years or 10. Let me know if I missed anything!

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