What keeps you keep returning to BKK?

Old Jan 5th, 2006, 06:47 PM
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What keeps you keep returning to BKK?

Hi Asian travelers,
Now that my family and I have had a taste of BKK and surrounding areas, we are curious about why so many of you Fodorites return again and again to this large, crowded, old city? In fact, much of the chatter on this forum involves talk about BKK or other Thai cities. My questions:
1. What keeps you returning to BKK?
2. Where else in SE Asia do you feel just as enthusiastic about, and why?
3. How do you compare Thailand to travel in China (which is where we are considering in 2007)?
Many thanks for your reply...I love learning from all of you!
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 07:31 PM
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Hi, Terry, Bangkok is one of my favorite cities. I do return almost every year because I like to take a trip to Asia every year, and Bangkok is a great gateway. The other gateway city I use is Singapore. I use Bangkok as a gateway to other parts of Thailand, Laos, VietNam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal...

What I love about Bangkok is the energy, the people, the culture, the wats, the food, the shopping... I am seriously considering retiring to Bangkok part-time. (There are other places in Asia I am also considering) I like to go "off the beaten path" on my trips, so after time in more remote places, it's always a pleasure to return to the luxuries of Bangkok. As you know, Bangkok is a place where you can live very well, indeed, as a traveler for the price of a mediocre hotel room in the US or the price of a small closet in Europe.

I have traveled all over the world. Yes, there are always new places to see, and I always plan at least one new place on my Asia trip and another new place at another time in the year. While there are many places I enjoy, SE Asia always keeps calling me back - especially Bangkok.

Travel in Thailand in general is much easier than travel in China. I don't want to discourage you, as I think China is one of the great civilizations and you should see it, but China is more difficult in many ways. Fewer people speak English, and the travel infrastructure is less developed than in Thailand. The pitfalls for the unwary are much more than for Thailand in my experience. Pricing of all kinds seems incomprehensible at first (though you'll figure it out) and the variations in price for a hotel room or a plane ticket are much wider than in Thailand. China is also a huge country, and you'll have to make many more decisions about limiting what you plan to see than you do in Thailnd. You can still do China on your own, many of us have. It takes lots of research and preparation - and it's worth it.
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 07:37 PM
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I agree with Kathie. It's the energy, the people, the accomodations, the food, and the sanuk. I've been coming for years and will be leaving to fly back to L.A. today. I've been in Bangkok for three weeks. Had no desire to go anywhere else on this trip. I've also traveled all over the world....annually for 30-plus years...but Bangkok is at the top of my list although West Africa also has a big piece of my heart. Happy Travels!
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 09:25 PM
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Kathie and Guenmai, you both talk about the energy found in Bangkok. I am most interested in your description. That so-called energy surely must grow on people who give BKK a second and third chance and return again and again. To be honest, as a first-timer there recently who approached our visit "openly," I would not describe my experience of the city this time 'round as energizing (do you remember your first time in BKK?). For me, the experience was intense, some of that intensity good and some of that draining... overstimulating may be another way to describe the experience (now I wouldn't call Manhattan as overstimulating in the same way as I felt in BKK...why is that?). There was so much to learn on every level daily, and every day brought challenges to a newcomer...also as reflected in the many fodors comments and feedback. Our conversation serves to remind us of the differences that new (and new to Asia too) travelers vs. seasoned travelers may feel towards this destination...more so, I imagine, than other major cities in Asia? It definitely sounds like BKK is a city that can "grow" on you if you give it a second (and third) chance. Oh, and I totally get it about the luxuries found there and why people keep coming back for that. But visually, it's not the prettiest of cities, it's crowded, dirty, congested, but you are so right about the people and their gentle grace, their culture, the food, shopping.... It will be interesting to hear other people's perspective as well.

Given the challenges that you say are in China travel, Kathie (I can't believe that they are even more than in Thailand...gosh, I better start my education about travel in that country real soon, lol....If I hadn't logged on to this fodors asia forum before we left for Thailand, we would definitely have been a lot less prepared in all the choices we made), would you ever ever recommend a small group tour to do China? My husband and I are generally not group kinds of people, but we want to see a lot of the country and get around, but the amount of research and organization required feels overwhelming...well, especially since we are still recovering from our first-time Thailand/Siem Reap trip.

Btw, Guenmai, what is the sanuk? Wishing you a safe and comfortable flight back to LA!
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 11:04 PM
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Terry-


I find that all cities in Asia can be very overwhelming due to the crowds, the weather, and a very different set of manners, especially when it comes to shopping. You can do it on your own, but as a first timer, I find you need to be very, very prepared- hotels booked in advance, lists of places you hope to see, Phone numbers and maps, pages of tips, directions, and warnings highlighted with bright pens!

I found that Thailand, especially Bangkok, was really easy to figure out compared to places like India and China. Not only is it fairly compact with a good and safe transportation system, but the people are nice and English is widely used on signs. The restaurants and shops (and retail customs in general) are easy to understand.

Thats not to say you can't just come and wing it, but I find if I try to do that on a first visit to an asian country, I often don't seem to "connect". That happened when I went to China, and I'm only now thinking of returning.

When I went to India for the first time recently, I wanted to love it, so I was much more prepared and scheduled than I normally am, just so that I wouldn't have to worry about feeling lost or out of control. Even so, that is a country where it is REALLY hard to travel; talk about large, crowded, and old. Makes Bangkok feel like Disneyland!

I fell in love with Japan on my first visit many years ago, and still love it. I have returned many times and always find new places and new things to discover about it. Part of this stems from my familiarity with the culture and language. I know how to get around, how to find a place to eat, and how to shop and how to order my meals. Anywhere I go in Japan I can focus on the place and not just on 'survival'.

My sister, on the other hand, went to Tokyo and Kyoto, and just didn't get it-- too many big buildings, too many people, too hard to find a decent meal. She and her husband were there for him to do a talk, and did no advance plannning or reading. I know she'd love it if I took her instead!

So maybe familiarity is one reason that keeps people returning. You can figure out Bangkok pretty easily, but there is so much to do and see that it doesn't become boring.

One other thing I like about Thailand is that people there are not ashamed to be in the service business and many are genuinely friendly while providing a really luxurious experience.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 02:26 AM
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To be honest I don't think I would make BKK my main destination more than once. I had better define "main destination" - to my mind that is somewhere you spend at least 5 days in.

In 5 days you can see pretty much all BKK has to offer - and then return trips are about feeling at home in a foreign place.

I do - I like returning to BKK - but I do it because I hate travelling London to Sydney without a break. So, I get off at BKK. I feel the familiarity and enjoy the vibes, described by other posters, for a while - but only for as long as it takes to get out to somewhere else - whether it be in Thailand or elsewhere.

It's a fine gateway - but I cannot imagine why you would want to go there time and time again just to stay in the city.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 07:07 AM
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For a long time we were planning to stay in BKK for 5 days in the beginning of Nov. After reading all the great posts for BKK, I was planning to return even before I got there.

The reality was disappointing. The weather was hot and humid, exhausting, requiring 3 showers a day. The best description of the physical city I could think of was 'grungy'. The sidewalks was almost non-existant, and where present were dangerous to walk. It was crowded with people and packed with stands, such that it was most unpleasant. The streets were packed with smokey cars, and it was difficult to cross them. The klong trip was depressing for the falling down and collapsed 'buildings'. And I felt that there was not that much variety to see.

Yet the people were admirable for their friendliness and helpfulness. Except, of course, for the deceitfulness of the taxi and tuk tuk drivers.

I was certainly jaded by the oppressive weather, but the whole experience was that I would not rush to return.

Please, people, this is my opinion, and I am entitled to it. Please don't excoriate me for my opinion.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 07:24 AM
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Jed- I think if you did a little homework on this forum and followed the sage advice given here a lot of the disappointment would have been eliminated. Yes its hot- but by elisting the services of a good driver (Ratt), and by avoiding the Tuk Tuks, and yes even the taxis- your experience would have been much more pleasant. It also matters where you stay. BKK is a city that you have to experience slowly- pacing yourself.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 07:39 AM
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Billt-

I read every post here on BKK for months.

We went on a group tour, so we didn't need another guide.

We took one tuk tuk (for the experience) and 2 taxis.

We stayed at ROS on the river. Hard to beat.

Please tell me if any of the facts I mentioned were wrong.

It is not my purpose to demean BKK, just to give my experience.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 07:49 AM
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It's the people!! My last trip to BKK was in Sept/Oct and I did not leave BKK except for a two day stay on Phuket. I'm going back again on the 17th of jan and will leave BKK only to go to Chiang mai for a couple of days, during my two week visit. I agree with guenmai, I can stay in BKK for two weeks and enjoy every single day of it.
Carol
(hello from the Caribbean...)
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 07:54 AM
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Ok all of your points were accurate but since you read about the tuk tuks and taxis, the weather,- you knew that going in. I'm getting the impression that this might be your first trip to a SE Asian big city? Except for Singapore- a lot of what you point out can be applied to a lot of SEAsian cities.
Ratt is not a guide- she is driver and its by having a driver take you all over you can beat the heat and humidty to a large extent. Yes I agree even with Ratt you wind up take 2 or more showers - thats SE Asia for you.
I agree with you on the Klong tour- we skipped that also. But we did find the Grand Palace, Teak Manison , Jim Thompson House, night market, and BMK wonderful so our experience in BKK was very good. In other words the good out weighed the bad. But its not everyone's cup of tea so I understand what you are saying.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 08:15 AM
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jed, just curious how long did you stay in bkk and did you venture anywhere else on this trip?
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 08:22 AM
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We went to BKK (and other parts of Thailand in 1994)..We did not like Bangkok at all!! Next time we went to Thailand in 2001, we decided to skip Bangkok all together...

But now, after reading all of the positive posts about BKK, and have travelled more extensively to many large,hot,poluted cities...i can't help but want to go to BKK again, and see it for myself, again!! So that is why we have booked 6 nights after our trip to Goa in a few months!! I am hoping to see a BKK that i didn't see the first time!!!

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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 08:34 AM
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The tuk tuks and taxis were a minor factor.

I read about the weather, but until you experience it.....

We have been to China - 7 cities.

Most of the time we went by air-condirioned bus or vans.

My purpose is to describe BKK. You can say how to survive it.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 08:36 AM
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Different people like different things. Jed, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. The one comment I'd make is that I think your experience of Bangkok was colored by being on a tour. In my experience, tours rush you around, you don't have time or opportunity to chose what or when you want to do things. I can think of few things as awful as being herded through Bangkok! (I'm laughing as I write this)

Bill thinks your experience would have been better had you hired Ratt, I think your experience would have been better if you'd been on your own and could choose and do at your own pace. But you're the one who had the experience of Bangkok and only you can judge whether you would return.

fuzzylogic, I chuckled at your cocmment "In 5 days you can see pretty much all BKK has to offer - and then return trips are about feeling at home in a foreign place." I've been to Bangkok probably 20 times. I have new things I want to do on my list every time, and I always leave without having done all of them. Yes, there is a sense of "home" to Bangkok for me, but I wouldn't keep returning if there wasn't something new (in Bangkok as well as on the rest of my itinerary).
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 09:13 AM
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Kathie- when we hired Ratt we went at our own pace. Having a driver at your disposal is not that uncommon in Asia for the well to do. We set our own agenda and took our time in the things that we did with Ratt- as I have said many times- that heat/humidity can wear you down- it certainly did for us when we were on our own- climbing Skytrain stairs- geting lost at times wandering around. (those were the 2-3 shower days!)
Having Ratt (or other drivers) makes all the difference in that your energy level is not drained in 2 hours- we did so much more with our driver and came back more relaxed. In addition we were not schlepping packages all around on trains,boats or taxis. To each his own of course and its not everyone's cup of tea to get a driver. For us its the way to go!
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 09:15 AM
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i tried to contact ratt, but she is already booked (of course) and offered another driver. Heard so many mixed reviews on this, is it worth it?
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 09:19 AM
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Ratt is expanding her business and I think she is going through some growing pains with new people and perhaps a mixed level of service compared to what she provided when it was just herself and her husband. maybe check out Julie's taxi.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 09:25 AM
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I like Bangkok -- I like the vibrancy, the shopping, the streets that are alive with people and food stalls and animals and surprises.

But Bangkok is not my favorite city in Asia -- Hong Kong (a much easier city to visit) and Kyoto (tops for cultural charm) win that contest. Chiang Mai is actually my favorite city in Thailand, but the extra time needed to get there sometimes makes it beyond my reach).

My guess is that the emphasis on Bangkok in this forum is a self-perpetuating, but cyclical, phenomenon.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 09:44 AM
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Kathie -

Whether or not we were 'herded through Bangkok' doesn't change these facts:

The weather was hot and humid.
The sidewalks were either non-existant or dangerous. They were packed with people and stands. (I'm talking about the river and Silom areas.)
The city was 'grungy'.
The streets were packed with smokey cars. They were difficult to cross.
The buildings along the klongs were falling down.

Please tell me if any are incorrect.

This is not to badmouth BKK, but to add to the info on this board as to what to expect when they get there. You can see a previous post of mine: http://linktrim.com/4ay
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