Before visiting Bangkok, you’ll probably be pretty excited by what it has to offer. After a few days, you’ll hate it. If you’re there for a long period of time, you’ll probably love it. Bangkok is a bit of a horrible city, but one you can get used too and choose to enjoy once you know it a bit better. Unfortunately, both of my visits were short enough to be stuck in the same crap as most tourists and I wouldn’t return for the city itself. Here’s why:
- Avoid Chinatown. It’s much more exciting when you see pictures and videos than it is in person. It’ll probably be where the cheapest accommodation is if you search online, but that’s because it’s absolutely miles and miles away from anything and is just full of horrible smells and dirty streets. You’ll want to get out of there pretty quickly but it’s so far from everything that it’ll take you too long. Just avoid it from the start; you’re not missing anything
- Amazing ancient architecture gets boring. You’ve probably already Googled some temples and palaces to take Instagram-worthy photos in front of, but don’t rush to go see them. They’re absolutely everywhere and the busier ones often have hefty entrance fees attached. The more you explore, the more you realise there’s big gold buildings with giant Buddha and colourful dragon statues everywhere. They’re usually quiet, free and peaceful so don’t rush into seeing them all because TripAdvisor says so. Even schools have buildings that will make your jaw drop!
- Tame Tuk-tuk. They’re absolutely everywhere you go and often cost more than any other means of transport because tourists enjoy the novelty of them; tuk-tuks are a personal but slow way to get around Bangkok and you’ll likely be hassled by the drivers as soon as you arrive. My cousin advised me to approach them yourself and if you want to use them often, get the contact details of one “tame” driver and always use him; he’ll likely cut you much better deals as you’re a returning customer. Or just don’t use them because they’re not that great.
- “Cheap cheap” isn’t so cheap. Sure everything is much cheaper than back home, but if you’re travelling all these small expenditures really add up! You’ll end up eating out all the time, buying a few drinks everyday and paying for everything you want to visit. If you’re on a typical holiday budget it’s all good, but months of travelling is going to need some strict budgeting and I found Asia in general to cost a lot more than places like Eastern Europe and North Africa.
- Everyone’s selling something, even police. Trying to feed their family is totally understandable, but it can get very annoying being approached for what seems like a friendly conversation, only to have a local trying to sell you something completely impractical for your travels (no, I don’t want to buy two suits and get one free to jam into my backpack). Occasionally you’ll even get a police officer telling you all about a one-day “free” offer somewhere, only to ask you for money to get there. It’s never one day only and it’s very rarely worth buying anything from somebody that has approached you.
- Trust in street food! Go slowly when you arrive and just try street food once per day. Buy from busy street vendors in central areas and pay that tiny bit extra. Go for chicken, shrimp or pork if meat is on your radar. Slowly build up to the days where you’ll buy every meal from the side of the road for pennies when your body is more accustomed to fried everything. Food poisoning was never once an issue for me in Thailand, although I feared it for a week or two upon arrival.
- There’s nowhere to relax. It’s an incredibly hot and humid city with busy roads and low-quality pavements everywhere. Sometimes you just want to go and chill out in a park, inhale some lovely fresh air and relax. Unfortunately, Bangkok isn’t the place to do that. I can’t really give you any advice on what to do about this other than treat yourself to a private room with aircon every now and again. I’m just warning you; relaxation isn’t a thing (super cheap massages are a temporary fix).
- Alcohol is expensively cheap. Back home I can pop to a supermarket and buy a crate of beer at 50p per drink. In Bangkok the shops aren’t going to save you a great deal of money; it’ll still be over a quid for a drink. However, once you head into the bars and restaurants you’ll be paying under £2 per drink, which isn’t exceptionally cheap but makes it worthwhile… until you start doing it every day out of boredom and delete your travel funds.
- There’s not much to do. All the advice I’ve given above covers pretty much everything there is to do. See buildings, buy stuff and eat/drink. I’d say two days is enough time to see the basic of Bangkok. Six days on my first visit was definitely overkill.
- Use Grab taxis. It’s like Uber but a lot easier and cheaper. Asia has adopted Grab as its primary transportation app and although regular taxi drivers hate it; it’s excellent. You’ll get picked up pretty quickly and given a fixed price you agree too before ordering your ride. It’s particularly good if you’re looking for cheap airport transfers.
- It’s a great flight-hub. Maybe you’ll fly to Bangkok because it’s the cheapest destination in Asia from home, or maybe you’ll fly home from Bangkok due to the prices. All I know is Bangkok serves as a great flight hub when getting from anywhere, to anywhere in Asia. It often adds a lot of hours to your transport time, but the savings can be un-missable and it’s popular enough to have all the western comforts that take the pain away from the stressful travel times.
I’d say don’t bother visiting Bangkok, but it’s inevitable if you’re backpacking around south east Asia so just try and get it over with. Your first visit will be the worst visit – you’ll know what to expect after that and be prepared for the stress of the city. Don’t go to Bangkok to see Bangkok, go to Bangkok because it’s on the way to somewhere more enjoyable.