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How to not hate Bangkok

cb 8 months ago

When it comes to Bangkok, the verdict seems to be clear: The country’s capital is one of the least desirable places to visit in Thailand. Most people come here for two or three nights taking advantage of the cheap flights in and out of the two national airports in town. They will hit a few temples, the markets, and maybe get some shopping done. I recently spent three weeks in Bangkok and would like you to see the city from a different perspective: as a chilled metropolis with plenty of culture and character.

That is why I have compiled a list of six tips for you to not only not hate but maybe even start loving Bangkok.

Stay away from Khaosan Road

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to stay away from infamous Khaosan Road with its bars, expensive restaurants, the cheap overpriced shopping, and the ping-pong bars. I’m not saying don’t have a look, and if you’re up for a night on the town, this one will hit the spot. But Khaosan Road is not Bangkok; it’s as exemplary of Thailand as Las Vegas is of the US.

And it’s not like the city was short of alternatives. For example:

  • If you’re looking for shopping, head to the weekend market in Chatuchak. The prices are lower, the choice is greater, and you will see that a visit to the market with its adjacent park is also a favorite weekend activity for the locals.
  • If you’re looking for restaurants, bars, and live music, have a look at the southeastern end of Phra Sumen Road. It’s also in the old town but a lot less tacky.

There is one excellent reason to go near Khaosan: At the eastern end of Rambuttri Alley, by the roundabout, there is a group of ladies selling all the brilliant Thai desserts, from sticky rice to grilled pumpkin to green noodles with coconut sauce.

Sleep in the right place

Needless to say, that you also want to stay away from the hostels, guesthouses, and, increasingly, hotels on Khaosan and in the vicinity. It’s noisy. It’s overpriced or shabby. And it’s not a way to experience Bangkok.

Another factor in finding the perfect accommodation is avoiding street noise — of which there is, make no mistake, an abundance in this city of more than 8 million. One option is the plethora of fresh, modern places downtown with better noise insulation (around Putham Wan und Lumphini). But I like to be near the old town. After some trial and error with other hostels, I fell for the Baan Nai Trok: Located in a traditional wooden house tucked away in an alley by the channels, the hostel is rather new and minimalist. There are four 4-bed dorms and a room with only one bunk bed. All beds are huge and soft (by Thai standards). The owner cooks a mean choice of traditional Thai breakfasts. The Baan Nai Trok even comes with a small garden (and plenty of seating). But best of all, there is no traffic noise!

Get the hang of Bangkok’s public transport

First of all, I refuse to understand why anyone would use a tuk-tuk in Bangkok: As somebody who doesn’t know the distances and rates, you are bound to end up paying too much for spending a lot of time in the smog of Bangkok’s traffic jams without air condition.

So, if you want your personal ride, get a cab and get a cab that uses the meter as long as you don’t know the prices. BTW: The different taxi colors in Bangkok indicate only different companies with the yellow-green cabs being driven by their owners.

However, rather than getting frustrated with haggling cab and tuk-tuk drivers and getting stuck in traffic, I recommend getting to know the dense network of public transport services available in Bangkok.

  • The metro/train network in Bangkok runs overground and currently only in the new parts of town (among other places to Chatuchak market and Suvarnabhumi Airport) but continues to grow and is the fastest way to get anywhere.
  • Several boat lines are running across the river and along some of the channels. This is also a very fast way to move around and cheap at that. The stops have signs in English, with ticket prices and next/prior stops indicated. Just make sure you don’t fall into the water or get it splashed into your mouth. These waterways are about as filthy as water can get.
  • For rides to and within the old town, get a bus. You’ll not be much slower that the tuk-tuk as you’ll get stuck in the same traffic jams. But you’ll be sitting above the traffic for a better view and a better connection to local life. To boot: Some of the red buses are completely free to use.

One word of warning, though: Sometimes the buses will change their route or boats won’t stop at your stop. Stay alerted and make sure the conductor is aware of your destination.

There are multiple online resources for the various public transport providers in town. I find the best way to plot a route is either a knowledgeable local at your hostel or hotel or Google Maps.

To stay connected to your whereabouts when offline, I recommend downloading the maps.me app (the Google Maps offline maps feature does not work in Thailand). It can’t give you public transport routes, but it will tell you where you are and you can search locations (streets, hotels, etc.) offline.

Eat local (really local)

What would Thailand be without its cuisine? And since every cook seems to have a slightly different take on classics such as Pad Thai, noodle soup, skewers, or omelet, it’s my greatest pleasure to roam the streets and sample. There is food along the channels, in the markets, and literally at every corner. Sometimes, a group of ladies cooks up a storm and sells bags full of single servings until they run out (check out the offer in 13°45’34.9″N 100°30’11.9″E — I had four courses for less than $2.50, supplies usually run out by 6:30). All you have to do is point and enjoy.

To anybody concerned about food poisoning I say two things: A) These people cook openly visible to their customers, and they sell to locals, their neighbors, daily commuters — do you think they could afford to sell bad food without losing their reputation and all their customers? B) The cart vendors can only buy so many ingredients before they run out of money and storage space on their cart. So the chances of your food coming fresh from the market are bigger here than they are in a restaurant where nasty things might hide behind kitchen doors…

Get the right sightseeing dosage

I always recommend taking sightseeing slowly. And Bangkok is no exception from the rule. With temperatures above 30°C and a burning sun, you might even take it another notch down. See the Top Ten but weave them into a walk along the quaint channels where you can discover small potted gardens and monitor lizards with beautiful patterns sunbathing. Walk around the back alleys: The old town has plenty of the old quarters left with small wooden houses and plenty of character (not to mention food…).

The new town of Bangkok can get hectic and noisy and seems to be buzzing at all times of the day. But then there the parks that are dotted around the city, which are oases of quiet with people, who are meeting for a picnic or to practice Tai Chi. Join in and be enchanted by real life in Bangkok.

Another way to get some quiet is to be an early bird: Did you know that many of the smaller temples in Bangkok open their doors at 5 or 6 in the morning? Beat the crowds (and the heat) by getting up early. Plus, photos you take in the morning light (and the afternoon light) — known as the golden hour — usually come out much nicer without having to put in too much effort.

For the big’ones like Golden Mount or Wat Pho, which open later, it still pays to arrive before opening hours to avoid long queues and get a little bit of that golden morning light.

When it gets too hot check out the city’s smaller and quirkier museums like the Seashell Museum, the Batcat Toy Museum, or the Queen’s Gallery. There are dozens of museums in this town. So there’s bound to be one sparking your interest.

Shopping is a hobby in Bangkok

Just like you’ll always see people with some small snack or drink they’ve just bought from the gazillions of small vendors around town you’ll also see a whole load of shopping opportunities.

It would be a shame never to have seen Chatuchak market, never to have gotten lost in the endless maze that’s the Chinatown market or never to have seen a floating market, and you have to at least once have entered the maze of malls around Siam Square.

But try and change your view: instead of getting stressed by the pace and the flashy colors and everybody having something to sell, turn the experience into a game. Take your time and don’t let anyone rush you. Appreciate the art of wrapping everything imaginable into plastic. And if you’re on a longer journey: Bangkok is the perfect place to renew your gear — regardless of whether you are looking for a budget solution or the big brand names, you’ll find it in one of the malls along Sukhumvit. In fact, the reason I ended up staying for three weeks in this beautiful town was my camera, which was broken. The Olympus Bangkok branch serviced the camera not only well but also for free.

Have you stayed in Bangkok? Did you enjoy it or couldn’t you get out fast enough? Sound off in the comments!

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26 Comments

  1. Hello Carola, thank you for sharing your story. Other people always suggested me to do not visit Bangkok for the reasons you mentioned. But honestly now I am much more curious to visit Bangkok, because, with your suggestions, it seems much more affordable. The only thing I am still uncertain is related to the food prepared by the people along the roads. If it is true that the people who sell food along the streets need to take care of their reputation because of their usual customers and neighbors, it is also true that the locals are accustomed to those hygienic conditions, and we are not. Could be possible that this is the reason why we sometimes have a bad experience with food prepared by people along the roads?

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Thank you for your comment, Eduardo!
      You might have a point. But I still think that the street food in SEA is a lot safer than people give it credit for. The assumption is that everything is dirty and unsanitary but the cooks take a lot of care to clean their work areas and the food, and everything is cooked really well. I’ve been living off street food for the past 8 weeks and haven’t had a single issue…
      So you should give it a try at least!
      Happy travels!
      C

  2. Elena 2017-04-29

    Every city has it’s own charm. I’m sure Bangkok is no exception. I’m not scared of what people say of a place, that will not make me skip it. Can’t wait to get there someday and share my own story!

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      That’s a very good philosophy, Elena! Hope you make it to this neck of the woods some day 🙂

      Happy travels!
      C

  3. Ilana 2017-04-29

    Bangkok can be a cultural shock at the first time, but if you have an open heart and an open mind, the relationship with the city can come along smoothly!

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Couldn’t have said it better, Ilana!

      Happy continued travels!
      C

  4. AllGudThings 2017-04-30

    Actually you had made the correct opening statement. I myself had never preferred to stay in Bangkok for more than a day because of it being so touristy, overcrowded, and noisy. But you have mentioned some valid points which I will love to try in Bangkok during my next visit. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Yes, please do give it another chance! I promise it’s worth it 🙂

      Happy continued travels!
      C

  5. chikonahoka 2017-04-30

    Yes yes yes! If you don’t be “those” kinds of typical tourists, Bangkok is a completely different destination. And double that for Chatuchak market – I’m not even a market/shopping traveler and even I adore Chatuchak market!

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Thank you! 😉

  6. danik 2017-05-01

    Great tips here. I cant wait to get to Bangkok and this post will help me out when planning my visit.

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Thanks! Happy travels!

  7. Katie Featherstone 2017-05-01

    Thanks for this. I actually did hate Bangkok, but maybe it would be better with these tips- I think so. We didn’t stay in Khaosan Road either and after visiting for half an hour I would never go back!

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      I hope you get a chance to give it another chance!

      Happy travels!
      C

  8. I love Bangkok and I think the reasons why are listed above, I do most of what you have said above. This is a great guide in order to get the best from Bangkok. I have visited Bangkok about 6 times, yes I still love it. I would say for a first timer definitely see Khaosan Road but only look. As you’ve said it is expensive, so pop in only 1 bar have a drink say you’ve been there and woren the tshirt then exit. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Great advice! 🙂

      Happy continued travels!
      C

  9. stylishtravlr 2017-05-02

    Great post ! I can definitely tell you lived there longer ! I visited Bangkok last year and I stayed there for a week. I did most of the tourist stuff and I felt like a 7 days is too much for that city but of course I still loved it. I didnt stay near Kho San Road but I wouldn’t say to anyone to stay away from it tho, I had the best time there meeting many locals and people around the world by drinking cocktails from the buckets 🙂 but of course not everyone likes to drink so its understandable they wouldn’t enjoy it 🙂

    Reply
    1. Carola Bieniek 2017-05-04

      Thank you for your comment, Adrianna! Totally agree: You can meet awesome people in Khaosan. I would just caution anybody to think that this is how Bangkok is. So I think you did it right: Go there to party and sleep somewhere else 🙂

      Happy continued travels!
      C

  10. Christian 2017-05-07

    I’ve been to Bangkok countless times and my opinion turned from hating this city to loving it. Excellent article Carola!
    I can confirm that all your tips are useful and make staying in Bangkok (more)enjoyable. Maps.me was new to me, thanks for that!

    Reply
  11. Kate 2017-05-07

    I think every city comes with it’s own set of dread. Thanks for letting us know how to have a successful trip to Bangkok. It’s never really been on my radar because of the crowds but, maybe one day I’ll get to check it out!

    Reply
  12. Recovering Hippie 2017-05-07

    People can be really put off my capital cities when they are just passing through. I get the same reaction about London, but once you get under the skin of a place, and know what not to do and where not to go, you can really see another side of the city. Your tips are really great, and I can relate to them. I will definitely be revisiting this site before heading to Bangkok.

    Reply
  13. Adrenaline Romance 2017-05-07

    Great tips! We are planning to visit Bangkok this year (then proceeding to Krabi for some rock climbing). These tips will definitely be of help to us. And yes, we’ll definitely try the local food….including the weird ones! Hehehe!

    Reply
  14. Suresh 2017-05-09

    Hi, good to hear you from khao San road, bangkok. one of my favorite place too. your blog is very detailed.

    Reply
  15. beachbum1989 2017-05-24

    Great to see someone else loving Bangkok! My home for the past 3 years! Check out my Bangkok to do list on https://beachbuminbkk.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/bangkok-what-to-do/

    Reply
  16. beachbum1989 2017-05-24

    This is a great article and so nice to see someone else enjoying Bangkok! Check out my latest article on things to do in Bangkok, my home for the last three years! https://beachbuminbkk.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/bangkok-what-to-do/

    Reply
  17. Victoria 2017-07-13

    Hahaha great article! A few of these places I’ve never heard of and I have lived here for a year. Thanks for the suggestions

    Reply

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