The city that at first repulsed but then enthralled me, Bangkok offers a little bit of everything to everyone. Arriving in Bangkok, people’s immediate reaction is to love it or hate it. Few, if any, have mixed opinions about it. The city is crowded, the pollution is bad, the traffic is endless, and the place seems to operate in a form of controlled chaos. Bangkok is a shock to the senses.
The city was founded after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. The new king, Taksin, established a capital in an area that was then called Thonburi. When Taksin’s reign ended in 1782, King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke reconstructed the capital on the east bank of the river and gave the city a very long ceremonial name which became shortened to its current official name, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, the City of Angels. Over the centuries, the city has grown into the metropolis it is today.
When I first came to Bangkok, I couldn’t wait to leave. Nothing appealed to me. As a city, there just wasn’t a lot to see. There were a plethora of temples, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and some malls. But after two days, I was ready to leave and never return. When I did return in 2007, I spent one night in the backpacker area of Khao San Road, and then left for the beaches.
Yet Bangkok does have a lot to offer. I just didn’t know it.
I was looking in all the wrong places. I was looking for the touristy stuff in a city that lacked touristy stuff, and so Bangkok never appealed to me beyond the party scene of Khao San and Patpong. When I decided to learn Thai and settle in Bangkok, it was with a heavy heart. There wasn’t anything to do here. How would I live?!
buddha statue's feet in bangkok
I quickly found out how wrong I was.
The longer I stayed in Bangkok, the more the city opened up and the more I realized that there was always something to do. Most notably, there’s the social scene. Bangkok has a vibrant nightlife and ex-pat community. For those looking to join the backpacker crowd, there are the bars of Khao San Road. For a different tourist crowd and some racy go-go bars, there’s Patpong, an area where all your dreams (or nightmares) can come true.
Then there is the ex-pat scene. Bangkok has a lot of ex-pats who cut loose every night. The city has a never-ending supply of ex-pat and after-hours bars that are packed no matter what day it is. Many of my friends give new meaning to going to work with hangovers. If it’s Wednesday, you can find all the ex-pat girls at Coyotes enjoying their free margaritas before people move to the trendy Bed Supper Club. This club is one of Bangkok’s “high society” clubs and features a lot of Bangkok’s young, foreign, rich, and beautiful. The club gets extremely packed on the weekend.
a example of traditional thai architecture in bangkok
Bangkok also offers a lot in the way of culinary delights. The Thais love to eat. Everywhere you go in the City of Angels, there is at least one street cart. There are street carts on little tiny streets where no one would seemingly go. And if you’re hungry at 5 a.m.? There’s someplace around that’s open. In fact, even if you trekked into the jungle, you’d probably find a food vendor waiting there to feed you. They’re prolific…and dish up simply the best food in Thailand. For as little as 50 cents, you’ll find the best pad thai, noodle soup, or curry. You can get little snacks like mango, spring rolls, or – my personal favorite – rodee quai (banana pancakes).
Worried about food preparation cleanliness? Well, the Thais are doing it, the food doesn’t sit around, and there’s no place for vermin to hide – it’s clean, if not cleaner, than eating at a restaurant.
Street food is important in Thai culture. During lunch and dinner time, Thais flood the outdoor street vendors for a quick, cheap, and delicious meal. So sit down on that plastic stool and do as the locals do. You’ll find excellent food at any stall, anywhere in Bangkok.
chao phraya river in bangkok
For those looking for more of an indoor feel, your options are also limitless. There’s Soi Nana for Arabian food, Thong Lo for Japanese, and Khao San for Western, backpacker fare. Head to Mai Kaidee’s near Khao San for excellent vegetarian Thai, Shoshana’s for Israeli, Senor Pico’s downtown for excellent (albeit a bit expensive) Mexican, or Sunrise Tacos for some cheap tacos at 5 a.m. Then there’s also Pomodoro, Tony Roma’s, Witches, and a whole lot more.
Interested in shopping? I can hardly think of a better place to buy! There are hundreds of malls here, and, in Bangkok, a mall is not just a mall. It’s a movie theater, restaurant plaza, bowling alley, bar, and food store. Everything is under one roof. Interested in electronics? There’s Pantip Plaza for cheap goods. There’s also MBK for cheap cell phones, video games, and bootleg DVDs. For upscale shops, there’s Siam Paragon or Emporium. For cheap clothes, head to Pratunam Plaza. There is a mall here for whatever you need.
on the river in bangkok, thailand
Then there are all the little street shops that sell whatever your heart desires and your mouth can haggle for. Downtown turns into a little night market every night as sellers come out offering all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. On the weekend, there is the immense JJ market that covers a few football fields and lets you buy everything from socks to cell phones at bargain prices.
So, no, Bangkok doesn’t have a lot of touristy sites. It’s crowded. There’s pollution. But there is also so much more. There’s food. There’s excitement. There’s chaos.
Look beyond your first impressions of Bangkok, and you’ll find one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world.