Yep I said it. Bangkok is cool, but for me, it hasn’t lived up to the hype that all the backpackers and bloggers before me have raved about.
Bangkok is certainly authentically Asian, there’s no doubt about that. Think NYC Chinatown on steroids. Hot, dirty, loud, crowded, the smell of fish/seafood constantly intruding your nasal passages. No matter whether you’re staying in an apartment, hostel, or hotel, it’s difficult NOT to live like a local for you’re always walking amongst them constantly sweating from the hustle. And much like NYC, Bangkok has multiple personalities. One minute, you could be walking through the poorest of neighborhoods, and if you take the train one stop, you would be surrounded by modern buildings, Starbucks, and skyscrapers.
Walking down the street in the pouring rain, your toenails are full to the tips with dirt and grime, and you’ve been reduced to walking barefoot. You’re dripping in sweat, and the heat coming off all the food carts isn’t helping the situation. You’ve forgotten your umbrella at home at the expense of hoping for sunshine, and the smell of fish balls fills the streets. Left and right, men are yelling at you from different directions in Thai trying to lure you into hiring their tuk tuk. It can all easily become so agitating, but in the midst of Bangkok’s monsoon season, you can’t help but embrace the experience and laugh it off.
During September/October, when humidity is unbearable, the Skytrain and MRT are a welcome relief as the air conditioning is on full blast. Costs to ride depend on what stop you’re going to, but one ride will cost you no more than 40 baht. Buses and boats are certainly a more unique way to travel and cheaper. Even taxis are cheap, but as always, I won’t advocate for cabs when more convenient options are available. One mode of transport that is a must-try is a tuk tuk aka an open-air moped/taxi. Talk about adventure. When taking a tuk tuk ride, hold on because, to the drivers, there are no road rules. They will go in whatever lane, sidewalk, or direction they damn well please.
Beyond the madness of the tuk tuk drivers and folks on mopeds, the Thai are a simple, sweet, mostly peaceful people, and unless someone is trying to sell you something, you have to be the one to start the conversation. While I was in Bangkok, I never felt like my safety was threatened. After you make a purchase of any kind, it’s custom for people to make a small bow with their hands in prayer position, and it’s only polite to do the same. Waiters and waitresses in restaurants will stand over you until you tell them what you want to order. They’re there to serve you, and it’s like they are ordered to be at your constant beck and call. Strangers will smile at you, and security/authority figures will salute you. Overall, it’s a very friendly and welcoming culture.
Many parts of Asia, I feel, are very service oriented. I hear this is especially in true in Japan, and Bangkok is no different. It takes some getting used to because good service is often lacking in the USA. In a way, their loyalty to good service makes me feel uncomfortable like I’m above them, which I am not. I always strive to act and feel like I’m on a level playing field where everyone is equal. Over the last few years, I’ve become very self-sufficient that being waited on hand and food is difficult to adapt to.
The most enjoyable parts of Bangkok for me were seeing monks dressed in their traditional orange robes, meeting a Thai tranny at a Big C supermarket, visiting all of the ornate Buddha temples, Chinatown, the Siam shopping area, the newly opened Asiatique market, and the weekend markets. The weekend markets are just about the best thing ever, and that’s the type of shopping I can handle.
The malls in Bangkok are a series of small, boutique concession stands, and they tend to be crowded with teenagers. If you shop for clothes, it’s all about eyeballing the sizes you need because there aren’t any dressing rooms. Also, a word of advice, don’t eat the food in the malls. The food is still cheap, but not as tasty or authentic.
The Silom area seems to be a younger more modern neighborhood albeit the side streets/prostitute avenues are a bit dingy and best to be avoided. The first time I visited Silom, I was greeted with all the restaurants I’m used to seeing back home as well as a HUGE bike rally known as “car free day.” As I explored further, I came across too many strip clubs, “massage” parlors, etc., and well, let’s just say, Bangkok makes little effort to hide the sex trafficking and prostitution problems.
As far as I can tell, the only thing Bangkok has going for it is how cheap everything is. Everyone who is considered broke as a joke in the USA can afford luxury in Thailand. This is the place you can take the effort to get to and do all the same things you would back home with your friends just in a different country.