When someone here’s that I like Bangkok they assume I’m insane. After a couple of nights of drinking from buckets on Khaosan Road, competing with others to get the best photo of Wat Pho and getting ripped off by Tuk Tuk drivers, most people are sick of the place. And it’s true, Bangkok is gray and dirty and cruel. It’s massive and horrifying to navigate.
Wait, why would I want to go to Bangkok again?
It’s also diverse, it’s a food paradise, and it’s a hub for many travelers in SE Asia. You’ll never run out of things to do and people to meet. And to make sure you enjoy it as much as I did, here are the ways to make your visit to Bangkok awesome:
1. Meet the people:
Well, not all of them. Not the ones harassing you to get in their Tuk Tuk. But the beauty and curse of Bangkok is that it’s not made for tourists. It’s so massive that the tourist industry can only take up so much of it. Most of Bangkok’s citizens came here to find work, many for education. You’ll be confronted with their day-to-day life, which doesn’t revolve around tourists. It’s not always pretty, but always interesting. One way to experience the ways of the Thai people is to witness the National Anthem at 8 am and 6 pm. The best place to do so is at a busy BTS station like Siam.
And of course, you’ll meet every traveler in the book, from short-term holidayer over hardcore backpacker to digital nomad.
2. Visit the markets:
Most people visit Chatuchak market while in Bangkok. And while it is absolutely worthwhile, there are tons of other options. Try Rot Fai for piles of retro and vintage knick-knacks. Damnoen Saduak is the biggest and most popular floating market, but you could also try Talin Chan Market for a more authentic experience. Another favorite would be the Amulet Market, where you can get all kinds of Buddhist talismans.
3. Go to Bars and Coffee Shops
A city at the size of Bangkok must have its hidden gems when it comes to cafes. The added challenge is that you don’t just stumble around and find one in a back alley. In any case, if you want to stumble upon something in Bangkok you need to be rather patient. Good thing I did that for you!
Wonderful for coffee is the Silom area. I’ve spent a lot of time there and liked it a lot! One of the better coffee shops is “Everyday” by Sala Daeng BTS station. Another one here is Tazzima, tiny and hidden in Soi Silom 6. You may have to share a seat with a stranger because there’s so little space, but that makes it lovely! Also, visit Steve Cafe close to the Grand Palace. It’s not exactly secret but still a bit hidden. Oxcafe in Sukhumvit Soi 38 is pretty sweet, too.
My favorite bar is Jazz Happens on Pra-Arthit because it has an amazing ambient. Of course, Bangkok is THE destination for nightlife, so you won’t have problems finding a place to drink your Chang.
There are so many lists of things you can do in Bangkok, that there is no need to list them all again. Here are some activities in case you want to look outside the box:
4. Visit the Forensic Museum
Well, this one is weird and doesn’t necessarily reflect local culture. Bangkok is one of the medical focal points in Asia, though. And, despite being a bit morbid, the forensic museum is incredibly interesting. If you have time to spare, definitely come and take a look.
5. Hike in Kanchanaburi’s Erawan National Park
Bangkok is busy and loud and smells. Get a break from the buzzing streets and indulge in some of Thailand’s beautiful nature. You can buy a rather expensive tour, or head out on your own devices and take public transport. If you do that, take the bus to Kanchanaburi Bus Station from Sai Tai Taling Chan and there you can get a bus to the Kanchanaburi National Park. This should only be around 300-400 baht round-trip. Whatever way you do it, this is a whole day excursion. The National Park is full of little waterfalls, clear lakes, and lush jungle.
6. Climb Sathorn Unique „Ghost Tower”
Okay, this might be something for the more adventurous of you. Sathorn Unique was supposed to be a luxurious residential building overlooking Bangkok and the river. And while the twin Lebua State Tower blossomed, Sathorn Unique withered away. The crash of the Baht caused the owner to stop construction in 1997.
Since then the tower has seen a lot. It became a home for homeless people and street dogs, then it became a secret tourist attraction. When the dead body of a Swedish backpacker who committed suicide appeared, the tower was closed. Shortly after it re-opened, but now the owner took money for tourists to come in – supposedly making it safer.
The trip to the 43rd floor is daunting. The tower is covered in debris and graffiti. Now and then parts of the building break off and fall. But the craziest visitors get rewarded with a magnificent view and beautiful sunset.
My favorite thing about Bangkok:
In the end, the best thing about Bangkok is wandering along the side alleys. The city is simply not made to be walked, which gives pedestrians a unique view of the city. Make sure to always carry enough money for a taxi ride home! A short walk can easily turn into an hour long hike. I feel like this is largely responsible for how much I came to like the city because there is things to see in the little shop houses that the touristy areas don’t show you. When you search images of Bangkok, you’ll see skyscrapers and rivers and temples.
They do not capture the run-down facades, clogged streets, and barefoot hagglers. Bangkok is inexplicable, challenging and a total cultural shock to the system. Many people come expecting something else, and end up being disappointed. But if you know what you’re in for, you’ll find it a humbling holiday destination.