We learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
Thais are generally a helpful and friendly bunch. Taxi drivers are the big exception: they’ll simply refuse to take you if you’re going out of their way. Always get them to turn on the meter.
Motorbike taxis may appeal as an alternative; the drivers are usually more easygoing. But choose carefully, especially at night once they’ve had time to start drinking, and agree on a fare in advance.
Ignore tuk tuks completely. If anything, take one once to know what it is like, but they’ll ask THB 200 to take you just a few blocks along Sukhumvit. Also, if they take you out for the day, they’ll likely take you to shops where they’ve organized kickbacks.
Eating Thai food is one of the great joys of visiting or living in Bangkok. Thai flavors are usually pretty bold but, if all you can taste is lime and chili, the restaurant isn’t trying hard enough. Complexity is quality.
Don’t just stick to the main roads—the greatest discoveries are to be found in the sub-sois. Explore the back alleys of streets that run along the rivers, or the various sois branching off Silom. You’ll be rewarded.
Don’t be timid when it comes to street food—it’s great stuff. It’s easy to be intimidated by places that don’t have a menu, but don’t be afraid to take a few risks. Or, at least, find a few staples you know you like.
In the rainy season, expect to get wet about 3 p.m. Even if the skies look clear enough, there’s a good chance it won’t last. So get wherever you’re going early—you don’t want to be on the back of a bike when the heavens open.
Rooftop bars are very popular, but pick and choose. Some trade entirely on their location without making much effort when it comes to the food and drink, while still charging inflated prices.
When getting a massage, firm pressure means firm. You might wonder whether the tiny Thai masseuse has got what it takes, but don’t be fooled—they’ve got strong little hands.
Try to learn some Thai phrases. At the very least, learn some numbers to negotiate prices, as well as how to communicate basic directions. You’ll be less likely to be ripped off.
For God’s sake, make sure you’ve got the right airport. There’s nothing worse than jumping in a taxi and being halfway to Sukhumvit before realizing your flight leaves from Don Mueang.
If you’re out for dinner at 7 p.m. and then waiting around for nightlife to pick up, you’ll get bored. In general, Bangkok is at its best around midnight or later.
Make the effort to see a live band or go to a Thai club. Although the lyrics sometimes get slightly warped in translation, Thai performers often have a real gift for musicianship.
Be patient. Thai people are friendly and hospitable (apart from taxis drivers) but they are rarely in a hurry, and losing your cool can quickly make an awkward situation worse.
Bangkok is not a city you want to be running late and desperately in, trying to get across town in a rush. That will end in hot, sweaty frustration. Plan ahead; leave early.