Bangkok: What You Need to Know
The expressway to town from Suvarnabhumi Airport is virtually the only route immune to major delays, and the 40-minute trip will take just 15 minutes when the Airport Rail Link opens (projected for later in 2010), leading to an in-town terminal. Unfortunately, the starkly modern airport retains some of the worst features of old Don Muang: interminable trips from the gate, confusing baggage claims and a cramped arrival area where touts pushing high-priced limos try to keep the ignorant from far cheaper regular taxis. (The average ride to the town center should be no more than $7.)
Bangkok's fleet of resplendently pink and orange Toyota taxis is relatively dependable, but the best rule of thumb is to avoid the roads altogether, especially around central arteries like Sukhumvit, Silom and Rachadaphisek. The above-ground Skytrain (BTS, or rot fai fa to locals) and exceptionally clean subway (MRT) go most places visitors would want to go, and far more reliably (especially in the evening rush hour, which is thickest around 8 p.m.).
Motorcycle taxis are the best way to get down lengthy soi (side streets), but try to ask for a helmet, even if it's army surplus. Bangkok is remarkably free of street crime, except very late at night in tourist zones, and pickpockets seem scarce. A scrumptious majority of the street food is harmless.
Department stores and other shops offer forms to get refunds of the country's 7% VAT at the airport departure hall. Good-natured haggling is expected for almost all goods, even when prices are marked; tipping isn't. Give extra only if you feel moved by service that's lengthy or exceptional.
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