I’ve been to Bangkok twice now and lots of other travellers ask me ‘Is Bangkok worth visiting?’ In a nutshell, absolutely! Bangkok has some of the most amazing temples and sites in Southeast Asia. It’s also an airport hub with connecting flights for onward travel to destinations such as Cambodia and Vietnam, so it makes a great short stay layover as well.
Introduction to Bangkok
Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand is a fantastic metropolis full of temples, nightlife, shopping centres and restaurants. Bangkok is a travellers hub, combining reasonably cheap food and accommodation with fast internet and a great infrastructure. But, Bangkok has a population of over 10 million people, and with that comes the stress, cramped public transport and packed roads. Digital nomads either love it or hate it! Sometimes Bangkok can be a bit….intense….and although it may not be the best reflection of everyday Thailand, it is definitely worth a visit!
Is Bangkok Worth Visiting?
The answer to the question ‘is Bangkok worth visiting?‘ is yes! It definitely is! I truly believe that everyone should visit Bangkok at least once in their life! Bangkok is worth visiting even if it’s just a 3 night stop off to visit the main Bangkok temples and the Grand Palace. Bangkok has amazing food, architecture and shopping. Whatever you are into, you can be sure that you can find something to suit your taste. So, if you are wondering whether you should do a short trip to Bangkok, or stay for even longer, the answer is yes – go for it and don’t delay!
So, what did I get up to in Bangkok? Well, I had my photo taken with the Yakshas at the Grand Palace, got offered crickets on sticks on Khao San Road and bought my wedding tiara at Asiatique. I befriended a pot bellied pig at a boat taxi station pier. I also met up with my mom where we took the BTS skytrain and shopped till we dropped at Siam Paragon. The day that we took the boat to Wat Arun, I swear that it was so overloaded it was about to sink! I also took two fantastic day trips from Bangkok – Ayutthaya for the Buddhist temples and Lopburi for the Monkey temple. Bangkok was a true inspiration for my travel blog and an overwhelming but exciting introduction to Thailand.
The Pros of visiting Bangkok
Bangkok has so much going for it as a South Asian capital. It is accessible, digital nomad friendly and is home to some of the best temples in the world. Let’s take a look at the pros of visiting Bangkok…
Accessible from most International Airports
Bangkok airport is an international hub with flights direct to London and New York, as well as direct flights to other Southeast Asian cities. You can also fly internally within Thailand to destinations such as Phuket, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The fact that Bangkok is so accessible makes it an ideal base for travellers to explore the region, or even the perfect 3-4 day stop off for travellers heading on to destinations such as Singapore, Australia or New Zealand.
Bangkok has some of the best Temples in the World
The temples of Bangkok are truly astonishing. Many of the main temples are located along the Chao Praya river and you have to take a boat to get to them. The boat for the locals is scarily packed full, and so you can consider the tourist boat option which is more expensive but less crowded. There are three main temples that you cannot miss…
- Wat Arun – (Temple of Dawn) is one of Thailand’s most iconic and revered landmarks. It is located in Bangkok, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River in the Thonburi district. This stunning temple is renowned for its impressive central prang (tower), which soars 79 meters (259 feet) into the sky, making it one of the tallest religious structures in Thailand.
- Wat Pho – (Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn) is a renowned Buddhist temple located in the heart of Bangkok, next to the Grand Palace. It dates back to the 16th Century. It is one of the oldest and largest temples in the city, known for its gold reclining Buddha.
- Grand Palace with Wat Phra Kaew – The Grand Palace is a sprawling complex of buildings that has served as the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since its construction in 1782. It was the center of the Thai government and royal court for 150 years. Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is located within the Grand Palace complex and is considered one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in Thailand. Book a tour here.
English is Widely Spoken
Despite Thai being the national language of Thailand, you will find that most people in the hospitality industry (bars and restaurants) speak English and English menus are widely available.
Amazing Day Trips
Bangkok makes an excellent base for exploring some exciting surrounding areas. If you have time, plan in a day trip to Ayutthaya where you can see some amazing ancient temples including the famous Wat Mahatat with the Buddha head that has been engulfed in the roots of a Bodhi tree.
Here is a summary of some of the best day trips from Bangkok…
- Railway Market and Floating Market Tour in Thailand – A popular trip from Bangkok is the visit to Maeklong Railway and the Amphawa Floating Market. Watch shop-keepers swiftly remove their stalls for the train to pass and then effortlessly replace them on the Railway market. Buy your snacks from the boats in Amphawa.
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – About an hour and a half outside of Bangkok is the damnoen saduak floating market. It’s a great cultural experience.
- Ayutthaya – Visit this historical city that lies approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Bangkok. Once the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom (Siam), Ayutthaya is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination known for its rich history and impressive temple ruins. It was my favourite day trip from Bangkok.
- Lopburi – Another great city full of ancient ruins including Phra Prang Sam Yot (Lopburi Monkey temple) Lopburi is approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Bangkok. It is known for its rich history, particularly its association with ancient Khmer and Ayutthaya Kingdoms, and its unique population of macaque monkeys that roam freely in parts of the city (they can be scary so beware!)
- Kanchanaburi Erawan Waterfall and Elephant Care – This day trip from Bangkok allows you to feed, play with and interact with elephants at the ElephantsWorld sanctuary.You will also enjoy the beauty of the seven tiered waterfall in Kanchanaburi Erawan national park.
- Pattaya – Pattaya is a popular beach resort city located on the Gulf of Thailand, approximately 147 kilometers southeast of Bangkok. It is one of Thailand’s most well-known tourist destinations, famous for its vibrant nightlife and beautiful beaches.
Thriving Digital Nomad and Traveller scene
Digital nomads and travellers love Bangkok. One of the main reasons is due to its’ accessibility – Bangkok is an excellent springboard for exploring other Asian cities including Siem Reap, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. This combined with its cheap food and fast WIFI make it the perfect destination to base yourself as a blogger, coder, social media marketer or whatever digital job role takes your fancy.
And where do the majority of the digital nomads and travellers stay and hang out? Khao San Road!
Banglampoo-Samphanthawong (Bangkok Chinatown) is another one of the most popular areas for Digital Nomads in Bangkok. It’s full of quirky local bars and restaurants where you are sure to make friends and connect with other like minded people.
Bangkok has an extensive transport network including the BTS skytrain, MTS (subway) and ARL (airport rail link). There are also bus and taxi boats along the Chao Praya river which are perfect for getting between Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
If you want to use tub-tuks and taxis you can download the GRAB app which is the Asian version of Uber. You can pre-book your taxis and tuk-tuks and see how much you should pay.
Bangkok is well geared up for tourists and most hotels have day trips that you can book on to visit the floating markets and surrounding areas.
Food and Drink
In Bangkok I’ve eaten some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten in my life! No joke! The food is made up of a mix of four main flavours – salty, sweet, spicy, sour and creamy. While you are in Bangkok sample some of its tasty street food with prices starting from just 150 Baht. I would highly recommend that you book a Bangkok food tour or a cooking class during your time in Bangkok. If you are searching for the best street food then head to Yaowarat road (Chinatown), Sukhumvit Soi 38 Street (Indoor street food) or Khao San Road and Soi Rambutri. You can get noodle dishes as cheap as 40 Baht (approximately $1).
The Cons of Bangkok
Although Bangkok has exciting site seeing and scrumptious food, there are, of course, draw backs to being in a massive Asian city. Like other big Asian metropolises (such as Manila), Bangkok can be busy, dirty, smelly and stressful. It’s certainly not the best representation of what Thailand has to offer. Here are some of the cons of Bangkok…
Poor Air Quality
Bangkok has busy roads which contribute to air pollution. This is made even worse by the seasonal burning fro the farmers clearing the sugarcane and rice fields in the dry season – (November to March) which is when most tourists visit. I was coughing a lot in Bangkok and it took me a while to realise that the poor air quality had exacerbated my asthma. My coughing persisted for a good few weeks after I returned to the UK. In short, Bangkok has horrid air to breathe, and Bangkok is pretty horrendous for asthmatics. Because of this, I honestly could not live there.
Despite the thriving city of Bangkok boasting amazing markets, temples and eateries, it lacks the one thing that Thailand is possibly most famous for – beaches. The closest beaches that tourists visit from Bangkok for day trips or weekends is probably Pattaya.
It’s true that Bangkok is not the best of what Thailand has to offer. I would recommend that you spend just 3 or 4 days exploring Bangkok and then fly North to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai (fantastic temples and digital nomad scene) or South to the beaches.
Bangkok is sometimes a challenging place for people who are not used to busy Asian capital cities. There are certain sensitivities you will need to be aware of and it can take time to get used to. Remember never to touch people (even children) on the head (it is the most sacred part of the body) and never to point your feet at the Buddha (it is offensive). You will also need to get used to the ‘Wai’ which is when people put their hands together and do a bow to show respect to others – particularly elders or those more important. You will need to dress modestly, particularly when visiting Thai Buddhist temples, and remove your shoes before entering a temple or someone’s home.
In Thailand, ‘ladyboys’ are a thing – some of them are men dressing as ladies, but many are pre or post sex change operation. Generally, they are not viewed as transgender in Thai culture, but they are seen as a third gender. Ladyboy’s are widely accepted, but are mainly found in Bangkok and Pattaya. Some people are surprised by this and some are even offended if it’s not something they are familiar with – remember to be open minded – don’t be judgemental and show respect. Many people travel to Thailand specifically for the Ladyboys!
Temperature and climate
The best time of year to visit Thailand is from November through to April. Even though this is the dry season, it can still be overwhelmingly hot. Cover your head in the sun, wear sun cream and remember to keep hydrated avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
The rainy or ‘monsoon’ season in Thailand is from July – October. The rains in the first few months are heavy but inconsistent (lasting just a few hours), whereas towards the end they become more persistent. This is a time that you definitely want to avoid. The rain will make sightseeing difficult or almost impossible.
Rip off Taxis and Busy Roads
I had a couple of bad experiences with taxis in Bangkok. One of them tried to straight up rip me off. Another didn’t drop me back at the hotel – he took me to the skytrain and pointed to it! I insisted no and that he should take me back to my hotel, which he finally did – again before ripping me off. Sometimes they don’t want to take you al the way because of traffic, but you are paying for it, and traffic is normal in Bangkok, so they should just take you.
There are a few pointers to help you to deal with the rip off taxis in Bangkok. Don’t get taxis at taxi ranks or stands such as the stand outside Asiatique. They charge to organise the taxi which is unnecessary and most of the taxis there want to con unaware tourists. Instead of going there, cross the road and flag one down in the street by doing a patting action with a flat hand (palm facing down). Even better, download the GRAB taxi app and use that – you will always know how much you are paying.
Most important Bangkok Travel Tips
Here are my top travel tips for Bangkok…
- Spend 4-5 days in Bangkok and then head North to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai or South to the islands.
- Take the BTS Skytrain where possible to avoid the heavy traffic on the roads (especially at rush hour).
- Use GRAB for your taxis.
- Use the taxi boats to get to Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
- Stay at one of the hotels along the Chao Praya river – we stayed at the IBIS and it was great.
- Head to Khao San Road or Chinatown for the best Bangkok street food.
- Remember to take plenty of water as it can get hot and it is easy to dehydrate in Bangkok.
- Carry coins and small change as many restaurants or market stalls often don’t have much change (or at least they may say they don’t!).
- If you are asthmatic take extra inhalers – the air quality in Bangkok may aggravate your asthma.
- Stand still for the Thai National Anthem! They often play it at 8am and 6pm in busy stations, markets and civil buildings. Stay still and silent out of a sign of respect.
- Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet – often the sewerage systems can’t handle it and it will block them – use the ‘bum gun’ and then a small amount of loo paper to ‘dry’ and you can place this in the bin next to you.
- Dress conservatively for visiting the temples and pack a pair of sandals that you will be able to get on and off easily, because you will need to remove your shoes to go inside temples (you might want to read this article on Thai temple dress code).
- In temples, remain silent and avoid walking in front of people praying or pointing feet at the Buddha (it is disrespectful) .
What to pack for Bangkok
If you visit Bangkok in the warm and dry months from November to April then you should pack clothes that are lightweight and cool – linen and cotton fabrics work well. Here is a list of what to pack for Bangkok…
- Camera (I prefer a point and shoot such as Canon Power shot), mobile phone, laptop and chargers.
- Travel adapter – type O (but type C – European will probably also work in Thailand).
- T-shirts and long sleeved lightweight blouses (not low cut or showing cleavage).
- Long comfortable flowing skirts and maxi dresses.
- Cotton cycling shorts and black cotton leggings (I lived in my black leggings in Bangkok!)
- Swimming costume, bikini or swim shorts (most hotels in Bangkok have a pool).
- Beach cover up or shawl (also comes in handy on cooler evenings to keep shoulders warm).
- Linen or cotton trousers (you can buy a pair of elephant trousers at Chatuchak market for a really good price and they are really comfy).
- Pair of walking boots for day trips with a lot of walking and hikes (I wore mine for the full days in Lop Buri and Ayutthaya).
- Cotton underwear and sports bras.
- Sandals that are easy to slip on and off (for temple visits).
- Refillable water bottle to keep hydrated – most hotels will refill drinking water for you or it is also cheap to buy bottled.
- Thailand Lonely Planet – I love to have a hard copy of a guide book to read on planes and buses when I don’t have internet access. Also there are some great maps and travel ideas in the Lonely Planet so although there is a lot online, I still recommend carrying a copy.
Where to stay in Bangkok
If you are a traveler or backpacker, most people stay at the hostels and guest houses on Khao San road, which is lively and a great atmosphere and a good place to meet other travellers. If you have a bit more cash to splash then consider one o the hotels along the Chao Praya river – some of the expensive ones even have their own boat transfers to the temples!
- There are some cheap hostels in Bangkok for backpackers on a budget. Try Changsiam Coffee & Hostel, the Yard Hostel Bangkok or Mad Monkey (this is a party hostel so don’t book if you want quiet and relaxing!).
- For a medium budget hotel I highly recommend the IBIS Bangkok Riverside or the Novotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 4. Both have a nice pool and it’s easy to get to the main sites.
- If you are looking for luxury then you can’t go wrong with the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok or the Bangkok Shangri La.
- Looking for an airport stopover then you are likely to stay in or around Lat Krabang. There is a big selection of hotels that have airport shuttles in Bangkok and it’s all very well signposted in the airport. I’d recommend the Golden Jade Suvarnabhumi as a mid range hotel stop over and for something a little more up market the Siam Mandarina Hotel – Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Is Bangkok Worth Visiting – Overall Verdict
So, overall, is Bangkok worth visiting?! Yes, absolutely – it is a must do travel destination. But plan your time carefully and after 4-5 days in Bangkok and maybe a couple of day trips, head North to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai or South to the islands to experience some of the best of what Thailand has got to offer!
Further Reading on Bangkok
If you enjoyed this article on ‘Is Bangkok worth visiting?’ you might also like to read:
- What to wear in Thailand
- The most amazing Bangkok temples
- Taking an Ayutthaya day trip from Bangkok
- Thailand temple dress code for travellers
- Solo Travel Thailand and why you should totally go for it