As one of the hottest cities in the world, Bangkok also showcased some of the hottest attractions. From golden temples and Buddha statues to parks and fortresses, Bangkok was my tourist’s dream for a lesson in Thai culture. As much as Bangkok was filled with this rich culture, it was equally compiled of high energy, nightlife and unfortunate trickery.
I witnessed Bangkok as a coin, one side of the coin was a scene pulled straight from Hangover II, and the other side was a friendly city with kind locals and a touch of zen. Both areas presented their own influence on Bangkok which made them both worth seeing.
Much like the movie Hangover II, in the tourist sector of Bangkok I encountered congested streets compiled of sweat, alcohol, motorbikes and local and western cuisine. Khao San road is a popular destination for western tourists and backpackers. Prices were a bit more pricey, but still relatively cheap. Here I was swarmed by persistent street vendors and tuk tuk drivers offering their services to westerners like me too naive to turn their cheek. Smelling of ginger and chili flakes, this road is overloaded with bars, restaurants and street vendors. Khao Son road is practically the Time Square of Bangkok, but with more shops and street foods. As the main center of action, it’s definitely a stroll worth taking, but with caution.
Khao San road was the place to be in regards to nightlife. Surrounding streets were also filled with clubs, bars and party hostels waiting for tourists to scramble in. When I navigated down these streets, it was nearly impossible to avoid hostesses reaching for my attention. These bars and clubs were definitely drawing in young party crowds and the workers were quick to target you in. The restaurant workers were very persistent, but the tuk tuk drivers displayed this on a whole other level.
Any tourist location I went to I could almost guarantee a needy greeting by a tuk tuk driver. I learned to be cautious of tuk tuk drivers as they can lead to more of a scam than a fun taxi ride. More often than not, I experienced these drivers as taking a part in a complex plot to funnel tourists to “high fashion” centers. They want you to buy a $100 suit or dress so they can get commission. If you take one of these rides, make sure you clearly state the price and point of destination, or avoid them all together.
I was also fooled by believing in a “double holiday,” told by the tuk tuk drivers and random locals on the streets. Apparently everyday is a “holiday” here with great sales, no tax and free entrance to The Golden Mountain lookout, Big Buddha and Lucky Buddha. These stories are not true. I was even told The Grand Palace would cost 500 baht, but it actually has no fee. From my experiences, locals near these tourist attractions are skillful in deceiving oblivious tourists.
The further I gravitated away from Khao San road, the more I discovered the Thailand known as the, “land of smiles.” In these streets, people were genuinely kind and informative. They didn’t have an ulterior motive to get you to purchase their services, but showed pride in showcasing the best Bangkok has to offer.
I preferred these areas much more than the tourist sectors and tenacious street vendors simply because it seemed to be a sincere Bangkok. Most locals were extremely kind and glanced smiles my way, and others even wanted to join in on conversation about American politics. There was an obvious language barrier which made it difficult to communicate to the locals, but more often than not the Thai people will leave you be. This was very different from the relentless salesman on the streets near Khao San.
Thus far, I have learned if you know where to look, Bangkok is a pleasant city with rich culture and friendly people. However, if you limit your visit to the tourist areas, you will be guaranteed entertainment, but at the cost of an uninterrupted flow of street vendors.
I am still wrapping my head around whether or not to respect this collaborative and persistent approach to making money from tourism in Bangkok. I mean everyone on the streets seemed in on sending tourists astray. For some locals, this could in fact be the only thing they know, or the only option they have. On the flip side, if it is the only thing they know, or their only way to make money, I want to help them, but maybe not support the system and the lies that come with it.
All in all, most people typically remember much more of the bad things than the good. My Airbnb hosts were extremely kind and even let me hold their adorable twin babies, a Thai professor stopped us on the street to make sure we knew where we were going and continued conversation about what to see in Thailand, a taxi cab driver told us to make sure we don’t stay out too late in certain areas, and a sweet elderly lady wrote down directions to a souvenir shop. Although I preferred one side of the coin over another, I am glad I experienced both sides of Bangkok.
I have an upcoming blog post on what we saw, where we stayed, what we ate and what we experienced in Bangkok soon, so stay posted if you are interested!