More than just a phone, I have found the iPhone with its access to thousands of applications is one of the most indispensable tools for living and working in Bangkok. If you’re looking to buy some apps to make your stay in Bangkok just a little bit easier, checkout my reviews below and get the best app for the job.
The problem with almost all translation applications is that they use audio as the main communication tool. This might work well in a quiet room but in real life travel situations I found the audio on many apps is often just too quiet. There is also the awkwardness of having to hand your phone to a stranger just so they can listen to the audio.
My favourite translation app is made by a company called Cool Gorilla but unfortunately they don’t make a Thai translation version yet. However what I like about their app is they have made the translation page visual instead of auditory.
The translation page shows both the source language and the target language in an easy to read format. Showing this page to someone makes it instantly clear what they are looking at and allows them to quickly understand what you are trying to say by reading the translation in their native language.
The Lonely Planet Phrasebook
The Lonely Planet app is about the same price as the actual Lonely Planet book and in this instance I would recommend the book over the app. The app has a cluttered design with the translations popping out below the English phrases. Also since the audio is far too quiet for the noisy Bangkok streets you would have to show the person the translation and on this app the Thai font is extremely small. Another advantage of the book over the app is that the book includes a small dictionary at the back, allowing the Thai person to use it to communicate back to you. The app doesn’t have this facility and therefore it is only good for a one way conversation.
The Lonely Planet Thai Phrasebook app does have a good selection of common phrases spoken by both male and female speakers and is one of the better phrase apps but it doesn’t offer any significant advantages over the book and since they are about the same price I would suggest getting the book.
As the name suggests, this app is an ad supported free translator. You type the English phrase and it uses the Google Translation software to translate it into Thai. I find that this app works best when I need to translate 1 or 2 words but not whole sentences. If you can condense what you are trying to say down to just a few words I find this apps works pretty well.
Digital Nomads Thai Language Guide
The Digital Nomads Thai Language Guide is an application that you will want to avoid. The problem with this app is that there is no Thai script written in any of the translations. All the translations are written in English and you are expected to listen to the audio and repeat what is said, which on the noisy streets of Bangkok is very difficult.
Also you have to consider that Thai is a tonal language with five distinct tones. Get any of the tones wrong and you change the meaning of the word. For example, listen to the Thai words for ”far” and “close”.
Can you hear the subtle difference? More importantly, could you replicate the difference? You can imagine how important it is to get the tones right for these words when asking for directions. My recommendation on the Digital Nomads app is to avoid it.
This has become my favourite application for learning Thai on my iPhone. Using a system of pictures and memorization, the uTalk Thai teaches basic Thai vocabulary. What’s really great about this app is the game factor. Get the answer right and you gain points, but get it wrong and you lose points. Great for killing time while riding the metro or when stuck in a taxi during rush hour.
I also found this app to be a great conversation starter with the locals. Thais are naturally very inquisitive and if I’m in a restaurant waiting for my food I will start playing with it and in no time I’ve got the attention of the wait staff giggling with laughter when I get it wrong, but smiles and thumbs up when I get it right.
There are a number of Bangkok maps applications on the iTunes store and I downloaded three of them, Thailand Travel Guide, Bangkok Maps, and Bangkok Skytrain. All three of these are nothing but a collection of PDF images that the developer found online. There is no interactive use, no directions and no location search. I would save my money and avoid these apps. Instead use the iPhone’s built in map application which works great in Bangkok.
TRAVEL TIP! The best and cheapest map for the BTS Skytrain system is found on the back of the single journey ticket. These tickets are purchased every time you ride the skytrain and vary in price, depending on the length of your destination. On your first day riding the skytrain buy the cheapest ticket as an extra and keep it with you; this way you will always have a handy map of the BTS line.
Here is a couple of printable maps of the BTS Skytrain Line and the MRT Subway Line courtesy of KT Guest House.
iSeek Bangkok doesn’t have any built in maps but it has over 2000 listings of different attractions that most foreigners may want to visit. With a range of different categories and an easy-to-use navigation system this app will certainly help with getting around the city. What I particularly like about this app is that when clicking on the address button a new page launched with the address written in Thai – perfect for showing to taxi drivers.