Last month a leading credit card company named Bangkok the world’s most visited city. Their ‘Global Destination Cities Index’ found that 15.98 million people spent at least one night in the Thai capital during 2012, pipping London to the number one spot by approximately 20,000 tourists.
The figures showed a sharp rise in visitors to the City of Angels since 2011, but statistics such as these can often be misleading. What is it that people are visiting Bangkok for?
Cynics will say that Bangkok is nothing more than a gateway to other locations around Southeast Asia, and while they may be correct to a point (at the moment the best way for Americans and Europeans to access smaller nations like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar – not to mention the idyllic Thai islands – is to travel via Bangkok), it would be churlish to overlook the positive draws of the ‘Big Mango’.
For a start, Bangkok offers supreme value for money, especially in terms of food and lodgings. Luxury five-star hotels provide an overwhelming array of accommodation options, and any traveler can easily find their level, from unique boutique and heritage hotels to basic level backpacker hostels.
Food is another popular draw for visitors, and there’s an option for every palate in Bangkok. Outstanding eateries offering world-class dining options exist side-by-side with sidewalk dining stands dishing out delicious budget fare. From modern European to American classics, romantic 5-star rooftop dining or a quirky restaurant that serves flying roast chickens, the Thai capital is a mecca for foodies whether your meal budget is $1 or $100.
Shopping is high on many visitors’ agendas and Bangkok offers myriad options for splurging. Countless malls (including Central World, the 6th biggest mall in the world) provide air-conditioned shopping sanctuary while the authentic open-air markets continue to thrive, offering alternative goods and fabulous fresh produce at seemingly impossible prices.
We’re honest enough to admit the Thai capital is not without its drawback, just like any other major city that boasts over 8 million residents. Transport around town is one such issue, with travel by taxi a time-consuming proposition between the hours of 7am and 8pm. Simply put, the road network was not built to sustain the sheer volume of cars that now take to the city streets on a daily basis, resulting in mind-numbing traffic jams all over the city.
The sleek BTS Skytrain and MRT Underground service take some of the burden off travel within some of the most popular areas though, and the services are continually being upgraded, though at a slower pace than most residents would like. But there are limitations to the services, with just two lines of the BTS and one for the MRT, making the system useless if you’re veering off the well-trodden path.
For those who do explore Bangkok though, there are countless cultural experiences to enjoy, ranging from floating markets to the infamous ‘ladyboy’ cabaret shows; from the reality of khlong tours to the majestic Grand Palace – although the term ‘something for everyone’ is cliché, it certainly fits Bangkok to a T.
If you’re planning on being one of the many million visitors to Bangkok in the future and would like some expert recommendations on where to go and what to do, be sure to contact one of our local Travel Specialists who will help you book your tailor-made trip. Alternatively, read Khun A’s ‘48 hrs in Bangkok’ blog about the must-see sites of the City of Angels.