Bangkok. You will most likely love it or you will hate it. There are no more feelings than that for most travellers. Many people told me not to worry about Bangkok when travelling to Thailand and don’t spend too much time there because I won’t like it, as it is busy and chaotic, bustling with people, full of smells and the traffic there is never ending. And they were right about it. Except one fact. I loved it!
For many people (especially those coming from tiny European towns like me) it can be a bit of a shock to come to this city. Once you will step out of the air-conditioned comfort of the airport you will be most likely hit by the humid hot weather. Immediately searching for a bottle of cold water, finishing it in one swig. Then (if travelling to the city by taxi) you will probably quickly get the idea of the busy traffic. Maybe even experiencing some of the typical Thai drivers – most of the local drivers don’t like to muck around much, speeding on the freeways, zigzaging thru the streets and wrangle about the price of the ride. And finally comes the mess and the mixed street scents once you will arrive to the city. But don’t let this scare you, after a bit of adaptation you will perceive these things in a totally new light.
I found out that Bangkok is actually much cleaner than for example most of the Thai islands. And definitely not that stinky. Yes, there are many smells from the street vendors and food carts, sometimes making you cough and sneeze (the chilli can be pretty strong). And the exhaust emissions are nothing nice to smell. But that’s about it. Not that you would have to hold your breath and crawl over garbage on the streets. Bangkok is messy, but not dirty.
We didn’t visit one single restaurant in Bangkok and mostly enjoyed delicious meals and drinks from street vendors. Yet, we never got sick. I think that people are too squeamish and overthinking. Yes, in Thailand they certainly break some of the rules that apply in the western world. But I haven’t seen anything horrifying regarding to food handling on the streets. Just trust your gut. If you think that the food at certain vendor doesn’t seem very fresh or doesn’t smell the best, go elsewhere. There are tons of food carts in Bangkok.
Our favourite street food spot was near the Lumphini park. Unfortunately I can’t tell you if the place has any name because the staff didn’t speak any English at all. Just look for a place with blue blinds and quite a few plastic chairs and tables at the left end of the alley (here is a Google street view). But they had an English menu, so all we had to do was to point at the number next to the dish. And point at some other customers rice. And their beer. But don’t worry, this was quite unusual, most of the vendors understand basic English. And even though these smiling Thai girls didn’t understand our language, they certainly knew how to cook. The food in this place was unreal! And as I said, the staff were smiling the whole time! Thais are the most sweet and welcoming people.
Anyway, if you are still not convinced about eating on the streets (which means that you might miss the best food in Thailand, think about it), try out the food courts in some of the big shopping malls. The health and safety has more rigorous rules here. And for paying a bit extra than on the streets you will be rewarded by the comfort of air-conditioning. It’s still a great deal for the budget travellers as the meals in the food courts cost only a fraction of the price compared to classic restaurants.
Nagging sellers and taxi drivers
Well, arm yourself with patience. That’s my advice. It is true that especially the tuk-tuk drivers can be a bit officious. Once they spot you on the street you will most likely not escape without being lured to use their services. Some of them just shout out tuk-tuk or taxi and plain smile and shake of your head is enough to express your disinterest. Then you get the insistent ones which would offer to take you to all of the favourite tourist spots, showing you directions and wouldn’t take a simple no as an answer. I was pretty amused when one of these drivers asked us where we want to go and when we replied that we don’t know yet he just pointed somewhere in the air and said “That way”.
However, tuk-tuk or classic taxis are much cheaper in Bangkok than elsewhere in the country. And can definitely save you some time. Just remember few things:
- In a classic cab make sure before going anywhere that the meter is on, so you won’t end up paying stupid price for a short trip; or
- Set a price before getting in the vehicle (both taxi and tuk-tuk)
- Make sure that the driver won’t make additional stops on the way. It is very common that the drivers will stop at a jewellery store or tailor etc. and if you walk in the shop they will get some kind of commission (usually free fuel). However, if you have enough time and you don’t actually mind to stop at a few places (you don’t have to spend any money in the shops), you can get a ride maybe even cheaper than public transport.
Don’t always go with your first impressions
At a first glance Bangkok can seem pretty rough. But give it a chance. Bangkok has so much to offer! Try to step out of the trampled tourist path and take a look at the city from a different perspective (you can literally do that from the Baiyoke Tower II). Enjoy the amazing food as the locals do. Don’t be afraid to bargain. Don’t be worried about the safety too much. Just go with the flow and hopefully you will fall in love with this city as much as I did.
Looking for more travel tips? Check my posts in the Travel category.
Do you like printed city guides? From my experience this small size Lonely Planet Pocket Bangkok guide with a pull-out full city map is really handy.