You don’t tend to hear a lot of positive reports about Bangkok in our experience. Renowned for everything from temples and palaces to seedy go go bars and night markets, it’s well known globally for its reputation as a party city for backpackers and for some of the more outrageous elements of its nightlife.
We certainly didn’t hear anything good about Bangkok before our first visit in early 2016. Various friends and family warned us of the noise, the smell, the pollution – we were told of rats the size of cats and seedy bars on every corner, leaving our expectations about as low as they could get. Maybe that was a clue for how much we’d like it – we’ve found fairly consistently that when our expectations are low, our experiences and impressions of a country tend to be far more positive than we imagine they will be.
Yes, there’s no denying the dense smog, the traffic noise, the hassle from street sellers and the presence of the seedy underbelly of the city. But Bangkok is so much more than this – on the same street you can eat 50p pad Thai or dine at expensive restaurants; buy rip off nikes for £10 or shop in Chanel. It’s the contrasts that make it such an amazing, vibrant place to be. All cities are full of them but in Bangkok they seem far greater than other places.
Our most recent visit, post the 2016 bombings, with the city shocked by the loss of much loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the country as a whole in mourning, it took on yet another dimension. Shopping malls and BTS stations had increased security whilst portraits and shrines in honour of the king could be found of every corner – yet a wander through some of the less salubrious areas of the city showed the appetites for partying and ping pong shows certainly haven’t diminished in the wake of recent events.
We love the city skyline, the noise, the frenetic pace and the food amongst so much more that Bangkok has to offer. Here are some of our favourite things to do in one of our favourite cities:
Our top choice of the many night markets in Bangkok may be a surprise given its reputation, but bear with us. Patpong offers some of our favourite and cheapest street food as well as plenty of the usual knock off merchandise and ping pong shows. It’s also home to the Pink Panther bar – where every night at 11pm the dancers step down from the podiums for a break whilst a make shift boxing ring is hastily created for a free amateur Muay Thai fight. The market is packed with atmosphere and great for people watching.
The food in Thailand as everyone knows is fantastic and the street food is a particular highlight. Whether it’s deep fried crickets, mango sticky rice, pad Thai or any other traditional dish you fancy, you’ll be able to find it served up fresh on the street without searching too hard. Normal precautions on street food apply but touch wood we’ve never had any issues and Bangkok is one of our top places for street food.
On a slightly classier note, Bangkok is home to some of the most impressive high end shopping malls we’ve seen, and their food courts are a sight to behold. From stunning patisserie to hokkaido inspired cheese tarts, fresh sushi, Korean desert restaurants and so much more, you can find an incredible array of food from around the world at amazing prices. So we don’t actually shop, just eat! Our faves are EM Quartier and Siem Paragon, the food is awesome.
One of the Best City Skylines
Bangkok is a vast sprawl of a city and the scale only becomes truly obvious from above. The sky bars offer the perfect vantage and are a great way to see the city skyline – our favourites are The Banyan Tree and Cloud… it’s not a budget friendly activity but well worth it, especially if you can catch sunset while you’re there. You can also take a circular trip on the BTS at night or have a wander round Lumphini park for cheaper views of this awesome skyline. On our first visit before we were on a ridiculously small budget we were also lucky enough to stay at the Amara hotel which has a brilliant rooftop bar and infinity pool.
Thai History & Culture
As well as shopping, drinking, eating and partying there’s also tons of places to get an introduction to Thai history and culture in Bangkok. Sail across the river on a dragon boat to the Royal palace – an enormously grand complex where you can see the precious emerald Buddha amongst many other temples and monuments. It’s also worth visiting Wat Pho temple, one of my all time favourite temples in South East Asia, which is home to an enormous reclining Buddha statue.
Plenty of Day Trip Options
If you’re lucky enough to be in the area for a longer period of time, there’s also loads of great day trips you can take for a different view of the area. One of the more popular ones and another great spot for eating all the Thai food you can manage is to explore the nearby floating market. Best way to get there is by taxi early in the morning and you then queue for a boat to take you round the winding channels and browse wares on offer.
For history fans, which we are, a trip to the River Kwai bridge is a bit of a trek but still a worthwhile day trip, or perhaps a one nighter if there’s time. We loved our day here seeing the historic WW2 bridge and visiting the museums although we had a slightly roundabout journey to reach our destination… including our first (unplanned) experience of hitchhiking!
So in spite of the less savoury aspects – the noise, the smell, the traffic amongst others, and it’s less than glamorous reputation, we absolutely love Bangkok and can’t wait to head back there!