Bangkok – where to begin!!! I have to be really honest, it just wasn’t my favorite. I still had a great time and have a lot to share with you, but friends tell me that you either love or hate Bangkok and I’d have to say I probably fall into the latter category if I had to choose. The rest of the trip was amazing but Bangkok was just not for me.
I really thought about why I disliked it (Bangkok may be my least favorite place I’ve traveled to (for vacation – this is not counting terrible work trips in my early twenties!) and I think the biggest thing is how challenging it was (and this was just my personal experience) to get around. I personally really like it when I can walk all over a city and all the stuff I wanted to see was pretty spread out. There isn’t uber, and most cab drivers can’t read google maps (I got told no and had to get out of the cab SO many time!) so the best I could do was carry around cards from my hotel with the address + their little map. Anytime I went out, I would have to come back to the hotel, call a new taxi, and so on and so forth. I couldn’t, for example, go to the Grand Palace and then take a cab to the restaurant for lunch or spa after. The hotel was the constant middleman, and that got exhausting, especially with Bangkok traffic!
It’s also pretty dirty. I have a very sensitive sense of smell and smelled some of the worst smells of my life there (this is coming from someone who has lived in NYC for 12 years – the summer stench is real!) One minute you’re walking down the street and the next you feel like you’re going to pass out from the smell. On a better note, the Thai people are so, so nice. Like so nice that at first (ever the jaded New Yorker) I thought they were being fake at first. But no. Just genuinely, hands down the nicest, sweetest people. So when you’re at restaurants etc. make a point to chat with your bartender/server/etc. Everyone I met was really wonderful which made the trip a lot less lonely.
I probably should have done Chiang Mai instead. If I were going to go back I would skip Bangkok and do Chiang Mai instead but I’m still glad I experienced Bangkok and got to know what it’s about. I feel like I learned a lot about myself too, as I’ve never really traveled somewhere and had this reaction to it. I think I learned this trip that the larger cities of Asia are probably not for me. I’m still glad I did Bangkok but don’t really have any desire to go back. You can not like a place but still be glad you went, you know?
Above is a little video I made with highlights from my 2 nights in Bangkok. It isn’t the most professional video I’ve ever made (I was TIRED, and I look it!) but it’s definitely still fun to look back at and watch. Two things. 1) If you are reading this post in the blog view, you’ll have to click into the actual post for the video to fit in the column, and 2) Subscribe to my Youtube Channel! Pretty please? 😉
What to know before you visit Bangkok:
- It’s hard to get around. But I addressed that above. Traffic can be incredibly intense and taxis will regularly tell you no, and it’s important to get a card from your hotel with the little map + the name written out. When I left the Chatuchak market I literally had 3 cabs tell me no because they didn’t want to deal with the traffic. I understood once I made the trip – it took an hour to drive 1.5 miles!
The Bangkok Airport
The airport was (from my experience), a complete and utter shit show. Coming in was easy – I breezed through immigration, quickly found my bag, and was on my way. Getting out was an entirely different story. It was a mess. When you leave, give yourself 3+ hours to get out and get your flight.
The lines at check-in were over an hour and then it was another hour at immigration and then security… I got there three hours before my takeoff and laughed to myself at how early I was… only to nearly miss my flight. I had to go through the Bangkok airport 4 times during the trip (landing, en route to Cambodia, stopping in between to get to Koh Samui, and again on the way home) and every time besides my arrival was a HOT MESS.
Give yourself a long time here and just plan for it to be messy… maybe you’ll end up surprised, but it’s better to be prepared. I have no idea why it’s such a mess – probably because of dumb tourists like myself who don’t know what they are doing and the fact that no one seems to care about order or lines – people just steamroll their way through, cut lines, and do whatever they want to do. I’ve never seen anything like it!!!
Where to stay in Bangkok
I stayed at Le Meridien. It was nice. It wasn’t anything special or fancy, but when we booked the trip we knew we’d basically just be sleeping in our room so we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Getting to Asia is expensive and for an 11 night trip we couldn’t afford to stay at ultra fancy places the whole time. (We opted to splurge more in Koh Samui as we knew we’d have several days where we’d just stay at the hotels and lay in the sun.) This was $140 a night and clean, safe, + in a great location. I have also heard really good things about Sofitel and Oriental Residence hotels.
My friend stayed at The Oriental Residence a couple years ago but we’d already booked Le Meridien. For the price, OR looks nicer. The Peninsula looks very nice as well. If you are going to really splurge and money isn’t an object, stay at the Mandarin Oriental. It’s right on the water and absolutely beautiful. I had a really nice lunch there. But I don’t know if you really want to do that. If you go to Bangkok and just stay in your hotel you’re doing it wrong (even though that’s what I wanted to do for a lot of it, hahahaha!)
What to do in Bangkok
The Grand Palace and Wat Phro. These were AMAZING and an absolute MUST see. I was completely awestruck. For 500 baht, you get a pass to both and it’s just insane. Every surface is gilded or covered in mosaic tiles. I do wish I got an English speaking tour guide (this can be booked through your hotel concierge and I’m told is not very expensive) because half the time I didn’t know what I was looking at. I had to get a little online crash course when I got home.
Chatuchak Day Market was so cool. It’s only open on the weekends and have never seen a market this large – it went on for miles and miles! I was a little overwhelmed and didn’t bring enough cash with me so I didn’t buy anything (save for a chicken satay and some delicious coconut ice cream) but it was really cool to just walk around and experience it. I have heard the paella at Vive8 is unreal but I couldn’t find it!
MASSAGES. Get all of the massages! And if you really want to indulge, spring for the “Four Hands” massage which just means two therapists. I had a 90 minute four hand massage and it was pretty incredible. It was also only $30. Some good spas to try are Health Land, Bhawa, and BodyTune. Make a reservation.
Where to Eat in Bangkok
Eat Me is really, really delicious and a super cool spot. The staff was super friendly and I had a really great meal. It’s rated one of Bangkok’s top 50 restaurants!
The Mandarin Oriental is a must for a fancy lunch/brunch. It’s right on the water and absolutely beautiful. I came here for lunch (I had the yummiest white asparagus with sea bass and a pina colada) and thought it was so beautiful and relaxing. If you are feeling ultra fancy, definitely stay here.. .it’s incredible – just very pricy!
Street Food! Ugh it was a bit of a disaster trying to get it BUT the recommendations I got sounded so good. Raan Jay Fai is the only street food stall that has a Michelin star in Bangkok. I went and was quoted a 90 minute wait for one person so I left. The crab omelette is supposedly insane. Next door is Thipsamai Pad Thai which is also supposed to be very good. (It was closed, so my street food venture was a miss!)
Unicorn Café is crazy. I am glad I went because it’s just so funny – like walking into a Lisa Frank illustration. There are plush unicorns everywhere and you can even rent a unicorn suit for 100 baht (about $3) while you sip your rainbow milkshake. It was crazy. I bought unicorn pens as souvenirs for my friends.
You can get details on my yellow dress here. It’s on sale!
Sirocco is where they shot The Hangover. Just beware. When you walk in you are going to be blown away by the view and they’ll offer you champagne. How much can that be, you’ll think. The answer is A LOT. I ordered a Kir Royal and then another one (did not think anything of it) only to find out that EACH drink cost 2300 baht which is $77. I hadn’t looked at the menu and prices as everything in Thailand had been SO affordable and almost cried when I got my bill. I’ve heard that this is how they get you… the cocktails at the bar area are much less expensive. You still pay for the view (like $30/cocktail) but not $77.
Vesper is a very cool spot. I met a friend of a friend here and I loved the cocktails. They’re all really delicious (like at a fancy NYC bar) and each cocktail is inspired by a famous painting which of course I loved.
What I Wish I Did
Went to Chiang Mai instead? I kid. Sorry, I really don’t mean to sh*t all over Bangkok but it just wasn’t for me. There is only one thing I really wish I did and that is to go to the Jim Thompson House, which sounds so beautiful and really interesting. It’s a museum about an American who moved to Thailand and changed the silk industry. You get to explore his house, learn about silk, and the mystery behind his disappearance. The gift shop is supposed to be amazing too. The boat rides also look very cool- if I were less overwhelmed I would have done that.
I am very impressed that you “almost” cried when you got the bill for those champagne drinks. I would have thrown a toddler-sized tantrum and would likely not have recovered for two days.
Hahaha, if it hadn’t been a vacation I would have done just that!
I’m sad you didn’t enjoy Bangkok! Maybe it’s because I’ve been there so many times, but I personally find it very easy to get around – the key is to never take cabs and choose the sky train instead. I actually don’t think it’s too dirty too…
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
You know, I might have done better if I had done that. But I was alone and intimidated, so I took taxis everywhere!!!
Oh no! I’m also sad you didn’t like Bangkok! It’s one of my favorite weekend trips from Singapore, and I think it’s such a fun city! That said, I went for the first time with friends who knew the city pretty well and could navigate it easily. It’s a different experience when you’re there for the first time on your own. I wish I’d told you about the Grab app — the SE Asia version of Uber, would have made your life easier. Even though you didn’t love the city, I think it’s awesome that you got out there on your own and explored what you could! Looking forward to more highlights from your trip and I’m very happy you liked Siem Reap!
Yeah I feel bad that I didn’t love it but wanted to be honest. I think you’re right – with friends that knew the city I think I would have liked it better! Just so dirty and so crowded!
That app sounds like EXACTLY what I needed – getting around was so so hard!
Thank you for being honest about not liking a place. I am a regular person with a regular job and budget. I’m looking to you for a little glamour, self-care and adventure, which you do so beautifully. That being said, as someone who never gets to travel, if I’m looking for trip inspiration, it’s important to me it’s a wonderful place to try. You saying you didn’t love Bangkok makes me trust your advice ten times more!
Also, it wasn’t mentioned, but safety is paramount for me. I’d never be brave enough to travel to Bangkok alone and I’d probably be scared regardless of who I was with. Did you feel safe? Also we’re there ton late of people aggressively trying to sell you things?
Haha I hear you.
But I will say I did feel totally safe. (Siem Reap, which I liked more, was less safe but we will get to that!) It’s so crowded that I always felt safe… (granted, I took cabs mostly everywhere and didn’t do anything too crazy/off the beaten path) but yes, people everywhere just trying to sell you things. There’s a lot of that in New York too though.
I’m a UK reader travelling solo in SE Asia at the moment so I loved following along with your Asia trip. I agree that Bangkok can be overwhelming but I’ve been a few times now & have grown to love the city – it gets more comfortable each time. I try to avoid taxis & take the Sky Train or MRT underground everywhere – so much quicker, or use Grab if really needed. Jim Thompson’s House was a highlight for me so hopefully you’ll get to go back & fit it in one day!
It sounds like the Sky Train and Grab are the way to go!!! x
Your pictures are gorgeous. I never like it when I don’t love a part of my vacation either, I always want everything to be amazing. But cheers to new adventures at least! xAllie
Yes, it’s all about the adventure!!!
Totally digging your honesty in this post. I live in a crazy, crowded city myself (Bombay, India), and maybe for that reason + all the stories I’ve heard from friends who’ve been there, Bangkok’s never really figured on my list of places to visit. And the airport situation sounds like madness (though honestly, I’ve had transit flights via Bangkok and have not really had a particularly bad experience, but I get that transit is a completely different thing!).
Also, about your being so upfront about your experience and sharing what you would have done differently – thank you! A lot of travel content from bloggers makes it seem like they end up with the most perfect travel itineraries every single time they travel. Reality is, travel is messy, and not all of our travel decisions are perfect. I just wish more people owned up to that! 🙂 So really, thank you! 🙂
I’m glad your trip post Bangkok turned out better… 🙂
It wasn’t as bad on my transfers… but leaving through Bangkok to go to Cambodia (hilarious as it’s only an hour flight!) was a nightmare!!!
Annd of course. Totally agree, it can be messy!! xx
Love your honesty! Bangkok looks incredible, so full of life and culture. But I am super sensitive to environment—temperature and especially smells—and kind of wondered what it was like in that regard, so it’s good to hear about the city from that perspective.
briana | youngsophisticate.com
Yeah, it was definitely cool and I AM glad that I went because I saw a lot… it was just not my favorite.
I went to Thailand this year and skipped Bangkok in favor of Chiang Mai. You’re making me glad I did so. I hope you get a chance to go back to the north sometime…It’s lovely. There were so many solo female travelers, food is great, massages are cheap, ELEPHANTS, etc. I did not stay here but I took a picture because it looked really cute and I wanted to remember for next time: Jomkitti boutique hotel.
You did the right thing! And thank you for the suggestion – I hope I make it back and get to the north! xo
I’ve been to BKK several times solo and it is a mess and intimidating – don’t feel bad about your opinion 🙂 The airport on the way in fools you into thinking it’s all great and then on the way out, yep hot mess!! Airline status that is how you navigate the way out! There is honestly no way other than the way you did it arriving super early. Lines in Asia are a joke and after living there 2 years we would cut ahead as needed 🙂 The cab situation in BKK is crazy. I have never been told “no” so many times and took the BTS everywhere. The hotel was great at helping me figure it out day one. Koh Samui is lovely! Glad you enjoyed it! I don’t know if you’ve been to Bali but once we went to Koh we couldn’t go back to Bali!! We loved Cambodia and I’m really looking forward to your thoughts on your time there! Did you go to Vietnam this trip?
Such a hot mess!
I didn’t get to Vietnam this trip but am dying to go! xx
Omg Grace!!! Absolutely loved your recap because of how honest you were!
The Champagne Edit
Thanks Dana 🙂
I totally agree on Bangkok. I was told to use the train system but was nervous about it and looking back just wish we did. Would’ve saved SO much time getting around. Chiang Mai was hands down my favorite part of our trip. And I had the opposite experience with the airport. Coming into the country was a total damn shit show. Leaving was a breeze!
My Style Vita
That’s so funny! Ahhh I wish I went to Chiang Mai! Guess it’s just reason to go back!!!
Hi Grace! I’m not normally a commenter, but always read! I’ve loved following along on your adventure in Asia!
Two years ago, my husband and I backpacked for four months throughout SE Asia and parts of the Pacific. Your Bangkok recap is bringing back so many memories! We spent 10 days in Bangkok and it really was one of the hardest and strangest parts of our trip. I swear almost every fight we had was because of trying to walk somewhere- haha crossing the street there is TERRIBLE! I totally understand where you’re coming from with your overall thoughts on the city. Part of me never wants to go back and then the other part wants to do it another way and “conquer” the city. I totally recommend Chiang Mai when you’re back in Asia – we spent a month there and it was amazing and just what we needed. A much slower, easier pace than Bangkok. Looking forward to the rest of your recaps!
OMG I could totally see that starting fights. Crossing the street there is terrible!!!! I went out for a few runs and could never get back to the place I was trying to go! xx
Love these photos – they remind me of my trip to Thailand almost 1 year ago exactly… We did Bangkok, Krabi (in the south like Koh Samui), and Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was my favorite by far, and Bangkok my least favorite, although I did enjoy my time there overall. When we went, Uber did exist and we used uber and the sky train to get around. Also took a few boat rides on the canals which was fun. I LOVED the Jim Thompson house; wish you had gone so we could hear your perspective on it. I luckily had a good friend with me as my travel buddy, but I can see how Bangkok could be super overwhelming while traveling alone. Agreed that the airport was a nightmare. If you go back to Asia, DEFINITELY go to Chiang Mai. The 4 days we spent there were filled with my most amazing travel experiences bar none. I’m planning to go back as soon as possible!! Thanks for the honest recap, Grace!
thank you so much caroline!
You look so amazing in that yellow dress photo! The Winter Wellness Challenge has served you well, your body is amazing!
that’s so nice of you to say katie, thanks!
I travel to BKK every 6 months to visit my sister. Unfortunately, your experience is not typical, other than stating the Thais are sweetest ppl on earth.
Problems getting around. Use Google Maps & the BTS and you can go just about anywhere in BKK.
Stinky smelly. Yeah, I’ve experienced those smells on occasion, yet very rare. The Thais are very clean and this translates directly to their surroundings.
Next time go to Chaing Mai. I think it’s more your speed. BKK is for those who want to experience a vibrant, colorful, enlightened city.
LOL. We will just have to agree to disagree.
LOL is right!
I used to work for a travel company and a bunch of friends from work and I booked a trip to Thailand a few years ago and I am in agreement that Bangkok was my least favorite part of the trip. It’s surprisingly very spread out so it definitely makes it hard to get around! Aside from the Grand Palace, Golden Buddha (which I highly recommend), the Jim Thompson House and a couple other things we only spent a few days there at the beginning and end and it was enough. For anyone going, the tip our trip leader gave us was to only go to the Thai Massage parlors with clear glass windows. If they are covered they might be a bit questionable. We all had questionable massage experiences in Bangkok though so maybe being young American’s gave them a certain impression? We were also right next to the red light district so I think that was his way of saying be careful lol
OMG such a good tip and sorry you all had questionable experiences!!!!
I am incredibly thankful and grateful for this very honest review. Thank you for all of the information. My husband and I want to make a trip and this is very helpful. Those pictures of the fresh fruit just get me. I want to eat it all. Also, I’m obsessed with those palm leaf print pants! You look amazing in them.
So glad you found it helpful – I always want to be honest with you guys… I still had a great time but just wouldn’t go back!
You should have taken the airport train which connects to BTS and MRT. About $1.00. Aircon and no traffic.
“I think I learned this trip that the larger cities of Asia are probably not for me”
Nooooo I hope you don’t brush off other large cities in Asia because of your Bangkok experience! Singapore and Tokyo are AWESOME. So are Hong Kong and Seoul!
Thanks Zara 🙂 Maybe I will get to those cities someday – though probably not alone!!!
Seconding that not all large Asian cities are like this! (Although maybe Kuala Lumpur is…). I did a 2 month SE Asia trip as well and agree with Zara that you will find some others more your speed. Singapore, for example, is so clean and easy to get around, and very fun to visit the botanical gardens, casinos, and amazing restaurants. Hanoi is a bit chaotic but much smaller than Bangkok and worth stopping in for a day or so before you go to Halong Bay (a highlight of my SE Asia trip). And of course the bigger cities in E Asia (like Shanghai, Tokyo, HK and Seoul) are all thoroughly modern (with excellent public transportation) and much more akin to NYC than Bangkok is. But reading your experience about traveling in Bangkok definitely brought back a lot of memories for me, including about the cab drivers! One tried to leave my friends and me in the middle of the highway when we wouldn’t pay what we deemed to be an extortionate price for driving us to our restaurant
Thank you so much Beth! xx
Agreed that I appreciate your honesty because as much as travel can be amazing, it can also be a complete and utter shitshow and not everything turns out as we expect. (I mean, also a life lesson, but I digress.)
Also! You look so young in the video, in a good way! I always feel like I look old and haggard when I am exhausted, but I am 35 and got carded at the airport this week when I was tired and not wearing makeup, so I think makeup can sometimes actually make us look older. Also, curious how you filmed the video—phone or real camera?
And I film all my videos with my Sony Alpha – too complicated to try to film with my phone haha #imold
Ahhhh! I wish I had known you were going, I could’ve given you some tips! We were in Bangkok twice on honeymoon and fall into the camp who loved it. BUT we stayed in the most increbible boutique hotels, did several insider tours and used Uber! Next time—I’m determined for you to go back now!
Hahaha, maybe – we’ll see. If I do ever go back I will definitely reach out! So annoying that uber doesn’t work there anymore!
Bangkok is definitely a tough city to get around! When I went, I had my (Thai) sister-in-law navigating, which made everything SO much easier. Chiang Mai is on my list!
That would definitely help a lot!!!
I loved this! I am now subscribed and am excited to check out your other travel videos! I’ve never been out of the US and probably will never get to Asia (unless with my daughters some day—husband is definitely not interested in traveling abroad). I’ve followed your blog for a while and I think you are very real and down to earth, which is refreshing.
And by the way—where did you get the flowy pants you are wearing with the white top?? I love them! They look perfect for vacation!
Oh good I’m so glad you enjoyed them… thank you for subscribing!
The pants are old but I linked similar ones in this post! https://thestripe.me/2KDBSTS
I am a travel editor, stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, and even I hated Bangkok, haha. The hotel was incredible but your experience mirrored mine – I hated not being able to get around easily. And I tried the SkyTrains, rickshaws, cabs, etc. my favorite part was seeing a movie at the mall. The malls felt like the most authentic part of the city to me!
I’m so glad you agree! Thanks, Annie! xx
It makes me sad that you didn’t like Bangkok because I feel it has so much to offer! It is a city that knows how to work and hustle – politely! In terms of transportation, I get the taxi/traffic nightmares, but the BTS/metro system is actually very nice! Nicer than most European cities, so worth trying. Also the boats that the locals use are amazing if you’re brave enough to try it. I do appreciate your honesty on your opinion of your stay. First time I went, I stayed for a week and had “local” expats laying the law of the land for me and it took me a few days to get used to it. Jay Fai and the Pad Thai noodle place is amazing though for the record. I personally vote Pad Thai over the crazy wait, but Jay Fai does accept reservations now a days! Jim Thompson was also a cool museum. If you go back, even as a layover to Chiang Mai – give BKK another chance. 🙂 And if not, please share about Chiang Mai!