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General Thailand, Bangkok, Don Muang and Phuket Airports, Hints and Tips

Here is some information that might help you if you ever come out to this part of the world.

Heres a list of what is here.
How to get around Bangkok
Don Muang Airport - Bangkok
Phuket Airport
Thailand and Bangkok scams - how to avoid them.
coming soon
But one of the best places to get up to date information is at http://www.talesofasia.com  by Gordon Sharpless.

Bangkok Travel Tips
There are various ways of getting around Bangkok and combating the traffic which ranges from busy to absolutely chaotic: walking, car, taxi, bus, boat, tuktuk, motor bike taxi or skytrain.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages that I will explain. Of these, the best method by far is the skytrain or BTS Skytrain to give it its full name. Costs are given in Baht with the exchange rate currently at 68 to the GBP.

Walking - this is sometimes the best way of getting to destinations only minutes away. You don't have to deal with any overcharging, you can go at your own pace, you decide when you go and arrive and you can decide your own route. The difficulties are that Bangkok is not walker friendly. The pavements range from wide and even ( which is rare ) to narrow and uneven with broken paving stones and market stalls of various types blocking your path. You also have to combat the weather - it can be very hot, humid or wet - sometimes all at the same time!

Car - This also has the advantage of you being able to choose when and how you want to go somewhere. All the major car rental companies have a presence in town - Hertz, Avis etc. Now come the drawbacks. Depending where you come from you may be driving on the wrong side of the road - Thailand drives on the left. The road system is somewhat chaotic - roads can be one way or two way depending on the time, traffic signals are ignored by other road users and pedestrians, road signs can appear and magically disappear leaving you in the middle of nowhere. A lot of direction signs are only in Thai - especially out of the centre of town. And then there are the traffic jams, there at times especially during the rainy season - when it seems like the entire city will be at a standstill.

Taxi - Almost all taxis now are metered. It is rare that you see an unmetered car taxi. They can be differentiated by the sign on top of the car, it will either say Meter Taxi or Taxi. Avoid the one with just Taxi. If you do get one, the fare has to be negotiated before you get in, if you end up at your destination and then negotiate, the driver will be in a very strong bargaining position. Unless its raining or you are our in some remote suburb there are usually lots of taxis and more than a 2 minute wait will be unusual. This all changes of course, if it starts raining, then everyone wants one! To catch one is simple. Just flag it down, you know it's available as there will be a red light in the lower right hand corner of the windscreen. There will usually be some waiting outside all the tourist spots and BTS stations. I usually avoid them and prefer to flag one down that's on the road. One thing to watch for is that the driver switches' on the meter when you start. If not, ask the driver to do so. Again, it goes back to the possibility of arriving at the destination and having to negotiate the fare. It is not common but sometimes still happens. Another thing that could happen if it suddenly starts raining or traffic is bad or it's late at night is that the driver will propose a flat fare. This sometimes works in your favour and sometimes against you. If in doubt, just say no, ask for the meter to be switched on and if he refuses get out and get another cab.

Bus - The public bus system covers almost all points in the city you might want to go to. There are 4 types of bus 2 of which are air conditioned, one fan cooled and one "hot". Some routes are service by hot buses exclusively, some air con exclusively and some mixed. The fares are cheap, 3.5 Baht flat fare for hot buses ( coloured green or red ), 5 Baht flat fare for fan buses and then a scaled fare from 12 Baht for an air con bus ( beige or white ). There are also air con micro buses ( purple) that have a flat fare of 25 Baht. During the day, buses are frequent and are a great way of seeing the city. You get a chance to truly mix with Thais.

One point, in Thailand, you generally stand in front of the bus stop sign, not behind it. There is an excellent map that shows all the bus routes for the various buses and lists all the important tourist sights and tells you which bus to catch. It is available from most English language bookstores like Asia Books or Bookazine. If you use the bus frequently, there are weekly and monthly tickets available but if you are just here on holiday they are not of much use.

Now for the bad points. As with the car, they are liable to take a long time to get from A to B if they are caught in traffic. They can be extremely busy at rush hour with standing room only and if you are not in an air con bus it can get very hot and sweaty. Buses especially the small green ones tend to slow down rather than stop to let people on and off, so dexterity is a useful asset!

Boat - there are two types of boats, river boats and canal boats. They are basically buses on the water. The river boats run on the Chao Phraya river ( which is the main one running through Bangkok on a rough north to south route ) and the canal boats run funnily enough on the canals. The river boat runs from Rajburana to Nonthaburi and will take you past the Grand Palace, Wat Po, Wat Arun and various other major tourist destinations. It can be a great way to get a different view of Bangkok. The piers are now clearly signed from the river and have an additional designation of North or South and then number of stops from Central Pier i.e. Tha Chang North 10, so you can see where to get off. Usually a decent tourist map will show the pier names as well. It connects with the skytrain at Sathorn - Central Pier for Saphan Taksin station. The fares are cheap but I have found that sometimes the fare varies depending on the conductor - not by a huge amount but 12 baht one way and 14 baht coming back. If that happens, don't sweat it. The canal boats run through some of the bigger canals in Bangkok and can be much faster than road transport.

But, you will need to be quite agile as the boats don't stop long at each pier and sometimes you literally have to jump on or off a moving boat. This is especially true of the canal boats. You can also get quite wet if the water gets choppy. Finding a stop can sometimes be quite difficult on the land side, not all are clearly signposted. There is also a safety concern as the boats sometimes feel overloaded at peak times.

Tuktuk - this is possibly the most familiar image after Buddha images that people associate with Thailand. These are 3 wheeled motor bikes with seats in the back for! well as many as you can fit in really. They have a Taxi sign on top which means you need to negotiate the fare before you get in. They are extremely versatile and fast because of their size. They can nip through narrow gaps and tight spaces to cut through the standstill traffic. They unfortunately are quite uncomfortable to sit in, to get in and out of, are open to the elements which means you get to fill your lungs with the Bangkok atmosphere and exhaust fumes. They also do not actually give you a great view of the city. The front view is of the back of the drivers head, and the side views are cut off by the U shaped roof sloping round and down. There is also the 10Baht tour scam to watch out for. You are offered maybe 2 or 3 hours to be taken round various places for 10Baht. But at the end you will be taken to a jewelers or tailors where the sales pressure will be quite high. This is where the difference in the cost is made up with the driver getting commission on anything you buy. Ride a tuktuk once just to do it and then avoid them.

Motor bike taxi.
If you see lots of young men hanging around street corners in bright vests. Do not be alarmed, they are the motor bike taxi drivers. Fares are slightly higher than metered taxis
and must be negotiated before getting on. If you look at an average Thai, odds are they have a scar from falling off a motor bike at some point in their lives. Some of the drivers can only be described as manically fast, serving in and out of traffic with little or no care of what that 10 ton bus is doing an inch off his back wheel. My advice is don't do it unless you are a thrill seeker.

BTS Skytrain.
For people who have to get somewhere fast and in comfort, the BTS Skytrain is the weapon of choice. It is an elevated air conditioned mass transit system that was opened in 2001. Because of this of course, it moves rapidly along and if you look out the window you can laugh at those stuck in the traffic below.

There are at present two routes - Silom and Sukhimwit - which serve most of the tourist areas along Silom and Sukhimwit Roads such as Lumpini Park, Patpong and of course the Sukhimwit Road areas. Many of the station are linked to the nearest shopping centre by covered sky bridges which is useful to protect yourself from the sun or rain depending on the time of year. It also connects to the South Eastern bus terminal and, by connecting minibus, the North and Eastern bus terminal. Fares are cheap, ranging from 10 Baht to a maximum of 40 Baht. There are frequent user passes available from a 1 day - 100 Baht to a 3 day - 280 Baht for the short term tourist to 10, 15 or 30 journey cards which cost up to 540 Baht.

Now for the drawbacks, there are only two routes which means there are large parts of the city untouched by the BTS like the Grand Palace and Wat Po. This however is changing and there is currently construction and plans underway for extensions. If you have someone in a wheel chair or who has trouble walking, the lifts to the platforms are not always visible and are sometimes difficult to get to. They are installing more automatic elevators but these are still accessed by 4 or 5 steps to prevent flooding. It can get very crowded at rush hour which can be 4.30pm until sometimes 7.30pm during the week.

The city's first subway system is due to open in April 2004 and promises to open up large parts of the city that are untouched by the BTS. Fares will be comparable to the BTS and joint tickets are promised. Only 3 or 4 stations actually connect though and at least one of them is a good 400m away.

The best way round the city is the BTS but it doesn't cover enough of the city, buses are very cheap but can be slow which leaves the metered taxi as the overall winner taking into account availability, route and cost. Happy traveling!

The fast but sometimes dangerous Moto Taxis
If they are not working you will find them here, at the end of a Soi

Bangkok Don Muang Airport  
The first sight people sometimes get when landing at don muang airport - code BKK - is the strange sight of people playing golf in between the runways. This is just the first of many quirks you will either love or hate about Thailand and Bangkok.

The golf course is actually owned by the air force which shares the airport. depending on your taxi route to / from the runway you will see the military planes and hangers. The airport is actually due to be replaced by a new airport - Suvarnabhumi - being built to the north east of Bangkok which is due to open in 2005. Well, the prime minister said it would, so it must be true!

The airport itself is about 25km north from the 'centre' of bangkok. it is easily reached by car, bus or train. there is no link to the bts skytrain but the new one supposedly will have a link to it or the new underground system, they just haven't made up their minds what it will be yet.

There is a railway station accessed by a sky bridge that can take you into town - Hualampong station - or to further afield. it will take around 80-90 minutes though, the trains are not quick. There is a special airport bus, costing 100baht flat fare, which has 3 routes covering the majority of tourist hotels - Silom, Sukhimwit and Khao San areas- perhaps taking between 30 - 60 minutes depending on traffic. Numerous taxis are available in the ranks outside the airport. It will cost around 190baht to get to silom. If you take the expressway, you will be expected to pay the tolls - 70 baht. It is worth it as it is far quicker. If you are taking a taxi from the airport, make sure you avoid all the touts and only go to the taxi queue. At the front of the queue there is an official desk which will ask you where you are going and give you a receipt to give to the driver - this is also your destination written in thai. You can also hire a thai airways limousine to take you where you want to go. There is a desk outside of customs, this does cost more and will obviously depend on your destination. The cars are usually Mercedes C class.

There are two separate buildings for International and Domestic departures, so make sure your driver knows which one you want. If there is a mistake, it's only about another 2 km to go. The International building is long and flat - it is also split into two, so again, tell your driver which airline you are on. It could save you a 1km walk! There are quite prominent signs outside with the airline logos so if he drives slowly you won't have too much bother finding the right place. For those on a late arrival or early departure who don't want to stray too far, there is an Amari hotel attached to the airport.

Departure Procedure
Check in. On entering the building, first thing of course is to check if you are leaving on time. There are plenty of information screens around. Next step is to have your bag screened by security, after this they put a sticker on it ( not as good as the old plastic strap that was bound around your case ) and you proceed to check in. These are islands in the main floor space and produce average check in speed. Then you have to go and pay your departure tax of 500Baht - you did leave enough Baht, didn't you? If not, it's a trip to the currency exchange. They do not accept plastic. There are booths next to the entrance to passport control and they will give you the receipt, which you give to immigration. No receipt and they send you back out. A couple of stamps and you are in the main departure lounge. Again there are plenty of information screens to announce boarding. The departure gate numbers are clearly visible from afar, so you should really get lost. On boarding, you go to your gate where you go through the security check and they are removing all objects like scissors, pen knives, tweezers etc and putting them in a bin. Just make sure things like that are in your main luggage. Then to the final holding area and boarding card check and onto the plane and home - booo hisss!

Arrival Procedures
Arrival is fairly straightforward, if a bit of a long walk. You walk from your arrival pier following the clear signs to immigration; give them your passport and arrival card, then go immediately downstairs to pick up your bags. Reclaim is usually quick and no more than 15-20 minutes. You then proceed through customs, giving them your customs declaration, which you got on the plane and into the arrivals hall where you will be picked up by your tour company or proceed to your preferred method of transport. This is where the signs become a little bit confusing for some people. But take a breath, get your bearings, put your warm clothes into your bag and go out into the sauna that is Thailand.

Facilities Airside

The customer areas of the airport are split over 3 floors. The ground floor is the main shopping area with duty free, restaurants, frequent flyer rooms etc, upstairs are more restaurants, short time hotel rooms, prayer rooms and frequent flyer rooms, downstairs are only frequent flyer rooms. The restaurants range from KFC to a high class restaurant, there are also many separate snack trolleys selling various hot dogs, sandwiches and so on. As is common with other airports though, you do pay more for the privilege. There is also internet access at an outrageous price of 5 Baht per minute compared to the 20 Baht per hour you can pay in town. For those feeling tires and want refreshed, you can also have a massage or a wife of pure O2 at an Oxygen bar at US$7.

There is not one duty free shop but several spread out over the concourse - like Amsterdam Schipol - the prices though are not great. You can do better in town. Warning, the prices in the Duty Free shop in the World Trade Centre are just the same as the airport. Toilets are numerous and clean. The building is a no smoking one apart from small designated smoking rooms. The decoration is a mix of Thai and western which only has the effect of blanding it out.

For those wanting to have a look, there is a web site that is clear and in English www.bangkok-bkk.com

Well, if you have time to kill, the seats are not comfortable. If you want to wander from one end to the other or come in the wrong entrance, it is a long walk - especially if you have kids or a walking difficulty.

To sum up, it's not bad as airports go, the direction signs are clear, baggage reclaim is quite fast, transport links are quite good but it's the little details that make it only good.

Phuket International Airport


Flying down to Phukets’ International airport ( Code HKT )  you get quite a strange site ( assuming you are a t the right window ).  You seen an island below you with quite a narrow peninsula full of trees and a clearing running across from one side to the other has something on it.  Surely not the airport you think.  A quick bank of the aircraft to one side and oops, that is the airport! 


If you are nervous flyer, it probably best not to look when you land as although the airport can land fully laden Boeing 747s, it does give the impression that should the airplane land 20 yards too long you will end up in the sea.  In fact when you are taxing to the building you can actually see the sea just a hundred yards or so beyond the end of the runway!


At the moment the majority of flights into and out of the airport are domestic ones from within Thailand but there are a growing number of International ones from within Asia and one that is due to start to London this year with Phuket Airlines.



The airport itself is about 32km north-east of Phuket Town and north of the main beaches such as Patong and Karon.  It is easily reached by car, taxi or minibus – there are no trains on Phuket.  Although officially there are buses that going to the airport, in reality they are not worth bothering about and you have to rely on some sort of private transport to and from the airport.


Coming from the airport

If you have not already arranged a transfer with your hotel, there are a variety of ways to get out of the airport.  There are a couple of multinational car hire companies – Avis & Budget if you wish to go down that route.  Just outside the doors of the baggage reclaim there is the official desk that can arrange a private limousine to your destination at a cost of a minimum of 1000B, a taxi minimum 600B or a shared minibus at 100B.  All the minimum fares are to Phuket Town, to any beach costs more i.e. to Patong on the minibus is 150B.  It will take around 30 minutes to get to Phuket Town and 45-60 to Patong depending on the traffic. 


Getting to the airport

Again unless you have arranged a transfer through the hotel, it will be a case of going to a travel agent and booking your transportation.  But shop around, some agents take bigger commission than others, use the fare from the airport as a guide.  If you can get it lower then well done, you did better than I did. 



There is currently just one building for International and Domestic departures, so it doesn’t really matter if your driver to the airport doesn’t know if you want domestic or international.  All the departures are on the upper floor with arrivals on the ground floor.


Departure Procedure

Check in.  On entering the building, first thing of course is to check if you are leaving on time.  There are plenty of information screens around.  Next step is to have your bag screened by security, after this they put a sticker on it across the opening seal / zip and you proceed to check in.  These are a line of desks about 60 yards or so inside the door you came in through when being dropped off so there isn’t really too much chance of getting lost!  They produce about average check in speed.  One good thing is that some airlines have special desks for carry on luggage only – a great thing if you have popped down on a short break. 


One disadvantage to this relatively “flat” space is that if several tour buses arrive at the same time and not enough desks are open it can become very congested indeed and queues become very cramped and confused.


Once checked in, if you are flying on an international flight you just turn right, pay your 500B departure tax in cash – you did leave enough Baht, didn’t you?  If not, it’s a trip to the currency exchange or ATM as they do not accept plastic. There are booths next to the entrance to passport control and they will give you the receipt, which you give to immigration. No departure tax receipt and they send you back out.  A couple of stamps later and you are in the main departure lounge.


If you are going on an internal flight to Bangkok or wherever, you turn left and out of the check-in hall, through a boarding card and id check and you are in the domestic departure lounge.  Again it is small enough ( about 300 yards wide and 70 deep ) that it is very difficult to get lost in and there are plenty of information screens to announce boarding.  You can see the departure gates from virtually anywhere you sit so you don’t have to worry have a last minute mile run to catch your flight.  Departure tax ( 30B ) is included in the price of your ticket.  Makes you kind of wonder why they can’t include the international departure tax in the price of the ticket too.


Arrival Procedures

Arrival is very straightforward as the signs are clear and as it’s a small airport relatively short walk. You walk from your arrival pier, down the stairs to baggage reclaim and then out into the airport area.  Reclaim is usually quick and takes no more than 15-20 minutes. 


Facilities Airside

The domestic customer area of the airport is the area described above with shops surrounding the one seating area. There are two restaurants which are a Burger King and a Café.  There are also a number of last minute souvenir and book shops that as usual with other airports you do pay more for the privilege.  Of course, as it is a domestic lounge there is no Duty Free shop.  Toilets are numerous and clean.  The building is a no smoking one apart from small designated smoking rooms.  The decoration is a mix of modern Thai and western which only has the effect of making look like 99% of all other airports.  Upstairs are a couple of lounges for frequent travelers of the airlines using the airport.


Facilities Groundside

As well as the expected check in desks there are the usual offices of the various airlines serving the airport.  There are a couple of restaurants including one mock English pub and a Café, ATMs, souvenir shops, left luggage office.  There is also an internet café at 100B every 15 minutes ( compared to 1B per minute in the resorts ) for those too desperate to wait.


For those wanting to have a look, there is a web site that is clear and in English http://www.airportthai.co.th/airportnew/phuket/html



Well, if you do get a delay for some reason there is not a lot to do and if several flights are delayed then it could become very crowded indeed. They could also improve choice / competition for transport to and from the airport.



To sum up, it’s a good little regional airport, the direction signs are clear, baggage reclaim is quite fast and it’s very hard to get lost.

Bangkok & Thailand Scams - How to Avoid Them ! 
Unfortunately when people go on holiday sometimes they forget to bring their brain and fall for many things they would never even consider at home. I have now stayed in Bangkok for over a year and have come across most of them so I have written this quick guide to the most common ones in Bangkok / Thailand and what you can do to avoid them.

Unmetered Taxis. They can be differentiated from metered taxis by the sign on top of the car, it will only say Taxi. The fare must be negotiated before you get in, if you end up at your destination and then negotiate, the driver will be in a very strong bargaining position and charge you a comparative rip off fare.

Metered Taxis.
One thing to watch for is that the driver switches' on the meter when you start. If he does not, ask the driver to do so. If he does not, tell him again and threaten to get out the taxi - this usually works. Again, it goes back to the possibility of arriving at the destination and having to negotiate the fare. The driver may offer you a flat fare. On the whole this will be to your disadvantage - but not always. Better not to take the chance. If you don't accept his offer, ask for the meter and see the advice above.

The 10Baht tour is the main scam to watch out for. You are offered maybe 2 or 3 hours to be taken round various places for 10Baht. But at the end you will be taken to a jewellers or tailors where the sales pressure will be quite high. This is where the difference in the cost of the tour is made up with the driver getting commission on anything you buy. They might also tell you the museum or other attraction is closed. To avoid this, just check with your hotel or the nearest tourist information office. Always take this information with a large grain of salt.

Jewellery and other valuable items.
This has some variations. You get introduced by a tuktuk from the 10Baht tour or taxi driver and are over charged or are approached by someone who say you can make lots of money by buying stones and then reselling them at home - this friendly person is not always a Thai. So please, do not automatically assume they are trustworthy just because they are from Britain or France or America etc. You could also be sold stones that are not the ones you think they are. The gem trade can be a very profitable one - ask your local jeweller at home what the mark up is and if he tells you, you will be shocked. If you do buy something, get a receipt with a full description in English and Thai of what you are buying. Make sure the name and address of the shop on the receipt is the same as the one you are in! The bottom line is, unless you know exactly what you are doing, only buy what you buy because you like it and it will be a good souvenir of your trip not as an investment.

Over charging.
This is sometimes the fault of the tourist, sometimes the vendor and sometimes official policy. As a rule of thumb, always bargain except where it is obvious the price is fixed - restaurants and so on. They are relying on you not knowing the local price but still thinking it's cheap because of the strength of your currency.

Then there are the official rip offs. Try going to a National Park or museum. How much were you charged? Certainly more than a Thai. How do you know what to pay? The answer is you won't unless you can read Thai. The prices will be in a dual language system, one for the tourist in English and one in Thai script - remember that Thai numbers are not roman numerals. On Ko Samet ( a national park ) the entrance fee is 200 Baht for the tourist and 20 Baht for Thais. The supposed reason is that, as the Thais pay taxes to help maintain the attractions they should pay less. But westerners who pay tax in Thailand are usually denied the opportunity to pay the lower price just because they are white.

The Lost Farang.
(A Farang is what Thais call white people.) This is someone trading on the assumption that you will be more trusting of a story by a white face than a Thai. The story will be : I have just been robbed, arrived today, no passport, the embassy wont help etc or some variation. The amount wont be large - maybe 2 pounds up to at most 10. Just walk away while shaking your head is my advice, any attempt to explain your decision will only encourage them.

Motorbike Hire
The most common one is the "repair the scratch" scam. When you return the bike they will point out a scratch or dent that they say wasn't there before and you have to pay to have it repaired usually at an inflated price. On some islands garages will refuses to do any repairs except for punctures to maintain this cartel. What to do here is make sure you check the bike first with the hirer and point out and agree on the various dents, scratches and other faults. A reputable place will have a sheet with the bike outlined so that a "scratch map" is created. Occasionally, after parking the bike for the night it is stolen by friends of the hirer and if you didn't take insurance you have to buy a completely new bike. To avoid this, you can either make sure you have your own bike chain, park it in a secure area at your hotel or park it away from your hotel as they will only check the address you gave on the hire form.

What can you do if you are caught in a scam at for example a shop? Firstly make sure you get a receipt when you are buying it. Go back to the shop and talk to the manager, if that doesn't work say you will go to the Tourist Police. If that doesn't work, go to the Tourist Police. They can be contacted by phoning 1699. ( If it is just a case of you have changed your mind because of the colour then you are on your own )

The Tourist Police are normal police officers with full powers but specialise in helping tourism related crimes - robbery, loss, scams etc. They are identified by their different coloured police cars and by a different patch on their uniforms. Their English is normally better than normal police officers. They sometimes go back with you to the shop to sort things out there and then. Sometimes you may need to file a complaint in the police station if it is more serious.

So, plenty of things to watch out for, but if you go in to a situation with this knowledge, I am sure that you will have a most enjoyable and unforgettable time for all the right reasons. Please do not think that all of Thailand is out to get you. It is only a very small percentage of bad apples and they aren't all Thai. As long as you remember to use your brain and ask yourself "is this too good to be true?" you will do fine.