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Bangkok on a Budget

By Alexis Lipsitz Flippin

Like most tourist meccas, Bangkok offers plenty of opportunities to spend top dollar on things that won't necessarily enhance your trip. Here are some smart ways to see this dynamic city without blowing your budget.

When to Visit:

Bangkok's tropical climate keeps temperatures warm year-round. The hottest time of year is from March to early May, when temperatures average 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. May through October is warm and rainy. The ideal time to visit is from November to February, when temperatures average 75 to 80 degrees F - but keep in mind that because December is one of the most popular times to visit the city, that's when rates are at their highest. Find flights to Bangkok

Getting Around:

Bangkok's inexpensive mass transit system, both underground and aboveground, is a fast and efficient way of moving about the city. You can buy one-day, three-day or 30-day passes to ride the Skytrain and Metro light rail systems. Taxis are also a good value and can be found just about anywhere in the city. If you're in a rush or in the mood for a thrill ride, climb aboard a motorcycle taxi (you are required by law to wear the helmet provided by the driver). Cheaper still are "tuk-tuks," three-wheeled open-air vehicles also known as auto rickshaws, good for short hops (they aren't allowed on highways).

Where to Stay:

No question, you can stay in the lap of luxury in Bangkok at some of the world's most fabulous hotels (the Oriental, the Peninsula, the Four Seasons, the Shangri-La, to name a few). Fortunately, your search for budget rooms will not go unrewarded, with moderately priced international brands (Marriott, Sheraton, Sofitel, Holiday Inn, Hilton), reliable guesthouses and hostels, and reasonably priced local hotels. The 75-room Jim's Lodge offers excellent value and a decent location, close to Limpini Park, the shopping at Central Chidlom and Siam Square, and two Skytrain connections. Internet rates are excellent, with rooms priced around $40 USD/night for a double. Wherever you stay, don't forget to figure in the 17.7% service charge/government tax.

Where to Eat:

Created with an appealing blend of fresh ingredients, balanced flavors (and spicy accents) and the Asian staples of rice or noodles, Thai food enjoys worldwide popularity. In Bangkok, food is an essential part of the street scene, and budget travelers will have no problem finding superb inexpensive dining throughout the city. Several streets around Silom Road are lined with restaurants serving a variety of ethnic cuisines and food stalls that stay open late with vendors selling noodle dishes, barbecued seafood, fish balls and "som tam," or papaya salad, among other street snacks.

Bangkok Sights and Attractions:

Bangkok is so bustling and colorful that just strolling the streets is free entertainment. The city's Rattanakosin neighborhood has several attractions, including the gold-and-glass Grand Palace, which is ringed by magnificent Buddhist temples. Among them are Wat Pho, the country's largest temple, and the 1782 Wat Phra Kaeo, a temple complex and home of the Emerald Buddha, an ancient statue fashioned out of jade. Admission to the Grand Palace compound is about 200 baht ($6 USD).

Take a boat trip through the city's network of canals and have your camera ready to capture shots of vintage temples, everyday Bangkok scenes and colorful waterway markets. It's fun and inexpensive: You can take a boat tour for about 100 baht ($3 USD) or rent your own long-tail boat for about 1,000 baht ($30). Go early to avoid the midday sun and crowded boats.

Beyond Bangkok:

You won't want to leave Thailand without sampling one of the country's much-touted beaches. Just one hour from Bangkok by plane, Phuket Island has beautiful beaches and a wide range of accommodations. Keep in mind that bookings are heavy around Christmas and New Year's, so reserve well in advance.

More Bangkok Tips:

  • English spoken here. English is widely understood in Bangkok, and street signs are written in both Thai and English.
  • Save on gratuities. In general, tipping is not expected in Thailand, although Western-style tipping practices are trickling in at upscale restaurants, which may add a 10% service charge to the bill, and hotels, where it's advisable to tip porters the equivalent of about 10 to 50 U.S. cents per bag.
  • No chopsticks, please. Unlike some other Asian cultures, Thais generally eat with a fork or a spoon, not chopsticks.
  • One man's junk... Flea-market aficionados will have no trouble finding their way to the 35-acre Chatuchak Weekend Market, said to be the largest flea market in the world, and certainly the largest in Thailand. It's right next to the Kamphaengphet station on the Bangkok Metro line. It's filled with typical flea-market fare - clothes, crafts, trinkets, oddities and food - and it's a good place to find inexpensive souvenirs.
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