Just under 14 degrees... Read more
Just under 14 degrees north of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveler-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, visitors are immediately confronted by the heat, the pollution, and the irrepressible smile that accompanies many Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe (except some petty crimes) and more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants — you'll find orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Bougainvillea and frangipani bloom practically all over the city. Thai cuisine is justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok for many represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colorful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
"Bangkok" originally was a small village on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. After the fall of Ayutthaya in the late 18th century, King Taksin the Great turned that village into Siam's new capital and renamed it Thonburi. In 1782, King Rama I moved the capital to the eastern bank of the river at Rattanakosin; originally the site of a Chinese community, who were moved outside of the new city walls to Yaowarat. King Rama I named the city Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais and which in English is translates as the "City of Angels."
The full name "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok popnoparat ratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" (กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลกภพ นพรัตน์ราชธานี บุรีรมย์อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์) is listed as the world's longest location name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of Ayutthaya of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn". The original village of Bangkok has long since ceased to exist, but foreigners never caught on to the change.
Life was taking place on the water; ordinary people lived on bamboo-rafts along the river while floating vendors roamed the water to sell fruit and vegetables. The only stone structures built on land were temples and palaces. In the 19th-century, Western powers incorporated much of Southeast Asia into their colonial empires. King Rama IV and V felt that the only way to keep Siam independent was to modernize the country along European lines. Traditional canals were filled up and turned into roads. King Rama V moved the residence of the King to Dusit and laid out that district's grand boulevards along European lines.
Bangkok really started to develop after World War II. The economic center shifted from the orderly planned city of Rattanakosin in an eastward direction, leaving Bangkok without an obvious center. Bangkok established itself as the driving power behind Thailand's new role as a newly industrializing country from the 1980s onwards. Rapid economic growth has attracted migration from the countryside, with millions of Thais moving here from Isaan to make a living.
This rapid expansion turned Bangkok into one of the most cosmopolitan and happening cities in Asia but also ensured numerous problems. A wide gap has emerged between those who profit from economic activity and those who came to the city from the countryside in search of work. Bangkok's seemingly never-ending traffic jams continue as the new Skytrain and metro systems are not connected with other means of public transportation.
The first phase of Bangkok's ambitious public transport system is now complete, the city's public transport system is fairly efficient and convenient, but there is still a fair amount of room for improvement to the system's integration.
The city, like many developing cities, suffers from paralytic traffic jams periodically throughout the day. In rush hours, it may be worthwhile combining public transport by different means. For example: soar over traffic jams by Skytrain to the station closest to your destination and thereafter take a taxi for the final leg.
Bangkok is one of the most interesting cities in the world and is known to be number one for scenery. Perhaps you would like to know how to move around the city. There are many different ways to move around Bangkok. For example, using buses or Taxis, or maybe even on the water with a Ferry or the public transit systems of BTS and MRT.
The Tuk Tuk is one of the symbols of Bangkok, so there is no better way to explore Bangkok than by whizzing around the streets in one of these iconic three-wheeled vehicles. You can pick up a tuk-tuk on any street corner (and the price you will be charged could vary hugely), but there are also many tour operators who also run tours which use a tuk-tuk as the main form of transport.
Cycling in Bangkok may sound crazy, as cycling is deadly dangerous on the main roads, but it certainly is not if you know where to go. Away from the main roads, there is a vast system of small streets and alleys. Cyclists are treated as pedestrians, so you can use your bicycle to explore parks, temple complexes, markets and the quieter residential areas of eastern Bangkok. In more crowded places you can cycle on the pavement. Exploring the town by bicycle has all the advantages of going by foot, combined with a much greater action radius and a cooling breeze.
If you want to experience Bangkok hideaways and countryside, leisurely cycling through green paddy fields, colorful orchid farms, peaceful lotus fields and touched by the charm of the Thai way of country life at a personal level, a bicycle is a great way to do it. There are a handful of specialist operators that offer daily or regular departures to the so-called "Bangkok jungle" (Bang Kachao), a semi-island across the river from Bangkok with few cars or buildings, or through the backstreets of Chinatown. It sounds strange, but a cycle tour in Bangkok is the best way to discover the city up close.
Project Bangkok Smile Bike subsidized by the city allows free bike rental even without a deposit just with a photo of your passport.
Cycling is a popular option among tour companies, but there is a variety of running clubs in Bangkok that welcome visitors multiple times per week for running, socializing, eating and drinking throughout Bangkok and the surrounding areas. These clubs are either free or charge a small, non-profit fee to pay for food and drink served at the event.
Running is a great way to see parts of the city and countryside that you'd never otherwise experience. If you go with a social running club, it's also a great chance to meet interesting people, eat food you've never tried and to make new friends. If you're interested in seeing the countryside, out-of-the-way districts, plantations, jungle and other places you can only go on foot, you might be interested in these clubs:
Another great way to see the Chao Phraya River and the original canals of the city is by canal tour. Most of these special boat trips start at the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya and head through the backwaters of Thonburi, taking in Wat Arun, the Royal Barges National Museum, and a floating market. More information about these canal tours can be found in the Thonburi article. They are quite expensive though; a cheaper and also fun activity is to take the public express boat along the Chao Phraya River. You can get off anywhere between Thewet and Sathon (Taksin) piers as there are many things to see in all those neighborhoods. You can even go all the way north to Nonthaburi in the morning, enjoy the afternoon in this laid-back traditional urban town and take the boat back around rush hour.
Muay Thai, informally known as Thai Boxing, is both a sport and a means of self-defense. Contestants are allowed to use almost any part of the body: feet, elbows, legs, knees, and shoulders. There are two venues in Bangkok to see this type of sport in action, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Silom and Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Rattanakosin. Sessions can take the whole evening, and the more interesting fights tend to happen in the end, so it's not that bad if you come slightly too late. The playing of traditional music during the bouts is enjoyable as well.
Muay Thai venue outside MBK Center every Wednesday (starts at 18:00, lasts until around 21:00).
There is also a local TV station (Channel 7), which has their little fighting arena near Mo Chit BTR station. It is located at soi Ruamsirimitr street. But just ask people for boxing and Channel (Chang) 7. They will be able to show you the way. Fighting is every Sunday. Entry is free, and this particular boxing will be shown and watched on TV all around Bangkok. Also with little knowledge of Thai boxing, you will be fascinated by the locals betting and cheering for their favorite.
There are many cultural performances in Bangkok that shows traditional Thai culture and dance. Siam Niramit in Ratchadaphisek is a truly spectacular performance where more than 150 performers depict the history of each region of Thailand.
Of a completely different order are Bangkok's famous drag shows. These cabarets take about two hours, and besides singing, dancing, glamour, and costumes, usually, it also has some comedy thrown in. The most famous show is Calypso Cabaret in Ratchathewi that has two sessions every evening at the Asia Hotel. Always book these shows a couple of days in advance.
Bangkok, a city of astonishing contrasts, is an amazing city by any standard. The ancient blends with the modern and somehow the combination works in surprising and interesting ways. Likewise, with your lifestyle, you can choose to get a massage – or learn Thai Massage – at a beautiful Buddhist temple, or you may prefer the modern alternative: an urban health oasis where you are pampered and treated with your choice of therapies or techniques.
The respected Travel & Leisure Magazine Survey ranked Bangkok the world’s #1 city in 2008 and 2010, and after spending some time there, you’ll begin to understand why. The city has so much to offer, the prices are very reasonable, the attractions plentiful and diverse, the shopping superb, and the healthcare simply outstanding. It’s not difficult to find the perfect place to take good care of you, be it a first-rate hospital, a modern dental clinic, or a beautiful spa or wellness center.
Bangkok has scores of wonderful, popular, professional spas; some of the leading ones are Leyana Spa, Divana Spa, Mandara Spa, Spa de Bangkok, Devarana Spa – Dusit Thani Hotel, The Oasis Spa Bangkok, Banyan Tree Spa Bangkok, and the Spa Cenvaree - Centara Grand at Central World.
Spas, traditionally, were towns where public baths, hospitals or hotels were built on top of mineral springs so that people could come and make use of the healing properties found in the water and its mud for medical purposes. These days, a spa doesn’t have to be a town built on natural thermal springs. It can be a place anywhere that anyone can go to, to relax in tranquil surroundings with a variety of treatment administered to re-contour and rejuvenate the body and mind.
All self-respecting luxury hotels in Bangkok have a spa that at least offers a traditional Thai massage. Prices are exorbitant, but they offer some of the best treatments in Bangkok. Particularly well-regarded spas at exceptionally high rates are given at the splurge hotels in Silom. Independent spas offer much the same experience but offer much more competitive rates. However, it is worth researching before booking as prices can vary widely between establishments, and various promotions are often available. The best-regarded hotel spas are at Mandarin Oriental, Plaza Athenee, and The Eugenia. The best regarded independent spas are Oasis Spa, So Thai Spa and Divana Massage & Spa.
The ubiquitous little massage shops found on every street corner in town offer the best value for money, but the smallest range of services, with offerings usually limited to massage only. Particularly Khao San Road and Sukhumvit have plenty of these popular places. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places (where massaging is only a front for prostitution).
Bangkok is a great place to go to the movies. Most cinemas have world-class standards and show the latest Hollywood and Thai releases. Watching Thai movies is a fun night out, as pretty much all of them have English subtitles. They are up to par with the latest technological innovations in the film industry, so expect to wear 3D glasses for some of the latest Hollywood releases, or visit the IMAX Theatre in Siam Paragon.
For non-mainstream cinema, House RCA (in Royal City Avenue) and APEX (in Siam Square) offer art films with English subtitles.
For other means of entertainment, Ratchadaphisek is a newly created entertainment paradise. Its bowling centers are of a superb standard with some of them resembling the inside of a nightclub. Dance while you play in style. Private karaoke lounges are usually connected to these bowling centers and are available at major hotels. There are even an ice skating rink and a top-class go-go kart track. As Ratchadaphisek is mostly aimed at the locals, you might want to go to similar venues in Siam Square or Sukhumvit. Musical, cabaret and theater entertainment by Thai performers can be found every night at the Playhouse Theater in the Asia Hotel which is connected to the Ratchathewi BTS station.
Horse Races are held on Sundays at two alternate turf clubs, the Royal Turf Club of Thailand in Dusit and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on Henri Dunant Road (near Siam Square).
For something unique and fun travelers may wish to try Bangkok Bobble Football where you are wrapped in a plastic bubble and enjoy a game of soccer/football in a five a side format.
Thai desserts are worth appreciating not only for their beauty but also for their unique way of reflecting traditional culture. Most Thai desserts are quite sweet. Therefore, they are favored both by Thai people and foreigners. Real traditional desserts contain only three main ingredients; flour, sugar, and coconuts. These ingredients are mixed by various methods such as boiling, steaming, frying, and grilling.
While not particularly high class, street food is among the most delicious food and can be found all over Bangkok — wherever you're staying, you rarely have to walk more than 100m for a cart of street restaurant.
One of Thailand's national dishes you can try is pad thai (ผัดไทย) and somtham, somtham is some of the most delicious food in Thailand if you ever go to Thailand that is the first thing you should try out when you are there, stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, and red chili pepper. It can be prepared for you on one of the ubiquitous carts or in a street restaurant. You can order it with chicken (gai) or shrimps (kung). Another one of Thailand's national dishes you should try is tom yam kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง), a sour soup with prawns, lemongrass and galangal — beware, as it is very spicy! Khao man kai (ข้าวมันไก่) is another popular street food. You can identify it at stalls displaying boiled chicken. Served with a bowl of fragrant chicken soup is a mound of rice topped with sliced chicken pieces and cucumber. Side sauces are spicy and go well with the bland chicken and rice. You can sometimes add optional liver and gizzard if that is your taste. If you like sweets, try to find a kanom roti (โรตี) street vendor. The crepe-like dessert is filled with sweetened condensed milk, lots of sugar, and can also have bananas inside. Also, fun to watch them being made.
Khao San Road is known for its carts selling bugs — yes, insects. They are deeply fried, nutritious and quite tasty with the soy sauce that is sprayed on them. Types available: scorpions, water beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, bamboo larvae, mealworms, and some more seasonal specialties. Break off the legs from grasshoppers and crickets, or they will get stuck in your throat.
Be aware that the Pad Thai sold on the street on Khao San Road is changed to appeal to tourists, and is not an authentic Pad Thai. Much better Pad Thai is available in almost any restaurant on Khao San. A very authentic and cheap Halal Pad Thai is sold by on a cart at footsteps of a pedestrian bridge on Petchaburi Road near BTS station Ratchathewi.
Thai dishes can roughly be categorized into central, northern, northeastern and southern cuisine. What's so great about Bangkok is that all these cuisines are present. Isaan food (from the northeast of Thailand) is a backpacker favorite; street restaurants serve on plenty of small plates that can be shared. Som tam (ส้มตำ) is a salad made from shredded and pounded raw papaya — again, it is spicy, but oh so delicious. If you want to dine the Isaan way, also order some khao niew (sticky rice), kai yang (grilled chicken) and moo yang (grilled pork). Isaan food is very spicy; say mai pet or pet nit noy to tone it down. Southern Thai cuisine is also worth it; many of them have congregated around Wang Lang in Thonburi. At least try the massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น), it's delicious.
The place to go to for Chinese food is Yaowarat. It has a range of street stalls and cheap restaurants selling expensive delicacies at affordable prices. Soi Phadung Dao is the best street for huge seafood restaurants. Phahurat, Bangkok's Little India, has some decent Indian restaurants.
Dinner cruises on the Chao Phraya River are a touristy (but fun) way of spotting floodlit temples while chowing down on seafood and watching Thai cultural performances. Most operate buffet-style, and the quality of the food is so-so, but there's lots of it, and it's not too spicy. While the river can give a romantic experience, it can also be dirty and smelly with lots of plants floating around.
Drinks and tips are usually not included in the listed prices below. Always make a reservation before heading out to the pier. There are many competing operators, most of them depart from the River City pier next to the Si Phraya Express Boat pier.
Bangkok's nightlife is infamously wild, but it's not quite what it used to be: due to recent social order campaigns. Most restaurants, bars, and clubs are now supposed to close at 02:00 AM, although quite a few stay open till much later. Informal roadside bars do stay open all night, particularly in Sukhumvit and Khao San Road. You must carry your passport for ID checks, and police occasionally raid bars and clubs, subjecting all customers to drug tests and searches, though these mostly occur at places that cater to high society Thais rather than foreigners.
One of Bangkok's main party districts is Silom, home not only to perhaps the world's most famous go-go bar strip Patpong, but plenty of more legitimate establishments catering to all tastes. For a drink with a view, the open-air rooftop bars of Vertigo and Sirocco are particularly impressive. A large number of superhip and more expensive bars and nightclubs can be found in the higher sois of Sukhumvit, including, Q Bar, and Narz, as well as the hip area of Thong Lo (Soi 55).
Hippie hangout Khao San Road is also slowly gentrifying, and a score of young artsy Thai teenagers have also made their mark there. Going out in Khao San Road is mostly casual, sitting at a roadside bar watching people pass by, but the Gazebo Club is a nightclub that stays open till the sun gets up. Most of the younger Thais prefer to congregate around Ratchadaphisek, home to the Royal City Avenue strip of nightclubs.
Smoking is forbidden in all restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, whether air-conditioned or non-air-conditioned. Remarkably for Thailand, this rule is not strictly enforced.
Given its size, Bangkok is surprisingly safe, with violent crimes like mugging and robbery unusual but you should be careful, of course. One of the biggest dangers is motorbikes who ride on pavements at speed, go through red lights, undertake buses as they stop to let passengers off and drive far too fast especially through stationary traffic. If you are going to hire a bike, make sure you have insurance in case you are injured. You may be the world's best driver, but you'll meet many of the world's worst drivers in Thailand.
Bangkok does have more than its fair share of scams, and many individuals in the tourist business do not hesitate to overcharge unwary visitors. As a rule of thumb, it's wise to decline all offers made by someone who appears to be a friendly local giving a hapless tourist some local advice. Never get in a tuk-tuk if someone else is trying to get you into one. Most Bangkok locals do not approach foreigners without an ulterior motive.
It is illegal to talk badly about the king. Tourists, just like locals, will get arrested and serve extended jail terms if caught doing so. Be extremely careful if you choose to talk politics, and it's better not to do so at all.
You should always be on the look-out for scammers, especially in major tourist areas. There are dozens of scams in Bangkok, but by far the most widely practiced is the gem scam. Always beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering all-day tours for prices as low as 10 baht. You may indeed be taken on a full-day tour, but you will end up only visiting one gem and souvenir shop after another. Don't buy any products offered by pushy salesmen — the "gems" are pretty much always worthless pieces of cut glass, and the suits are of deplorable quality. The tuk-tuk driver gets a commission if you buy something — and fuel coupons even if you don't. Unless the idea of traveling by tuk-tuk appeals to you, it's almost always cheaper, more comfortable and less hassle to take a metered taxi.
In general, never ask a taxi driver for a recommendation for something. They will very likely take you to a place where they get a commission and be of dubious quality. In particular, do not ask a taxi driver for a restaurant recommendation. An infamous place taxi drivers take unsuspecting tourists Somboon D which is a terrible seafood restaurant in a seedy area under the train tracks on Makkasan Rd. Instead of asking a taxi driver, search the web, ask a local on the street, or just walk around -- you will surprise yourself with what is around a corner in Bangkok.
Be highly skeptical when an English-speaking Thai at a popular tourist attraction approaches you out of the blue, telling that your intended destination is currently closed or offering discount admissions. Temples are almost always free (the main exceptions are Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho) and open just about every day of the year. Anyone telling you otherwise, even if they have an official-looking identification card, is most likely out to scam you, especially if they suggest a tuk-tuk ride to some alternate sights to see until the sight re-opens. At paid admission sites, verify the operating hours at the ticket window.
If you entered one of these tuk-tuks, touts often would drop you off at a certain place, such as a genuine Buddhist temple. Here you will find a man that claims to be an official, and he guides you in a certain direction. There you will find another "official" who also claims that a certain attraction is closed. This way, a tourist hears the same statement by multiple people and is more eager to believe that his or her intended destination indeed is closed. Never get involved with these scammers or believe any of their statements.
When getting a taxi, it is a good idea to hail a moving taxi from the main road or to walk a short distance out of a major tourist area before looking for one. This is no guarantee of honesty, but greatly increases your chances of finding an honest driver, of which there are plenty in Bangkok, even if it sometimes seems that every driver is on the make. Most of the untrustworthy drivers are the ones standing still in tourist areas. Another important rule of thumb is to insist on the meter for taxis and agree on a price in advance for tuk-tuks. If they refuse or quote silly prices, just walk out and get a different one as they're rarely in short supply. The Thai phrase to ask a driver to use the meter is mee-TOE, khap if you're male and mee-TOE, kha if you're female.
Beware of tuk-tuk or taxi drivers who approach you speaking good English or with an "I ♥ farang" sign, especially those who mention or take you to a tailor shop (or any business). They are paid by inferior tailor shops to bring tourists there to be subjected to high-pressure sales techniques. If at any point your transportation brings you somewhere you didn't intend or plan to go, walk away immediately, ignore any entreaties to the contrary, and find another taxi or tuk-tuk.
Beware of a very overweight Western woman who approaches you with a story about how her luggage has just been stolen and needs money to get home. For several years now, she has usually lurked around the tourist attractions in Bangkok looking for prey. The scam industry in Bangkok is large enough to employ farangs!
Also beware of a woman who goes by the name of Koiy who runs a travel tour company named Tourist Information Tour Co., Ltd which operates under the Licence Number 12/01451. Her offices are located at 7101 Ka-om Rd., Wat Som Subdist, Pomprab Dist., Bangkok. For several years she has had locals, who are fluent in English, approach tourists to give "advice" on a government-run tour agency that is used by locals because the prices are so low. They will claim that it is the only government agency and may claim that you will receive a (student, business, tourist...) discount of up to 20%. At first, you will only be significantly overcharged, but if multiple trips are booked at one time the later portions of your trip may not be booked at all, and you will be left stranded.
Also, beware of private bus companies offering direct trips from Bangkok to other cities with "VIP" buses. There are a lot of scams performed by these private bus companies. The so-called direct VIP trips may end up changing three or four uncomfortable minibuses to the destination, and the 10-11 hour trip may well turn into 17-18 hours. Instead, try to book public BKS buses from the main bus terminals. It's worth the extra shoe-leather, as there have been reports of robberies on private buses as well.
There is a scam involving the local police and marijuana. If you attempt to purchase marijuana from one of the taxi or tuk-tuk drivers on Kao San Rd., there is the potential that you will get ripped off by the police. The scam goes like this: you ask for the weed, and the driver will tell you he knows a friend who he will call. The friend will show up and take you in the tuk-tuk to do the marijuana/money exchange. You'll get some terrible quality stuff and then get dropped off. Immediately after being dropped off, local police will run up on you and search you, finding the marijuana. Then, you'll be forced to go to the station with them and bribe. The going rate is USD1,000, but you could bargain down to USD600. They will walk you to the ATM and watch you withdraw the money, which you then hand over as your "fee" to go free. It's an awful scam. Don't try to buy marijuana in Bangkok unless you know what you're doing.
Bangkok is known for its go-go bars and the prostitution that comes along with it. Technically, some aspects of prostitution are illegal (e.g. soliciting, pimping), but enforcement is rare, and brothels are common. It's not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a "bar fine" (a fee the bar collects if you want to take an employee away).
The age of consent in Thailand is 15, but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Penalties for sex with minors are harsh. All adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2534 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on 1 January 2010 (in the Thai calendar, 2010 is the year 2553). Many hotels retain the ID cards of prostitutes for the duration of their visit. While most prostitutes are employed by bars or similar businesses, some are "freelancers." Petty theft and other problems are more common with these freelancers. HIV and AIDS awareness is better than it used to be, but infection statistics among entertainment industry workers remain high; freelancers are the highest risk group. Almost all girls insist on using condoms.
While walking in go-go bar areas is safe, you have to be cautious of touts who try to drag you into the Patpong upstairs bars with offers of ping-pong shows and 100-baht beer. The beer may well be 100 baht, but the "show" you'll be treated to will be 1,000 baht or more. A good idea is to let your friend check the place with you waiting outside (and if he doesn't come out in a few minutes you should call the police) and don't interact with workers during show, don't drink anything offered, don't let some friendly Thai sit next to you and talk to you, because you will end up paying for everything mentioned. If you follow this advice, you can see ping pong show for 200 baht without paying anything else, just the ticket to the bar.
Do not get into fights with locals. Thais are peace-loving people, but when a Thai fights a foreigner, it is never a fair fight. You'll wind up having to fight 10-20 others who were not initially involved, or the police will be called and not do anything to assist you (especially the metropolitan police, as they normally have very limited English skills; always contact the Tourist Police (telephone 1155) when in trouble). Thais are also notorious for fighting with weaponry (guns, knives, broken bottles, metal rods) or employing Muay Thai techniques. These are usually produced from their concealed locations, with foreigners getting seriously injured or worse. Just avoid all confrontations. If you do get involved in a situation, it is better to apologize and get the heck out of there. In Thailand, discretion is the better part of valor.
Elephants are a large part of Thailand's tourist business, and the smuggling and mistreatment of elephants for tourist attractions is a widespread practice. Be aware that elephants are often separated from their mothers at a young age to be cruelly trained under captivity for the rest of their lives. It is advised to take an elephant ride only at animal-friendly organizations.
A once depressingly common sight on the congested streets of Bangkok is elephant begging, which has significantly decreased in recent years due to police enforcement. During night hours, mahouts (trainers) with lumbering elephants approach tourists to feed the creatures bananas or take a photo with them for a fee. The elephants are brought to the city to beg in this way because they are out of work and are mistreated and visibly distressed under the conditions of the city. Please avoid supporting this cruelty by rejecting the mahouts as they offer you bananas to feed the elephants.
Due to its location, lax laws, and resources, many illegal animal products come through Bangkok. Rare and endangered species are often sold at markets for pets (especially at Chatuchak), and many other animal products are sold as luxury items. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, ivory, talons, dried sea creatures (such as starfish), fur, feathers, teeth, wool, and other products since they are most likely the result of illegal poaching, and buying them contributes greatly to animal endangerment and abuse.
In 2008, political unrest hit the headlines, with the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) closing down both of Bangkok's airports for a week with several people killed in political violence. After the new prime minister was elected, things were more or less back to normal for a while, but the situation remained unstable. In 2010, new political unrest surfaced with red-shirted protesters from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) occupying much of downtown Bangkok. These protests turned violent when government troops tried to take back parts of central Bangkok that had been seized by protesters. Always follow the independent press for the newest political developments, stay away from demonstrations.
As elsewhere in Thailand, be careful with what you eat. Outside of major tourist hotels and resorts, stay away from raw leafy vegetables, egg-based dressings like mayonnaise, unpackaged ice cream and minced meat as hot weather tends to make food go bad faster. In short, stick to boiled, baked, fried or peeled food.
Tap water in Bangkok is said to be safe when it comes out the plant, but unfortunately, the plumbing along the way often is not, so it's wise to avoid drinking the stuff, even in hotels. Any water served to you in good restaurants will at least be boiled, but it's better to order sealed bottles instead, which are available everywhere at low prices.
In some areas, like the smaller sois surrounding Khao San Road, there are coin-operated filtration machines, allowing you to refill your drink bottles with safe water. These vending machines are often seen being used by locals, so they should be relatively safe.
Take care with ice, which may be made with tap water of questionable potability as above. Some residents claim that ice with round holes is made by commercial ice makers who purify their water; others state that it is wise not to rely on that claim.
October 30, 2020
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