Bangkok is the bustling capital of Thailand and one of the most visited cities in the world. It’s usually the first place people land when they are embarking on a Thailand trip, but many people decide to skip it in favor of other destinations in the country.
If you’re one of those people wondering; is Bangkok worth visiting? Or should I use it as a stop-gap? Then you have come to the right place.
While some people think Bangkok is over-populated, chaotic and polluted, others find it vibrant, authentic, and culturally diverse.
To find out which side of the fence you might sit on, we’re going to dive a little deeper into whether Bangkok is worth visiting and who it appeals to.
Reasons To Visit Bangkok
1. Exploring the Cultural Landmarks
One of the biggest reasons why Bangkok is worth visiting is because of the sheer number of incredible cultural landmarks for you to visit.
The most visited attraction in Bangkok is without a doubt The Grand Palace and it is an absolute must-see on any first-time trip to the city.
It’s a stunning complex right in the heart of the city, which has been the official residence of the Kings of Thailand and Siam since the city’s inception in 1782.
Walking around the beautifully manicured grounds, marvelling at all of the gorgeous buildings that call the Palace home is an unforgettable experience.
Make sure to visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a royal chapel that houses one of the most revered statues of Buddha in all of Buddhism.
Wat Pho is another significant attraction that you should not miss when in Bangkok, and luckily, it’s just a short stroll away from The Grand Palace.
Not only is it one of the largest and oldest temples in the whole city, but it also houses the famous Reclining Buddha, believed to be the largest in the world!
Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, is again another unmissable attraction, sitting pretty on the banks of the Chao Phraya River since 1768.
2. Authentic Night Markets
If there’s one thing that Thailand knows how to do well, it’s night markets. Every single night up and down the country, food carts, gazebos, and stalls line the streets in the majority of the main cities, and being the capital, Bangkok is no different.
In fact, some of the best night markets can be found in the city, combining the best of street food, clothing, and souvenirs.
An excellent night market for you to go to is Jodd Fairs, located right by Rama 9 MRT station. This was originally a much larger market near the current location, however was closed down several years ago, and in its place opened Jodd Fairs.
Another one we really like is Train Night Market, which feels more local than touristy. It’s a great place to pick up some vintage fashion, second-hand clothes, and street food.
As well as the food stations, there are lots of clothing stalls and also a nice open area with deckchairs and live music for you to take in your big city surroundings.
If you’ve ticked Jodd Fairs off of your list, another excellent night market to visit is Chatuchak Market, famous for being one of the largest open-air markets in the world.
The night version is unfortunately not as large however it is still worth visiting, with this particular night market focused more on clothing and other items rather than food.
3. Experience the Vibrant Nightlife
If you like to think of yourself as a bit of a party animal, then Bangkok is easily one of the best cities in the world for you to visit.
One of the main reasons I love Bangkok so much is that it seems like a city that never truly sleeps. The nightlife is genuinely world-class and you are pretty much guaranteed to never need to go back to the same bar twice.
Khao San Road has been one of the pillars of the city’s nightlife for two or three decades now, and is a major hub for tourists and travellers from all corners of the globe to congregate and enjoy a night out.
Thunderous bars and clubs bellow out music until the early hours every night, and you can always be guaranteed a good time there if that’s your type of scene.
Besides the madness of Khao San Road, you also have the area around Nana Plaza to indulge in, however this area is more focused on the adult entertainment scene, with plenty of bars all vying for your custom under the spell of rather scantily clad women, which of course, isn’t most people’s cup of tea.
Bangkok is also a wonderful place for a few cocktails with a view too, with plenty of incredible rooftop bars for you to scale. Vertigo is one of the top rooftop bars in the city, perched right on top of the luxurious Banyan Tree Hotel.
4. Hidden Gems Beyond the Tourist Trail
One thing you’ll notice about Bangkok is that once you first get there, it is absolutely gigantic, with skyscrapers and tower blocks as far as the eye can see. Because of this, there are plenty of hidden gems to be discovered in the city in the form of neighborhoods and city sights that you might otherwise miss off of your itinerary.
One of the best hidden gems is Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market, which admittedly, does sound a little touristy, but because it’s quite a bit outside of the actual city center, it’s predominantly just locals going about their daily business with the odd scattering of tourists.
After strolling along the canals admiring the form of trading that has been practiced for hundreds of years, sampling some of the local Thai goodies on offer is an absolute must.
Freshly battered and fried banana is one of my personal favourites, as is Khanom Krok, a collection of small sweet Thai coconut pancakes. Another of Bangkok’s hidden gems is the beautiful Phutthamonthon Park, just a 25-minute drive west of the center.
You’ll have to drive there, however once you are there, if is a beautiful green oasis that doesn’t seem like it’s in such close proximity to one of the busiest cities in the world.
One gem we discovered on our last visit is The Erawan Museum, which is famous for its giant three-headed elephant statue.
Although you might think it’s impressive on the outside, the inside is simply gorgeous, with a winding silver staircase and stained-glass windows on the domed ceiling.
The main takeaway from this point is that Bangkok is so large that you will never be able to explore all of the hidden gems in the suburbs which means that you’ve basically got an unlimited amount of things to do!
5. Thai Cuisine and Street Food
If there’s one thing more famous than Bangkok itself, it’s Thai food in general. Everywhere you go in the world there will always be Thai restaurants, and that is because the food is so darn good!
Most dishes try to hit all of the key essentials that make up the cuisine, which is spicy (very!), sweet, sour, and salty. More often than not, all four of these will be in tandem with each other which can be quite intriguing for a Western palette, however once accustomed to the various dishes, there’s no going back.
It is common practice to order quite few dishes and share, unless you are in a fancy restaurant in which case normal service is resumed.
You’ll have your pick of scalding hot savoury noodle soups, fresh and cooling salads, spicy stir-fry dishes, grilled or fried fish or meat, and also a variety of aromatic curries too. Rice is an absolute staple in Thailand and you’ll rarely ever have a meal without it.
Being the capital, you can get pretty much every Thai dish that’s ever existed (if you know where to look) and some of the most popular dishes include Pad Krapow (minced pork or chicken stir-fried with Thai holy basil and a generous helping of chilli), Tom Yung Goong (a fragrant spicy and sour soup with whole prawns, and of course, the humble Pad Thai (sweet tamarind infused noodles with chicken, spring onions and beansprouts).
What makes Bangkok’s food cuisine so unique is that street food is the norm here. Some of the best food you’ll find served from a cart on the side of the road, where there is simply a plastic stool for you to sit on while you eat.
This may be a culture shock to some people, but it’s part of the culture here. If it’s not a cart on the side of the road, it’s common for restaurants to have tables and chairs set up outside on the street as space is a luxury in Bangkok.
6. Connectivity and Transport Options
Bangkok is so well connected that it just makes traveling easy.
You’ve got two international airports in Bangkok that serve the city, Suvarnabhumi, which is the main international airport where you will always land if you are arriving from overseas, and Don Muang Airport, which is a little further out of the city but still only a 25-minute taxi ride from the center.
Both airports are connected to the city by the various modes of public transport available. The MRT is one of the best underground subways that I’ve ever been on, being so clean, efficient, and just all-around easy to navigate as someone who doesn’t speak a word of Thai.
On top of the MRT, Bangkok also has the relatively new BTS (built in 1999), a massive skytrain network that also makes navigating the city cheap, easy, and efficient.
Taxis are also everywhere in Bangkok, and can generally be relied upon to be a hassle-free, private way of getting around, though you must always make sure the driver uses the meter.
If you’re feeling extra touristy, you can even hail one of the city’s tuk-tuks which make for a super-fun way of getting around and is what Bangkok is famous for. Even though they’re pretty stereotypical, you can’t visit Bangkok without hitching a ride in a tuk-tuk!
7. Excellent Shopping
If you’re looking for a country in Asia to do some high street shopping, then Bangkok is the city for you!
There are several world class shopping malls in Bangkok, where you can pick up global brands such as Zara, H&M, Nike, GUESS, and of course your designer brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
For high-end luxury, head to malls like Siam Paragon and CentralWorld, or if you prefer more high street and affordable fashion, consider Terminal 21 (also our favorite shopping mall for the cheap food court).
What sets Bangkok apart is its diverse range of shopping options. The city’s shopping malls are not just places to shop; they are architectural marvels that showcase the city’s modernity and innovation.
Moreover, Bangkok’s shopping malls offer more than just retail therapy. They house world-class restaurants, entertainment venues, and even art galleries. You can indulge in delectable cuisine, catch a movie, or admire contemporary art, all under one roof.
8. Cheap Thai Massages
Every time we go to Bangkok, the first thing we do is go for a Thai massage. Not only are Thai massages excellent for the mind, body, and soul, but they are a long-standing part of Thai culture.
The city is renowned for its traditional healing therapies, which have been practiced in the city for more than 2,500 years (or so the historians estimate!). Wat Pho is said to be the place where it all began, and if you’re lucky to get a massage here, you’ve ticket off a Thai bucket list item!
If you’ve never had a Thai massage before, allow me to clue you in. One of the key advantages of Thai massage is its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. The procedure combines gentle stretches, acupressure, and compression techniques, which helps to improve blood circulation and promote deep relaxation, calming the mind and soothing the body.
Not gonna lie, that’s the intent, but what it actually feels like is that you’re being kneaded like dough! Though you do feel good after, so persevere!
They say Thai massage is great for muscle pain, but we went after a Thai boxing class and can confirm it was painful on our legs and didn’t make us feel better. It probably depends on where your muscle pain is, so we recommend you go for one when you’re feeling fit and able or have minor muscle ache.
Read more: Why Thailand is Famous for Thai Massage
9. Friendly Locals
Thailand is not called The Land of Smiles for no reason. The warm hospitality and genuine friendliness of the local is why Bangkok is a city that truly shines. The locals in Bangkok are renowned for their welcoming nature and kind-heartedness, making it a compelling reason to visit this vibrant city.
When everything feels overwhelming and the traffic and business gets you feeling a little stressed, then interacting with the friendly Thai locals will settle your nerves.
Their warmth and genuine kindness create a sense of comfort and ease, and they make anyone feel welcomed. Thai people take pride in their reputation for hospitality, which is deeply ingrained in their society.
Cons of Visiting Bangkok
1. Crowded Urban Environment & Traffic
Unfortunately, some cons come with visiting Bangkok and the biggest one is how crowded and busy the city streets are.
It’s a genuine minefield of scooters, cars, taxis, trucks, tuk-tuks, and on the pavements, things don’t get much better. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and with all of this traffic and hustle and bustle comes the inevitable pollution as well.
Bangkok and the wider metropolitan area are home to over 10 million people. Naturally, the sheer amount of people going to work, driving to the dentist, doing the shopping, and whatever else the population of Bangkok does during the day makes the streets and public transport, in particular, busy, especially during the peak hours of the day.
There are no shortcuts either, Bangkok’s streets and alleys are fairly narrow meaning they’re congested a lot of the time during the day. If you aren’t a fan of spending your trip sitting in traffic jams then your best bet is to get acquainted with Bangkok’s MRT and BTS network, fast.
2. Poor Air Quality/Pollution
Bangkok’s air quality is among the worst in the world and this poor air quality can be seen in a thick haze in the summer months.
It’s one of the reasons many Thais choose to wear face masks, to protect themselves from the city’s polluted air.
As well as the pollution, Bangkok isn’t exactly quiet either. If the cars and scooters aren’t honking their horns, there’s a tuk-tuk or two flying past you with a loud modified exhaust.
The bottom line is, if you’re not a huge fan of cities, then you might find Bangkok quite a hard visit.
3. Need A Lot Of Time To See It All
So, as you might’ve figured out, there are so many amazing things to see and do in Bangkok that this could be considered a negative when visiting the city.
Bangkok is a city suited to those with a little more time on their side and might even be worth missing out on completely if you only have one or two days there.
There’s just no point rushing around what is a great city trying to cram in all of the must-sees just to say you’ve been there and done it.
While Bangkok is a vibrant and exciting city, it’s important to consider some potential downsides before planning your visit. Here are some cons to visiting Bangkok:
4. Scams and Touts
As a major tourist destination, Bangkok does have its share of scams and touts targeting unsuspecting tourists.
However, we found that scams in Bangkok are far less common than other countries in Southeast Asia (we’re looking at you, Laos).
The most common scam is the tuk-tuk scam. There are several scams that tuk-tuk drivers will try to pull on you, such as telling you that they know somewhere better than your destination and taking you elsewhere, or charging you more than you were expecting at the end.
Taxi drivers will also “forget” to use the meter, and then charge you a larger fee at the end. You can avoid this by taking Uber in Bangkok or by asking the taxi driver to use the meter.
Pickpockets are rare but they do happen, so don’t flash your expensive belongings. As with any city, it’s essential to stay vigilant and exercise caution to avoid falling victim to scams or overpaying for goods and services.
5. Hot and Humid Climate
Bangkok’s tropical climate means it receives high temperatures and humidity throughout the year.
This can be uncomfortable for some travelers, particularly those not accustomed to such weather conditions, and it can also feel a lot hotter due to the pollution.
Most of the year, you’ll find you sweat within minutes of leaving your hotel and need a shower, but you do soon get used to it.
The Verdict: Is Bangkok Worth Visiting?
Bangkok is easily one of the best capital cities in the world in terms of attractions, nightlife, cuisine and culture.
It’s got everything you want from a large metropolitan city, bundles of character, and it’s well connected to the rest of Asia and beyond through two major airports.
When I look back at the city as a whole, it’s little wonder why it is consistently ranked as one of the most visited on the planet (with an incredible 23 million visitors in 2019!).
We hope this guide helped you decide whether Bangkok is worth visiting and whether it’s a city that appeals to you.