Bangkok is renowned among backpackers for its crowded streets, cheap souvenirs, wild nightlife and insane traffic. Many backpackers travelling South East Asia land in Bangkok and are somewhat overwhelmed due to the pollution and crowds, however, compared to many big Asian cities, Bangkok is actually quite beautiful. Give the city time and you will definitely come to love it. I’ve spent over three months in Bangkok, across a dozen visits over ten years, and it’s a city I love to visit…
Table of Contents
- Arriving in Bangkok
- Entry Requirements for travel to Bangkok
- Travelling in Bangkok
- Backpacker Accommodation in Bangkok
- Must try experiences when travelling Bangkok
- How much does backpacking Bangkok cost?
- Budget tips for broke backpackers
- Travel phrases for backpacking Bangkok
- Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll in Bangkok
- Being a Responsible Backpacker
- Travel Bangkok for free
- Best time to travel to Bangkok
- Onwards travel from Bangkok
- Apps to download before travelling to Bangkok
- Bangkok backpacking resources
- What to pack for Bangkok
Arriving in Bangkok
Bangkok is the beating heart of the backpacking scene in South East Asia and most travellers end up starting their South East Asia backpacking trip by flying into Bangkok. You can, of course, also arrive via road or rail from Laos, Malaysia and Cambodia.
Entry Requirements for travel to Bangkok
Many nationalities can receive a thirty day, free, visa waiver on arrival (if arriving by air, it’s currently 15 days if you arrive overland). You can generally extend the waiver once, to receive an additional thirty days, for a fee. If your nationality requires a pre arranged visa or you want to sort out a Thai visa in advance, particularly for a longer stay, it is fairly simple to receive one a Thai embassy at home or abroad.
Travelling in Bangkok
Uber is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than travelling by taxi or rickshaw. Click here and your first three rides are discounted (plus my next ride will be too – cheers!). If you are super stoked by the prospect of riding in a tuk tuk, go for it but be sure to negotiate a price before you get in Keep an eye on your shit when in a tuk tuk. The local bus system is another great way to get around Bangkok and I also frequently use the Skytrain for longer distances. To get into the city from the airport, catch the Skytrain and then catch an uber or a taxi from Thonburi or Bearing.
Backpacker Accommodation in Bangkok
For me, one of the most exciting things about being on the road is meeting new people and staying in new places. Bangkok is the starting point for many backpacking adventures and there are some great, chilled hostels to check out. These backpacker meccas are great for meeting fellow travellers, exchanging travel stories, tapping into the backpacking grapevine and just chilling the fuck out.
If you are backpacking Bangkok, Airbnb is a solid option for some sexy time. It’s especially handy if you are travelling as a couple and need a bit of chill time away from noisy dorms. Use this Airbnb coupon code for $35 off your first stay!
My favourite hostel in Bangkok was the Smile Society hostel – a cozy little place, conveniently located to explore nearby spots.
|The Yard Hostel||Away from the tourist crowds of Khao San Road, this hipster area is filled with fantastic local eateries and is within easy reach of the all the major sights. |
|Bodega Bangkok Hostel||This place is perfect for travellers that want to experience the real Bangkok while enjoying the comforts of a clean place. |
|Once Again Hostel||If you want to learn more about Thai culture, enjoy authentic Thai food and meet fellow travellers, then Once Again Hostel is the place for you. |
|Siamaze Hostel||This is great for those who want to get away from noisy Khao San road. It has fast and efficient mass transportation very close by that links to all tourist spots. |
Must try experiences when travelling Bangkok
- The Grand Palace and Wat Po: Wat Po is home to the fantastic reclining golden Buddha and is definitely worth visiting. When you get to the temple touts may tell you it is closed, ignore them and go straight inside.
- Lumpini Park: If you end up staying a while, one of the best things to check out in Bangkok is this fantastic park with jogging trails, free weights and rowboats.
- The Royal Elephant Museum: Open from 8:30 to 4:30 this museum is well worth a visit to learn more about elephants in Thai culture.
- Visit a market: You can buy almost anything in Bangkok’s huge markets, the best is probably the huge Jatujak Weekend Market.
- Check out the Temples: To see all of the main temples in Bangkok takes around five hours, your best bet is to negotiate a price with a taxi or tuk tuk driver and try to see them all in one day. There are a top of incredible temples to see in Bangkok…
- Go shopping: There are tons of shopping malls in Bangkok and if you have the cash these are great places to find relatively cheap clothes, electronics and designer knockoffs.
- Catch a movie: Check out the massive cinema complex on the top floor of Siam Paragon, if you have time watch a movie in 4D!
- Explore Khao San Road: The epicenter of Bangkok’s backpacking scene, Khao San is definitely worth checking out. This is a fantastic place enjoy a few beers or get your first taste of a Thai bucket! Beware that a night out on Khao San will empty your wallet.
- Street food: The street food in Bangkok is some of the best street food in the world. It is cheap, plentiful and super tasty. It is also very safe and unlikely to make you sick. If in doubt, buy food from a stall frequented by local Thai people, that way you can be sure the fare is of good quality.
- Check out the Sex Scene: A lot of travellers are keen to explore Bangkok’s famous sex scene, Soi Cowboy is supposed to be the more high-market place to hang.
How much does backpacking Bangkok cost?
- Accommodation: Dorm rooms start at around $3 but you can get a cheap double room for just $4 if you look around. Dorm rooms in prime locations will set you back at least $10. Private rooms near Khao San start at around $10 but if you walk ten minutes outside of Khao San the price will drop by a few dollars. Chana Songkram is a good road to find cheap accommodation, it is just a five minute walk from Khao San and has loads of budget hostels, the Merry V Guesthouse is one of the cheapest.
- Food: In Bangkok, you can eat street food for under a dollar! The food is delicious, nutritious and great value. A meal in a restaurant will see you back a fair bit more, perhaps $10 a person including a couple of drinks.
- Transportation: City buses tend to be very crowded and can be quite confusing but they cost as little as $0.25 a journey. The Skytrain and Metro usually cost under a dollar a trip and are a great way to get around. Taxis throughout the city usually cost between $3 and $5 but make sure your driver puts the meter on. If you are travelling by yourself and don’t want to use public transport try out the famous motorcycle taxis, these are good value, especially during rush hour.
Budget tips for broke backpackers
To keep your spending to an absolute minimum whilst travelling in Bangkok I recommend sticking to these basic rules of budget adventuring….
Use Public Transport – Bangkok has an extensive system of buses and metro lines (not to mention the countless taxis, mototaxis and tuk-tuks that line the streets). So make use of this and save up to do better things!
Couchsurf: Couchsurfing is an excellent idea while backpacking Bangkok.
Cook your own food: Get together with your amigos at the hostel and cook up a meal. You can save some pennies doing this.
Haggle: Haggle as much as you can. You can always get a better price for things especially while in local markets in Bangkok.
Volunteer: If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board.
Travel phrases for backpacking Bangkok
Hello – Sà-wàt-dee
How are you? – Sà-baai dee m?i?
Pleased to meet you- Yin dee têe dâi róo jàk
Excuse me – K?r tôht
Please – Kor …
Cheers – Chon
Crazy – Ding- dong! (I wouldn’t be offended if you called me that! It sounds adorable.)
Son of a bitch – Ai hee-ah (Now that sounds more effective!)
Ladyboy – Katoey ( Very useful to know this in Bangkok!)
Where’s the toilet? – Hông náam yòo n?i (crucial if you’re a lover of spicy Thai food)
Yes – Chai
No – Ma Chai
Beer – Bia
How much – Nee Tao Rai
Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll in Bangkok
Even though drugs are free flowing in the half moon and full moon parties, Thailand has very very strict laws against possession of drugs including imprisonment and the death penalty. Yup! They take drugs very seriously. So my advice is to be extra cautious when it comes to drugs. While it’s easy to pick up weed on the Thai islands, finding something in the cities can prove trickier and despite wandering along Khoa San whilst absolutely smashed and asking every Thai person I met, I was unable to score.
A lot of the time, the weed is low-quality brick weed. Every now and again, unfortunate backpackers do get roofied so be careful with your drinks and don’t accept random shit from strangers. Read Blazed Backpackers 101 for tips on how to stay safe whilst getting fucked up in Bangkok. Tinder is awfully common in Bangkok but more as a hookup app than a dating app. If you are a white lad rocking up into South East Asia for the first time, you’re in for a treat as you will suddenly be about ten times more attractive to the local girls than you are back home. Don’t be surprised if the girl you’ve been chatting up turns out to be a ladyboy… it happens. Prostitution in Bangkok is very common indeed, please have a read of the responsible traveller section below.
Where should first timers go to party?
The best party streets in Bangkok are Royal City Avenue, Khao San Road, Thonglor Soi 10, Sukhumvit Soi 11 and Silom Road. Khao San Road’s reputation as the ultimate backpacker party hub is known across Southeast Asia, and has been for decades. Internet cafes, bars, restaurants, massage parlours, tattoo shops and hawkers line the 1km stretch of absolute mayhem. You’ll see people eating, drinking and dancing on the streets. I would definitely not advise staying on Khao San road even though the cheap prices might be tempting as it’s damn noisy and you won’t catch any sleep. If you want to party stay nearby, just not on the actual road.
Being a Responsible Backpacker
Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging Chang beer while shirtless, swearing loudly and visiting unethical animal attractions? You Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don’t fall into this category but, when you’re out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself. It’s easy to get carried away in South East Asia, everything is so damn cheap and so much fun. I’m in no way the perfect traveller; I’ve been the drunken idiot on the street. I know first hand just how hard it is to be the one person in a group to say no when somebody comes up with a stupid idea that, for some reason, everybody is down for.
By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke and party. Do it and love it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of. If you can’t handle drinking buckets, then stick to beer.
Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I’ve had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don’t look cool for not wearing a helmet.
Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets. Sex workers in South East Asia are people like you and me; they may enjoy what they do, or they may be on the darker side of it. Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people, you just happen to be from a more privileged background.
Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country…
Travel Bangkok for free
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Bangkok long-term and experience living in this truly incredible city is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Alternatively, if you want to find a cheap way to stay in this incredible country for as long as possible, check out Workaway – for just $29 a year you get access to literally thousands of projects around the world where you can volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation.
Best time to travel to Bangkok
The peak tourist season in Thailand is November to February when the weather is beautiful across the country but there’s a high chance you’ll run into a ton of tourists in Bangkok. The really popular guest-houses fill up fast so this is a country where it can definitely be worth making reservations. This way you can find cheaper accommodation which is difficult to find during peak season. The local people are a really friendly bunch and keen to help so if you have any problems don’t be afraid to ask for directions from the locals. And Bangkok is a wonderful city to get lost in, there is SO much to explore. If you want to give the other tourists a miss, head over there in the non-touristy season. It is just as much fun, maybe more!
Onwards travel from Bangkok
From Bangkok, you can travel to a ton of really beautiful islands and some cool cities as well. Some islands are very crowded and others only have just a few bungalows on them; some of the best (well, best known!) are Koh Samet, Koh Tarutao, Koh Chang, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Joh Lanta and the Similan Islands. To discover something a little bit different, head on over to Koh Lipe. Chiang Mai is one of my favourites and is popular with the digital nomad crowd. Check out my detailed Thailand guide for more information.
Apps to download before travelling to Bangkok
It is very easy to spot wifi cafes in Bangkok and most hostels offer free wifi. However, it is hard to find wifi in other parts of Thailand and will probably be painfully slow. Best to be prepared and download all the apps beforehand.
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Bangkok.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Bangkok. It is a great help while calculating expenses.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Bangkok backpacking resources
Lonely Planet Bangkok Travel Guide – Plenty of useful info on bus routes and where to go.
Bangkok Tattoo – While Bangkok is rich in history, crowded with temples it is also a city shrouded in shadows with pollution, corruption, and the touted sex capital of the world. This book is a narrative of this dichotomy.
Bangkok Eight – Bangkok is a strange city where Buddhist monks in saffron robes walk the same streets as world-class gangsters. Mystery ensues when a US marine sergeant is killed.
Miss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute – Miss Bangkok is a vivid and extremely moving memoir of a life of prostitution in Bangkok. Her confessions will make you laugh and cry, cringe and applaud but she will definitely change your perception of prostitution forever.
Bangkok Haunts – This book is about the underbelly of Bangkok- District 8 and the story of Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep who has seen just about everything on his beat there.
The Damage Done: Twelve Years Of Hell In A Bangkok Prison – In 1978, Warren Fellows was convicted in Thailand of heroin trafficking and was sentenced to life imprisonment and what he went through for those years is beyond your worst imagination. It is an essential read.
On every adventure, there are five things I never go travelling without.
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2. Pocket Blanket: This lightweight, waterproof, super compact pocket blanket is a must for all adventures. Doubling up as an emergency poncho, this picnic blanket is worth it’s weight in gold when chilling, or camping, on the beach. It comes with a carabiner, a secret zipped pocket where you can hide stuff and pocket loops which you can weigh down using stones.
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if needs be.
4. Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).
5. Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Get insured before backpacking Bangkok
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking Bangkok adventure but please do get insurance and be safe– take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, there are lots of decent options online.
If you’re unsure where the heck to go after Bangkok, check out this three week itinerary from my amigo Dave.
Peace and love guys!
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