The first time I was in Bangkok it was February 2014, during the apex of the protest. Shutdown Bangkok was the theme that was pushing million of people into the streets of Thailand’s capital. The experience was overwhelming from every point of view.
Bangkok is a frenetic cosmopolitan city. With over 11 million people it’s, by far, the most populated city in Thailand. New modern buildings are growing in every corner. The skytrain line is extending, transforming every village that it touch in a new and modern epicenter. The modernity coexists with messy local markets and the famous stands of street food are to be found in the most unexpected places.
The city, with its traffic, noise, and smells, can be overwhelming by itself. If you add a protest and the fact that was the first time that I set my foot in Southeast Asia, you will understand that I was happy to leave. It’s not that I didn’t like the Bangkok. I was also fascinated by the protest, which felt more like a big festival; but it was a lot to take in.
During my travels in Southeast Asia I ended up going back to Bangkok few times to catch flights or to get visas. From Bangkok you always find some cheap deal for the neighboring countries and there are all the embassies that you need. Even if I was staying just for a couple of day at a time, Bangkok was really growing on me! The chaos, that at first looked just like chaos, started to make sense and every time I was discovering something new and exciting in the city, to the point that I felt the need to stop there for a while. And so I did.
I think that the main point in Bangkok is that it’s a city to live in more than to visit. If you are used to travel in Europe, where each city has its list of monument and sightseeing that you can’t miss on your tourist itinerary, you will probably be disappointed by BKK.
Bangkok is a way of living, eating, moving. It’s dynamic, active, authentic. It can be holy and profane, brutal and gentle. It can smell like frangipani and stink like putrefied rubbish. It’s naughty and conservative. In Bangkok there is the world, and that’s why I love it.
I LOVE the fact that you can find the newest and fanciest mall, packed with expensive brands, but when you walk out you will find a street market with the cheapest clothes. There, in front of the fancy Siam Paragon, there are street vendors. Those big malls are appearing everywhere, they are works of architectures and design with clean lines and crazy looking decorations. Terminal 21 for example has a different theme for each floor: Paris, Istanbul, San Francisco, London. It feels like a mini Las Vegas, but to be honest, I liked it. Siam Central has a crazy food court on the top floor and it’s always packed with groups of students, tourists, teenagers, and the biggest variety of people.
I LOVE that you never know what you’re going to see in the street; broken busses alternate with new fancy cars, super tacky flashy tuk tuks, and why not a random parade with loud music and colorful carts to keep the tradition alive. Often there carts are going around promoting Muay Thai matches or advertising other things, other times they would close the entire street for a massive parade.
I LOVE that you can choose to get a coffee on the side of the street or in the most hipster of the hipster cafes. If you like coffee, in Bangkok you are covered. Everywhere you will see the stands with iced or warm thai coffee, but if you are in need of your flat white or espresso, you are spoiled. You can check Nomadic Note, which advises on the best coffees in town.
I LOVE the fact that Bangkok is super hipster. It’s so easy to find hipster style clothes in every market or mall. Stylish sunglasses are invading the city as well crazy accessories. And of course the many cafes. One of my favorite has to be Casa Lapin but you can find plenty!
I LOVE the fact that I can easily get around with the skytrain so that I don’t have to argue with some taxi/tuk tuk driver, which, by the way, are officially my new arch enemy. I’d rather walk half an hour from the station then have to bargain again, again, and again with a driver. I’m over it! With the skytrain you can get almost anywhere in the city and then either walk or catch a taxi for a short ride, if you really need to. The BTS is changing the face of the city as well: around each station new businesses are born. One example is On Nut. Before the BTS arrived there it was a village with wooden houses, now there are new and affordable buildings with all the comforts at a few steps, like a local market with food, clothes and music, and even a Tesco.
I LOVE that you can have a cheap beer in some dodgy bar in Sukhumvit or a fancy drink on some gorgeous rooftop. The rooftops are a thing and Bangkok have some of the best. Again you are spoiled for choices; there are some very posh ones that require a booking and a dress code, and some easy going ones. The Skybar is the most famous one but there is the Scirocco, Muse, Above 11 and many other to choose from. Here is your guide to the best rooftop bars.
I LOVE that I can dress like I want. There are so many styles in Bangkok, so much experimenting with clothes, perfect makeup and accessories. Sometimes I like that ‘Sex and the City’ feeling, and Bangkok has it!
I LOVE the markets, all of them! Flower markets, weekend markets, street markets, night markets, food markets…there is always a market to go to. My favorite is Chatuchak weekend market. It’s hectic! There are so many things it’s crazy: food, souvenirs, clothes, independent designers, art, furniture, wooden carvings… you name it, it’s there. Another unmissable market is the flower one: Pak Khlong Talat. I never even buy flowers, but I love wander around the colors and the smells. If you like to bargain for extremely cheap stuff, you have to pay a visit to Patpong night market. Be careful though, if you are like me, you will end up buying things that you don’t need at all, just because you get dragged in the bargain game.
I LOVE that there is no way that you’re going to starve because wherever you are, in any moment there is food. Sometimes it’s delicious, sometimes not really, but there is always something. Bangkok is particularly famous for it Pad Thai, but there is much more! If you are starting your food venture, the easiest thing to do is do get to Chinatown in the evening, with a very empty stomach, and try as much food as you can. Everybody speaks english so it’s easy to ask what you are eating and get some help to make the tough decision. If you go in the Chinatown area before 5 you can combine your food venture with a visit to the beautiful temple of the Golden Buddha during sunset. Very pretty! There are also many food halls in the malls, and some are almost as cheap and as the street (like the one inside Tesco in On Nut). Again, if you are new to the street food and a bit sceptic, this can be a good way to start. You can find more street food here.
I LOVE the fact that you can find places with live music, it can be Thai music, jazz, rock, punk, there is live music for everyone. There is this place, of which I don’t remember the name, at the end of Soi Sukhumvit 11, of which I love the vibe. In some places, like in Charoen Krung, you can find small stand selling just beer with a couple of guys playing and singing. Love that.
I LOVE the fact that the art world is fairly active in Bangkok, not only in museums (the MOCA have a great architecture that remind to the Guggenheim of NY, but the exhibitions are not that impressive) or art galleries, but a bit everywhere. You can easily find art exhibitions inside, malls or cafes or markets. To be honest, I just started to discover the art world in Bangkok, but I can’t wait to dig in more.
Finally, I LOVE the temples, of course! Not even 2 months in the temples capital, Chiang Mai, managed to make me tired of them. Here there are some:
Wat Benchamabophit is the one that is more out of the way, which is why it’s normally less busy. It’s beautiful and peaceful. You can walk around and there is a small canal with bridges and gold statues contrast with the white architecture. It was the first ever Thai temple I saw, so maybe that’s why it has a special place in my heart, but I really like the atmosphere in there.
The Grand Palace, which includes several quarter and the Wat Phra Kaew, or temple of the emerald Buddha, is the most popular of all, and the busiest of course. Again the architectures and the colors are incredible and a visit to Bangkok without this, wouldn’t be complete.
Wat Arun, or temple of dawn, is unmissable during the sunset. With is stone made stupa, is also the most different from the others, so it can be a nice visit if you need some variety.
Those are the 12 reasons why I love Bangkok, but I’m sure that many more can be find.