Okay, I know what you're thinking. "Diving? In Bangkok?" Sorry, no. There are no secret diving sites in the Big Mango. Well, maybe one, but more on that later. So, why am I including a section on Bangkok in a diving guide? The reason is that, if you're coming to Thailand from outside of Southeast Asia, you're most likely going to be traveling through Bangkok. So, if you're coming through Bangkok, why not stop and enjoy the sights of the city?
In addition, there are also some good dive shops in Bangkok that you might want to take advantage of. In general, the shops I've listed here are better stocked, and often cheaper, than the shops closer to the major dive centers.
Oh yeah, I promised you a dive site in Bangkok. There is one, sort of. It's not in the open sea, but in one of Southeast Asia's largest aquariums, and there are some rather unusual marine creatures to keep you company: sharks. Dive with the Sharks is a special program of major dive shop Planet Scuba in cooperation with Siam Ocean World.
For more information about what to see and do in the Thai capital, see my complete Bangkok travel guide at BangkokForVisitors.com.
Getting to Bangkok
Most foreign visitors to Bangkok arrive by plane. Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport (airport code: BKK) is the main gateway for visitors entering Thailand. Bangkok is a major hub and is serviced by all the big international carriers, as well as many regional airlines. However, please note that in March 2007, the old Don Muang Airport (airport code: DMK) re-opened for domestic flights. See the Bangkok airport guide at Asia-Airports.com for all the details about Bangkok's airports, including which airlines fly there, schedules, security and transfers.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport is located some distance from the center of town. The best way to get into town is by regular metered taxi. There's a counter just outside the airport terminal on level two (the same level you exit customs) to request a taxi, which are almost always waiting. You pay a 50 Baht surcharge on top of the metered amount when taking a taxi from the airport, plus any tolls. The trip to most city center hotels should take around 45 minutes to an hour, barring heavy traffic.
If you're traveling light, then another option for getting into the city is the airport city link, a train service that connects the airport to the city center. It's worth noting, however, that depending on where you're staying you may still need to get a taxi to your hotel.
There's also an airport sanctioned 'limo' service, operated from its own counter just outside customs. The vehicles are not limousines in the western sense. The cars are just larger ordinary sedans, SUVs and vans. They have a fixed rate depending on what part of town you're going to. It's generally about double what you would pay a regular metered taxi.
Under no circumstances should you accept a ride from any touts or "unofficial" taxi services. Real taxis have a red and white TAXI-METER sign on the roof. All Airport Taxis are gray with green plates. Many people have been robbed by seemingly friendly people offering them a ride to "a good cheap hotel they know.
Getting Around Bangkok
Bangkok is a very large city. As many as 12 million people live here. The city has no real center, and a rather limited transportation infrastructure relative to many other cities its size.
There was a time in the early 1990's when getting around Bangkok was close to a nightmare. You could easily find yourself stuck in traffic for several hours just to make a short trip. The situation has improved dramatically in recent years. In 1999 the city's first modern mass transit system opened, the elevated Bangkok Transit System, known as the Skytrain. Ridership has not met expectations, but the Skytrain is a quick and easy way to get from one place to another. In 2004 the Skytrain was joined by the city's first subway.
- Bangkok Transit System
- Better known as the Skytrain, the capitol's first mass transit system is a quick way to get around. The system isn't very big, so it probably won't go exactly where you going, but it can cut a lot of time from a cross town trip. A one-day unlimited use ticket can now be purchased at all stations and many hotels for 120 Baht, although that can be a bit pricey unless you plan to make several trips in one day. A better option is to purchase a SmartPass for a minimum of 130 Baht. It will have a 100 Baht value that can be used for any number of trips over any number of days, and you can top it up with more money at any station. Several stations now also have tourist information centers with qualified English speaking attendants to answer your travel questions. Information centers are located at Siam, Saladaeng and Taksin stations.
- Bangkok Subway
- In 2004, the Skytrain was joined by Bangkok's first subway. The single line travels from the Hualompong main train station down Rama IV road, then up Asoke / Ratchadapisek Road, and finally under Ladprao and Kampangphet roads to Bang Sue train station. The subway intersects with the Skytrain at Silom Road (Skytrain Saladaeng station), Sukhumvit (Skytrain Asoke) and Chatuchak (Skytrain Mo Chit). The subway is an alternate means of getting to Chinatown, and also gives good access to the Siam Society, Queen Sirikit National Convention Center and the Chatuchak Weekend Market (Kampangphet station).
- Taxis are cheap and air conditioned. They are required to use their meter, but some drivers will attempt to negotiate a rate, especially late at night. If you're in a well populated area, you can just wait for a driver willing to use the meter. All taxis have a red and white TAXI-METER sign on the roof, yellow license plates and either a two color paint job or a distinctive metalic color such as hot pink. Most two-tone taxis are yellow and green, with the second most common color scheme being blue and red.
- These three wheeled carts, properly called a samlor, are generally the quickest way to get somewhere, but they're rather dangerous and if you take a long trip in them you'll be quite dirty at the end. Be sure to negotiate the fare before starting your trip.
- Motorcycle Taxi
- Those aren't gangs you see hanging around at major intersections in colored vests, they're taxis. You ride pillion while the driver weaves through traffic. Useful if you have to get somewhere in a hurry, but a little dangerous. Note that helmets are required.
- Driving yourself in Bangkok is definitely not recommended. However you can rent a car with a driver if you want to go someplace out of the way and don't want to bother with a taxi. You can rent a car with driver for as little as $25 a day.
- The Chao Phraya river makes a great way to get around, since many of the major tourist sites are easily accessible from the river. Chao Praya River Express operates a regular boat service up and down the river. Sort of a bus on the water. Fares are extremely cheap. You can get just about anywhere for 15 Baht or less. There are piers next to many of the riverside hotels. Even if you aren't staying on the river, if you are staying close to the elevated train system, you can catch a train to the Taksin Bridge station. A River Express pier is on the river right below the station, and there is generally someone on duty at the pier to sell you a ticket and help plan your trip. The boats can be dangerously crowded during peak traffic times, so avoid rush hours.
There are hundreds of places to stay in Bangkok, from inexpensive hotels, to top-ten luxury accomodations. Our partners have a large selection of Bangkok accommodations, at the best prices, on the web. See the box at right for the latest deals from Agoda. Alternatively, you can search for the best deals from dozens of web sites using Hotels Combined.
The Thais divide the year into three seasons: the cool season, hot season, and rainy season. For most westerners, this translates to "hot," "really hot," and "really hot and wet." Temperatures rarely drop below 25° C (70° F). See the box at right for current conditions. Visit Weather Underground for more details. See below for a five day forecast.
Bangkok Dive Shops
There are several very good shops in Bangkok where you can pick up any extra gear you need, or get things repaired. These shops carry just about everything you could think of, but don't assume that prices will be cheaper than back home. Most of the equipment is imported, so it's not going to be cheap.
- Dive Supply
- Thailand's largest distributor of dive gear is based in Phuket, but has a shop in Bangkok where you can find just about anything you need. The shop recently relocated, and is now on Sri Ayuthaya Road. The easiest way to get there is to take the Skytrain to the Phayathai station. Take the exit closest to the Thai Military Bank building, cross Sri Ayuthaya Road and walk away from the intersection. The shop is about a five minute walk down the street. Opens 11:00 to 18:00 daily except Sunday.
- Planet Scuba
- This full service dive shop offers training in Bangkok, as well as ocean dives from their own boats in Pattaya, Samui and Koh Tao. Their showroom in Bangkok is the most well-stocked I've seen, and I've bought most of my gear here. The shop is also extremely easy to get to, as it's right at the Prompong Skytrain station on Sukhumvit Road, and they have a very helpful English-speaking staff.
- Oceanic Thailand
- The Oceanic shop is the only place you can get their stuff repaired, plus it has a good selection of new gear. The address is 71/1 Sukhumvit Soi 39 (Prompong). It's a long walk from the Skytrain station.