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I have been to Bangkok many times (I just got back 3 days ago at time of writing) and have used various LP books - this one; the Thailand (Country Travel Guide); older Bangkok city guides, and even the newer Discover Thailand Travel Guide (Country Guide). I generally have a high opinion of Lonely Planet.
I find this book a disappointment in a number of ways. Still, Lonely Planet remains one of the best places to find the information you need. I don't think this book is ideally suited to the first-time visitor as it should be - unless you are rich and want to experience Bangkok in luxury.
For me, the reason for going to Thailand is to experience the traditional culture. This book is woefully inadequate in helping you find the "real" unreconstructed Bangkok, which is there if you know where to look. Instead, the book seems aimed at those who want to experience Bangkok as yet another glitzy and modern city. That's there, too, but the modern parts aren't all that different from other Asian cities.
Far too much emphasis on lavish spending, doing a lot of shopping, and going out to drink in glitzy nightclubs. For me, the best things in Bangkok are the things you cannot bring home - except for memories and photographs.
There are outright errors (page 130 incorrectly tells you that the subway stop for the Sukhumvit area is Queen Sirikit National Convention Center: the correct stop is Sukhumvit). There is inadequate information, such as telling you the subway will take you to Chinatown, when in fact the Hua Lamphong stop is a tricky 15 minute walk away, with no advice given on how to navigate the roads or the major construction (current as of Oct 2012), which is not even mentioned. They only briefly mention the many scams at Pat Phong, when it is a major problem that should be described in greater detail. Better yet, they should send you to two other areas that offer similar entertainment without the scams.
IS BANGKOK REALLY THIS EXPENSIVE? IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE.
I was shocked at the prices of many of the lodgings listed in this book: they are in line for a luxury traveler, but certainly not the backpackers that LP usually serves. Worse, the listings are biased towards top-end places (35) compared to mid-range (17) or budget (10) accommodations. I can't imagine staying in a place that costs 10,000 baht (that's more than $310 per night!) in Bangkok - yet many places costing 5,000-10,000 baht are listed. In fact, mid-range lodgings are the most commonly available places to stay in Bangkok; they just are not as visible as the big luxury hotels.
I am a mid-range traveler and generally find very acceptable lodgings for 1300-1500 baht even in prime areas. They call 3000 baht mid-range; you can get high end for that. I recently found a decent place with small private rooms, aircon and wifi but no desk, for 500 baht on Sukhumvit, showing that you can get a private room at the cost of some of the hostels listed in this book.
A very good alternative to LP advice for lodgings is to first decide where you want to stay, then look up hotels in your price range on agoda, asiahotels, zuji and similar Web sites.
For me, real Thai food is found in street restaurants and vendors. Many of the sidewalk or street food restaurants have the same vendors all the time, yet the book does not list the best of these. And guess what? The food that regular people eat at street restaurants is a lot different from what is served in Thai restaurants in the west, so it is definitely worth experiencing.
Instead, they list lots of fancy and pricey restaurants, which tend to be more like the Thai restaurants at home. For example, the book lists an item for your one-month-ahead planning is to book a reservation at a specific restaurant they recommend. One of the things about following LP advice is that you are sure to find lots of other LP readers there - making the prices higher, reducing availability and sometimes service quality, and immersing you in LP culture rather than the culture you may have come to experience.
They do say that food is one of the top experiences in Bangkok, and it is. But they don't tell you about the rhythms of the day, and where and when you will find street food (which I always eat and have never taken ill). Breakfast is a great time for snacks on the street and iced coffee or tea. Lunch is the best meal to have on the street - but your best bet is to eat at 11:30AM before hungry locals come and pick over the best of it. For the rest of the day you'll find anything from snacks and fruit to various meals. One of my favorites is the bowl of soup with noodles and choice of meats and condiments. And you can find food somewhere all night, too.
Neither water nor ice is not listed in the index; it is in the listings on page 227, briefly. Don't drink tap water, but rest assured that water and ice served to you even on the street is purified. Bottled water is available everywhere inexpensively and usually cold; orange juice, pomegranite juice (in season), and others are also available. If you find a green liquid in a bottle, it is probably "nahm bai toey" (pandan leaf tea), with an unusual herbal taste. The cool fruits are clean and fresh, and are a healthy snack any time.
NIGHTLIFE OR CULTURE?
There is a lot of emphasis on drinking and nightlife. If you visit Thailand to experience the culture, get up early and go to bed early like locals do. I mean, you can go to bars anywhere, and they aren't all that different from what you have at home (okay, *some* are quite different), and the places recommended by Lonely Planet will be full of LP travelers.
All over Bangkok are inexpensive massage parlors - they must number in the thousands. You can get a very good massage (Thai, oil, or foot massage) for 200 baht (about $6.50) per hour, and they often let you take a shower for free if you ask ("ahb nahm mai?"). At prices like this, you can afford a 1-2 hour massage every day! They are so cheap that I sometimes go just to shower then relax in the middle of a long day of exploring, without returning to my lodgings, especially during the hot afternoons. Manicure and pedicure, done carefully with sterilizing liquids, can be had for 150-200 baht.
But the guide does not tell you about these. Instead, they list luxury spas and parlors that are quite expensive, plus Wat Pho. The quality of massage at the common places varies, but is often as good or better in the common places than Wat Pho, which has students practicing on you. The best bet is when you find one you like, ask her name, and come back to the same masseuse. I doubt the luxury spas offer better massages, though they do offer various special treatments.
NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZATION IN THE BOOK
Organizing the "Explore Bangkok" section by neighborhood makes sense. For each neighborhood, you'll find Sights, Eating, Drinking & Nightlife, Entertainment, Shopping, and Sports & Activities. But where to sleep? Instead of putting sleeping options as a section by neighborhoods with the other topics, there is a SEPARATE Sleeping section - which is also organized by neighborhood. The sleeping section is listed AFTER the Daytrips section - except sleeping options for Daytrips ARE listed within those sections.
WAT PRAH KAEW / GRAND PALACE
To me, Wat Prah Kaew (WPK, sometimes called the Grand Palace) is the #1 must-see sight I would recommend to every first-time visitor. Wat Pho, while still being a top visitors choice, is #2 IMO. Yet WPK is not on the top 10 at the beginning of the book, nor anywhere in the book until you get to the neighborhood descriptions.
Perhaps there was disagreement by the editors as to which is more important, because WPK is actually listed first in the Historical Center section, followed by Wat Pho. And in the list of "Best Temples" they also list WPK ahead of Wat Pho.
There is NO standard way to write Thai in Roman (English) letters; there are a number of different transliteration methods. They use several methods in this book, which can be confusing, but several are used in Thailand, and it IS confusing. But in this book there is a new one that I have never seen before. I have studied Thai, and I find it confusing, because it is yet another attempt to spell the Thai words. Examples: "Klorng" is used on one page instead of "Khlong" (canal), which is more common, even in this book! "Goo-ay dee-o" instead of "kway teow" (noodles), and "gà-teu-i" instead of "kha toey".
GETTING TO CHINATOWN (YAOWARAT)
The book tells you that you can take the MRT subway to Hua Lamphong (HL) station to go to Chinatown. While HL *is* the closest subway station, it's a 15 minute walk from HL to Chinatown, and getting the rest of the way is tricky. There IS a map that shows both Chinatown and the Hua Lamphong station, but using the map to navigate to Th Charoen Krung or Th Yaowarat is not at all easy, because the map is not complete and the streets aren't always well marked. It is made even worse by the current construction that is going on in the area, making the maps incompatible with the way you actually have to go during construction - and there is no mention of this construction, which has been going on quite awhile.
I have helped several people with LP books get the rest of the way, after seeing their puzzlement using the maps. The best advice I can give you based on current (Oct 2012) construction is to take MRT to HA, use exit 1 and, when above ground, walk straight across the street heading through the heart of the construction. You'll cross a tiny river. At that point, figuring out which road to take is tricky; you can try asking "yoo TEE nai yow wah raht kahp (or kha)" (TEE pronounced in a higher tone), then watch where they point. It is good form to start by getting their attention politely with "kaw toh-aht kahp (or kha)". (kahp is for males, kha is for females and kha toey ;-) .
There are many ways to get around Bangkok, the worst being cars or tuk-tuks at times of heavy traffic, which is a lot of the day. The skytrain and the subway are among the best choices. But it really helps to know what all of your options are.
Commuting by the river boats or boats on the main khlong (canal) is a great way because it is unaffected by traffic. Unfortunately, they don't tell you much about how to use them. The most complete information is on page 222 - which is not listed under the index, and here they use the odd spelling "klorng" instead of the conventional "khlong" used elsewhere in the book. The pull-out map does show you the most important cross-town khlong, but you have to know where to look. For a better transit map, showing all Skytrain, MRT subways, the river and its stops, and the main khlong, google Khlong Boat Map and look at the link to transitbangkok dot com.
INTERNET ON MOBILE DEVICES
The book is WAY out of touch with how many people use the Internet: using mobile devices. They tell you about coffeeshops and Wifi, but there is no discussion about getting an inexpensive data SIM that will give you 3G or Edge access in many parts of Thailand for not much money. I had to resort to using Google to figure out how to do it. You really can't beat having an Android or Apple device to help you with maps (and where you are right now), navigation, routes, schedules, etc. An easy way to get it is to search google maps for "telewiz" (there's one on 3rd floor of Emporium at Phrom Phong BTS). For more info, check out prepaidwithdata dot wikia dot com slash wiki slash Thailand.
INDEX and MAPS
The index is woefully inadequate and inconsistent; lots of important search terms are missing. Looking for information on BTS (skytrain) or MRT (subway)? "Skytrain" is in the index, but BTS, MRT, and subway are not. Sukhumvit Road is not listed in the index - unless you look for "Thanon Sukhumvit". Sukhumvit is the only "Thanon" - because others are listed instead under the abbreviation "Th". Yet Silom Road, a.k.a. Thanon Silom or Th Silom, IS listed in the index, but simply as "Silom". The inconsistency makes it hard to find things.
I think the only BTS/MRT map is in the pull-out map, and it shows only BTS, MRT, airport link, and national railway - NOT the river transit, and not the main khlong, both of which are very useful. The book's area detail maps are segregated at the back instead of having each map included in the same section that describes the neighborhood, the way they used to do it.
The pull-out map is mainly the inner city - a small part of Bangkok. It stops at Phloen Chit, thus omitting most of the popular Sukhumvit area. The greater BKK map is small and does not have adequate detail.
Google maps has great detail for all of Thailand - many if not all of the tiny sois, even walk-only ones. It will help you with transit by bus or train - but don't pay any attention to the bus times, because buses can't keep to a schedule with unpredictable BKK traffic. If you see only labels in Thai, click on the Map or Satellite in upper right of the map, and the layers menu appears; look for the English menu option (you may need to click a menu expander icon at the bottom) and check it.
Bangkoktransit dot com is great for using mass transit. It includes a trip planner application. Also, you'll find a master transit map, including boats, if you search for Bangkok Boat Map in google.
You can get good coverage of Bangkok by buying the LP Country Guide. The City Guide for Bangkok should give you a LOT more information about the city and environs than the country guide, especially considering that it costs almost as much but is half the size, but it isn't as useful as it should be. It's main advantage is that it is smaller, which is handy if you are only going to visit BKK and environs.
The book seems biased towards rich, big-spending visitors who are only vaguely interested in traditional culture and food. It does not give enough information on how to do Bangkok on a budget, or seek out the traditional parts that are worth visiting. The information is often incomplete and sometimes just wrong.
Overall, the book does have a lot of useful information, which is why I give it three stars, but it is not up to the usual standard of Lonely Planet guide books.