Oh Bangkok! I really can’t make up mind if I love you or I hate you. I suppose you’re a bit like Marmite! I can already hear people asking; “How could anyone not like Bangkok!?”.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t go on a gap year when I was a naive 18-year-old. I should have saved up some money, thrown my backpack over my shoulders and gone out into the world without a care. Thankfully, I’ve since been fortunate enough to travel with my job. However, I see the world through the eyes of a woman coming into her late twenties rather than her late teens, and I find it increasingly difficult to turn a blind-eye to poverty and pollution. Unfortunately, for everything that is good about Bangkok, there also seems to be something bad, which makes it very hard for me to make a decision whether I like the place or not.
Each year, millions of people travel to Thailand, most of whom will stop off in the capital. There is a huge mix of tourists and travelers among the local population. It seems that almost everyone I know, at some point, has or will travel to Bangkok – but why is it so popular?
Just like everyone else, I’ve enjoyed the super-cheap street food, had hours of massages for a tenth of the price I would pay back home, and bought clothes from Koh San Road for less than $5. However, I couldn’t help thinking about how much money that elderly masseuse makes in a day… Is she one of the many parents that have sold their teenagers to the popular Bangkok sex trade? Is it really possible to make clothes so cheap, and who makes them? Don’t get me wrong, this is not just something that happens in Thailand, it happens all over the world – it’s just so apparent in places like Bangkok.
The sightseeing in Bangkok is nothing short of amazing, with so much to do and see. There’s no better way to see the city than by driving around in a colourful tuk tuk. Weaving through the bustling streets is nothing short of exhilarating, and a few near misses with oncoming traffic will certainly get your heart pumping!
Some must-sees are the ornate temples and palaces that you’ll find scattered all around the city. The Grand Palace and Wat Prakaew were my favorites, with endless buildings covered with multi-coloured mosaics and golden statues.
The story of the emerald Buddha that sits among a tower of gold is fascinating, and I would recommend getting a tour guide to take you through the palace, in order to properly explain the history of the Buddhas and Gods. 95% of the Thai population are Buddhist and although I’m an atheist, I’ve alway thought if I was going to follow a religion this would probably be my choice. There’s something quite calming and enchanting about Buddhism and this is reflected in the many buildings and temples across Thailand.
Be sure to pop into Wat Pho, where an enormous reclining buddha lies in the middle of a huge temple complex filled with various collections of murals, inscriptions and sculptures.
The golden spires sitting on the edge of the Chao Paraya river are seen from miles away and are one of the most regonised images of South-East Asia. They belong to the Temple of Dawn, also known as Wat Arun. The 70-metre high spire is covered with tiny pieces of colorful glass and Chinese porcelain. It’s no wonder that it’s one of Thailand’s most iconic temples.
The city itself is filled with market stalls, selling everything from fruit and clothes to fake designer watches and incense sticks. One very popular market is the Chatuchak weekend market with over 8,000 stalls, and there aren’t many things you can’t buy! However, if you are looking for something a bit different, head over to Damnoen Saduak to the floating markets. Perhaps not the prettiest floating market in Thailand, but you still get to see the wooden row boats floating down the canals selling fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Koh San Road is one of the most popular haunts for tourists and travelers. Lined with bars, hostels, shops, spas and food vendors, it really is a true backpackers delight! It is here that you can pick up some popular Thai dishes, such as Pad Thai, and the ever-popular Nutella pancakes, all for just a couple of dollars.
There are an incredible amount of spas in Bangkok, everything from street-side parlours offering foot massages for as little as $5 and some more upmarket spas like The Banyan Tree, where you’ll be lucky to get a treatment for less than $100 – however if you are going to treat yourself, this is the place to do it! Why not try out a fish spa, where you can sit with your feet in a large fish tank and enjoy the weirdest sensation as the small fish nibble away at your dead skin?! Gross I know – but you won’t be complaining when your feet are the softest they’ve ever been!
So after the good, comes the bad, and then the ugly…
Bankok suffers from a great deal of air pollution, and the roads are always manic with taxis and tuk tuks positioned on every corner waiting to pick up tourists. The waterways, which are a great way to get around Bangkok, are dirty and filled with litter and sewage – a far cry from the waterways of Amsterdam or Venice. Overhead, hovering over the roads and streets, hang thick black electricity cables that manage to conceal any potential beauty the streets of Bangkok could have. Everywhere you go, you will find someone trying to rip you off – my best advice would be not to trust anyone, as crime is also very high in some areas of the city.
Bangkok is also well-know for its seedy underbelly, and the sex trade is very apparent throughout the city. Prostitutes, brothels and live sex shows are in abundance, and the popular Patpong Road is a hot spot for tourists for picking up every age and gender of prostitute, as well as watching the infamous ‘ping-pong’ shows. Personally, I felt very uncomfortable about the exploitation and degradation of the girls involved, and it’s not something I’d want to see again.
My best advice is go and see Bangkok for yourself, spend a couple of days there, and come to your own conclusion. Outside of Bangkok, there is so much of Thailand to explore, such as the natural beauty on the Islands surrounding the mainland, and Changi Mai in the North has some magnificent sights to see.
1. Like a lot of places in the world – travel insurance is a must. The last thing you want is to be left with a whopping great big hospital bill after contracting dengue fever.
2. Check the weather! Monsoon season in Asia can bring a lot of rain, so be sure to go when the rainfall isn’t at it’s highest. It’s also a wise idea to avoid November, December and January when hoards of tourists flood in during peak season. Personally I think February or March is the perfect time to go!
3. Don’t forget to try a mango sticky rice dessert…. my personal favourite! In Bangkok Airport they sell boxes of it, freshly made, to enjoy on your flight home!