Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bangkok Pros and Cons

Sunrise in Bangkok, from my $17 a night hotel.

The other day, while waiting for a taxi (which never came), my friends and I were discussing the pros and cons of Bangkok.  They hate it.  I like it.  Here are some of our perspectives:


  • Weather.  I admit, I hate the hot, humid season in Bangkok.  And it is hot and humid most of the year.  January, though, is lovely.  Highs in the 80's-low 90's.  Beats the heck out of snow.

  • Transportation.  Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Bangkok, so how can that be a "con"?  It is very common for taxis to stop but then refuse to take you.  Too far, don't want to take a certain road, don't want to make a u-turn, not in the mood.  Whatever.  Especially on weekend nights or when it is raining, getting a cab in Bangkok can be impossible.  And if you think calling a taxi to come to you will solve the problem?  No, it won't because they will frequently say they are minutes away, but never arrive.  Yes, BTS and MRT are great but limited in their coverage of the city.  One last knock on taxi drivers.  Most don't speak English, which isn't a problem if you have your destination address written in Thai but most also don't have a clue where anything is.  I used to stay near one of the major intersections in Bangkok (Asoke and Sukhumvit).  I've been there often enough that I could easily drive myself there from the airport.  But I had innumerable taxi drivers who didn't have a clue where it was.  Or how to get to the international airport, for that matter.  A small hotel on a residential alley?  Forget it.
  • Sidewalks.  I don't mind walking.  It's good exercise and there's always something to see in Bangkok.  But the "sidewalks" on all but main roads are about 15 inches wide (not joking) and frequently blocked by garbage or motorbikes.  When you get on a "real" sidewalk on a main road and are strolling happily you have to beware of motorbikes flying up behind you.  On the sidewalk.  It is disconcerting and dangerous.  Oh, and did I mention that at night the sidewalks are generally blocked by food carts?  Beware - pedestrians do NOT have the right of way.
  • People.  My friends argued that people in Bangkok (as with many large cities) are rude and unfriendly.  That hasn't been my experience for the most part but I do have issues with the vast number of 20 somethings who are so focused on their phones that they bump into everyone in front of them.
  • Air quality.  My friends didn't mention this but I think it's an issue.  Better than large cities in China for sure, but still not great air quality, especially certain times of year.
  • Prices.  My friends complained about the prices in Bangkok.  That's only because they've lived in Mandalay for several years.  Some time back in the high priced U.S.A. will remind them how good the prices in Bangkok are.  30 minute taxi ride for less than $10?  Try that in San Francisco.
And now...

You can buy the kinds of groceries you find in the USA but you will pay dearly for them.  Sometimes, it's worth it.
You can find delicious street food everywhere, from morning until late evening.  The largest variety is in the evenings.  It is easy to get a meal for less than $2.
  •  Prices.  Are there cheaper cities in the world?  Yes.  Can you get bargains in Bangkok?  Yes.  If you stay in the heart of the tourist area (Sukhumvit), you'll be paying top dollar for hotels.  If you stay on Khao San Road you can find cheap but that doesn't necessarily translate to good value.  Plus you'll be surrounding by backpackers, many of whom seem to have been raised by wolves.  If you stay in areas like Chatuchak, you can get a clean, modern, quiet hotel with all the amenities for less than $20 a night. 

    Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city and you can get pretty much any kind of food you would like.  And you can find it on the street or in a high-end restaurant.  I don't believe that price equates to quality when it comes to food.  I've eaten some of the best meals of my life from street vendors for less than $2.  I've never gotten sick from street food in Bangkok.  If you want food from an American chain, be prepared to pay prices similar to what you'd pay at home.  And while I get the craving for something familiar from home, if you come to Bangkok and only eat KFC and McDonalds, you are missing out.  By the way, coffee has become very popular here. Starbucks is everywhere, charging Starbucks prices.  Or you can stop in at a local's place and get something as good (or better, in my opinion) for less than a dollar.  When it comes to groceries, you can get most of the items you'd find at a Kroger's or Publix at stores like Villa Market.  But you will pay dearly.  On the other hand, visit a small local grocery store and buy local products and you'll save a LOT.

    Things like massages, manicures, and hair cuts vary widely in price.  If you opt for salons in the fancy malls you'll pay U.S. prices.  If you opt for clean, friendly establishments where the locals go, you can easily find a massage for $6 an hour.  Haircut with includes a 30 minute head massage for $7.  The staff may not speak fluent English but it's really not necessary.
    My $7 hair cut. 
Check out the next post for more reasons I like Bangkok.

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