BANGKOK, Thailand — Bangkok has temples, floating markets, screaming motor scooters, enormous traffic jams, women crouched on sidewalks preparing meals and markets overflowing with flowers, cottons and gold.
In modern shopping malls the smell of incense drifts from a small house, erected for the spirits, where shoppers worship and leave offerings. This is also a city where dollars stretch a long way.
A good way for young travelers to start is by taking a taxi to the local youth hostel, 25/2 Phitsanulok Road, See Soa Theves, Dusit.
Taxis are inexpensive. The 30-minute trip costs 150 to 200 baht (about $6 to $8 U.S.). But always negotiate fares before you begin your trip. That's the way it's done in Thailand.
Motorized pedi-cabs ( tuk-tuks ) provide inexpensive transportation in downtown areas. Public buses cost 2 baht (7 cents), but you'll need someone who knows the city to help plan your route.
Recently young visitors have been encountering problems taking airport taxis to the youth hostel. Some drivers receive commissions from certain guest houses. They tell young travelers that the official youth hostel has just burned down, or is closed, so they can convince the traveler to go to the guest house the taxi drivers are promoting.
Agree on your destination before the trip begins and look for the official hostel "House and Tree" logo when you arrive.
The Bangkok youth hostel offers dormitory and private rooms. Rates range from 35 to 150 baht per person, per night. You'll be in the company of many other young travelers and the hostel is a good place to gather information for do-it-yourself sightseeing excursions.
Another source for information on budget accommodations is the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), near Rajdamnoen Boxing Stadium. TAT can provide you with accommodation listings and rates for Bangkok and other areas of the country.
Bangkok budget hotels such as Malaysia, 54 Soi Ngamdupli, Rama IV Road, are popular with young travelers. Rooms are basic; free, continuous, English-language movies are shown in the bar/restaurant.
At Thai Hotel, 78 Prachatipatai Road, Visutikasat, rooms range from 430 to 512 baht per night. The Student Travel Assn. (STA) office at the hotel entrance can help. STA has offices in many cities and specifically caters to "the needs of young adventurous, culturally inquisitive travelers who have limited budgets."
It can help with travel arrangements in Thailand and to other countries.
Although Bangkok is not a good walking city, you can use cheap transportation to reach its exotic sights. They include a 5 1/2-ton, solid-gold Buddha at Wat Trimitr and the docks behind the Oriental Hotel where boats can be rented for the canals. More than one-fifth of the city's residents live and conduct their business on the canals.
Before you set out to sightsee in Bangkok, have someone at your hotel or hostel write down in Thai the address where you are staying so you can show it to a bus driver or tuk-tuk driver if you get lost.
If you are lost and don't have a Thai copy of your address, go to the front desk of a major hotel and get it translated.
You should drink bottled water and avoid food that has not been refrigerated. Meat, poultry and seafood must be well-cooked and served hot.
Avoid pork. Vegetables should be well-cooked and served hot. Salads and mayonnaise should be avoided. Fruits with skins should be peeled before eating. Avoid frozen desserts.
If you are homesick for familiar food, you'll find some in the food sections of large department stores. You'll also find that some of the major hotels have reasonably priced Western food in their coffee shops.
Remember that you should always remove shoes before entering a temple.
It is rude to touch anyone, including children, on the head or to point the sole of your foot in someone's direction.
You can barter for prices in small shops and markets and for taxis, tuk-tuks and rental boats on the canals. But don't make an offer unless you intend to buy.
When planning your trip, remember that March to May is hot. Between June and October there are brief but torrential rains. The cool season is November to February.
You should also check with the County Health Department to find out about inoculations, and check with your physician about anti-malarial drugs.
Remember that if you leave Thailand by air, you need to have 150 baht to pay for the airport departure tax.
You can make arrangements at STA travel offices for accommodations, transportation or tours before you arrive.
There are STA offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia; Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand; London, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Local STA offices are the Student Travel Network, 7204 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90046, phone (213) 934-8722, or 920 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles 90024, phone (213) 824-1574.