I Love Bangkok Even Though I Hated It on My First Visit
Bangkok is the type of city that most people seem to either love or hate. I fall into both camps. When I first visited in 1999, I vowed never, ever to come back again. Jump forward almost 25 years and it’s now my favorite place in the world.
My first visit to Bangkok
When I first visited, it was for a 3-day stopover on the way back to the UK from Australia. It was a month-long trip and I guess I was a little tired from all the traveling I’d done.
I had stopped in Hong Kong for a few days on the outward journey and traveled quite extensively around Australia. I was far from refreshed.
Brutal heat and humidity
When I arrived in Bangkok, the heat and humidity were like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was brutal.
Back in those days, public transport was very limited and most taxis seemed to be scammers. It wasn’t a great introduction to Bangkok.
My first taxi experience in Bangkok was when I asked to be taken to a specific restaurant. The taxi driver kept trying to persuade me to go to a different one. I kept saying no. He then stopped suddenly and told me to get out because he couldn’t take me to where I wanted to go.
I was thrown out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Even though I had no idea where I was, I managed to flag down another taxi to take me to my destination. Luckily, he was an honest driver.
Then there was the attempted Grand Palace scam. I had gotten a bus to it and arrived at the opposite side of the main entrance. A young guy started chatting to me. He asked where I was from, asked what football team I supported, and seemed like just a regular, friendly guy.
He said he supported Aston Villa and even knew the names of some players, He also mentioned that he knew they were an unfashionable team to support. His fake story was very well delivered. I believed him, until…
… he asked if I knew that the Grand Palace was closed that day. I said I didn’t realize that. No worries. He had a friend that was a tuk-tuk driver. He’d take me to visit the best places that not many tourists got to see. Oh, how lucky I was. Not.
I immediately thought this must be a scam. I told him I had to meet some friends at the main entrance so would come back for the tuk-tuk. Needless to say, the Grand Palace was open.
This scam still operates today. If you ever visit Bangkok and are told by a “friendly” local that something is closed, just say thanks and walk away. Do not engage them in conversation at all. They are almost all scammers.
As you can see, everything bad that could happen did happen. There were other attempted taxi scams, but it was the heat and humidity that was the real killer. It was so bad that I vowed never to come back.
My second visit
I really had no intention of returning. When I sold my business in 2010, I had already contacted some lawyers about getting a visa to live in the US. I had visited New York over a dozen times and it’s where I planned to live.
Then I met a Thai woman that was studying English in London. We hit it off and started dating. After a few months, it was time for her to move back home. She suggested I go with her.
So, my New York plans took a back seat. My memories of the heat and humidity of Bangkok were quite a distant memory. How bad can it be, I thought.
I decided to give it a year in Bangkok and then decide whether to stay or not. So, I rented out my apartment in London for a year and off I went.
Renting my apartment out was a way to stop me from rushing back after a week or two. I was committed to a year in Bangkok. I needed enough time to give it a go.
Curfew in Bangkok
Unfortunately, the day I arrived, there had been an upsurge in political violence in the city. Many buildings had been burnt down. It was such a serious situation that during my first few days, there was a 6 pm to 6 am curfew. No one was allowed out. I felt weird not being able to leave my hotel in the evenings.
I wondered what I had done. Things weren’t looking good. But every cloud has a silver lining.
A great time to get a good deal on a condo rental
The political violence that was engulfing the city meant that many tourists and expats had left. What did that mean? It meant that condo rental prices dropped substantially.
I spent my first two weeks in a hotel and then started looking for long-term accommodation. The condo I settled on was in a 5-story building. The whole building had been full of tenants before the escalation in violence, but now the top three floors were completely empty. They had even switched off the electricity.
The owner gave me a great deal and I chose the best condo, which was on the 5th floor. It was in a great area and away from most of the violence.
After a couple of months, my relationship with the woman I’d met in London was over and I was alone in a big, chaotic city. I didn’t know the language, didn’t know my way around, and felt a little isolated.
But I also felt great. I love big cities and had fun exploring Bangkok and meeting new people. I took up personal training, made some friends, and started to build a routine. I started to feel like Bangkok was my home.
As I got to know the city, I started to fall in love with it. Unlike London, the people of Bangkok are very friendly. Once you start eating and shopping locally, you realize that there’s a real community spirit. People look out for each other and help wherever they can.
Whenever I got stuck with the language, some friendly local that knew a little English would turn up to help out.
My condo was near a market, and many of the stallholders started giving me small discounts or added free items. I was treated so well there.
As a tourist visiting for a week or two, you won’t notice this side of the city. You’re more likely to be overcharged if you only hang out in the main tourist areas.
No one seems to know the exact population of Bangkok, but it’s around 8-10 million. Many people from poorer parts of the country come to work there in the informal economy, so they aren’t documented, as they don’t pay any tax. Only a minority of the Thai population pays income tax. Equality is not great there.
So, what do I love about Bangkok?
Mostly it’s the people and how easy life is. It’s such a laid-back place where many laws seem to be optional. People don’t get worked up about small issues like they do in the UK. And people in authority will tend to help you with any issues instead of arresting you or fining you as they do in the UK. Everything is very chill.
People go out of their way to help you. A while back, I was at a small local restaurant and wanted a brand of beer that they didn’t sell. The waitress went to the local 7-Eleven to buy some for me. Not everywhere will do that, but these kinds of experiences are pretty common.
I also love the diversity of the city. There are so many distinct areas of the city that it’s great fun to explore. You never know what weird or crazy sight you’ll see, especially off the beaten track.
The food is amazing. Whatever you want, you can get. Anything from $1 street food to high-end dining.
While Bangkok isn’t cheap these days, it’s very affordable. I’m moving into a new condo next week. It’s probably around 25-30% of what I pay when I’m in London.
General day-to-day living is very affordable. There are some things here that are very expensive though. If you have children, sending them to an international school will take a large chunk out of your money.
I know one couple that spends $25,000 a year to send their 8-year-old daughter to an international school. Now, imagine if you have 2-3 kids. It’s unaffordable for most.
Some supermarket goods are also quite extortionately priced. To give just one example, a can of Gillette Shaving Gel costs around £2 in London but around £7 in Bangkok.
Another thing I love about Bangkok is the reasonably priced medical care you can get here. Bangkok has some of the best hospitals in the world, with Western-trained and English-speaking doctors. You can see a top doctor at a top hospital for under $25. The private hospitals and way better than any I’ve seen in the UK.
London vs. Bangkok Healthcare
My local hospital in London looks 3rd world in comparison to what Bangkok has to offer.
Once I needed an X-ray of my arm when I was living in London. It took me over a week to get a doctor’s appointment. Then the doctor gave me a document to take to the local hospital to get the X-ray. I had to wait around two hours at the hospital. Then I had to wait for two weeks for the results to be sent to my doctor and another week to actually see the doctor.
As it happens, I also needed an arm X-ray on my arm when I was in Bangkok. I turned up and the hospital and waited under 5 minutes to see a doctor. She said I need an X-ray and told me that the nurse would take me to the x-ray department.
I asked if I needed to make an appointment to come back for the results. She looked a bit surprised and said no need for that as the nurse would bring me straight back. I was confused.
The nurse took me to the X-ray department, I had the X-ray, and she took me straight back to the doctor. Whenever you see a doctor at a private hospital in Thailand, there is always a nurse in the room to help.
When I got back to the doctor’s room, she already had the X-ray on her computer screen. After my UK experience, I was pretty stunned. The cost was around $40. From arriving at the hospital to leaving was under 15 minutes. In London, it took over a month.
Life is just so easy in Bangkok
I was watching a video yesterday about a couple that move back to Ireland after living for 12 years in Bangkok. The woman said life was much tougher in Ireland. Why? She said that Bangkok had spoilt her. The living is so easy that everywhere else seems harder in comparison.
It’s hard to imagine that a city as big as Bangkok can be so laid back. When you first arrive, it can seem very chaotic. It’s like a complete assault on the senses. You may wonder how you’ll ever survive. But when you get to know the city, you learn to go with the flow. You realize that within the chaos everyone is very laid-back. Thais have a great sense of humor and are always joking and messing around.
A small Thai lesson
White foreigners in Thailand are called farangs by the locals. The Thai word for guava is also farang.
You need to know that to understand this short story. I was buying fruit at a local market stall and the owner was always having a joke with someone or other. One day, a young Thai woman arrived and asked if she could have a farang. The owner pointed at me and said… there’s a farang, you can have him. It caused much laughter in the queue.
It’s little incidents like that that help keep people in an upbeat mood. It makes the city feel like such a small and friendly place. It makes it feel like home.
For me and my wife, it is one of our homes. We spend at least six months here every year. The rest of the time we mostly spend in Europe.
What’s a place that you love?
Where to stay in Bangkok
If you’re looking for a great hotel in this area that’s reasonably priced, I can recommend St. James Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 26. It’s only a 5-minute walk from both Emporium and EmQuartier food courts.
See our review of St. James Hotel, Bangkok.