How to Stay Alive in Bangkok

Thailand is a relatively safe place to travel and so is its capital, Bangkok, in all its chaotic glory. Thais are always willing to help a disoriented tourist and you can get by with a minimum knowledge of English. Rules in general, however, don’t apply the same way they do in the Western World – particularly in Bangkok. That is why you need to be cautious at all times. Here are some tips to make the most of your city break in Bangkok. 

Get your jabs

I know you’ve heard from some people – either your friends or travellers on the Net – that they didn’t get vaccinated, went to Thailand and made it back alive without any mishap. Although this case is in fact very likely, my advice here is why risk it? Like you, I was confused about getting my jabs like you probably are from all the contradictory advice you are receiving, so I ended up getting them two days before my trip. The issue is that vaccines take time to develop immunity. Even if I make it out of Thailand in one piece, I would have preferred to get my vaccines done when I was supposed to. If I had, I wouldn’t have spent my first day in Thailand like a character from the Walking Dead keeping an eye out for zombies. I was positive that if I ate something or touched something, I would die. I was so paranoid, I barely enjoyed my first day in Bangkok, thus I would recommend anyone to come prepare just so you can indulge in the delicious street food and take pleasure in everything else this fantastic city has to offer. Not that you need to know this, but I ended up in the emergency room due to food poisoning. This can happen anywhere, that’s true, but if you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t have to worry about getting a disease such as Hepatitis A. And one last thing! If you get bitten by an animal, go straight to a hospital as they might carry rabies.

Don’t drink water from the tap

It’s not safe to drink water from the tap in Thailand. The End. Okay, I’ll elaborate: Just don’t! 

While drinking from the tap is safe in European countries and Down Under, apparently tap water in Thailand doesn’t go through a proper treatment to make it safe for human consumption. I’m not the right person to certify this but there is a chance to catch a disease or in the very least getting a stomachache from doing so. And honestly, after seeing the river in Bangkok, this doesn’t strike me as surprising.

I know this is inconvenient as – like me – you might like to refill your plastic bottle with tap water to save money. Although plastic bottles in Thailand are very cheap, I just find it wasteful. It’s an unnecessary waste for the environment but a necessary task for tourists who don’t want to miss seeing Buddha in all its varied forms because they can’t get their face out of the toilet. Sorry for the visual.  

Be extremely careful when you cross the street

I’m not talking about what your mom told you in 6th grade: “Look both ways before crossing a street.” In Thailand, this precaution gets a whole different dimension. You have to run for your life. While in the Western world it is common sense that you have the preference up against cars to go ahead first on a zebra crossing with no traffic lights, in Thailand common sense only applies to keep tourists from tattooing Buddha on their lower back. Even if there is indeed a traffic light and the green figure is allowing you to cross, watch out for cars as if you were hiding from the Gestapo, and even if there are no cars coming, you must make a run for it and hope for the best. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. I just lost 10 years of my life, and no amount of meditation can give me that back.  

Sometimes the traffic lights are there just for decoration and you’ll notice that as minutes go by and you are still waiting for the little man to turn green. I’m sorry to be the one to burst your bubble, but you’ve just been punk’d. That little man is never going to change, but it was placed there to mock you, and now they are all feasting over bugs while having a laugh at your expense. Even I’m laughing at you – although I laugh at everything. What I’m trying to say is simple: It’s a conspiracy. The sooner you know it, the better. And I should probably lower my caffeine intake.  

Stay Alert at the Airport

Even though you might be jet-lagged, you do need to stay alert at the Suvarnabhumi Airport. First of all, don’t carry anybody else’s bag or luggage at the airport as there might be drugs in it and Thai prison is no joke. It also applies to “please don’t traffic with drugs.” I don’t know why both my parents warned me about this one. I don’t know if it’s true. Just try not to leave your travel card in the ATM at the airport like I did – it’s not a good way to start your trip. Now they have a photocopy of my passport there. Whoops! There’s an explanation for that: some ATMs here give you the cash first, then ask you a question in Thai and once you reply, they give you your card back. And please don’t make any Buddhists jokes. Not cool. 

Beware of pickpockets

Although there are signs all over the tourist attractions warning you of pickpockets, I feel obliged to prepare you for this. Losing either your credit card, passport or phone while travelling can be a hassle the size of Mount Everest and that’s a big one. Ask the monks (that have been there). Therefore, my advice would be for you to get a wallet you can strap to your waist and under your shirt. That way your most precious items are out of sight or at least you’ll notice if somebody slides their hand under your t-shirt to steal your wallet. And if you don’t notice, then you probably deserve to get mugged. Something I like doing is placing my important items in different places. For instance, I have two travel cards – one inside the cover of phone and the other one in my purse – just in case I lose one. 

Don’t get a job in Bangkok 

If you are a Western kid, you are probably not made of what it takes to survive the hazards of working in Bangkok. I don’t care if you worked in construction or you did your rural work in some dodgy farm Down Under. It’s not the same. Some Aussies might suffer from alcohol poisoning at 10am, but they don’t take their safety regulations lightly at the workplace. This is not the case for Thais. In Bangkok, I saw workers standing on top of a steep roof with only a bamboo stick to hold on to in case they fell down. They weren’t strapped to anything in any way. I promise I saw no ropes. You fall, you are doomed. And the helmet… what helmet? My knees were shaking just by staring at them. If you are a Western kid and you’ve survived working in Bangkok, please comment below. As to everyone else, just get a job in Phi Phi as a scuba diving instructor. That is an exciting job and is regulated by foreign companies. Thumbs up! Hooray!

Don’t drive

I know that you’ve probably heard that driving a motorcycle or a scooter in Thailand is a must, but get your facts together, people – not in Bangkok. Wait until you are in a smaller town like Kannchanaburi or an island like Krabi and then ride into the sunset! It’s hard enough already to find car drivers that stay on their lane rather than driving driving the wrong way, let alone respect the Law. Besides, traffic is just like the city – busy and chaotic. It’s a buzzing over-populated city with tourists who rely on Tuk Tuks and taxis to get around, traffic jams are inevitable. Everybody wants to get to their destination as fast as they can an you won’t be the one standing in their way. 

If you are suffering a panic attack, then my work here is done. 

All in all, it’s not hard to survive in Bangkok. I did *knocks on wood* and I’m special – not in a good way, but in a broke-my-tooth-while-kayaking kind of way. 

Claudia @indieroad 

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