Unless you plan on spending your time here frustrated and/or bored, do not rent a car. Bangkok can be a labyrinth to the uninitiated, and is renowned for its traffic jams. Unless you plan on spending your time here frustrated and/or bored, do not rent a car. Bangkok can be a labyrinth to the uninitiated, and is renowned for its traffic jams.
Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport (www.bangkokairportonline.com), 25km to the east of the city centre, is the hub for all international and most domestic traffic. Eva Airways (www.evaair.com) offers regular direct flights from Heathrow. Upon arrival, metered taxis will take you into the city for approx THB250-300, plus the THB50 airport surcharge and toll road fees. The official AOT (Airports of Thailand) limo service - watch out for touts - costs about THB1,000.
Two urban rail systems serve Bangkok. The sleek, efficient Skytrain serves 25 stations around the city on two lines while a single-line Metro service serves 18 stations. Tickets, though dirt-cheap, are not transferable between the two. Bangkok's main station is Thailand's major transport node, offering services to and from all areas of the country. See www.railway.co.th for details.
Country code for Thailand: 66; Bangkok (0)2
To get to grips with the nuances of Thai popular culture, pick up a copy of Phil Cornwel-Smith's highly entertaining Very Thai. John Burdett's detective thrillers, Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo are pulpy but engaging. Michelin-starred David Thompson's guide to local cuisine, simply entitled Thai Food, is an essential gastro-publication.
Do go / Don't Go
Bangkok is hot year-round, but temperatures are on the cooler side of roasting between November and Februrary. Between April and July thermometers can shoot up to the 40 degree mark. The rainy season begins in September and usually ends in November.
Bangkok is a gourmet's paradise - from the unfathomable victuals of China Town through to upscale international dining and some of the finest street food on the planet. The most authentic, the freshest and the very best food can be found in the ubiquitous stalls strewn throughout Bangkok's bustling streets. Thai food is a symphony of hot, sour, salty and sweet flavours that can produce delectable results. If your taste buds are nervous types, ask for 'pet nit noi' - just a little spice. You can always ask for 'pet mak mak' when you're feeling bolder.
Bangkok's cabs have a flat hire rate of THB35, and it's usually a good idea to politely remind the driver to use his meter before departure. Most taxi drivers won't speak English - so it can be helpful to have addresses or directions in Thai to hand. Fares are usually rounded up to the nearest THB5. The open-sided, three-wheeler tuk tuks look like fun but are best avoided - they have a tendency to envelope their passengers in smog and drivers can be somewhat 'creative' with their fare structure.
A 10 per cent service charge is included in most hotel and restaurant bills, but it's relatively rare that this reaches the staff. Where service has been exceptional, a cash tip is always appreciated.
Thai baht. £1 is approximately THB65.
Bangkok sells plenty of threads at rock-bottom prices so pack light and reinvent your wardrobe while you're here. Alternatively, bring plenty of light, thin, airy clothing - even T-shirts can feel cloying in the humid heat.
The Grand Palace is a bewitching visual feast that, at first sight, can leave you gawping in wonder. More than an eyebrow-lifting relic, however, it's a living, breathing spiritual centre, home to Wat Phra Kaeo, the sacred temple of the Emerald Buddha. Bangkok's snazzy Thailand Creative & Design Centre (http://www.tcdc.or.th) in the Emporium shopping centre, hosts regular exhibitions focusing on historic and contemporary Thai design.
When the Thais aren't eating, they're shopping. The biggest, brightest and busiest shopping centre is the leviathan Siam Paragon (www.siamparagon.co.th). There's direct access from the Siam Skytrain station into this colossal upmarket mega-mall, where the variety of food offerings is as wide as the shop-selection. To experience the creativity of Bangkok's youthful population, hop across the road from Paragon to Siam Square, an atmospheric warren of mini-boutiques and food stalls. Bangkok's most famous market is the Chatuchak Weekend Market (known to locals as 'JJ)', conveniently located next to Kampaeng Phet Metro. With 6,000 stalls selling everything from bronze Buddhas to smiling puppies to every designer knock-off imaginable, Chatachuk is where Thais and foreigners alike flock to empty their purses.
Admire a sunrise riverside spectacular at Thailand's tallest temple - the aptly named Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun. Even the journey here is appealing, providing a chance to watch this restless city rouse from its slumber. Head to the river and take either a private boat or the Chao Phraya river bus to the temple. Climb to the top of Wat Arun's mythical-Khmer-being-emblazoned 250ft high prang (spire) and enjoy an uplifting view of the City of Angels.
Head to the Lak Muang Shrine, opposite the Grand Palace, which houses the city's blessed pillars (containing the city's horoscope); map-wise, all distances to Bangkok are measured to this spot. A host of guardian shrines believed to grant wishes draw hundreds of supplicants every day. Marvel over the whirling traditional Thai dancers, hired by devotees to please the resident spirits.
January-February Chinese New Year is extravagantly celebrated by Bangkok's Thai-Chinese population and China Town is awash with festive colour.
March Dozens of Thai designers showcase their creations at Bangkok Fashion Week. 13-15 April Traditionally, the Thai New Year is rung in with well-wishers throwing water at each other. Don't wear your Sunday best. May Visakha Bucha Day celebrates the life of Buddha. A major highlight is the candlelit evening procession around Wat Benjamabophit.
October World Film Festival.
November Loy Krathong is celebrated through the placing tiny floating candles along all of Bangkok's major waterways.
December The Bangkok Jazz Festival is one of the biggest in Asia. 5 December. Thais celebrate the birthday of their monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.