Whether for cultural, medical, or sexual purposes, Bangkok consistently lures in numerous visitors. This may be why we bagged the accolade of "World's Best City" by Travel + Leisure magazine three years in a row (2010-2012), and also why tourist projections to the capital remain high. Now Kasikorn Research Centre estimates Bangkokians will have the joy of enduring about 19.20 million international arrivals by the year's end.
That's all fine and great for our economy, and perhaps this will help Suvarnabhumi Airport retain the pointless honour of being the world's most Instagrammed place, but the continuous influx of tourists may mean it's time to provide some updated guidance on understanding the nuanced ways of our fair city.
Luckily, as the foremost expert on Thai-tourist relations, and with many academic degrees I purchased at Khao San under my belt, I'm here to help visitors know what to expect after they step off the plane and feel the humidity bitch-slap their face. Use this guide to assist you in navigating the city, dealing with the locals, and basking in the enchanting temptress that is Bangkok.
Although savvy marketing has given Thais the reputation of always smiling, visitors should be prepared to encounter some people who may have facial expressions akin to boredom, grumpiness and confusion. Don't take it personally though if a Thai doesn't flash a grin your way. It just means they don't want to open their mouth because they're worried about chilli flakes being stuck between their teeth.
Eating is a national pastime in Bangkok. And for good reason, as there's everything from high-end restaurants to sidewalk stalls. However, to truly experience local culture, many tourists to Bangkok are adamant about trying "street food" and then telling all their friends how they tried this amazing thing called "street food". While this is a wonderful way to taste authentic cuisine, it would serve you well to be reminded that to Thais it's just called "food".
One of the perks of travelling to Bangkok is the abundance of shopping available. Our luxury malls provide the highest level of service; for example, tourists can be sure their safety is guaranteed because all patrons are thoroughly ignored by the guards who are supposed to be performing security checks. Local markets are also good places to shop and even better places to be reminded that you need to wear a size XXXXL.
While tourists may view the tuk-tuk as a newfangled way to get around the city, most Thais use the three-wheeled contraption to transport what they've bought from fresh markets. Therefore, taxis are recommended as the preferred vehicle. This way you can experience how a simple cab ride from Soi A to Soi B becomes an unwanted joyride to Soi XXX, ripe with squabbles over turning on the meter. The Skytrain is also a viable option thanks to its air-conditioning and loud, annoying advertisements. But at least by riding the overhead train, you will get to see the wonderful views below of traffic, traffic, and more traffic!
One cultural attitude that is near and dear to all Thais is the concept of "saving face". All interactions, from personal to professional, are handled by utilising this skill. Some mistakenly think this means acting in a way that prevents embarrassment for yourself and others. However, what it actually means is to "save your face from getting darker by using lots of whitening cream". And that, dear visitors to Bangkok, is the way you can truly blend in here.G
About the author
- Writer: Sumati Sivasiamphai
Position: Guru Editor