Bangkok is definitely not a destination off the beaten path. It's been one of the most popular places to visit in recent years as well as most of South East Asia. Western tourists, when they travel to Asia, usually skip the absolutely amazing regions of Caucasus and Central Asia and head straight to the overcrowded beaches in Thailand. To be honest, I didn't really feel like visiting either Bangkok or Thailand, I prefer places that are rather unpopular, but after reading some blogs and listening to friends who have been there claiming how amazing it was, I said to myself, why not?
I spent only one full day in Bangkok. I managed to see a lot, but to visit everything properly, at a slow pace, you'll definitely need more time. Although it was only one day, it was still very busy, hectic and stressful (not to say unpleasant). It turned out, that after having visited nearly 50 countries before arriving to Bangkok and comparing Bangkok with all those places - I came to the conclusion that indeed, it is totally overrated. To the point that I was happy to leave the next day which virtually never happens to me as I love to travel and explore. It still amazes me why crowds of Westerners fly to Bangkok, usually just because Thailand is "trendy" right now and never think of visiting such amazing and authentic cities as Tbilisi, Yerevan, Kathmandu or Mandalay.
One Day in Bangkok and 7 reasons why it is an overrated tourist trap
I am going to describe my story below, what sites me and my friends visited within one day and what happened to us in Bangkok. It's based solely on my experience - I noticed that if you say anything negative about Thailand, you're likely to spark controversy and hundreds of people will argue with you, fiercely defending it. And I am really happy if you enjoyed your stay in Bangkok. But maybe I will also inspire you to visit something unpopular and undiscovered by the masses? And it's not that I don't like all popular places, I loved Rome, Florence, Rio or Prague for instance.
7. "The Land of Smiles"
I'd read that Thailand is one of the friendliest nations and thus it's called "The Land of Smiles". As it turns out, the notion doesn't come from the fact that Thai are so happy all the time, it just means that there's a dozen of different ways to smile in Thailand. That explained everything. Of course, I can't talk about all Thai nationals as you can find good and bad people everywhere, but those who deal with tourists and those I had a chance to meet, were in 95% the most unfriendly individuals I had ever seen in my life.
Upon our arrival in Bangkok, early morning, we got to the hostel near the famous Khao San Road area and wanted to check in. We were greeted by a woman - the owner of the guesthouse with such a frown that we felt as if we'd inflicted a terrible punishment on her by having to check us in. But that's OK, maybe she had a bad day. I had no idea that would be the norm.
6. It's not that cheap
Soon after, we decided to visit the main attraction in Bangkok - the Royal Palace. From what I'd heard, Bangkok was supposed to be a great place for backpacker - amazingly cheap. And yes, it is, if you limit yourself to eating noodles (they are really good though!) all day and sleeping. But if you actually want to go around and visit - the problem arises. (Thailand was actually the place that I spent a lot - all the transport and tours do cost a lot - especially if you don't have too much time).
We got to the Palace (20 mins walk from Khao San Road) right after they'd opened it and it turned out that the entry fee is 400 THB (12 USD). All major European historical sites are at similar price or cheaper. But anyway, the 18th century complex of temples and buildings looked really amazing from the outside, so we decided to go for it. Be sure you go to visit the Palace in the morning - it's open only from 8:30 am - 3:30 pm! On the way, we also met a lovely Swedish girl that joined us to visit the city. It was also her first day in Thailand.
5. Flooded with tourists
We managed to see the Palace only from the outside as the crowds and lines were absolutely unbelievable. We would have had to wait over 1 hour to get in! Eventually, due to the lack of time, we had to skip the Palace. Instead, we went to see the beautiful Wat Pho Temple (near the Palace) - amazingly decorated complex that boasts the reclining Buddha Statue (entry fee 200 THB/6 USD). It was such a relief from the noisy and dirty streets of Bangkok. It was my favorite sight in the city! So if you have only one day in Bangkok, choose either to see the center Khao San Road area and the Palace, or skip the Palace whatsoever and roam around the city.
If it hadn't been for the wires hanging everywhere and chaotic traffic with rickshaws and tuk-tuks, Khao San Road would have felt as if it were in some western country. I felt there were no locals roaming around and enjoying the place - only westerners "rich tourists" and those locals who worked in the tourism industry.
4. It's fake - Lack of authenticity
It was quite strange to see that the locals didn't mix with the tourists - it seemed that they were there only to serve or trick the "rich westerners". I hadn't noticed such segregation anywhere else before - even in impoverished countries like Georgia or Armenia, all the locals came to the main city squares with families, enjoyed cozy streets and dancing fountains. You can really experience the local way of life there. That's not the case in Bangkok. What's more - the famous insects are never eaten by the locals! I didn't notice those fried worms anywhere else apart from the main tourist areas - in Khao San Road, they were sold to tourists only! And most of those who actually bought them were drunken western teens - not what I really wanted to experience in Thailand. I have that in Europe every day. Also, even to take a picture of the stand with the insects, you were obliged to pay! It felt really as everything was made specially for foreign visitors - and I don't like the places lacking authenticity.
3. Con artists
On the way from the Royal Palace, we walked around the National Museum towards the riverfront where The 18th century Old Fort (Phra Sumen Fort) stood, but it's nothing comparing to the Palace or the beautiful Wat Pho Temple. From there, I wanted to take some photos of another impressive, 17th century temple - Wat Arun, on the other side of the Chao Phraya River. The most beautiful view was at the end of a little street but when some Thai people noticed that I'd entered the alley, they started shouting and literally pulled me back. I was so astonished and I had no idea what the problem was. I showed them that I only wanted to take a photo but they said: no photos allowed!
If you have more time and want to get to Wat Arun, do not take the expensive boat tours that will overcharge you a lot. Don't worry if you hear, even in the tourist offices, that there is no other way to cross the river (we were told exactly that). There are very cheap shuttle boats that take people to cross the river. Ask at the riverfront instead of tourist places. In Bangkok everybody lies!
I wish I had known that because I experienced that firsthand myself. At the National Museum we met a tuk-tuk driver who asked what we want to visit. I showed him on the map which temples and sights we were interested to see and he agreed to take us around for a very little price, something like 5 USD per person. DO NOT FALL FOR IT! Happily (and stupidly), we agreed for the tour not knowing what crap we were getting into. Be careful while taking tuk-tuks. Agree the price and firmly ask to take you to an exact destination emphasizing that you DO NOT want to ride around.
2. It can be dangerous
The tuk-tuk ride was great at the beginning. It was both: thrilling and exciting to experience the slalom between the cars in the middle of the busy streets. It felt like a race. After the short ride which was a cool attraction in itself, we got off at the first temple.
It was not the temple we had agreed to get to, but at that time we were so excited that we didn't even notice. It was Wat Intharavihan Temple, the temple itself was nothing spectacular, however, it was more local and I saw very few tourists there which was nice. The site also boasts a huge, over 30m (100 ft.) statue of Buddha - Luang Pho To.
The second stop was another local temple - Wat Makut Kshattriyaram. Again, I was quite happy that we had a chance to see some less touristy place. Not for long though. As we were about to get inside the temple, we heard a "friendly" voice shouting from behind: "Take the fucking shoes off!" We had no idea what was was wrong as we hadn't even entered the temple yet. Had we known, we would have taken them off down by the steps, obviously. We simply said sorry, removed our shoes but the man didn't give up and kept asking where we were from. When he heard Europe, he wasn't particularly happy.
He told us the tourists didn't respect Thai culture and that we were unwelcome there. He turned to the poor Swedish girl and said: "You shouldn't wear T-shirts around the temples. Do you know what happens to those like you?" There was nothing wrong with her T-shirt, we saw many locals wearing the same at other temples. Then, he took out his phone and started showing us photos. Some European and US American politicians were in the pictures. We said we had nothing to do with them but the man kept browsing the photos and insisted that we look.
Then, ID cards of some random people, only westerners though, appeared. After that, posters with those people, their names and a sign "missing". What happened next, was truly disturbing. The following images contained dead bodies, beheaded, mutilated, tortured and murdered in a most gruesome, horrible way possible. It made us sick. The man warned us that "if we don't get the fuck out of his country, we're going to be next". I've never ever had an experience of this sort anywhere else in the world.
1. You can't trust anyone
We decided to just turn around, leave the man and go back to the tuk-tuk. We tried to explain to the driver what happened but he seemed not to understand even one word. It was getting late and we told him to take us back. He insisted that we go and see the Wat Arun Temple on the other side of the river, but he said the only way to get there is to take the boat tour for another 100 USD (another lie)! We replied that no one had mentioned that price before and that we just wanted to go back to our guesthouse. He wasn't happy about that at all but after a short argument he drove off. We were really tired and still disturbed because of all the things what we'd encountered on our first day and just wanted to forget about it.
Then, after around 20 mins, we realized we were not going towards the city center at all! He took us somewhere else - he said - to a tailor shop for us to see if we want to buy suits! It's a common scam in Bangkok we didn't know about. The tuk tuk drivers take you to some dodgy location to try to sell stuff and if you want to go back, they charge you a lot! But this time we were not that stupid to fall for it. At the junction, when the red light was on, we just jumped out of the tuk-tuk, paid the 15 USD we had agreed and left. We were so sick of tuk-tuk drivers (otherwise tuk-tuk really is a cool way to travel) that we simply decided to walk back.
At Khao San Road, we decided to ask in a tourist center again how much is a legitimate city tour in Bangkok. The prices were quite extreme, up to 3 times more than other tours, for example to Erawan Waterfalls, Floating Market or Ayutthaya Temples. We asked if there is any way to get a cheaper tour, for students, without the grand palace or a professional guide. The guy at the counter went crazy when he heard that, he replied literally shouting: "Why did you come here?", "Do you not want to know the history?" "Fuck off then!" We said that we just asked for information and we were students and he went on: "Bla bla bla" mimicking us like a child does when he or she doesn't want to listen to their mum! Great example of a premium customer service.
We went to another tourist office and bought some tours, bus and boat trips for the next days. The lady at the counter was actually not that rude and happily sold us everything. We were a bit worried about the departure times, that we might miss a boat when we change from a bus. She assured us that everything was going to be just fine. And, of course, in the next few days, it turned out that we did miss one boat because the arrival/departure times were different from those we got at the tourist information center.
I'm not saying Bangkok is not worth visiting. The architecture, the temples, the palace are really amazing. The only thing I hated there was that constant feeling that I was unwelcome, inferior to the local people, especially involved in the tourism industry. That feeling, that everyone wants to trick you, that you can't trust anyone, that you can't get the correct information anywhere took all the joy away. I haven't seen anything like that in any other country. Maybe it's because Bangkok is so popular and the locals are sick of all those drunk westerners?
When I travel, I want to embrace the local traditions and culture and not to feel threatened, unsafe, unwelcome and count my every cent checking if I wasn't short-changed. I want to enjoy the place, not be stuck in a constant struggle.
It's quite surprising because I didn't come across any of this to such an extent in other Asian places like: Mandalay and Yangon in Burma, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Hyderabad and New Delhi in India or Kathmandu in Nepal. Even Marrakesh or Fez in Morocco, although a bit dodgy at times, turned out nothing comparing to Bangkok. But maybe I was just extremely unlucky. Anyway, I just wanted to warn you that those things might happen, be careful and don't let anyone trick you!
However, I must admit one thing: It cannot all be that bad! There is something that I loved about Bangkok and still miss it so much. It's Pad Thai - the simple Thai dish which was, I have to say, one of the best meals I have ever tried in my life! And, there are nicer places to visit in Thailand, like Chang Rai, Erawan Waterfalls or James Bond's Island.
The conclusion, for me, is to never listen to what is trendy in media and what people say. When you tell someone: "I've been in Bangkok", the reply is: "Oh that's amazing!" When you say: I've been to Albania, Armenia, Ukraine, etc., the response usually is: "Are you crazy? What were you doing in that shithole!" For me, unfortunately, those "shitholes" were more attractive historically and naturally than Bangkok, not to mention zero drunken westerners and the friendliest, honest and authentic locals that made me feel like home.
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