So you hate Bangkok? You think it’s too hot, overcrowded - just a concrete jungle paralysed by endless traffic jams. So then, why does the Thai capital remain one of the most visited cities in the world and loved by so many?
Bangkok is a city that divides opinion to the extreme. Some enjoy it so much that they end up extending their stay here indefinitely, whilst others run for the nearest bus, train or plane, making a beeline for the beach as soon as possible. Here we take a light hearted look at all the common tourist complaints about Bangkok and tell you exactly what you’re (probably) doing wrong.
1. It takes ages to go anywhere
Sit in the back of a taxi during rush hour and it might feel like the city is just one giant parking lot for Thailand. Statistically, Bangkok was recently ranked as the eighth worst place in the world for traffic. Honestly, we don’t want to visit the other seven.
Bangkok Mass transit System! That’s the BTS Skytrain to you and me, the quickest, cheapest and most convenient way of getting around the city. Two lines take you to all the major areas, with journeys costing around 20 to 40 baht. Bangkok also has an equally efficient underground MRT network that stretches from the domestic train station at Hua Lamphong all the way past Chatuchak in the north. If you’re really in a rush and need to reach an awkward place, you can always jump on the back of a motorbike taxi; it might feel like you’re playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded barrel the first time, but these guys seriously know what they’re doing, and can cut through even the thickest traffic in a matter of minutes.
2. One big concrete jungle
You’ve been staring at Google Image’s gallery of idyllic, white-sanded beaches for the last six months in preparation for your trip to Thailand, but as soon as you’re off the plane all you see is giant slabs of concrete holding up highways, towering hotels and chunky apartment blocks.
Bangkok is no London or Singapore when it comes to green spaces, but that’s not to say they don’t exist. The best of the bunch is Lumpini Park – Bangkok’s answer to New York’s Central Park – situated right in the middle of the city and surrounded by the spectacular CBD skyline. Walk around, laze on the grass or join in with the locals as they gyrate along in unison to the dance workouts during the evening. One mass of green space in Bangkok which goes almost forgotten about is Bang Kra Jao, also known as ‘Bangkok’s Green Lung’, with bicycle tours proving particular popular here. The Chao Phraya River also offers another escape from the big bad city; jump on a river cruise or just float across to the quieter and easy-going Thonburi side (where you can also explore via the klongs), or go upstream to the quaint Ko Kret ‘island’ to discover a quieter side of life.
3. People! Everywhere!
It’s a metropolis of well over 10 million, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of visiting tourists, so things can sometimes get a little bit crowded. Whether you’re shuffling along the narrow, stall-lined walkways at Siam or Sukhumvit, rubbing shoulders with tour groups at a temple, or struggling to get a table in a club, sometimes you just want to escape it all.
Crowds flock to the major attractions in high season (such as the Grand Palace, Floating Market, Wat Pho, Chatuchak Market); avoid them by setting your alarm early and being the first through the door (you can see all the opening times via this page on our site). Alternatively, try one of these Top 10 ‘Off the beaten path’ things to do, including a boat trip through the klongs, a locals’ favourite flea market, and one of the most bizarre museums in the world. A stroll around Bangkok’s Old City is one of our personal favourite remedies to beating the crowds; much of this area of Bangkok retains its sleepy charm of yesteryear, with congestion levels noticeably less than downtown areas of the city.
4. So hot, so very, very hot
You know a city is hot when your legs start to sweat after a few minutes’ walk. Yes, Bangkok really is that hot, and going outside in the middle of the steamiest month (April) can feel too much like stepping into a sauna.
Plan your trip between the months of November and January when the climate settled and less intense. The biggest thermaphobes might want to avoid March, April and May, as these are the hottest months, with relatively little to no respite in the form of rain. Other than that, walk slow, use umbrellas even when it isn’t raining and put ice in absolutely everything. To stay super chilled, check out these 10 ways to stay cool in Bangkok.
5. You booked a bad hotel in the wrong area
Newsflash, Bangkok is huge! What’s more, every district retains a distinct character that sets it apart and offers visitors unique experiences. This is one of the reasons why Bangkok is so loved, but if you’re a first timer visitor and you book your hotel in the wrong area then you can have a frustrating time of travelling across the city to do the stuff that interests you.
We’ve used our wealth of knowledge to create this ‘Where to Stay in Bangkok on Your 1st Trip’ page, which gives you all the honest pros and cons of each area of the city, so you can choose which place is right for you.
6. You think everybody is out to rip you off
Just like any other city in the world, Bangkok does have a very few individuals who specialise in the art of trying to empty your pockets of every last baht you have. The keyword there is ‘few’, as the majority of tour operators, guesthouses, taxi drivers and vendors are going to give you a relatively fair deal.
We’ve covered all of the classic Bangkok scams here (such as tuk-tuk drivers telling you the Grand Palace is closed, dodgy menu-less Patpong bars, and fake jewellery); educate yourself before coming and you'll probably not get ripped off. As for shopping or getting a taxi or tuk-tuk in the main tourist areas, sometimes it’s just best to accept you’re going to be paying a few extra baht compared to a local. Inflated tourist prices are a universal fact of life.
7. Too many malls
Bangkok almost has as many malls as it has hotels, or at least it might seem that way if you take a walk from Siam to Chid Lom. For many, the wall-to-wall megamalls are a dream come true; for others looking for some culture, it’s a complete turn off.
If shopping really isn’t your thing, skip Siam and lower Sukhumvit altogether, and head for the Riverside or Old City areas of Bangkok where you’d be hard-pushed to find even a single shopping mall. If you need some retail therapy but want to avoid the whole commercial scene, check out one of the city’s many night markets, go antique hunting with these 10 vintage stores, or do your shopping on the water at any of these floating markets.
8. It’s not ‘real’ Thailand
You’ve come half way around the world to be surrounded by hundreds of other backpackers telling you how they’ve done exactly what you’ve got planned for the next month, only better. Chances are you’ve booked your hotel or hostel on or around Khao San Road or sat in one of the expat bars in lower Sukhumvit.
Staying near Khao San or in one of the expat-heavy hotspots of Sukhumvit isn’t necessarily a mistake, just as long as you don’t plan to spend 100% of your time there, otherwise it will start to feel like city made for tourists. Head out and explore the other major areas of Bangkok to get a much better understanding of what the city is all about. Escape the tired old travellers’ tales of how ‘Myanmar is the new Thailand’ or ‘how a month of teaching in a Cambodian orphanage is life changing’ by heading to these 5 cool places to meet locals.