Bangkok Trip Report
This page has my opinions about my July 2000 trip to Bangkok, Thailand.
My trip was a prize won from www.thaikitchen.com - makers and importers of very good Thai
foods and seasonings - see their web site and try their fine products.
Disclaimer: I stayed only in the Bangkok area, and mostly
in the Siam Square
area - so my observations are not based on all of Thailand.
Bangkok has so many neat things that it's a vacation all by itself.
Of course there is much more to see in Thailand than just Bangkok. I assume most of
Thailand is less dense, modern, and Western-friendly than
Bangkok - and more like other South-East Asian countries.
Rather than a total and accurate guide to Bangkok,
my notes are intended to identify what you don't find in guidebooks, and
how Bangkok is different than other places I've been to. I make no attempt to
completely describe Bangkok or Thailand. Finally, I went in July, which meant there
was a bit of rain, and it was less crowded and hot than during peak season - which suits
Synopsis: I strongly recommend Bangkok as a place to visit - I recommend it over
Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida, Japan, the Philippines,
or Hong Kong. Reasons for this include value, fun, variety, and safety.
Much of what's in Thai tourbooks does not seem to apply in Bangkok.
(But if you go, read a Lonely Planet book first.)
The air was much cleaner than the media projects. Yes, there was
auto exhaust - but no worse than any other huge city and 20 times cleaner
than Hong Kong. Most of the Thai do not smoke - most of the
smokers there are foreigners.
When dining, Thais do put forks in their mouths,
and what Thais eat is different than what US Thai restaurants serve.
Despite what American Thai cookbooks say,
Basil is not used much in cooking (and if you find it on a menu, it is not as flavorful as the
basil found in US Thai restaurants). Thais don't eat much seafood -
pork is very popular. Portions are small, and they don't over-order or over-serve food.
I like spicy Thai food. My experience was that Thai food served in popular Bangkok
restaurants was not spicier that
what's found in most (San Jose, CA) Thai restaurants.
I tried ordering from the "Spicy" menu sections, bringing local Thais with me to
restaurants, and only ordering spicy dishes - but
the most spicy was milder than my favorite San Jose restaurant
when I order "medium spicy".
Traffic was average for a large, busy, city - not horrible like media says.
You don't need to speak, read, or understand any Thai at all - in Bangkok,
the majority of Thais know some English, and for every sign that's in Thai only, there are
3 with English. GPSs don't work too well in Central Bangkok - too
many tall buildings and metal structures.
Transportation is excellent, taxis are everywhere. Our dollar goes
far - on average you get double what you get in the States
for your dollar. Exceptions are imported goods - they cost
the same or more than they do at home.
No crime, no graffiti, no bums, almost no litter, very few beggars - but lots of
pushy touts and sales people.
And Thais in Bangkok do expect tips from foreigners.
Shopping in Thailand is best if you are a small lady, or wish to buy trinkets to decorate,
food, or orchids. (The orchid flower, expensive in the US, is very cheap and
plentiful in Thailand.) Nothing else seemed to be a real bargain in Thailand.
And, while prostitution and sleazy places are in Thailand - you won't find any pornography
or nasty stuff unless you really want to seek it out.
The Thai People:
The people in Thailand do smile
about 10% more than Americans, and are much friendlier to
foreigners than any other nation I've been to, including the US. If you look lost, within seconds
someone will "help you". (Sometimes they lied to get me to go to places they get kickbacks from.)
Despite what the guidebooks say, Thais are not all happy at their jobs.
All I met were polite, though some times they lied to save face or make profit.
I found at least half the helpful people lied
or tried to profit off advice given to me. As an example: I wanted
to buy a stamp to mail a postcard at my hotel. The front desk said
I needed to buy it at the gift shop. I said it was closed - they smiled
and said it was open. I checked again - it was closed, I asked when
it would be open, I was told it was open. There were many idle employees that
could have checked, and the gift shop was 15 feet away, so either the staff
is not allowed to check the status, admit the status, or ?
While Thais are friendly to strangers - we had several interesting experiences.
One was a taxi-driver who was as bad as they get. We had just completed
touring the Grand Palace, and our guide hailed a metered taxi for us.
Both he and we told the driver we wanted to go to our hotel in Siam Square. He said Yes, OK.
After we took off, he shut off his meter. We said Meter On please. He said that's ok,
100 Baht to get us to hotel. (That was a fair price - $3 USD). But, then he said he was going
to take us to a super discount store first, as it was on the way to the Hotel. We said no, we
did not want to go anywhere but the hotel. We repeated this dialog about 5 times - each time
we demanded to go straight to the hotel - each time he used a different reason why we were
going to the discount center. I had my GPS on, and I could see he was going away from the
Hotel, but it was a short ride to the destination.
If there was heavy traffic, we would have
bailed from the cab - but there was no traffic - we were going 40 MPH most of the time.
We decided to avoid any confrontation - and just to just bail when we got to the destination.
We got there, a jewelry store in an industrial area. I handed him 100 Baht,
and we just walked away, ignoring what he was
saying as we left. (Better to get a new taxi than trust that bozo). As we walked away,
we discovered we were in
a poor area of town, lots of railroad tracks, pollution - no big stores or
We felt safe, and half-way enjoyed being lost in some unknown and polluted part
of Bangkok - but we felt hot and tired too. Eventually, we found a TukTuk driver - who
agreed to take us back to the Hotel (2.7 miles away) for 70 Baht. It was a dirty, crazy, and unique
experience - but we got back ok. (The driver's eyes were so red - I think he was stoned...)
There were several other experiences that were "funny". A tip is when you
are standing still on a street, looking a bit lost; when someone walks up to you -
pretend you are talking to a politician - most of the time they are lying. E.g.:
What are you looking for? We're looking for the MBK shopping Mall. Oh, that's closed now,
it's only 10:30, they don't open till 12:30, but I can show you some shops that are open,
and have better prices than MBK. (MBK actually
opened at 10 AM, and has the best prices around.)
However, all-in-all, the Thai are very nice and moral people - I think the occasional lying
and "funny stuff" is just
an attempt to earn a living in tough times. (And unlike big cities in the USA, there are few
beggars in Bangkok.)
The Hotel and Siam Square
The Novotel Hotel in Siam Square is as good as it gets - great room, quiet,
safe, great location. But, there are a few quirks.
First, unlike the advertisement, there were no safes in the rooms, but the staff are superb and
we trusted them, and nothing was taken from our unlocked bag.
Some things to mention are that the lower floor has a goofy Italian restaurant, a noisy disco,
and a breakfast buffet. Restaurants are covered below. The room was their most inexpensive
- their basic room, for $144 a night - pricey for Bangkok - but the room and this
hotel were great and
inside Siam Square - walking distance to everything, and in a very safe and fun
The room was very nice, better quality than $200 hotel rooms in other big cities.
It had no clock and advertised
no wake-up service - perhaps Thais staying in hotels stay up very late and get up late?
It had a king-size bed, sofa, mini-bar, etc. Good view and Aircon too. One strange thing was
we'd leave in the morning, come back in the afternoon - and find room service
moved stuff around (phones,
trash cans, and TV remote controls). Then we'd go out at night, come back and find things moved
again! We wondered about this, but on our 3rd night, we found out what was happening -
at this hotel is twice a day - morning and night. At this hotel, we had to use the
"do not disturb" sign
on the door.
We stayed on the 11th floor, and the disco could be heard very slightly
- and it goes to 3 AM, so on a lower floor, it might be noticeable.
Finally, the hotel always got good taxi drivers for us, had excellent room service,
was clean, and had very good staff.
Thailand's regular domestic Singha beer is good - but not what Americans
get in USA's Thai restaurants - and Thailand's stores and restaurants don't seem to be
promoting it. Some don't carry it - and if they do, only
the regular kinds - not the premium kinds. (What you get in American Thai restaurants
seems to be export malt liquor, with a much richer taste than regular local Singha beer
in Thailand. And Thai beer is expensive - ordering one beer can double your restaurant bill!
Thai whiskey (I didn't try it) is cheaper than beer (per "dose") but
any imported liquor is expensive.
Update on Beer. Shortly after I put this web page up, a person connected with the makers
of Singha beer said the above paragraph was wrong - there is only 1 kind of Singha beer.
We had a long email conversation and it basically boils down to me insisting it *is* different
versus a well-respected, quality company and it's quality people. We agreed the difference
could be explained by the age of the beer. Singha beer served in Bangkok is fresh, and what
we get (if we are lucky enough to find it) in the States has traveled by boat and is months old.
Perhaps the aging brings out the flavor of the beer. In Bangkok, it really
did seem to have a lighter flavor and have less alcohol than what I get in the States on occasion.
In summary, to me, it seemed Singha is very good in Bangkok and even better when aged and
brought here. Also, the Singha rep wanted everyone to know that
the reason Singha costs so much in Bangkok is the deep taxation Thailand imposes on beer.
The goofiest Italian restaurant on earth may be at the basement of the Novotel Siam Square
hotel next to the disco. The food was very good - but here are some odd things about it:
The only diet soda I found was diet Pepsi and Coke.
We did not eat anything from a street vendor - we stuck
to popular big restaurants - street vendors seemed
to have flies crawling on the food. We had only good experiences
with the food in big indoor restaurants. And
prices were always less, and quality was usually better,
than in similar US restaurants.
One experience we found all too often was "too much" service, especially during
lunch when restaurants are open, but have few customers. Most big restaurants
are busy at night, but not during the day. Going at lunch was eerie. The experience
below occurred several times at different restaurants:
- It shares floor space with the disco, the restaurant is open from 6:30 PM to
2 AM, the Disco starts at around 10 PM. We dined at 7 PM, so there was no Disco,
but had we dined at 10 PM, we would have had a 110-DB dining experience.
- After you sit down, they put aprons on you. It's not a ribs place so why is this?
- They bring out a brown icky paste and only after you ask, you find it's ground-up
olives and garlic- looked horrid, tasted good.
- The menus are giant, heavy wooden plaques that hang on the wall. The waitress
pulls them off the wall and hands them to you - they are several pounds each and they
stand there while you hold them.
- On the menus are such items as "Twin Titties" and other funny names.
- There were flies in the restaurant. Very strange as this was in a very
classy place - maybe the doors were left often too long.)
- They wanted your email address before you paid your bill.
You walk up to a restaurant, with a menu outside. As you look over the outside
menu, two employees invite you to come in, and tell you how good the restaurant
is while you look at the menu. You come in, get seated immediately, and are
handed a menu. 2 employees stand at the ready, ready to take your order.
The menu is immense, 8 pages of dishes. After 30 seconds, they ask if you
are ready to order. You say no, I need time to read your giant menu, and they
move back 2 feet watching you again, until you are ready to order.
You order, and they ask what to drink, you tell them, and they bring it to you
right away, even though you asked for it to be served with the meal.
They pour the beer in your glass (the wrong way, making foam)
and put the bottle out of reach on a table.
Our food arrives. They put down plates, and put a big
clump of rice on them, then move the serving bowl out of reach on the same table as the beer
The food comes and it's good. As we eat, 4 employees stand about 6 feet back and
watch us constantly. If we drank our beer or water 1/3 of the way down,
they rush to refill it, or ask
if we wish another. If we finish most of our rice, they put another clump on.
If we ate most of the food on the plate or paused, they took it away and
brought another clean one.
If we talked, they listened. As an example, I said to my wife "I think next time we'll
try the fried rice" and boom, they put another big clump of rice on my plate even
though there was plenty there. You don't control your rice, nor your beer, you have
no privacy, and it just feels weird.
It's the opposite
of the US, where you have to flag a waiter - but this is too much of a good
That strange experience did not happen every time, some restaurants had
service the same as a USA restaurant. If the above experience is too weird -
go only to busy restaurants where they won't be able to micromanage and
oversee your dining experience.
Specific Restaurant recommendations:
The best Asian seafood restaurant on earth is the original
The Seafood Market.
It was expensive - about 70% of what a USA restaurant would charge - but had the
freshest, most expertly prepared seafood I've ever had. It's a supermarket with
fresh seafood and vegetables of all kinds, you get a shopping cart and buy
your dinner. Then after you pay, a waiter offers suggestions on how to cook it,
you choose, and they cook, and you get really good food. We went for lunch, there
were few customers, and about
20 employees working - but they didn't watch or crowd us
Right across the Novotel Siam Square hotel is the Ban Khun Mae
restaurant. This place at lunch produced the eerie experience of the "watching
employees" but again at a dinner, when they were busy, it was normal. They
had good Thai food spiced as good as we get in San Jose, CA.
The Thai restaurant at the World Trade Center (an upscale shopping mall)
was good. All in all, we never had a bad restaurant experience at any upscale
restaurant we tried in Bangkok.
Specific Landmarks and Places:
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. This amazing place had
some of the most interesting architecture and artwork I've seen in a long time.
TheWat Pho is also a must-see, and has the giant reclining Buddha.
At these places, best to hire a guide there, and they won't let you take photos inside,
and you cannot wear a tank-top or shorts.
(We never saw any Thai people wearing tank tops or shorts during our entire trip.)
The Ancient City was ok, nothing special.
The Ancient City is described in books as a must-see if your are short on time in Bangkok.
Seeing just one real landmark in Thailand is better than seeing all of the Ancient City.
Crocodile Farm and Zoo near the Ancient City is a must-see.
You see many thousands of crocodiles, from eggs to full-sized monsters.
You see many varieties of them, and a show where brave/foolish guys
put their feet, hands, and head inside giant crocodile mouths. It's very
exciting, but you wonder how long it will be before there is a tragic accident.
As our tour guide (I recommend hiring tour guides when going to landmarks in Bangkok)
"no accidents yet". At the same place, there is an open zoo, with tigers and bears
and lions on chains where you can walk up and pet them. I'm sure the adult
cats were drugged but I still had no urge to pet them. Just for fun, we sat down
next to a baby lion. We jumped when he seemed to want to take a piece of our
leg. It was a cute little baby, with a mouthful of big teeth. Still, it was fun.
There were other animals there, but my favorite part was the elephant show.
4 smallish elephants did a bunch of tricks with very little trainer supervision.
Among the tricks were elephants: riding a tricycle, walking a tightrope - and
turning around on it without touching the ground, dancing, taking
money from willing spectators and putting it in the trainer's pocket, walking
over people lying down without stepping on them, standing on 2 legs, tossing rings
into a basket, and many more tricks. The poor Japanese volunteer from the audience
was humiliated when the elephant, after walking forwards and backwards over him,
without killing him, used its trunk to kiss him on the mouth, then sniff his genitals,
repeating a few times. He was trying to spit out the elephant "taste" and was
obviously sorry he volunteered! Each elephant did more tricks with more skill than
any elephant I've seen at a circus, and there were 4 of them. A very interesting show.
The Floating Market tour was nice - not so much seeing people selling
from boats, but the wonderful views of going through the rivers and canals of
Shopping: Right next to the Novotel hotel is the 5-story MBK indoor flea market with
several large stores.
MBK is best for shopping for small-sized womans clothes, jewelry, and trinkets.
The cell phone and lamps
looked great - but they won't work in the USA.
For shopping, ignore the night market area of PatPong. It was reported to have great
shopping as well as sleazy men's clubs. Prices are higher than MBK, the vendors
more pushy, and it was hot and crowded compared to the air-conditioned MBK mall.
All in all, Thailand is Amazing.