11 Tips for Staying Streetwise in Bangkok

Bangkok's Grand Palace illuminated at night | © sasint/Pixabay
Bangkok's Grand Palace illuminated at night | © sasint/Pixabay
Photo of Kyle Hulme
7 November 2017

Bangkok is a wonderful destination for any traveller. Wherever you are in the city, you can feel its pulse – whether it’s the old temples, the warm people or the delicious food. Unfortunately though, like in any major city, there’s always the off chance that something might go wrong whilst you’re exploring. To keep safe in Bangkok, here are some tips on how to be streetwise whilst you’re in the city.

Don’t drink too much

We know, we know, it’s Bangkok. Whether you’re heading to Khaosan Road or living it up in a trendy rooftop bar, there’s no denying that partying in Bangkok provides nights you’ll either never forget or struggle to remember in the morning. That said though, care must be taken when drinking. Drink too much, and you’ll become more vulnerable, an easier target for those looking to take advantage in any way. If you are drinking, know your limits and stay with your friends.

Go easy on the beer

Know the scams

Every major city in the world has scams that look to target tourists who come to the country with little knowledge of what they’re getting involved in and what’s happening, and Bangkok is no different. Bangkok can feel like a sensory overload at times, which makes those who are new to the city easier prey. Familiarise yourself with the scams; whether it’s a dingy bar with extortionate drinks or getting fitted for a suit that will never turn up, the best way to combat these scams is to be able to spot and avoid them.

Khaosan Road | Guillen Perez/F

Have a plan

By simply having a plan, you can minimise the likelihood of stumbling into unfamiliar, unfriendly situations. By following an itinerary and having an idea of where to go and what to do, you’re lessening the chance of wandering into a shady part of town by mistake, or being duped into entering a bogus attraction. Whilst idly wandering around is a fun way to discover a new city, sticking a plan will not only keep you safer, it ensures you won’t miss out on any of the things to do.

Bangkok's Grand Palace

Cross carefully but quickly

When arriving in Bangkok for the first time, it can take an age to cross the road. With the sheer volume of traffic seemingly unwilling to stop, it’s not easy to cross the road. Well, not at first. Crossing should always be done at a designated crossing when possible, but if there isn’t one near, sometimes you just need to step into the road. The drivers will be used to it, and will stop for you. Obviously, this should be done as far from a car as possible – don’t just blindly walk out, take time to assess the situation. If worst comes to worst, pick out a local waiting to cross and do it when they do!

Smile in confrontation

In Thailand, face and the concept of losing face affects a lot of interactions between Thais. With this in mind, even if something bad happens to you, it’s incredibly important to keep your composure. Smiling, nodding and looking amiable has a far greater chance of yielding a positive outcome than shouting and getting physical does, with the latter two choices potentially seeing you end up in the Bangkok “Hilton” prison or worse. After all, Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, so do as the locals do and you should be fine.

A smile will serve you well

Remember to rest

We know that Bangkok is a huge, sprawling city with plenty of things to do and often too little time to do even half of them – but’s it’s vitally important to remember to rest. Being tired and being in Bangkok is not a good combination. The roads become even harder to navigate, you’re more likely to feel aggravated and agitated and you’re more likely to make wrong decisions. By getting the right amount of rest, you can see Bangkok in a whole new light – and will remember it for all the right reasons.

Rest is good for the mind and

Watch out for your bag

Whilst pickpockets are operation, it’s not unheard of for thieves to forgo the subtlety and help themselves to your bag instead. The sheer number of motorbikes on the road make for a quick getaway for the thief, who’ll blend seamlessly into the crowd and be gone before you know it. Make sure your bag straps are strong, and that it’s not easy to grab if you’re on a bike or tuk tuk, and you’ll improve the chances of leaving Bangkok with your bag and belongings intact.

Keep hold of your bag "

Don’t wander alone at night

This is sound advice for anybody in any city in the world, but it’s essential in Bangkok. For most travellers, Bangkok is a huge, alien city, and wandering alone at night – drunk or not – can lead to all manner of potentially sticky situations, least of all getting hopelessly lost. Taxis are cheap enough in Bangkok that there’s no need to save money by walking, and there are plenty of apps you can download to book a taxi – so make sure to utilise them.

Look confident

Being confident is easier said than done – we can’t all be like Aussie backpackers – but looking confident is easy to achieve and yields great results. By looking confident and walking with purpose, there’s less chance of being hassled by those who want to hassle you, scam you or just bother you in general. Those who look like lost sheep often are the ones who get eaten by the wolves – so in a world full of sheep, be a sheep dog.

Trust your gut

Your gut is a powerful thing, even if the street food does render it incapacitated for a few days. With that in mind, it’s always solid advice to go with your gut instinct. Don’t like the vibe in this bar? Go to another one, Bangkok has thousands to choose from. Guy from the hostel giving you a creepy vibe? Tell someone and have nothing to do with him. There are a million and one different scenarios to encounter in Thailand, too many to write about, so trust your gut – often your only and best instinct.

Street food in Bangkok | M

Know the emergency numbers

Despite all your preparations and all the tips you ready, sometimes things happen that you can’t prevent. With that in mind, you should take a note of emergency numbers before you head out. These are:

Tourist Police : 1155

Police : 191

Ambulance : 1554

Fire : 199

You probably won’t need to know or use these, but you’ll be thankful you have them should you need them.

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