Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia. Blue water, tropical vibes, and jungle adventures are probably what you have in mind. And you should not miss them! I’ve visited these places and it was amazing.
But today I want to share my experience about Bangkok – that is so underrated by backpackers. Why would you waste your time in a big city? When traveling in Asia, most tourists only transfer through Bangkok until they reach their next destination. To be fair, I would have done the same if I have not been granted a university exchange in Bangkok.
How did I ended up in Bangkok?
Different reasons led me to Bangkok. I’m from Europe and I wanted to get out of the Western culture. I had already lived in South America and Asia sounded like the next region of the world to discover.
In addition, a previous university exchange in Italy made me very broke and I needed a place where I could afford the cost of life. Many cities crossed my mind such as Hong Kong but the cost was definitely a constraint. I had never though about Bangkok before seeing the name in the list during my application. I didn’t know much about it and it sounded like a crazy place to party. Oh how little did I know!
Finally, I picked up Bangkok to study because I love to travel and the city has such a strategic position to discover the rest of Asia (and also because a friend convinced me it would be awesome).
My first days
I had never been in Asia before. I travelled a lot in Europe and lived a bit in South America. However, Asia was a mystery for me. I pictured the continent as a post card (e.g. impressive temples, long tail boats, multicolor fishes and so on). Well, I arrived to Bangkok a morning in August 2014 and I had no plans. There were two days before the beginning of the classes and all I had was the address of a hostel in Koah San Road.
I arrived at this noisy hostel and I immediately went out for a walk around the neighborhood. There were people absolutely everywhere in the streets! I had never imagined that a pedestrian area could suffer from traffic jams (i.e. human traffic jams, yes they do exist). I was walking slowly and all around Thai people were selling food, food, clothing, travel items and again, food. The smell in the air was a mix of chicken, beef and fried meals. The heat and the humidity were additional elements to get used to.
My thoughts flew from “What have I done to myself?” to “I have the intuition I’m gonna love this place”. The first days made me feel bipolar but I was only getting through the process of adaptation. The culture was different from what I knew and travel guides will never equal the experience of reality.
How I got to know the city
Life happened to me! I explored the city, tasted the food, started school, and made friends. I left the shabby hostel and moved to a residential area of Bangkok. I left the backpackers ‘universe and entered the expats’world. As far as I can remember, it took me one week to get use to Bangkok’s lifestyle. And maybe one month to really enjoy Asia.
Trust me, there is much more to live in Bangkok than visiting a backpacking area and drink cheap alcohol. The city is truly wonderful as soon as you get over the tourist traps and the inconveniences such as pollution.
Photo © Tomáš Dančo
Since 2014, I’ve traveled quiet a lot and Bangkok is still one of the most exciting cities I know. So okay, you should head first to the famous backpacking area, the so-called Khao San Road where you can find more or less anything you need for your next travels. But remember: there is much more to see than the pad thai and cheap buckets of alcohol on Khao San.
Reasons that made me stay
I love Bangkok because it is a mix of people that come from different paths of life. You can observe a fancy condomium right next to a simple building, have some cheap and delicious street food at lunch (sometimes with rats running around, let’s be honest) and in the evening enjoying a drink in a fine restaurant at an affordable price (in comparison to Western standards). On the streets, small motorbikes and tuktuks share the road with a multitude of colorful cabs and other cars. The best way to understand the spirit of the city is to observe that crazy life from a walking bridge over the road in Sukhumvit during rush hours.
The riverside of the Chao Phraya river is very enjoyable during the day but also at night, especially if you board one of the cruises for a magical dinner under the lights of the night. Asiatique – The riverfront is also a very nice place for dinning, listening to music, shopping and enjoying the reflection of the night’s lights on the river.
Earlier in the day, Bangkok is also wonderful. At the golden hour, finding your own spot to observe the sunset should be a top activity. After wandering around, I choose my favorite places and there are the Vertigo bar at the Banyan Tree, Octave Rooftop at the Marriott, and the mysterious Ghost Tower.
There is much more to discover about the city and each neighborhood has its own style. The latter were only some examples of what I enjoyed to do. Recently, I went back to the city and the magic happened again to me. Bangkok is not the best city to walk around but choose a BTS station that sounds appealing to you and just wander around. You will be surprise by the diversity and the number of relaxing places hidden in the city. And the last thing, if you enjoy eating… You’re at the right place!
See you soon Bangkok!
Photo © Tomáš Dančo