Caveat: Some prices and information in this post may have changed since April-May 2006, but there are certainly still many useful tips here – especially for people on a budget (as we were at the time). People with more money will have no problem finding ways to up-grade their experience 🙂
When you get off the plane, you’ll have lots of people trying to sell you taxi rides to your hotel for ~800 baht; this is too much! Ignore them and go outside. There is a lineup for taxis and the price was fixed at 350 baht. If you can convince a taxi to put the meter on instead of the flat rate (this is always cheaper), then do that, but it’s hard to find that at the airport. Downtown though, taxis are almost always on meters and are a very cheap way to get around. The buses are even cheaper (between 7 and 10 baht per person) but if you are going somewhere with a lot of traffic the heat can kill you if you’re sitting on a bus so it’s up to you. We did the bus a couple times but often opted for the AC of a taxi, that is, when we were going somewhere the train/metro system doesn’t take you (like to Khoa San Road and the Imperial Palace), which is by far the best way to get around b/c there’s no traffic! The tuk tuks are a fun experience to do once or twice but they are always more expensive than the taxis so I wouldn’t suggest they be your main form of transportation. When you do try them out, do it at night when it’s cooler b/c again, sitting in traffic in a tuk tuk sucks and smells! Finally, don’t be fooled by an overly cheap tuk tuk lift or a tuk tuk “tour” – you will end up at 5 of his friends’ places/shops where they will try to sell you stuff.
We booked a hotel in advance at a very nice place called the Bangkok Boutique Hotel (241 Skhumvit 21 Rd., (Asoke), Klongtoeynue, Wattana, Bangkok, 10110) It was @ $50 CA per night but it was gorgeous!! and included breakfast. There are much cheaper places (the cheapest place we stayed at was around $11) especially at *the* tourist hot spot: Khao San Road. The last time we came through town, just before flying home, we stayed at a place called Royal Asia Lodge (#91 Soi 8 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, 10110) which wasn’t quite as nice as the Boutique (maybe $40/night) – still lovely though – but the location was slightly better. For example, at the corner of its street (Soi 8) and Sukhumvit is Tom’s Fashion House – where we both got suits made and were very pleased with the quality. Again, there are cheaper places but you should really be careful not to pay too little because, well, you’ll get what you pay for. Also, the Royal Asia Lodge is walking distance from the fabulous Thai restaurant “Cabbages and Condoms” (10 Sukhumvit Soi 12)
(Basically Sukhumvit is the major street and the “Soi” streets are the side streets off of it. so the hotel is on Soi 8 and the restaurant on Soi 12 – I believe the even addresses were on one side of the street and the odds on the other so they are only 2 streets apart – if you follow….)
Finally, from this location you can walk to the J.W. Marriott hotel which has a fabulous yet overpriced cafe/bakery. The mud cake there was unbelievable. We also really enjoyed having some scones/muffins/bagel-type things b/c they’re hard to find in Thailand in general.
So those are my notes on Bangkok. Yes, go see the temple, it’s worth it! And the reclining Buddha is also very cool. We didn’t do much else in terms of tourism, actually, except shop! The MDK is a huge shopping centre where you can buy lots of cheap stuff. It’s overwhelming and ridiculous but fascinating. Altogether we ended up with 5-6 days in Bangkok and it was enough. There’s more to see for sure but we opted to head south!
By the way, booking the fancier hotels on line is cheaper than calling them directly. In fact, you can check lots of different places (find one with a pool if you can!) at http://www.hotelthailand.com/. There is a live chat option that works very well if you have any questions. We booked both the Boutique and Asia Lodge through this site and it was secure and reliable. Khoa San Road hotels you just walk in.
To Railay and Phi Phi via Krabi—
We took a night train and bus to Krabi (via Surat Thani) and you can buy the ticket at the travel agents on Khoa San Road. We heard horror stories about people getting ripped off in various ways at travel agencies all over Bangkok but the ones on Khao San seemed just fine – at least the one we used turned out to be entirely credible (I can’t find the name of it, unfortunately). It should cost you around 800 baht per person, if i remember correctly (~$24). Night buses are available too (and cheaper still) but we heard that they were terribly uncomfortable.
From Krabi you can go to numerous places. All the popular island destinations are accessible from there. We went to Railay Beach via Ao Nang. We took a taxi to Ao Nang, and then a long-tail boat to Railey but at the end of the trip we took a long-tail boat directly from Railay to Krabi so you must be able to go directly from Krabi to Railey without taking the detour through Ao Nang.
At Railay, we stayed on the East side (West Railay is an older/richer crowd) at a great place called the Viewpoint. Kwon, at the front desk/travel agency, is wonderful! The prices are good, you can get a fan or A/C, there’s a pool, & they include satellite TV. Walk along Railay Beach and you will find 2-3 places where you can rent climbing gear and a guide to take you out for the day. You can also take a day-trip to snorkel at Phi Phi Ley. But if you have the time to take a boat and stay for a few days on Phi Phi Don, I’d recommend that. You can rent snorkel equipment for next to nothing and just snorkel along the coast of the beach (the beach on the side where the boat docks – I don’t think there’s much to see on the other side, where the main beach for swimming is) and see tonnes of great fish and coral!!
You can climb there too if you like so, in fact, if you’re pressed for time or even if you’re not, you may want to skip the climbing at Railay and go straight to Phi Phi. There’s a French woman who has a little climbing shop in the village there and she’s great and a bit more professional than the guys at Railay. Her equipment may be safer, come to think of it, and the rock there may be more fun to learn on because it’s higher and I’m pretty sure the routes are nicer than those they take you to at Railay. That said, during the high season Phi Phi may be too crowded and a little too much of a party scene for some. It depends what you’re looking for, I suppose. If you want some romantic and/or quiet time, you may want to choose a different island altogether and pay a little more for a private resort.
Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Try the fish (Marlin if you can find some) and try the fruit smoothies!! Buy soap for your clothes and wash them in the sink (again, if you’re on a budget) and don’t pack many clothes in the first place – you will buy lots of them! Also, don’t bring much for cooler weather b/c it doesn’t get cool – except for the night train. Bring a pair of crocs – they’re fabulous and light! OH – the coffee at “the real coffee” shop at Railay is amazing!! Last but not least: bargain bargain bargain!
Hope this was helpful, and happy travels!
Check out all of our photos on flickr.