Why Do People Travel To Bangkok?

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When I made up my mind to find a place to work for a few months, I went through a process of trying to figure out what would be the best place. Inside, however, I sort of knew the answer the moment I asked the question: I’d be going to Bangkok.

In the three weeks since I’ve been here I’ve met many expats living in Bangkok and travelers passing through Bangkok who have contacted me via Twitter. While I often meet people in cities I visit, nothing has come close to the volumes of people there are to meet in Bangkok. Every major world city has some expat population, but nothing seems to approach the size of the community I’ve met here in Bangkok. It isn’t just the size of the community either. It seems to have a special draw to bloggers and location independent workers. It is true of Thailand in general, as I know of even more people who are staying in the islands in the south or up in Chiang Mai, but Bangkok is the clearly the center of the action.

As I meet travelers in the region, the one constant in everyone’s itinerary is Bangkok. Khao San road is the perhaps the largest and best known backpacker hub in the world. There is so much tourism in Thailand that when the tsunami hit in 2005, it was the biggest natural disaster in terms of lives lost in the history of ……. Norway. The area around Sukhumvit Avenue where I’m staying has four British/Irish pubs within a one block distance. They should call the area “Little Britain”.

With every day that passes here I keep asking myself the question “Why Bangkok?” There are other great cities in the world, but what makes Bangkok such an attractive location? I’ve come to several reasons:

Bangkok is Cheap

Thailand might not have the lowest cost of living in the world, but compared to North America, Europe, Australia or Japan, Thailand is downright cheap. I’ve talked to people who stay in rooms for as little as $5/night. You can rent a fully furnished studio apartment (in a nice building) with utilities including internet for US$450/month. You can eat street food every day for $1 per meal. If you want to take part in a higher level of food and lodging, there are plenty of places for that as well. If you were starting an online business where you could work from anywhere in the world, keeping your costs low is your first priority. Bangkok is perfect for that. There is no way you could approach your living costs in any OCED country.

Bangkok is Developed

Bangkok is not the most developed city in the world, let alone South East Asia. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore score higher in those areas. Bangkok, however, has passed some threshold where it is developed enough. Malls like Siam Paragon are on a par with what I’ve seen in Dubai. The movie theaters I’ve seen here the best I’ve seen anywhere. The transportation system is far from perfect, but if you live near the BTS (skytrain), you can get around easily enough. Taxis are cheap and you can get to most places in town for under 100TBH (US$3). There are big box retailers and almost every other convenience imaginable.

Bangkok is Clean and Safe

I’ve heard some people say that they thought Bangkok was dirty. They haven’t seen a real dirty city. Maybe everything isn’t brand new like Dubai or Singapore, but you will not find much litter here. The streets are swept every day by hand. Street vendors have an incentive to keep their place of business clean. Outside of pickpockets that you can find in any major city, there is very little major crime. There is almost no graffiti. Thailand has issues with corruption, but it is far from the worst place in the region. If you mostly do business online, you are immune from most of it.

Bangkok is Wired

For a guy like me who spends a lot of his line online, this is huge. Even if money were not part of the equation, I’ve found connectivity to be an issue in places like Australia, New Zealand and Dubai. In Australia it can be slow and in Dubai it is slow and the government filters many legitimate sites like Flickr. In Europe the connection is good, but you almost always have to pay and arm and a leg to get online. Wifi is plentiful in Bangkok and you can often find open wifi just walking down the street. You can get a monthly unlimited wifi plan which covers most of the city for only 800TBH per month.

Bangkok is not the only city in the world that meets these criteria. I think Kuala Lumpur does too and I also considered Panama City, but I had never been there. I’m sure there might be some cities in Eastern Europe that could fit the bill as well.

Bangkok might not be this attractive forever. There are many unresolved political issues which are still simmering. Things could blow up here at some point in the future. It will probably not affect tourists or expats, but it will significantly reduce the appeal of the city.

I’d like to hear from people with more experience in Bangkok. What do you think of where the city has gone and where it is going? Also, what other cities in the world do you think meet the criteria of cheap/developed/wired?

24 thoughts on “Why Do People Travel To Bangkok?”

  1. Love Bangkok, we stayed there for 6 weeks across the river from Khaosan Road. A great place to hold up for a few months if you want to conserve funds and still have access to lots of things to see, do and experience. It pays to be close to the BTS Skytrain for ease of getting across town, we had to catch buses at times and was a long grind in the Bangkok traffic!

  2. I’ve been to Bangkok and I thought it was very dirty. Yes, the streets are swept but the rubbish is often piled up between buildings, under stairways etc. The smell of raw sewage assaulted my nose making eating on the street difficult to say the least. Air pollution, heavy traffic, hazards everywhere. Admittedly I stayed on Sukhumvit and the urban areas of Bangkok seem cleaner. I found other cities in Thailand like Hua Hin to be vastly better.

  3. Hey mate, love your site – did u make it yourself?! *jealous*!

    i lived in thailand for a couple of years but i spent most of my time living in chiang mai which is beautiful and away from most of the german sex tourists :P BKK, i’ve always found, to be quite abrasive as a city and although it’s fun to cut loose in i probably wouldnt choose to live there. I’m moving to KL for a while next month, i like to think of KL as a sterilised version of BKK!

  4. Yeah, Bangkok is great – been there maybe 15 times … also good are Phnom Pehn – Cambodia; San Pedro – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala; Sucre – Bolivia; Valparaiso & Santiago – Chile; Cartenga – Colombia; Buenos Aires – Argentina (assuming the peso is still low). ALSO: select areas of Morocco, Turkey, Laos, Indonesia, India … I have first-hand experience of visiting and / or living in all the above mentioned places.

    Regards – Michael Robert Powell

    the candy trail … on the road across the planet, since 1988

  5. Bankok is an awesomely vivacious city and its one of my favorite place. I hope you enjoy your time there! Great article

  6. I will be stopping in BKK for my first time in May, but only for a few nights. From what you and other bloggers have written about it, I can’t wait! Especially for the food.

    Other locations I’ve found cheap/developed/wired are Costa Rica (the more remote areas) and Asuncion, Paraguay.

  7. I read somewhere that there are over 3500 free Wi-Fi ‘Hot Spots’ in Kuala Lumpur, and they say that the entire capital city will be completely covered by a wireless broadband access network in the near future.
    For me when I was there 6 months ago it felt like it already was..!

  8. Excellent choice, what can I say. If I was location independent as another commenter says I would also chooses Bangkok, and coincidentally would also choose Sukumvit as my residing area. There is great food nearby (well, like in all bangkok right), shopping, excellent cheap hotels for visitors, and the Bayoke Tower Hotel and restaurant- in my opinion the best restaurant in Bangkok when comparing price/food you get. If you have not been there yet (i doubt it) make sure you go there soon, for dinner, and i would suggest the international food restaurant. Just thinking about it makes me hungry…

    Have fun there Gary, it is a crowded, busy, noiosy yet captivating city.



  9. The primary drawback to Bangkok for many would be the traffic and air pollution (what most people consider dirty). That being said, Bangkok is a great location for getting around other locations in SE Asia and Thailand quickly.

  10. It seems like people’s impressions of BKK are at either end of the spectrum. Either they love it or they hate it, but their opinion depends exactly on how long they were there, the longer growing a better impression than those just quickly passing through. I’m of the latter camp, only spending 4 days there before moving on and I didn’t get that positive of an impression. Thought it was noisy and dirty with too much car exhaust (of course I had just come from Bali).

    But don’t forget to factor medical care into the equation. Some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world are located there, without all the US’s healthcare mess. Another great reason to chose it. Some people go expressly for the care; “medical tourism” started in Thailand.

  11. Bankok is an amazingly vibrant city. I love it. Food is great, people are friendly and it’s full of interest. Would gladly go back.

  12. Bangkok is a great city to stay in for a while — it is so easy to travel to other places in Asia and the city has a great vibe. I hope you enjoy your time there!

  13. Just curious, how were you able to get a visa for “a few months ” in Thailand. No visa stay is 30 days, pre-entry tourist visa is 60 days and business visa is a pain as I understand it (mandatory deposits in Thai bank, etc..) Some are able to get sponsorship (volunteer work or education) for specified time frames. Maybe you will just do the old visa run a couple of times. Like I said, just curious, if you feel you can share.

  14. A nice summary of the city. I’ve got fond memories of my nights spent drinking Chang taken out from the 7-11’s on the Khao San Road as a fresh-faced 18 year old backpacker!

    Personally, I would prefer to work in Ho Chi Minh City. Developed like Bangkok but with a bigger soul! (must be the french influence – coffee & baguettes – that do it for me!)

    Nice blog by the way :) I’m just starting out on mine ! Good luck with the rest of the trip!

    • Are you kidding me? I worked in Bangkok for 10 years and absolutely loved it, my company sent me to work in ho Chi Minh City and I quit my job after 14 months. I found it has no vibe, the people are rude, the city has no style, the drivers are some of the worst ive ever seen and the city is absolutely filthy (once you get out of district 1). The crime level in HCM is just so bad, every expat i knew that rented a house was burgled at least once. In short if you like the sound of car/bike horns move to HCM, bkk is a far better bet.

  15. Another good reason Bangkok is the place to be – its airport is the airline hub for Southeast Asia. You can be anywhere in Asia or the Pacific within hours from Suvarnabhumi.

  16. Great post! I’m just about to head out on my rtw trip and am planning on keeping an eye open for comfortable places to live awhile and knock some work out. Bangkok was top of my list to begin with — your points really help cement its spot.

  17. Hi Gary, interesting post about living/working in Bangkok. I have been there a few times and never considered it from that perspective before.

    I had been to Bangkok last in 1995 before I went back this past December and I was amazed to see how much had changed in fifteen years. Initially I could not find Khao San Road although I walked by it three or four times – it looked so different. When I was there 15 years ago you still had these small mom & pop restaurants which have now been replaced by large western style beer halls with karaoke night every night. I’m not saying its bad….well, I sort of am – I liked the charm of those smaller places – but there’s still an electric vibe and I was jealous of all the young kids in their early twenties who were just discovering the wonders of Bangkok as they prowled the streets for fun and romance.

    Enjoy your time there and I look forward to more postings.

  18. Yes – in the scheme of things in SE Asia – Bangkok is really developed. Public transport system…no need to say more! I certainly miss how wired Asia was – I wish the US would open up their networks! :) Looks like a great place to stay for a few months! Hop on over to Saigon if you get a chance!

  19. Hi, I found this blog on the website directory and I’d like to congratulate you for a high traffic and page rank. Keep on blogging..

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