Bangkok information for you
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) produces the usual selection of colorful brochures, but is also one of the best offices in Asia for putting out useful hard facts. Many of its staff speak English. TAT's new main office (Tel. 0-2250-5500, Fax. 0-2250-5511, TAT Call Center 1672, 1600 New Phetchaburi Road, Makkasan, Ratchathevi, Bangkok 10400, THAILAND, 4th floor; open 8.30am-4.30pm daily) can be reached on air-con bus No. 512, Microbus No. 10 and ordinary bus No. 11, 38, 58, 60, 72, 99 and 113. The main office is also a 10 minutes walk from the Nana Skytrain station, via Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Nana).
TAT also has a desk in the arrivals area of both Terminal 1 (Tel. 0-2504-2701; open 8.00am-midnight, daily) and Terminal 2 (Tel. 0-2504-2703; open 8am-midnight,daily) at Bangkok International Airport. TAT's presence in Bangkok is shrinking due to reorganization withing the national government. In some cases the Bangkok Tourist Bureau is taking over old TAT information locations. One such candidate is the tourist information booth (Thanon Khao San, Thanon Chakraphong) at the Chana Songkhram police station (just around the corner from Thanon Khao San), which sells a handy bus map of the area. The Ratchadamnoen information compound (Central Bangkok; Tel. 0-2282-9773, Fax. 0-2282-9775; Thanon Ratchadamneon Nok; open 8.00am-4.30pm, daily) is near the Ratchadamneon boxing stadium. TAT also maintains a Tourist Assistance Centre (TAC; Tel. 1155; open 24hr), in the same compound for matters relating to theft and other mishaps, run by the Tourist Police Division.
Operated by the Bangkok metropolitan Authority (BMA), the Bangkok Tourist Bureau (Banglamphu; Tel. 0-2225-7612; 17/1 Thanon Phra Athit; open 9.00am-7.00pm, daily) is a very good source of information. In addition to stocking a wealth of brochures, maps and event schedules, the staff can answer questions and assist with the chartering of boats at the adjacent pier.
For visa extensions or applications, you'll need to visit the Immigration Department Office (Thanon Silom; Tel. 0-2287-3101-10; Soi Suan Phlu; open 8.30am-4.30pm, Mon-Fri, For Saturday open 8.30am-noon; For re-entry visas only), off Thanon Sathon Tai. It has limited staff between noon and 1.00pm. Most applications or extensions require two photos and a photo copy of the photo page of your passport.
Regular bank hours in Bangkok are from 8.30am-4.00pm (Just the Kasikorn Bank open until 6.00pm and in the shopping malls are open daily from 10.00am-9.00pm), ATMs are common in all areas of the city. Many Thai banks also have currency-exchange offices, which are open from 8.30am-8.00pm (some even later) daily. You'll find them along the following road: Sukhumvit, Nana Neua, Khao San, Patpong, Surawong, Ratchadamri, Phra Ram IV, Phra Ram I, Silom and Charoen Krung. If you're after currency for other Asian countries.
Post in Bangkok
There is a main post office (Thanon Silom; Thanon Charoen Krung; open 8.30am-8.00pm; Mon-Fri, 8.00am-1.00pm on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays) near the river. The easiest way to get there is to take the Chao Phraya River Express to Thanon Si Phraya and walk to Thanon Charoen Krung, where you can turn left to reach the large complex. Some boats stop at the closer Tha Meuang Khee, but not always. At the poste-restante counter, each letter you collect costs 1 Baht and parcels 2 Baht. The bulging boxes of poste-restante email you must look through are sometimes daunting but the 1927 Thai Art Deco building is a treat to hang out in. Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci (also knows by his Thai name, Silpa Bhirasri), who was considered the father of Thai modern art, crafted the garuda (half-man, half-bird) sculptures perched atop either side of the building's central tower. There's also a package service (open 8.30am-4.30pm Monday-Friday, 8.30am-noon on Saturday) within the main building. Branch post offices throughout the city also offer poste-restante and parcel services.
Telephone & Fax
Bangkok's former telephone area code (Tel.02) has now been incorporated into all telephone numbers dialled locally or from outside the city. The international telephone office of the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), next door to the main post office, is open 24 hours. At last count, 40 different countries had Home Country Direct service, which means you can simply enter a vacant Home Country Direct booth and get a one-button connection to an international operator in any these countries.
Other countries (except Laos and Malaysia) can be reached via International Direct Dial (IDD) phones. Faxes can also be sent from the CAT office. Other Home Country Direct phones can be found at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, World Trade Centre (the name World Trade Center was changed to Central ), Sogo department store and at the Hualamphong MBE (Mail Boxes Etc). You can also make long-distance calls and send faxes at the Telaphone Organization of Thailand (TOT; Siam Square & Pratunam; Thanon Ploenchit), but this office only accepts cash and reverse-charge calls are not allowed. Calls to Laos and Malaysia can only be made from TOT offices or private phones. For long-termers, en English version of Bangkok's Yellow Pages is available from this office for 50 Baht.
Email & Internet Access
Internet users can check their email or skim the Net at the dozens of Internet cafés, bars and centres throughout the city. Rates vary depending on the concentration and affluence of Net-heads; around Siam Square usage costs about 25 Baht per 15 minutes; Thanon Sukhumvit and Silom areas costs around 50 per 60 minutes. Thanon Khao San and its environs plunges to 1 Baht per minute.
Bangkok is packed with travel agencies of every description. Around Thanon Khao San alone there are over a dozen places where you can book bus and air tickets; some are reliable and offer unbelievably low prices, but you should exercise caution because there are always a few bad apples in the bunch. In the past five years at least two agencies on Thanon Khao San closed shop and absconded with payments from dozens of tourists, who never receive their tickets. The bad agencies change their names frequently, so ask other travellers for advice. Wherever possible, try to see the tickets before you hand over any of your money. You can also verify that travel agency has a TAT licence.
Newspapers & Magazine
The Nation and the Bangkok Post contain useful articles and listings of events, especially in the paper's Friday or weekend supplements. The tears and fears of the backpacker community have been given an irreverent voice in the free monthly Farang magazine. In previous editions the magazine has profiled new bars in “undiscovered” areas beyond Thanon Khao San. Available at bookshops and some newsstands, the French-language magazine Gavroche is a good source for news and views.
Bangkok has probably the best selection of bookshops in Southeast Asia. Here I give list of bookshops in Bangkok.
Asia Books, 221 Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 15, Tel. 0-2252-7277. Lives up to its name by having Bangkok's best and largest selections of English language titles on Asia. It has several other large branches at Landmark Plaza, Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 3 and Soi 4, 2nd floor. Peninsula Plaza, Thanon Ratchadamri; 3rd floor. World Trade Centre, Thanon Ploenchit; 4th floor. Sian Discovery Centre, Thanon Phra Ram I; 3rd floor. Thaniya Plaza, Thanon Silom. Times Square, Thanon Sukhumvit and Emporium complex, Thanon Sukhumvit.
DK Book House, Thanon Phra Ram I, Siam Square Soi 2, Tel. 0-2251-6335. Is good for textbooks. There is also a branch on Thanon Sukhumvit, across from the Ambassador City complex (excellent for fiction titles) and in the Mahboonkrong shopping centre (MBK) opposite Siam Square. There are two English-language bookshops in the Siam Square complex, Book Chest Soi 2 and Odeon Store Soi 1. In the Emporium shopping centre, Kinokuniya, Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 24, is also quite good, not only for Japanese language materials but for English language books also.
Teck Heng Bookstore, 1326 Thanon Charoen Krung, Tel. 0-2234-1836. Between the lanes leading to Shangri-La and Oeirntal Hotels, is one of the better independent bookshops in this neighborhood. It carries up-to-date books on Southeast Asia and the owner is very helpful.
Suksit Siam, 113-115 Thanon Fuang Nakhon, Tel. 0-2225-9531. Opposite Wat Ratchabophit, specialises in books on Thai politics, especially those representing the views of outspoken social critic Sulak Sivaraksa and the progressive Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute of next door. The shop also has a number of mainstream titles.
Shaman Books, 71 Thanon Khao San, Tel. 0-2629-0418, Carries a good mixture of new and used guidebooks, maps, novels and books on spirituality in several languages. Much smaller but with an attached outdoor cafe, is Banana Leaf Books & Cafe, off the northwestern end of Thanon Khao San. Aporia Books, on the east side of Thanon Tanao almost opposite the eastern entrance to Thanon Khao San, also offers an extensive selection of new and used books.
Elite Used Books, 539/5 Thanon Sukhumvit west of Soi 33/1, open 10.00am-8.00pm. Near Villa supermarket, carries a decent selection of used totles in foreign languages, including English, Chinese, French, German and Swedish.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market in Chatuchak Park is also a source of used, often out-of-print books in several languages. On Thanon Khao San in Banglamphu, there are at least three street vendors specialising in used paperback novels and guidebooks.
Beside offering an abundance of reading material, Bangkok's libraries make a peaceful escape from the heat and noise. In a class all of its own, the Neilson Hays Library, 195 Thanon Surawong; open 9.30am-4.00pm; Tuesday- Saturday, 9.30am-2.00pm; Sunday, next to the British Club, is a historical monument as well as a good, all-purpose lending library. Built in 1921 by Dr Heyward Hays as a memorial to his wife, the classic colonial-style edifice is operated by the 100 years old Bangkok Library Association ans is the oldest English language library in Thailand. It has well over 20,000 volumes, including a good selection of children's books and titles on Thailand. The periodical section offers a few Thai magazines. Although the building has only one air-con reading room, the ancient ceiling fans do a good job of keeping the others cool. The library's Rotunda Gallery hosts monthly art exhibition s and also the occasional art sale. Free parking of members is available at the library's small car park near the corner of Thanon Surawong and Thanon Naret.
The National Library, Thanon Samsen, Tel. 0-2281-5212, is an impressive institution with a huge collection of Thai material dating back several centuries, as well as smaller numbers of foreign language books. Membership is free. Two places, The Siam Society, 131 Soi Asoke, Thanon Sukhumvit, and the National Museum, Thanon Na Phra That, also have an English language collection on the history, art and culture of Thailand. Although you won;t be permitted to borrow books unless you're enrolled, the library at Chulalongkorn University (South of Siam Square) is a good place to hang out quite and air-conditioned. The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand has a small selection of books on Southeast Asian affairs, as well as current copies of the International Herald Tribune and other periodicals. Nonmembers are welcome to browse as long as they buy something at the bar or restaurant.
Bangkok has three university research hospitals, 12 public and private hospitals, and hundreds of medical clinics. The Australian, US and UK Embassies usually keep up-to-date lists of the doctors who can speak English; for doctors who speak other languages, contact the relevant embassy. Several shop-front clinics in the Ploenchit area specialist in lab tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Bangkok General Hospital is considered by many to have the most sophisticated HIV blood-testing programme. Bangkok's better hospitals include the following institutions.
- Bangkok Adventist (Mission) Hospital, Central Bangkok; 430 Thanon Phitsanulok; Tel. 0-2281-1422, 0-2282-1100
- Bangkok Christian Hospital, Thanon Silom; 124 Thanon Silom; Tel. 0-2233-6981-9
- Bangkok General Hospital, Thanon Phetchaburi; 2 Thanon Phetchaburi Tat Mai Soi 2; Tel. 0-2318-0066
- Bangkok Nursing Home, 9 Thanon Convent; Tel. 0-2632-0540-87
- Bumrungrad Hospital, 33 Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 3; Tel. 0-2667-100
- Chao Phraya Hopital, 113/44 Thanon Pinklao Nakhon-Chaisi, Bangkok Noi; Tel. 0-2884-714
- Mahesak Hospital, 46/7-9 Thanon Mahesak; Tel. 0-2635-7123
- Phrayathai Hospital, 364/1 Thanon Si Ayutthaya; Tel. 0-2245-2620
- Samitivej Hospital, 133 Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 49; Tel. 0-2381-6728
- St Louis Hospital, 215 Thanon Sathon Tai, Tel. 0-2675-5000
There are plenty of Chinese doctors and herbal dispensaries in Bangkok's Sampeng distdrict, near Thanon Ratchawong, Thanon Charoen Krung, Thanon Yaowarat and Thanon Songwat, including the Art Deco Pow Tai Dispensary; 572-574 Thanon Charoen Krung). Readers have recommended the shop front clinics in Banglamphu for minor medical problems, such as travellers diarrhoea of food poisoning. Lampoo Polyclinic, 58 Thanon Samsen, Banglamphu; open 7.00am-10.00pm; tel. 0-2281-2922. and Nana Clinic, 62 Thanon Samsen; open 8.00am-9.00pm; Tel. 0-2280-1818., both have English-speaking doctors and are a short walk or inexpensive taxi ride from Thanon Khao San. For urgent eye care, try the Rutnin Eye Hospital, 80/1 Soi Asoke; Tel. 0-2258-0442.
All of the hospitals listed previously offer 24 hour service. Bangkok does not have an emergency phone system staffed by English-speaking operators. Between 8.00am-midnight, your best bet for English-speaking assistance is the Tourist Assistance Centre (Tel.0-2281-5051, 0-2282-8129), or call the tourist police (Tel. 1155; open 24 hours). All in all there are some 500 English speaking tourist-police officers stationed in tourist areas- their kiosks, cars and uniforms are cleanly marked. If you have any problems related to criminal activity, try contacting them first. When officers can't solve the problem or if it's out of their jurisdiction, they can act as a bilingual liaison with the regular police. The head office, TPI Tower, 26/56 Thanon Chan; Tel. 0-2678-6800. deals with tourism-related crime, particularly gem fraud. There's also a branch at the TAT compound on Thanon Ratchadamnoen Nok. If you can speak Thai, or can find someone to call on your behalf, contact the city's main emergency facilities at the following numbers.
- Ambulance Tel. 1554
- Fire Tel. 199
- Police Tel. 191
- Emergency Tel. 123
Dangers & Annoyances
Bangkok's most heavily touristed areas. Especially around Wat Phra Kaew and Thanon Khao San, are favorite hunting grounds for con artists of every ilk. They also tend to hang out near Soi Kasem San 1 and Kasem San 2, opposite Mahboonkrong shopping centre (MBK) and near Jim Thompson's House, and typically dress in Business suits and carries mobile phones. The river taxi piers of Tha Tien and Tha Banglamphu also attract the flim-flam artists eyeing map toting tourists. The favorite line is thet Wat Pho (or Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Arun or any other attraction). They will then graciously arrange a 10 Baht tuk-tuk (motorised pedicab) ride to an 'undiscovered' wat, which is usually a thin guise for taking you and your wallet for the proverbial 'ride'. Don't believe anyone on the street who tells you that a popular attraction is closed for a holiday; check for yourself.
More obvious are the tuk-tuk drivers who are out of make a commission by dragging you to a local silk, tailor or jewelery shop, even though you've requested an entirely different destination. In either case, if you accept an invitation for 'free' of ridiculously cheap sightseeing or shopping, you're quite likely to end up wasting an afternoon or as happens all too often-losing a lot of money. The tourist police can be quite effective in dealing with such matters, particularly 'unethical' business practies, which sometimes turn out to be cultural misunderstandings. Note that if you think you've been overcharged for gems or any other purchase, there's very little they can do.
written by Retire Thailand, June 19, 2011