A journey to Thailand promises to be like no other. Thailand truly is the “land of smiles.” Not only from the almost 66 million inhabitants, but from anyone who lets themselves become immersed in the magic that flows throughout this country. Thailand is a challenge for the senses. There is so much to see, do and experience. You will not get bored. If you plan on visiting, be prepared to be amazed and overstimulated by the sights, sounds, food and culture. During my recent visit, not only was I was captivated by the country’s rich history and raw beauty, but by the genuine warmth and kindness from its people. If a trip to Thailand is on your bucket list, here are a few travel tips to help make your experience that much more pleasurable.
Traveling to Thailand from the United States is quite a journey. It’s easily 20 or more hours of flight time depending on your departure city. First thing that I would recommend is to get Global Entry. It’s the US Customs & Border Protection’s version of TSA Pre Check. Even if you only plan on using it once ($100 for 5 years) it will make entering back into the United States so much easier and stress free. After a long flight home you’ll feel like a rock star when you breeze through customs with no long lines! Global Entry also comes with TSA Pre Check! Pre Check alone is $85 for 5 years. More information on Global Entry can be found here: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry
Do this months in advance as the wait time for the interview process can be lengthy. If you don’t want to spend $100 for GE at least download the Mobile Passport app for your phone. With Mobile Pass you can fill out your customs declarations form (for you & your family) while still on the airplane and then submit it when you land. Customs has a specific line for Mobile Pass users that is usually shorter than the regular customs line.
My carrier of choice was Qatar Airlines. I flew from Philadelphia PA (PHL) to Doha Qatar (DOH) to Bangkok Thailand (BKK). I chose Qatar for two reasons: 1- they are a partner airline with American Airlines, which I am a frequent flyer and I would earn miles for my trip. 2- I’ve heard many great things about Qatar’s amazing service and the word “amazing” is an understatement. From initial airport check in to final destination touch down, Qatar’s team treated me like a rock star. If you do your homework, you can find off season airfare deals for around $690 round trip in coach. During my online reservation, I requested all low sodium meals. During each meal service (all of which were delicious) the flight attendants greeted me with “hello Mr Showers, I have your low sodium meal for you!” Attention to detail like that makes a huge difference in customer satisfaction. It makes you want to fly with them again.
Upon arrival into Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and just after you go through customs, you’ll want to exchange your currency and get some Thai Bhat. After extensive research I found the best exchange rates offered at Super Rich currency exchange. They offer the most for your money and they don’t charge a fee like other services. During the time of my visit (Nov 2017) I got 33 Thai Baht for $1 US. Rates do change frequently so you’ll want to check that. XE.com is a great place to check currency exchange rates. They even have an app for your phone. Super Rich exchange is located on the lower level of the airport near the entry to the Airport Rail Link. If you’re going to make purchases with a credit card while in Thailand, It’s a good idea to use one that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. Those fees can easily add up with all of the shopping that most people do during their stay. I used a card that not only gave me free foreign transaction fees, but also earned me airline miles. Make sure that you contact your credit card company and inform them of your trip dates before you go. That way they won’t think that your account has been compromised and freeze your card while you’re making purchases in another country.
After filling your pockets with Thai Baht, you’ll need to take some sort of transportation into the city. Given the ridiculous traffic in Bangkok, I found it best to take the Airport Rail Link. It’s an easy, fast and convenient way to get into the heart of Bangkok. I paid less than $1.50 to get to the Phaya Thai station where I connected to the BTS Sky Train, another one of Bangkok’s many transit systems. My BTS fair was only 33 baht, or $1. On all of the BTS & MRT (Subway) transit systems the stations and routes are clearly marked in Thai and English. Announcements onboard the trains are in English as well. A great website to find more information on the transit systems and all things Bangkok is Bangkok.com. Tuk Tuks, motorcycle and car taxis are also an option for navigating around the city. Tuk Tuks are the most expensive mode but you can negotiate the fare with the driver. Motorcycles are the most efficient as they can weave in and out of stopped traffic (there can be a lot of stopped traffic). I was told that when taking a taxi, insist that the driver turns on the meter to get the best fare. But in all honesty, the prices in Thailand (for everything) are so much cheaper compared to what we’re used to paying in the states until whatever you are charged seems like a bargain.
Places to stay:
During my time in Bangkok I stayed at the Aloft hotel on Soi 11 (11th St) in the Sukhumvit neighborhood. To give you an idea of the affordability of a Thailand stay, the Aloft in Mt Laurel NJ charges $140 per night. $80 is what you’ll pay in Bangkok. Yes! The hotel is close to the BTS Nana station which is less than a 10 minute walk away. They also have a free Tuk Tuk service that will shuttle you back and forth between the hotel and the train station. My advice for lodging is to stay somewhere close to a BTS or MRT train route. Surface traffic can be really bad! Airbnb is another great option for finding a great place to stay. There are tons of luxury and trendy condos in Bangkok.
If you’re up for walking some, do it! Walking gave me a chance to see all of the street vendors and restaurants along the way. Stuff that I would miss while in a taxi or on the train. Everywhere you look in Bangkok there are vendors of every sort, selling everything from freshly cooked food to electronics to you name it! Bangkok is definitely one of the greatest food cities in the world! A freshly cooked meal from a street vendor cost me about $8 US on average. I’m talking shrimp, chicken, veggies, noodles, rice etc. Amazingly good food! Oh by the way, mango sticky rice is a must! This was one of the only vacation destinations that I ate really well at and actually lost weight while doing it. It was a combination of clean healthy food and lots of walking. There are many hidden gems in Bangkok and the only way to find them is by taking a walk and exploring. Restaurants, temples, nature preserves, shops, tailors, spas, the list goes on. A great app to download for travel is maps.me. It’s a gps based map that will help you navigate whichever city you’re in. You can download different maps and then get directions without using cellular data. Also I recommend renting a mobile cellular hot spot device! They’ll cost you around $7.50 US per day but will allow you to use your mobile device while in all of Thailand. You can find these at the airport (kiosks) and also you can rent one online ahead of your arrival and have it mailed to your hotel.
Night markets are huge in Thailand. Think of the biggest flea market that you’ve ever been to in the US and a typical Thai night market will dwarf that! They are humungous! Cavernous! Never ending! I honestly got lost trying to find my way out of one. It was ridiculous. I have never seen so many vendors and so much stuff being sold in my life! You can find anything from clothing to toys to electronics to food and more at a night market. My favorite markets in Bangkok are Bo Bae & Chatachuk. You’ll have to buy luggage just for your purchases! Bartering is welcomed with the vendors but honestly, the items are priced so cheap compared to what we’re used to paying in the US until I just paid their asking price for most things. These people are extremely hard working and they have families to support. The more you buy the more they will automatically reduce the price!
Khaosan Road is a definite must visit. There you can find street food, bars, massages and everything else. A 1 hour long Thai massage costs around $10 US. You can easily pay up to 6 times that in the US. I highly recommend a visit to the Or Tor Kor Food Court. Amazing street food options! It’s located inside of the Or Tor Kor Market. Other must sees are MBK Mall, Platinum Fashion Mall, Pantip Plaza (electronics), and no visit to Bangkok is complete without a trip to Yaowarat Rd in China Town. There you will find the most amazing food! The best views of the city can be found at night from the Sky Bar atop the Lebua Tower. That’s where they shot scenes from the movie The Hangover 2. The drinks and food are insanely overpriced but it’s definitely a must do for the view and the atmosphere. Since I don’t drink I baby sat a glass of water with lime.
Pictures and video do not do the Thailand experience justice! You have to experience it first hand to believe it. There aren’t enough adjectives to truly describe all that I saw. I feel that my life is forever changed after my adventure there. I hope that you can one day live it for yourself! Safe travels.