Bangkok is a very complicated, busy, and misunderstood place. I truly believe that no one can visit Bangkok and fall in love or “just get it” immediately. It is a wonderful city with so much to do and see. Unlike any of the cities that I’ve been to in the past, I couldn’t quite form an opinion on Bangkok.
Everything that you think it is it isn’t. Just when you’re certain you have it figured out, you quickly discover just how wrong you were. This will happen for months until you finally have that “aha” moment. I get this place.
It isn’t like a New York City, LA, or any other major city. I spent one day in Manhattan and “got it.” I love NY and have been back many times.
But I didn’t love Bangkok. To be frank, I couldn’t figure it out. But once we did, oh man was it fun.
Bangkok is very misunderstood. It is known for the scenes you see in movies like The Hangover II. I can attest to this… that movie didn’t embellish it even one bit. That is exactly how life is here… in one small sector of the city. Bangkok is a massive place. To judge it and think that that small area represents the entire city is crazy.
Bangkok is 1,569 square kilometers (974 square miles) and is home to 8.28 million people from every walk of life. To put it in perspective for my American friends, 993 miles is the distance from Philadelphia, PA to Orlando, FL, a 16-hour drive that I have made many times in my life.
In short, Bangkok is HUGE.
I have friends that have lived here for 7 years. They say that there isn’t one week that goes by where they don’t see something new. After our brief 5 months living there and multiple visits back, I believe them and I understand.
Navigating Bangkok Is Anything But Easy
Let’s face it, Bangkok isn’t easy. We arrived in February and by the time our two friends, Jeff and Jacqui, came to visit in May, I had just figured out how to navigate around town without my phone and a map.
I’m not kidding. It is difficult. There are multiple travel options. There are multiple trains, buses, taxis, motorbike taxis, boat taxis, and ferries.
There are three rail systems in Bangkok. The most popular is the BTS Skytrain, then the underground MRT train station, and the airport link. Here is where things get confusing… all of these trains intersect at some point some even more than once.
Nothing is parallel like in cities like Manhattan. In Manhattan when you’re on 2nd street you know that third is the next block over running parallel. It keeps it simple.
In Bangkok, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The map of the BTS Skytrain looks like a game of snake from an old Nokia cell phone.
The MRT runs underground and connects to both the Skytrain and the airport link. Your BTS Skytrain card that you purchase for transportation does not work here. This confuses a lot of tourists when they realize they may need to use another card.
The Airport link is the easiest of all of the trains. It runs in a straight line from Phaya Thai to the Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). This is the only way to catch a flight and not be late if you’re on the other side of town in rush hour. I have missed two flights while in Bangkok because of traffic. Which brings me to my next point.
Traffic Is A Nightmare
Weren’t you paying attention?! I said there were over 8 million people crammed in one city! Traffic is worse than anything that you’ve ever seen before. You simply can’t hop in a cab to go across town.
You have to use the train system.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The BTS Skytrain is by far the best rail system that I have ever used. It runs constantly, you’re never waiting around for it, and it runs en route to all of the convenient spots. Even when you have a place that you need to get to, you can do it decently quickly due to the speed and efficiency of the transport systems.
You’ll have to be creative at times. One time I had to catch a plane from another part of town. If I took just a cab, I would be in the car for hours on end with no guarantee. But I could take the river taxi across the Chao Phraya river, hop on the BTS, transfer to the MRT, then hop on the airport link.
Sound confusing? It can be. But once you start to visualize these things you really start to get it. There is more than one way to get somewhere.
When Lauren and I last visited Bangkok we were thrilled to learn about the water taxi behind our hotel that we never used when we lived there. The water taxi ran down a very small channel of water and took us right to the mall.
The Malls Are Unreal
The malls are unlike anything that you have ever seen in your life, ever. I’ll never forget our first day in Bangkok. We landed in Thailand and my naive American ass turned to Lauren and said “this is it, we’re out of there. None of the same worries. No more overly competitive nonsense, no more 9-5, and no more senseless consumerism.”
Boy, was I wrong about that last one!
The malls in Bangkok are a work of art. Imagine a Las Vegas casino that is 8 to 10 floors connected to three or four other eight-story buildings that are all the same thing. The malls have multiple buildings with multiple floors and not a bit of wasted space.
You can buy a Bentley, go bowling, buy $20,000 speakers, shop for all of the music gear and camera gear you would ever want, and go see a first-class movie.
No One Does Movies Better Than Asia
Asia has the greatest movie theaters you’ve ever seen in your life hands down. Let’s start with Wednesday which is movie day across the country. On Wednesday you can get a movie ticket for 100 baht ($2.85). On any other day, a standard movie ticket costs 150 baht ($4.28). You can also upgrade to get a full-size couch. I’m not kidding… a couch. This isn’t some shitty theater, either. These theaters are better than any AMC theater back home.
Then there are the First Class Movie tickets. First class movies are state of the art theaters with big reclining chairs, includes unlimited popcorn and drinks, and includes a silk blanket and fresh pillows. There is an usher that sits at the end of the aisle that will take your popcorn and drinks and refill them when you need them. The lounge is a great place to hang out and have some beer, wine, and cocktails before and after the movie. Typically, when you go to the movies you spend a lot of time here.
The movies here are an experience. Which brings me to the ultimate experience of all… 4D movies.
This deserves its own special explanation. I know that most people are like “don’t you mean 3D?” No, I mean 4D.
4D is a fully immersive, state of the art, experience. It ignites every sense in your body and dumps you into the movie. First off, yes, it is in 3D. But it doesn’t stop there.
The theater is climate controlled, has strobe lights, moving seats, vibrating backs, sprayers, and more. Here is an example of a recent scene from a movie…
The main character hopped on his horse and galloped into the forest. As the horse galloped, the seats moved with the pace of the travel. As he entered the forest, the scent of pine filled the theater and our noses. Just then a light snowfall happened. It literally started to snow in the theater.
Next, it started to rain. BOOM! A strike of lightning hit a tree as the main character was caught in the middle of a blaze. The strobe lights were going to the lightning, it smelled of burning wood inside, and it got hot in the theater. The horse threw the main character off of its’ back as our seats jerked back.
Do you see how awesome that is? Oh yes, tickets for that are under $10. I go pretty much every week. It’s not a movie, it’s an experience. It makes even the dumbest movies awesome. I just saw Rampage with Dwayne Johnson recently. Literally, one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen and the most fun I’ve probably ever had at a movie.
Expect The Unexpected
I moved to Bangkok with the intention to learn a lot, become great at digital marketing, take courses, and write a book.
None of that happened while in Bangkok other than the courses. It was very hard to work in a new country with so many distractions. The truth is, we prefer the slower life of Chiang Mai over Bangkok for now. I plan to return with a ton of money to blow one day where we don’t have to worry about so many of our goals.
An average day looked like this… we woke up in the morning. We would set out our goals for the day. We would decide that we wanted something to eat so we would head to the mall. On the way to the mall, at the mall, or on the way home we would stumble into something crazy. Food festivals, international festivals, dance competitions, craft beer festivals, foam dance parties in the street; just about anything fun and unique that you could think of.
We would stumble into the house at night almost daily and say “glad we went to go get breakfast.” It was so much fun!
If I had to do it again, I would change a few things. I would spend more money for a place that was right on the BTS. This would make it easier to get food. Lauren and I both didn’t like the motorbike taxis, but she was deathly afraid of them. I didn’t mind taking it to the end of the street to the BTS, but it was uncomfortable since they sat outside drinking Chang.
We would prepare a little more for the unexpected. Having a stricter schedule would have helped.
The Choice For Chiang Mai
We loved our place House By The Pond in Bangkok, but it was time to move on. We knew that Chiang Mai was cheaper and everyone was recommending it to us. We were blowing through money in Bangkok and work wasn’t pouring in yet. We needed to slow down.
Chiang Mai was perfect. It is gorgeous, the people are lovely, it is a slow pace of life, the weather is beautiful, and the mountain views are unreal.
Within a month of being here, I finished writing my book, hit the Amazon Best Sellers list, upped my digital market game, and by October I had my first five-figure week, a major milestone for me. Through that, we were able to head back to Jersey to visit our family from Thanksgiving until mid-January. A very long and expensive trip that we spent $8,000 on.
Even though that may sound like a like of money, it wasn’t a big deal once we settled back into Chiang Mai living. Our rent is $200/month for a 1 bedroom apartment, our internet plans are $20 for 100 up and down speeds (HELL YES), our cheap meals are between $1-$2 and our five star meals are around $3-$10, and to go to a luxury pool/spa for the day like this is only 400 baht ($12.85). In short, we love it here.
And not just because of the cost of living. Chiang Mai is truly and always will be home. Out of all of the countries we’ve visited, places we’ve seen, and things we’ve done, Chiang Mai is our favorite.