Bangkok is a chaotic, bustling metropolis that has all the conveniences of a modern day city with a dash of Thai culture. It’s the gateway to Asia for white people because the flights are cheap and it’s the least intimidating city on the continent.
I started in the Bangkok for exactly that reason. I wanted to get my bearings before venturing into the really asian places.
The city is incredibly easy to understand and navigate. Most of the locals speak English, you’ll find food that you’re familiar with if you’re not ready to sample local cuisine, and getting around requires little effort or thought.
Think of Bangkok as your crash course to Asia. After a few days you’ll know how to get around, how to haggle, what to eat, and if you meet people, where else to go on the continent.
Bangkok has the best nightlife out of any destination I visited. It’s a really seedy place and I mean that in the best way possible. The city is ready to indulge your worst impulses with sex clubs, strip clubs, lady boy prostitutes, jerk off massages and everything in between.
I spent 5 days here and would advise you to spend fewer. This is a city best enjoyed in small doses.
In my opinion, traveling should offer somewhat of a challenge or at least open you to new experiences. You won’t find much personal growth at a backpacker bar or nightclub in Bangkok.
I have to give credit where credit is due. A majority of this guide came from my friend Stu, a Bangkok expert who sent me the travel bible on the city. All praise goes to Stu. Since this is meant to be “brutally honest” I’ll only cover the stuff I actually did and leave out the Stu recommendations I missed.
This is the brutally honest guide to Bangkok.
General Advice Before you Bang the Kok
This is the basic advice you need before going or deciding if you want to go.
It’s a Dirty Place
Bangkok is just like any other city in the world only more so. The pollution, the traffic, the crowds are all amplified. Here are some lessons that I learned very quickly:
- Get used to bad smells because they are everywhere. Walking down the street alternates between the most delicious food and shit mixed with garbage.
- Everybody smokes everywhere all the time. As somebody that smokes, I loved it. If you hate cigarettes then get ready to enter the thunderdome.
- Don’t eat raw seafood, especially oysters or any shellfish, they’re the filters of the sea and the water around Bangkok is grimy sludge. As a matter of fact only eat cooked seafood.
- Buy one of those surgeon masks that Asian people always wear to protect your face and mouth from smog. There are cars and trucks constantly belching out noxious gas and if you take a motorbike or a tuk-tuk it’s like sucking on the tailpipe.
The Traffic Never Stops
I made this mistake twice, once on the way to my cooking class and once on the way to the muay thai fight. I didn’t even glance at the traffic beforehand and both journeys, which usually take around 30 minutes, ended up taking me almost 2 hours each.
My Grab (Uber in Asia) drivers hated me because they’re paid a fixed price. I’m guessing both guys wasted half a tank of gas because I can’t be bothered to plan ahead.
Give yourself 30-45 extra minutes for travel no matter where you’re going. The worst case scenario is you arrive slightly early.
Be Careful Attending a Ping Pong Show
Put those Balls in the air, PUT THOSE BALLS IN THE AIIIIIR
I get the appeal of a woman shoot darts and ping pong balls out of her vagina with lethal accuracy and I understand why you would want to witness it. Personally, I sat out because I heard you can get robbed if you choose the wrong one.
Some of these places will tell you one price then trap you when you try to leave and demand more money. Be careful where you go and make sure you DO NOT BRING YOUR PASSPORT under any circumstances.
And only bring the cash you need. That way if you get robbed you only lose what’s on you.
That Hot Local Girl is Probably a Dude
Ladyboys are everywhere in Bangkok and a lot of them are gorgeous. If there’s a beautiful Thai looking woman aggressively hitting on you at a nightclub, it’s not your lucky day, she has a penis.
Don’t drink anything with ice in it
Trust me on this one. I had a bucket of liquor on Khao San Road and the ice they put in it led to me having a very bad day. Drink beer, shots, and hot coffee. You don’t want to risk being dysentery Gary for the rest of your vacation.
The Police Just Want Money
Helping the police pay their rent
If you want to rent a moped don’t have your international license, be prepared to pay about 500-1,000 baht in fines every day. Cops set up checkpoints and will stop any white person on a two wheeled vehicle.
If you have time to plan ahead get your motorcycle license and pay for the international license at AAA. If you have that, they can’t fuck with you. They’ll still try but stand your ground.
If you’re extra ballsy, you can drive through the checkpoint. They literally can’t chase you because they don’t have cars.
If you ever find yourself in trouble with the law in Asia, money talks. Just pay and move on.
Bangkok Things You Cannot Miss
No matter how much time you spend in Bangkok, these activities are a must.
Take a Long Boat Tour
Grab a few people from your hostel, buy some beer at the local 7-11, and book a private boat tour at the Tha Chang Pier down the street from the Grand Palace.
Don’t worry about where to find the long boats, they’ll find you. If you look touristy at all a Thai woman will appear out of nowhere you and ask if you want to take one.
They’ll try to charge you 1,000 baht per person and if you pay that much you’re an idiot. Negotiate down to 300-500 baht per person and if they won’t budge just start to walk away. I promise they’ll accept.
Also, DO NOT go to the Floating Market, it’s a nightmare (see below). They’ll definitely try to send you there.
While the river is pretty gross, traversing Bangkok through the canals gives you a unique view of the historic sections of the city and a glimpse into how people in the city used to live.
It’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon and get away from the chaos for a minute. Sure the river smells like Hepatitis but the alcohol makes it tolerable.
See King Cobras at The Snake Farm
When Stu told me about the Snake Farm it sounded like the most touristy bullshit I’ve ever heard. I would’ve skipped it but I didn’t have any friends and had nothing to do so off I went.
The Snake Farm was opened on 22 November 1923 by Queen Savang Vadhana, then President of the Thai Red Cross, on the Red Cross’ premises. Thai people wouldn’t stop dying from snake bites so the Red Cross started producing antivenom.
Basically, you watch these snake handlers antagonize king cobras and giant pythons. King Cobras are one of the deadliest snakes in the world and instead of putting them behind glass and keeping the public safe, they just throw it on the ground outside and fuck with it for your amusement.
There’s no fence, no safety precautions, nothing. I walked in and the first thing I saw was two handlers antagonizing a cobra with their boots.
It was like watching a YouTube video where you KNOW something bad is going to happen. I was waiting with giddy anticipation to see how things go wrong. Thankfully these guys remained safe but the possibility kept me entertained all afternoon.
They also show you how they extract venom from the snakes to make the anti-venom. The snakes are very unhappy about being kept in a box all day before being fang raped.
I felt like a little kid seeing a zoo for the first time. Seriously, don’t miss out.
Enjoy the Brutality of a Muay Thai Fight
You can find shitty muay thai fights all over Bangkok but you’re much better off booking a front row seat at Lumpinee Stadium. For 1,800 baht you get to sit 3 ft. away from the ring and watch nine, yes NINE, fights in one night while a waiter brings you cheap light beer.
I drank around 15 light beers with a guy sitting next to me from New Zealand. I was glad to have him there, it would have been kind of pointless alone since I wouldn’t have had anybody to lean over to and go “did you fucking see that!?”
Make sure you go on a Tuesday (if possible) because you’re guaranteed to see the best fighters. The action is non-stop. There’s no entrances or introductions, you wait maybe 5 minutes between fights.
This is the cheapest you will ever pay to see violence this beautiful, this close. I literally heard a man’s ribs break. It was awesome.
Take a Cooking Class
If you’re looking for authentic homemade Thai food, a cooking class in Bangkok is the best way to get it.
And not just any cooking class, Chef Leez cooking class. She’s an expert with decades of experience cooking Thai food and an infectious passion for teaching others.
It’s like stepping a random house in Thailand and having somebody’s grandma cook for you. She’s patient and informative every step of the way.
You get 11 courses which covers every single classic Thai dish you can think of. Yellow thai curry, tom yum, pad thai, mango sticky rice, the gang is all here. You make everything from scratch but her and her crew do most of the prep work.
This was the best food I had in Bangkok. I went everywhere and tried everything but nothing was as clean, tasty, and fresh as the food I had here.
Explore the Wanglang Siriraj Market
This was my first experience with markets in Thailand and I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s a bustling market of off-brand clothes and shoes, fake watches, bootleg electronics, and incredible food.
Spend a few hours shopping and eating here. You could even get those new Off-White Adidas Nike collaboration shoes that don’t exist anywhere else.
It’s not as humongous and pristine as the MBK Center (which you should also check out) but it’s way more local and fun.
Bangkok Things You Should Avoid
Save yourself some time, headaches, and money by avoiding these garbage dumps.
The Floating Market
I’d rather be in a drive by shooting
Imagine going to a mall but none of the stores exist, it’s only those kiosks in the middle with the aggressive salespeople who think eye contact means “I definitely want to buy something”. And you can’t run away because you’re trapped on a boat. That’s the floating market.
Khao San Road
If you’re 19-21 and looking to get blackout drunk and suck down nitrous balloons then stay on Khao San Road. If you’re anybody else, read why you should stay the hell away from this cesspool of humanity.
Where you Should eat
Street Food is the Best
There are countless restaurants in Bangkok but the street food is where it’s at. No recommendations here, I couldn’t remember the names of these places if I tried, and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to spell it. The Thai script is impossible to decipher to Americans like me.
“Meet me at..weird U, half S with a semicircle on top, even weirder U. You know what I’ll send you my location”
Browse the food carts and tiny market shops that line the street and pick out what you want.
When in doubt, look where all the Thai people are eating and wait for one of them to leave. Ordering can be difficult because of the language barrier but almost all of the places have laminated menus with photos that give you at least some idea of what you’re about to eat.
I didn’t have a bad meal the entire time I was there and I was basically fumbling around like a blind man, stopping wherever I saw a crowd. Half the time I didn’t even know what I was ordering and still loved it.
Thai stir fry, roast chicken, fresh fruit, fried plantains, grilled meat sticks, anything you want is a short walk away.
My Favorite Restaurant: Supatra River House
This cozy little spot is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya and inside the Wanglang market. It’s a local favorite in the middle of tourist country that has delicious food and cheap beer.
You get a nice view of the river and can people watch while you eat. It’s a nice break after walking around the wanglang market for a few hours. Their papaya salad is probably the best I had in Bangkok.
Where to Get Drunk
RCA is the place to go if you want to experience the best Bangkok nightlife has to offer.
Catch a 30 minute cab from the Khao San Road area on a Friday or Saturday night and join the block party that’s always raging. It’s a much better alternative to the dirty, cheap Khao San Road.
There is a huge mix of clubs, rooftop bars, restaurants open 24/7, the entire area caters to club junkies and partygoers. You don’t need a plan, just show up during happy hour, go to a rooftop bar for food and pregame, then hop around the massive nightclubs until you can’t take anymore.
You’ll pay a cover fee at most of these clubs but it is absolutely worth it. They are the cleanest, most elegant nightclubs I’ve ever seen.
My Favorite Club: Route66
Route 66 had the best setup of any club I’ve ever been to. This massive, pristine smorgasboard of bad decision packs 3 completely distinct clubs into 1. Somehow, it all blends perfectly.
There’s the main room which resembles most clubs you’ve seen, the key difference being “table service” means you get a spot at these long tables where you can actually interact with people. The main room is blasting Top 40 hip hop music so it was my favorite.
The EDM room which will make you have a seizure if you have epilepsy it has wall to wall TVs including the floor. If you’re on drugs stay in here.
The back room has cover bands and more of a relaxed, local atmosphere. I didn’t spend much time here but it was a place to escape the blaring music for a few minutes.
Even the bathrooms were jaw dropping. The production values in this place are astonishing for a nightclub.
It’s also really, really clean and has a bar every 5 feet. I can’t recommend it enough.
My Favorite Rooftop Bar: Above 11
Expensive but worth it. Make a reservation a few days in advance otherwise you’ll be forced to awkwardly stand at the bar.
The Japanese-Peruvian menu is delicious (try the ceviche sampler), the drinks are strong, and the views are unbeatable. It was raining while we were there and we still had a good time.
It’s expensive for Bangkok but not expensive in the grand scheme of things. Be prepared to pay $4-$8 for gourmet cocktails and probably around $30 on food. For the view, service, and quality that’s still really cheap.
Get in, Get Down, Get Out
While it’s tempting to get lit every night, sleep all day in your hostel, and do it all over again, why? You can get drunk at home, the experience isn’t that much different in Bangkok.
Sure, it’s fun but it’s a city. Unless you’ve never been to a city you’ll tire of it pretty quickly. Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, the Thailand countryside, the Thai islands, all offer more fulfilling, unique experiences.
Don’t get me wrong, going out all night is fun but ultimately unfulfilling. When people ask you about your experience you want to be able to tell them about it. It’s hard to do that when all of your stories are filled with cheap shots and jerk off massages.
Bangkok is a lovely, wondrous, awe inspiring city with nightclubs that make Vegas look boring. Start here, get adjusted, get the partying out of your system and move on.
Being Uncomfortable is a Good Thing
New places should fill you with equal amounts of wonder and anxiety at first. You should be nervous because it’s unfamiliar. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I’ve learned that being uncomfortable while traveling means you’re in the right place.
The only time you grow as a person is when you’re uncomfortable. The fear comes from the unknown Your brain assesses threats and situations by comparing it to things you’ve done before. When it doesn’t have any comparisons it tells you to be scared.
Once you realize that you can ignore that “gut feeling” telling you to “RUN AWAY”. People always tell you to “trust your gut” but that’s not always the best move. I have anxiety and my “gut” is screaming “RUN AWAY” pretty much all the time.
Strive to be as uncomfortable as possible. You may not always know where you’ll end up but you’ll know you’re going in the right direction.
Don’t just do the same things in a different country, explore. Scare the shit out of yourself. Be bold, do things that inspire the people around you, get lost in the middle of a country you don’t understand. Eat things that would be illegal to serve in America.
If you’re reading this guide, you made the decision to travel to Asia or you’re at least thinking about it. You have the balls to do it, don’t hold back once you get there.
Strive for your journey to be exciting rather than comfortable.