A lot of travelers I’ve met along the way told me they didn’t like Bangkok. They said it was too busy, or too crazy, or too hot, too dirty, etc. Maybe they just don’t like big cities. But my guess is most of them just didn’t spend enough time here to really experience the city.
Bangkok is a big transportation hub in Southeast Asia and many travelers end up here just to make a connection to other destinations. So a lot of them only spend a day or two in the city, which is really not enough time to get to know it well enough to see whether it’s for you or not. In my opinion, you’ll need at least a week to decide if it’s your kind of place.
I arrived in Bangkok from Manila, which is another big city. For some reason, I didn’t really like Manila that much even though I really wanted to like it. I was looking for a place to live in the Philippines for a few months and checked out many cities there but I just couldn’t find one that I liked enough to commit at least a month of living there. But the night I arrived in Bangkok, seeing how busy it was, the energy, the diversity of the people, the big shopping malls, how easy it was to get around, I smiled and said to myself, “I could live here.”
Renting an Apartment
I actually only spent a week in Bangkok when I first arrived as I wanted to check out Chiang Mai first. I read that Chiang Mai was cheaper and a big digital nomad hub, making it a great location to get some work done I did like Chiang Mai as well, but after about a month and a half I got a bit bored. A little too quiet for me, but I could see myself going back there but only a month at a time at most.
So after my 2 months there, I was excited to head back to busy Bangkok. I had a few apartments in mind and ended up choosing the first one I visited which I found through AirBnb. It was a bit far from the center, located in the Bangna district, about 40-minutes away by bus, or about 30-minutes if you combine a shorter bus ride to the closest BTS station and then taking the train from there. I figured I wouldn’t be going to the center that much as I’d be working most of the days, though that turned out not to be true as I ended up going to the CentralWorld mall quite often to work in the coffee shops there (this was my favorite mall).
But I still liked the area I lived in. Not many tall buildings in the area yet and the building where I was staying was one of the tallest there, so I got a very nice view from my apartment. It was a much quieter area which is great for getting a nice sleep. The apartment was a very good value at just under $400/month including utilities. The place has a decent-sized pool, gym, and sauna included in the price. It was pretty spacious at around 44 sqm. with a nice balcony. I like spending my nights in the balcony reading as I got a very nice, clean, cool breeze from there. I actually rarely used the A/C as just opening the door to the balcony was enough to cool the place. It’s more of a local area but still very easy to get to once you know which buses to take. It’s right by The Nation newspaper building and most taxi drivers know it so I didn’t need to have the address written in Thai to show them.
Food, while not as cheap as Chiang Mai, was cheap enough. Food stalls are everywhere. I could get 3 big grilled chicken on a stick for 20baht each and 2 small bags of sticky rice for 5baht each, about $2.33 total and that’s a big meal.
There are lots of 7-Elevens, sometimes within a block of each other. They’re open 24/7 and you can get most of the stuff you need there. There are also Big C supermarkets, which are just like Walmarts.
Most malls also have food courts where you can get Thai and western food. They’re a little bit more expensive than street food but still reasonable.
There are many cafes also. Lots of Starbucks. I usually just go to the mall and sit down at one of the coffee shops there.
Taking the bus is probably the cheapest way to get around. The 40-minute ride from the Bangna area where I was staying to the CentralWorld/Siam mall in the Pratunam area cost about 12baht without A/C and 17baht with A/C. A 5km ride could be as little as 6.50baht. A lot cheaper than taking the BTS Skytrain. Some of the buses are even free. Of course, if it’s during rush hour and you’re in a hurry, you’re better off taking the BTS.
Taxis weren’t bad either, but I still try to avoid them just because public transportation is way cheaper. But sometimes I’m stuck because I was out very late. The BTS closes at around 12:00am. The buses were also very few after about 11:00pm. The most I’ve every paid for a taxi I believe was around 200baht ($6.67), from downtown to my apartment in Bangna (this includes the 45baht toll to take the expressway).
The normal rate for taxi starts at 35baht and about 5baht per kilometer after that (after about 8 kilometers or so the per km rate increases). Most of the taxi drivers were actually nice and honest, they use the meter right away and they don’t try to cheat you. Only the ones waiting outside the tourist areas should be avoided as they quote you a ridiculous price or try to convince you to visit some other place. Just walk a few blocks and flag a moving one and chances are he’ll agree to use the meter.
Avoid the tuk-tuks in Bangkok as they’ll try to rip you off. Taxis are cheaper and more comfortable (provided they agree to use the meter, which you should always insist on).
Most of the time I used the BTS Skytrain as they pass by the most visited areas. It’s very modern and fast. If you’re going to stay in Bangkok for more than a week it’s worth getting a Rabbit card. It saves you a lot of time from lining up to get change and using the ticket machines as the lines could get pretty long at certain times.
There’s also a Metro subway which I think is even newer and a little cheaper that covers other areas of Bangkok.
You can also take older trains that leave from Hua Lamphong and Bang Sue stations to take you to places outside the city such as Ayutthaya and Don Mueang Airport. Just be aware that these trains can be very slow (but very cheap).
If you’re going to a place where the Skytrain doesn’t go and the traffic is bad, you can get a ride on a motorbike from one of the guys wearing a green vest. Small red trucks called a songthaew also run in areas where buses are too big to fit.
For destinations near the Chao Phraya River, you can take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station and ride one of the boats for about 15baht each ride. There are many stops along the way.
Flying to other cities or countries is also very easy and can be fairly cheap as many flights arrive and depart from Bangkok. Bangkok has 2 international airports: the newer Suvarnabhumi airport and the old Don Mueang airport. Someone told me that Suvarnabhumi was supposed to replace Don Mueang completely but there were so many flights that they had to reopen Don Mueang.
Getting to the Suvarnabhumi airport is very easy as it’s connected via the BTS Skytrain. For Don Mueang you can take the slow train (it’s only 5baht but can be very, very slow, give yourself at least 2 hours) or take a taxi. There’s also a free shuttle that takes passengers between the two airports. You just have to show your ticket/boarding pass.
From either airport, you can get pretty cheap flights to other cities if you book early enough. For example, when I went to Phuket the ticket ended up costing only 1,100baht total each way with Nok Air. I booked the ticket 2 weeks ahead of time (during low season). The bus, on the other hand, would cost around 800-1000baht and takes about 12-hours. So if you book early enough flying could cost just about the same as taking the bus.
Things to Do
There are many things to see and do in Bangkok. You can watch a muay thai fight, go to a weekend market, have a drink at a rooftop bar, visit some temples, take a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River, check out the red light districts, get a massage, walk around Khao San Road, check out some ruins, etc.
If you like temples, the most popular ones are Wat Arun and the Grand Palace which you can reach by riding one of the boats by the Chao Phraya River. They offer a day pass which I recommend you skip unless you’re planning on spending the entire day checking out the different stops. Each ride only cost around 15baht. You can also reach Khao San Road by taking the boat.
On Wednesday nights, you can watch free muay thai fights in front of the MBK Mall right at the National Stadium BTS station. While they’re not professional fighters, the fights can still be very entertaining to watch with lots of action. Sometimes you’ll see fights with the fighters bleeding and getting knocked out unconscious.
Massage places are everywhere and very cheap. The average 1-hour massage price when I was there was 200baht (around $6.50) in the tourist areas. I’ve seen them for as low as 100baht an hour in places outside of Bangkok. I always feel great after a massage. You can choose from traditional Thai massage, oil massage, foot massage, or a head and shoulder massage. Note that if you’re a guy you may sometimes get offered “extra services” (a.k.a. “happy endings”) by the masseuse.
There’s always something happening somewhere in Bangkok, especially on weekends. I often see some kind of gathering outside of CentralWorld during the weekends. Sometimes it’s a fair and sometimes free concerts.
There were a bunch of film festivals as well when I was there, with movies from different countries which you can attend and watch for free at one of the cinemas in one of the many malls. It’s usually on a first come, first serve basis. If you show up 30-minutes before the showing you can normally get a seat
Bangkok is really big with the nightlife. There are 3 main red light districts: Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy. Here you can visit many bars with live bands, “go-go” bars with women dancing on stages (not exactly a strip clubs), and “ping pong” shows (search “ping pong at patpong” on Google). You will see lots of old men here with Thai women much younger than them. If that sort of thing bothers you, you probably should avoid these places.
For clubs, there’s Khao San Road, the famous backpacker area. There’s also an area called the Royal City Avenue (RCA) for the bigger clubs where most locals go to. Note that most (if not all) clubs in RCA charge foreigners an entrance fee of 300-400baht, which is pretty steep. I went here one time on a Tuesday with a German friend and it was pretty dead so we decided not to go in because of the fee. If I was by myself I probably could’ve just walked in and not say anything as most locals think I’m Thai. I believe Fridays and Saturdays would be the best time to come here.
Thai people also like to really dress up when going to these clubs to show off. A Thai friend of mine actually told me she doesn’t like RCA and prefer Khao San Road because of this.
If you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere with a nice view of Bangkok like I do, check out one of the many rooftop bars. For a really great view of Bangkok overlooking the Chao Phraya River, visit Sirocco Skybar located in the Lebua State Tower (near Saphan Taksin BTS station). This bar was made popular by the movie “Hangover 2.” Very expensive (a beer costs like 350baht) but worth checking out just one time. They direct you to the bar right away as soon as you arrive and someone takes your drink order. The bar area was packed and very few chairs around the bar so we were pretty much standing the entire time. For some reason they don’t want people taking pictures from the stairs where you can get a full view of the bar area.
For a more reasonably-priced rooftop bar, there’s one in Sukhumvit 11 called Above Eleven. Best seats are by the railing, but you’ll probably need to make a reservation to get one of those tables.
You can also find many bars/restaurants with a live band. One of my favorites is the O’Reillys Irish Pub by Sala Daeng BTS in Silom where a Thai Beatles cover band performs every Friday night.
It’s very easy to meet people in Bangkok thanks to websites like Meetup.com and Couchsurfing.com.
The Bangkok Couchsurfing group, for example, has regular weekly meetings where you can meet other travelers, locals, and expats. Lots of people attend these weekly meetings. You can also post something on the Couchsurfing forum if there’s an event you want to go to and looking for people to go with. I’ve met some really cool people through here.
Meetup.com is great for meeting people with similar interests. You can find all kinds of groups here from naturists/nudists to software developers.
Bangkok is easily one of my favorite cities and one that I will definitely visit again. You can find pretty much anything here that other cities in first world countries offer and you get a much better value for your money. There are many things to see and do and being a transportation hub, it’s very easy to get to anywhere.
It is also a city that is still rapidly developing. Lots of new buildings were still under construction when I was there. It would be interesting to see the changes when I come back.