If you’d asked me about a year ago, I wouldn’t have the idea of visiting Bangkok as a female solo traveller. Bangkok, with all its madness, just doesn’t seem that suitable to visit on your own. However, three weeks ago, I came back from spending more than a week in Bangkok, and enjoyed my trip very much! Even though it wasn’t the typical kind of travelling, because I’d already visited Bangkok more than a few times, I got to experience a different side of Bangkok this time from travelling solo.
Here’s my top travel tips for you if Bangkok’s your next solo travel destination!
1. First, buy a prepaid simcard at Suvarnabhumi airport.
Mobile data gives you so much peace of mind AND convenience.
Prepaid simcards are easily available at the arrival hall at Suvarnabhumi Airport. I got mine from the AIS booth, at 549 baht, for 3GB of data at high-speed, valid for 30 days. They have shorter periods such as 7-days at lower prices, so if your trip is not too long, you don’t need such an expensive card. The prepaid simcards also come with some Thai call-time available, if you need to make calls in Thailand.
These simcards are also available at convenience stores in the city but honestly, it’s too much a hassle for me to go around searching for them in huge Bangkok, especially when I don’t know if the shopkeepers speak proficient English.
The staff will ask for your passport to check your identity. They will also help you install and activate. The entire procedure was smooth and fuss-free. He should tape your original simcard to the Thai simcard’s package and hand it back to you. Keep it in a safe place until you switch back to your own simcard back at your home country.
2. Use Grab, or the trains. Skip the taxis and tuk-tuks.
Uber Grab to leave the airport.
Update 26 March 2018: Grab has acquired Uber’s SEA businesses including Thailand’s.
Nothing is more annoying than getting bombarded by a big group of taxi-drivers upon leaving the arrival hall at the airpor, which always happens to me in Bali).
(I used Uber.) At Suvarnabhumi Airport, after getting my Thai simcard all set up, I booked an Uber car right away. In the app, it’ll tell you to choose a Door at the Arrival level. Get outside and see which Door number you’re closest to and choose accordingly. You’ll then be asked to get to the outer lane for easy pickup. My Uber arrived soon and cost 325 baht (including a 25 baht toll), to get to my AirBNB in Sukhumvit (Asoke).
I’m sure you can use Grab too, but as I didn’t use that, I can’t advise the app user interface for leaving the airport.
Uber or Grab to get to the airport.
(I used Grab.) The driver asked if I’m ok to take the highway and I said yes. (My brother once encountered a taxi-driver who didn’t use the highway and he almost missed his flight.) There will be a 25-baht toll charge added to your bill in the app. All official and easy.
Uber and Grab can get you everywhere.
A few more times, I also used Grab to get around from place to place. Bangkok is known for its traffic jams downtown. Remember to buffer more time than the app’s estimation! Also, buffer time for congested traffic.
Bangkok trains are modern and comfortable.
BTS’ single-use tickets come in credit-card sizes which you can buy using coins at self-service machines. The MRT’s single-use tickets come in the form of little circular tokens which you scan (and keep!) at the gantry when you enter, then slot in (to return) when you exit the gantry at your destination.
Taxis in Bangkok don’t always use the meter, even when the drivers promised to.
You should always ask the driver before boarding. From my previous trips, taxi-drivers will agree to use the meter, then try their luck to change to a fixed price after you’ve boarded and the taxi has started moving. It is extremely frustrating and a battle of who is more
fierce insistent. We always request them to stop and we leave the cab.
Tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for disregarding traffic rules.
Tuk-tuk rides are more for the novelty if you’ve never tried before, and not something I’ll personally recommend unless you’re very much the adventurous solo traveller. They’re known to ride fast and whizz through lanes, sometimes even against the correct direction on the road, to give you the thrill.
Locals also use motorbike services as their ‘taxis’.
A good option to avoid being stuck in traffic jams, by to use motorbike taxis. I’m not sure about you, but if I’m travelling solo in Bangkok, safety is always my #1 priority. I avoid the riskier option of motorbikes.
3. Choose a good hotel or a good location for your accommodation.
For obvious reasons, stay in the city centre, not the suburbs. Asoke and Pratunam are popular areas to stay at. As a solo female traveller in Bangkok, I’ll also look out for how accessible the accommodation is from the main road: is it deep within alleys? Do I have to worry about going back late? Also note that with public trains and Grab/Uber, it’s actually much easier now to navigate your way around Bangkok.
Here’re 2 options I recommend:
I’ve stayed here twice because I think it’s a great hotel! Have always felt very comfortable in the rooms, and it is right across the road from Platinum Fashion Mall. You can go shopping there and walk back to your hotel to dump your loot. Glow Hotel’s lobby is located on the 7th floor. There’s a massage parlour at that level too, which is actually operated by one of the shops in the same building. (Ps: I last stayed here in 2014 so my info is as of then.)
Glow Hotel is also right beside Pratunam market and also extremely near the famous wanton noodle place (Sabx2 Wanton Mee). There’s also Mcdonalds and Starbucks at the building’s ground floor.
Within walking distance, you can also walk to CentralWorld Siam Paragon, Siam Square, the famous 4-Faced Buddha (Erawan Shrine) and more.
The downside of Glow Hotel is it’s not too near any train station. Its nearest BTS station is Siam or Chit Lom, a good walking distance (but totally do-able) away.
| Other than that, Sofitel Sukhumvit (near Terminal 21), Siam Kempinski Hotel (near Siam Paragon), Centara Watergate Pavillion Hotel are also popular choices. Check Bangkok hotel rates: Agoda.com | Booking.com |
ii. AirBNB condo
If you check out Bangkok on AirBNB.com, you’ll see plenty of condo options. I was surprised about this, but what a sweet surprise it was. A condo unit in Bangkok can give you more value in return as a solo traveller, as compared to the hotel. I stayed for 8 nights at a condo and was sad to leave it!
Always, always, always read the reviews carefully. If possible, get the address first and check it out on Google Maps.
4. Don’t drink from the tap.
Bangkok’s tap water is not safe to drink. I have two friends who came down with poisoning together after using tap water to cook instant noodles at one of their condo houses in Bangkok. (This happened years ago though.) One of them suffered tummy pain and had to go to the hospital in Bangkok to get a jab to fly back to Singapore. The stomach problems also took more than a few months to fully go away.
At my AirBNB condo used in Aug 2017, there was a separate tap at the sink, marked “Drinking water”. I’m extra cautious about this, so I’ll even boil the water from that Drinking-Water tap first before drinking. I have another friend who currently lives in Bangkok, in a condo at Thonglor, and her condo unit doesn’t come with this filtered water, so she has to buy mineral water all the time.
I did use the tap water for washing mugs and crockery, brushing teeth, washing face, washing hands before putting on contact lens. Nothing bad happened.
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5. Watch out for pickpockets, especially at crowded places.
Bangkok is notorious for pickpockets. As with all cities that you’re travelling to, exercise due caution when it comes to protecting valuables. Don’t put your wallet or money at easy-to-reach spots. Don’t put all your money in one place. If you’re walking next to the road, put your sling bag on the opposite side, so that someone can’t snatch it while whizzing past on the road. Better still, sling it across your body.
One time (also years ago), at Chatuchak, my friend and I were looking at products when she experienced someone trying to unzip her handbag. The pickpocket didn’t succeed, thankfully. Always stay alert!
6. Don’t believe everything you hear.
Taxi-drivers or ‘helpful strangers’ will tell you that the night market/attraction you’re going is closed today, and suggest somewhere else that they can take you. Definitely be skeptical about this. When in doubt, Google is your best friend!
Also, do due research for the popular ‘attractions’, or you might get duped into paying a lot of money for offerings at Erawan Shrine, just for an example.
7. Know what to expect when you go for massages.
Body massages and foot reflexology massages are popular activities to do in Bangkok. Most massage places will prepare a set of clothes (loose clothing, like pyjamas) for you to change into. I’d also experienced a massage shop at Khao San, where you just lie down on the mattress in your own clothes and they start the session. If you’re a germophobe like me, try to detach your mind from wondering how many people had their faces touch the pillow before yours….. or get ready a tissue paper ahead.
Thai massage requires close body contact. The therapist will use her hands and elbows to knead your body and joints, sometimes even their feet to press-kick against your thighs to massage. It’s not always gentle, sometimes, even painful. Towards the end, they’ll want to twist and crack your back. Be mindful to relax at these peak moments and not brace your body as that might be dangerous. (This Nomadisbeautiful blog has a detailed article on Thai massage.)
A typical one-hour Thai massage should cost about 300 baht (S$12 / USD$9), even at established joints.
I actually took a body scrub + aromatherapy oil massage at Pasithea Ultimate Relaxation spa, right under K Maison Hotel, the hotel that I was staying at. For being a hotel guest, I got 40% off its combo treatments, paying 1170 baht (S$48 / USD$35) for the two-hour session! A typical one-hour body massage in Singapore costs at least S$60 / USD$44, so… do the Math.
About tipping after your massages in Bangkok
Tipping is not compulsory but from what I experienced at the bigger joints like HealthLand, massage therapists expect tips. (HealthLand is also a massage place that’s popular with tourists.) Some therapists will outright remind you for tips. There are different arguments about not-tipping vs tourists over-tipping, so I think it’s all up to you. I actually don’t like being obliged to do something, especially if I didn’t enjoy the session at all.
If you ask me, a 50-100 baht tip is good for a one-hour massage. To each his own.
8. Don’t be afraid to dine solo.
No one batted an eyelid for all the times I indicated table for one when I enter a restaurant at Terminal21 (a shopping mall at Asoke), so solo dining in Bangkok is more common than you’ll presume. I don’t know about you but I do get conscious of stares when I’m dining solo, SO, I always have my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader with me. In fact, I finished reading my “Gone Girl” novel in Bangkok!
9. You can change currency easily in Bangkok.
The rates are competitive too. For my last trip, when I ran out of Thai baht, I changed them at a SuperRich counter at Asok BTS station. You’ll need to produce identification (passport / identity card / driver’s license).
Credit cards are also widely accepted in Bangkok’s shopping malls, so fret not!
10. Use these basic Thai words to greet or say thanks!
For females, to say hello, say “Sawadee-ka”. The ‘ka’ is more gentle-sounding, like how you pronounce “car” in English. Guys would say “Sawadee-kup” – the ‘kup’ pronounced as “cup”.
To say thank you, say “Khop-khun-ka” if you’re female, and “Khop-khun-kup” if you’re male.
I like to use these Thai words to greet people, even the officer at the immigration customs at the airport 😉
Shopping is a big deal for people visiting Bangkok, but I wouldn’t bother learning how to ask “How much does this cost?”. Because they’ll reply in Thai and I’ll have no idea what’s the amount! It’s a waste of time for everyone, so please, don’t even bother 🙂
Are you curious to conquer Bangkok as a solo traveller?