Off to Bangkok?
Here are some fresh on-the-ground tips for you that aren’t in the Lonely Planet. Enjoy!
Mobile Phones and Smartphones
Wow, SIM cards free at the airport? When I arrived in Phuket they were handing them out! Look for someone in baggage claim. The SIM cards were a sweet deal too, because you could call the US for less than $.10 per minute using a code, like 0100 + <USA Number>.
I bought credit from the minimart right in the airport and I was rocking and rolling. Minimarts like 7-11 are the easiest place to buy credit. They print out a slip and you punch the number in. They need to know which carrier you have, and the amounts are somewhat fixed, like 40B and 100B but not 80B.
Thailand Data Plans
Data is great to have in Thailand and in Bangkok especially. If you get a SIM Card there, you can get data packs for somewhat cheap. These are either by the kilobyte (baaaaad deal!) or by the day (ends at midnight) or week. I used 1-2-Go. You get the SIM card, then call their customer service number to activate the Data. It’s in English. You might have to talk to someone to actually turn on the data.
TIP: Be sure you TURN OFF the data by the kilobyte.
TIP: I also recommend buying several small denomenations of credit. If the data sucks you dry and you’ve bought $20 of credit, you’re done. If you buy ten cards worth $2 each, you can just reload and say, “oops, I guess I didn’t have data setup correctly.”
WARNING: If you have a smart phone, be sure to turn off Data because all that “checking for email” will suck bytes or data-minutes and drain you. Turn data off when not using. Another good reason to just buy $2 at a time and keep a few reloads in your wallet
Getting Around Thailand and Bangkok
Bus Routes with Google Maps.
This is the best part about having data in Bangkok. You can now ride the bus! Just pull up Google Maps, type where you want to go and it will show how to get there via the bus. Where to get picked up and everything. If only it could tell you taxi fares cuz those guys are con artists! You don’t need data for this, you can pull it off wifi too. Just make sure to go thru and load all the maps while you still have wifi.
Buy Air Asia Tickets in Advance – it’s almost as cheap as a bus, and way faster!
Get AirAsia tickets in advance if going North or South and especially if going North to South.
If you’re going to Chang Mai or to the South Islands (AirAsia now flies to Surat Thani, right next to Ko Samui/Ko Tao/Ko Phagnan, so fly if you can), get theAirAsia tickets as soon as you can. Going by train or bus from Chang Mai to say Phuket is a 30 hour journey…or a $60 Air Asia ticket. The AirAsia tickets in advance don’t cost much more and woosh, you’re right there.
Watch Out for Travel Scams from Kosahn Road
Scam Bus BKK to Cambodia
You still going to Scambodia? If you are taking the bus to PP its known as the Scam Bus. Avoid if you can.
There’s two scams: A Visa scam and a Late Arrival Scam
Cambodian Border Rip-off Visa Scam.
Need to get your visa? Someone will show up trying to help you of course! You’ll get herded thru a place that looks like a legit border patrol place and they’ll take money from you for a “fake” visa. Off you go, till you get to the real border and now you have to pay again. Busted! You get the visa right where people with a visa get theirs stamped. So just say, “I already have one,” and follow the herd to the real border checkpoint. Alternatively, some dude on the bus often offers to get your visa for you and takes $10 for himself. In light of the border scam, this might be a good idea. Tho in light of the border scam, they might not do this anymore.
Siem Reap Late Arrival Scam
Wonder how that bus from BKK to Cambodia only costs $10?
Well its cuz they got a great way to fleece you when you get there: hotel commissions. How do they get them? Well they take you on such a slow route that instead of the ride taking 6 hours as it should on the new road, you drive the longest way possible. You arrive after dark to Siem Reap. You pull into a hotel complex and they shut a huge steel gate behind you.
“Welcome!” Then they say, oh, very dangerous, but you can stay here very nice hotel. I ended up doing just that. You’re tired, exhausted, and yes, it is dark. So you cave in. Then they have you: they’ll sell ya tours, etc. It’s genius really.
Anyway, Siem Reap isn’t dangerous at all. In fact, these place suck because they’re not terribly close to downtown and all the fun. So head outside and take it on! I got sucked into the Late Arrival Scam back in 2003, when it actually took 9 hrs on the bus to get there. It’s still alive and well! It doesn’t sound like you can figure out if the bus you pay for is the scam or not, as they’ll admit they’re not! Check the ThaiVisa.com site.
The other way is to take local transport to the border. Get a bus to Poipet and the border from BKK. Cross the border and take a bus to Siem Reap. If you start early this should work pretty easily. When you get to the bus station near th border you might have to take another bus from the town to the border. I did this coming the other way and it was a piece of cake. This might also avoid ya the visa scam as they might not waste their time with people that look like they know what they’re doing.
Also remember: – If you go to Scambodia, remember on the way back you only get 15 day Thai visa at the border when crossing by land. You can get a Thai visa in the capital for 2 months, but you have to go yourself.
Scam Bus heading to Ko Samui, Ko Tao, and Ko Phagnan
The BKK buses going to the south islands are a bit of a scam too.
This is a different scam that involves theft and drugs. Exciting! So yeah the BKK-South buses are dirt cheap too, how do they do it?!?
Theft. The people who run the bus will steal from ya. Here’s the scoop. It’s a night bus so they assume everyone is going to be sleeping. First, they’ll do a few stops on the way, and at the stop, and some tiny thai dude will jump in the luggage compartment and take anything of value from your bags. I don’t leave anything good in there anyway so no worries. Then they’ll come thru the bus and come up to you and tap you, “Hey you getting off at “blahblahblah” place you’ve never heard of.” Of course you aren’t going there, no one is. However, if you bought some Valium in BKK and you’re out cold, then they’ll go thru your pockets and/or backpack in front of you. When I took this bus in 2003, some stupid girl kept her moneybelt in her backpack and they took it. Somehow she got half her money back, which tells ya how scammy it is, but she didn’t get it all, which also tells you how scammy it is. Other stories like this abound.
The other part of the scam is that the bus takes forever, makes 3 stops at places they make commission for food. And then you get to a final bus drop-off at 5am. You wait there for 2 hrs. You are miserable and tired and want to die. Then you get crammed on yet another bus. You sit on this bus forever while 3-4 people ply up and down trying to sell you lodging. You are tired and cranky and want a bed and they know it. And they are selling them.
They could very easily leave a bit later from BKK, and drop you right off at the ferry when you need to. But no, that wouldn’t make them any money. And your cheap ticket wouldn’t be so cheap!
The way to avoid this? Take the train. The train is setup very different. No scams as it’s a government run thing. Problem is the train is almost always full so you gotta book in advance, like 3-5 days.
Take the local bus. Just pop down to the bus station and take a bus. They are waaaay nicer than the shit they put you on in KSR. And no scam. They are a tad pricer tho.
Fly. Book those AirAsia tickets well in advance and you’re on your way nice and easy. No, it isn’t an “overnight” trip getting there and you might need to crash a night somewhere, but you the KSR scam bus is like 16 hours of hell. And on these scam buses, there is no “overnight.” You won’t sleep. If you do, well, you were warned.
Ways to avoid the scam?
Be smart! Don’t buy your ticket from some super cheap Khao San Road place. If the price is too good to be true, well, take countermeasures on the trip. If you do buy from a KSR place, then by all means, keep anything valuable on you. Passport and cashola in your moneybelt (you do have one right?!) And don’t get drugged up. That’s what they’re looking for. When they see people poppin’ pills or having a big booze party, that’s when they start rubbing their hands. I took the scam bus and didn’t get scammed.
Other BKK tips:
- Khao San Road (KSR) is the cheapest part of BKK but its kinda far from other parts. It isn’t well connected to the rest of BKK. You can take buses, but it isn’t on any subway or skyway line. Taxis are pretty darn cheap tho, but avoid them during rush hour.
- I had good fun meeting with Couchsurfers in BKK. One of my buddies who parties pretty hard is there, and he’s always scheduling a pub night, blues bar night, or pub crawl. Look for Zoubin on the CS-BKK board
- Free WIFI is really REALLY HARD to find in BKK. If you want it, I know a few places, but if you need it, I highly recommend staying somewhere that has it. Most places charge by the hour and it isn’t cheap.
- The Chao River Express in BKK is the best way to get around and the views are great. It’s also awesome during rush hour as there’s obviously no traffic. Just board and some lady cling-clanging her cash will take a few baht from ya. There’s a stop right behind KSR. There are three lines that make different stops express/commuter/local: the express skips a lot of stops. So if you need a local stop be sure to get the local one. The signs there tell ya whih flag to look for. The CRE ends up at the stop at the south end of the SkyTrain. It isn’t the fastest or cheapest way to get to the SkyTrain (and where you want to go) but its a great veiw and comfortable.
Have you really read this far? Well if you have you get my best health tip: Don’t drink the Beer Chang! There’s something wrong with that beer. Expats and long-time locals call the hangovers from Beer Chang “Changovers.” I’ve had them, they’re evil, and I avoid the Chang.
Comments? Advice? I’d love to hear them – please don’t hesitate to leave some comments.