In Defence Of Bangkok, It’s Not Just About Sex And Drinking!

Khao San Road Bangkok

Bangkok is one of the most eclectic and chaotic cities in the world, and with a world famous nightlife and foodie scene it is a perennial backpacker mecca and a popular travel hub that many travellers love. Unfortunately however it does have a reputation as being seedy and unsafe, with Go Go Bars, sex shows and touts plying whisky by the bucketload. But is this reputation fair? Is Bangkok dangerously debauched? Is Bangkok really good for nothing more than sex and drinking?

Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world and is popular with travellers for so many reasons, it is a city after all that I absolutely love and have lived in for short periods many times, but it can be hard to escape some of the more unfortunate sides of its reputation too. As a male – often solo – traveller every time I head to Bangkok I get the stereotypical and insulting judgements that I am only going there to partake in Bangkoks famous nightlife of Go Go Bars, ping pong shows and prostitution, because you know, that’s all we ever want, right?.

Bangkok is synonymous with garish neon lights, scantily clad young women and scam artists just waiting to part men from their money, the ‘Hangover effect’ is very real, with images of men rampaging through the city on a drunken 3 day bender, sleeping with prostitutes, getting in trouble with gangsters and somehow stealing Mike Tysons tiger.

A recent article has suggested that this is all there is to this great city, that Bangkok isn’t good for anything other than drinking and having sex and literally has nothing else going for it.

Is Bangkok nothing more than a cesspool of drink, debauchery and degeneracy that would put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame? Is it really a dangerous city to be avoided at all costs? That is certainly the reputation that the city has amongst some people at least, and others even go as far to say the city has nothing else to offer. But is that right? 

Bangkok Khao San Road night

Seediness, Sex And Stereotypes.

Like so many others who judge Thailand on a small percent of what happens there, often without seeing it first hand in most cases, the article is wrong.

Now it is certainly true that Bangkok – like any other major city in the world – does have a seedy underbelly. Of course it does. Bangkok does have areas like Patpong or Nana Plaza where Go Go bars, sex shows and prostitution are on full display under the sad glare of garish neon lights. Sex tourism does indeed exist, as it does almost everywhere else. Bangkok is famous for its alcohol fuelled nightlife and is full of bars and nightclubs. All you have to do is visit the infamous Khao San Road, the historical focal point of backpacking culture for decades, to get a glimpse of the bars and clubs that fuel Bangkoks nightlife. Even now it has been largely gentrified for package tourists it is hard to escape the bars and touts. This is all undeniable fact.

Is that all Bangkok is though? Does Bangkok have nothing else going for it? Should Bangkok be judged on this alone? Well according to this article the answer is a resounding yes.

But is that fair?

Street food stall Malaysia

Not Judging A Book By A Seedy Cover.

If all you are going to do is salaciously judge an entire city on a thin, stereotypical sheen, then I would suggest you are missing the entire point of travel and should perhaps learn to appreciate the culture of the places you visit a little more.

Just like the author of this article, who quite rightly stated that Bangkok has sex clubs, nightclubs and overly touristy areas not only existed, which of course is undeniable, but then went on to say that this was all that there was to Bangkok, those that judge the city by this one singular aspect are doing it a huge disservice.

Is sex and drinking all Bangkok has to offer? Or are we to ignore the history, the heritage, the temples and the culture. Is it just a touristic city that has lost all vestiges of any culture it once had to cater only to tourists who want to get drunk or laid? This is insulting not only to Thai’s and to Bangkok, but to every backpacker out there too.

I would suggest this article was written not only by someone who – by his own admission – had not spent much time in the city, but could not even be bothered to move far from the westernised ghettoes surrounded by other western backpackers. Of course the seedy underbelly of sex shows, prostitution and endless alcohol fuelled benders is there if you go looking for it, so if an overriding impression of the city is drinking, nightclubs and scantily clad Go Go dancers is what someone leaves with, perhaps that impression says more about the choices to go to specific areas rather than a judgement on a whole city.

I mean can anyone really judge the whole of Bangkok – and by extension Thailand – on just one short visit?


Bangkok has so much more going for it and so many things to see and do. Even in the relatively short time he did deign to grace this magnificent city with his presence, he could have quite easily gotten away from the tourist trail and the bars.

Wat Traimit Chinatown Bangkok, Thailand

More Than The Stereotype.

I love Bangkok, and by extension Thailand too. I have visited and had extensive stays in Bangkok many times over my 20 year travel history, and it annoys me that this is how many people percieve this great city. I can understand people not liking Bangkok for a variety of different reasons, the traffic, the smog, the craziness, whatever, not everyone can gel with every destination and that is fine, I have some destinations I don’t particularly like too, but to dismiss and judge it on this particular stereotype is wrong. It makes me angry that as a predominantly solo traveller and one who also happens to be male, whenever I told people where I was headed or where I had been I received those condescendingly knowing looks, that wink and the nod, the ‘Oh yeah we know what you went there for!’ This makes me so angry, angry that people are judging me in the same context as those often fat, old sex tourists, angry on behalf of the Thai’s who are an amazing people with a deep and rich culture, angry at the narrow minded people who judge the whole of Thailand on such a narrow minded attitude.

Of course Bangkok has some of the best clubs and bars in the region, and of course the red light districts there are perhaps among the most infamous in the world. Some tourists do undoubtedly go there for those experiences and I am sure if you want to party then Bangkok will absolutely accommodate you and then some. But that is not everything Bangkok is.

Many travellers visit Bangkok regularly and never come into contact with that small aspect of the city at all. Many enjoy spending time on KSR enjoying bars and nightclubs with other backpackers and never go near the seedier aspects of it. Many spend entire extended visits in the city enjoying the food, the culture, the temples and the attractions and never go near a bar. Of course the sex shows and alcohol benders are there if you go looking for it, but if you don’t want that just don’t head to those relatively small areas of the city that offer nothing but clubs, sex shows and bars? It’s not difficult.

It is the all encompassing ‘that is all it is’ and ‘that’s all anyone goes there for’ attitude that really gets to me.

Bangkok Grand Palace

Bangkok, A City With So Much To Offer.

It is certainly fair to say that Bangkok is often not an easy city to get to know well, and that it can take a little time to get to know this notoriously multilayered city, but if you do it will reward your efforts tenfold. All you have to do is look beyond the surface.

Bangkok is an unashamedly brash and modern city, with luxurious skyscrapers and futuristic malls, but one that proudly refuses to let go of its ancient traditions and Buddhist spirituality, that is why the gleamng glass and chrome malls are surrounded by sprawling, chaotic markets and the gridlocked roads and pollution run through vast spaces of open, serene greenery amidst the concrete jungle. The culture, religion, arts, music, language, even the food itself exudes a deep, rich tapestry of ancient beliefs and a proud, individual culture that still celebrates its multicultural influence.

Bangkok has a strong and proud local identity, extremely patriotic, deeply traditional and fiercely royalist. The world renowned and celebrated food scene has some of the best cuisine in South East Asia, if not the world, and people do travel here specifically to indulge in the michelin star street food and world class restaurants. The shopping is second to none in Bangkok, with the huge megamalls and entertainment complexes sharing space with ancient floating markets. Iconic palaces, temples and huge reclining Buddhas let their magnificence show in an understated, unnassuming and modest way, sharing their space with hundreds of lesser known temples and shrines. I wonder if the author of the article that assumed Bangkok was just about sex and drinking even took the time to understand the vaguest thread of the rich cultural tapestry in Thailand?

Bangkok Chinatown Gate

If you want to go to Bangkok and enjoy the bars, clubs and nightclubs, by all means do so. Drink to your hearts and livers are full and have a great time, but don’t assume that is all Bangkok has to offer. Don’t judge an entire city on just a few streets or a single unsalubrious reputation. Take the time to scratch beneath the touristy surface of Bangkok and you will discover a deep, rich well of cultural heritage bubbling underneath the surface, just waiting for anyone with an open mind to discover it.

So what do you all think, is the article right? Is Bangkok not worth going to because its culture has been lost? Does everyone just go there to get drunk and laid? Or do you think like I do, that Bangkok has much more to offer than that? 

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

6 Best Day Trips From Bangkok

Exploring Bangkok’s Chinatown..

How To Avoid Taxi And Tuk Tuk Scams In Bangkok.

I Don’t Care If Your Holiday To Thailand Is Ruined, Show Some Respect.

Three Days In Bangkok.

The Elephant In The Room: Why You Shouldn’t Go On An Elephant Trek In Thailand.

The Evolution Of Khao San Road.

Where To Stay In Bangkok, The Insiders Guide To The Best Bangkok Neighbourhoods.

Why Thailand Is The Ultimate First Time Backpacking Destination.


Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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Posted in Travel Talk
38 comments on “In Defence Of Bangkok, It’s Not Just About Sex And Drinking!
  1. Rachel Linaker says:

    Brilliant article and I understand exactly where you’re coming from… actually quite disgusted by Jeremy’s degrading remarks about the city, the people, the culture. I admit that maybe parts of Bangkok have become more tailored for the tourist than for the resident but that happens all over the world, I’ve seen it in the Caribbean! At the end of the day though it creates a revenue that helps to support local populations. As for the sex/alcohol scene, I am FOREVER telling people that I am not going to Bangkok/anywhere else in Thailand so I can get drunk on a beach with hundreds of other people, that I’m not going for cheap alcohol (I don’t even think it’s that cheap any more?!) or the ‘knocked off’ souvenirs you can buy… My interests for when I go lie in the temples, the culture, the food (oh the food!), the people, the architecture, the wilderness (of what I’ll see anyway), and some island living when I get over to Koh Tao and beyond. It gets a little tiring having to explain myself… but then do you not think that every country/location has an automatic response, the usual stereotypes? Amsterdam with marijuana, Australia with the party scene and backpackers (I’m getting that a lot too!), Ibiza (party scene), etc etc. You get the gist anyway!

    Anyway – great article!! xX

    • Thank you so much Rachel, I agree completely. Yes Bangkok has it’s seedy side, but so does London, New York, Liverpool, Sydney … Everywhere does. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, it exists for a purpose and some people like it, that’s fine, no problem. What I hate though is when people judge it on just that and nothing more – especially when they dismiss the entire culture and people because of it – and I think Thailand has it worse than most places because of a lot of peoples preconceived judgements. And if you think you had it bad, imagine the looks and comments I got when people found I – as a bloke – travelled through Thailand solo and single! I share your frustration in trying in vain to educate and explain! ;D Thanks for commenting!

  2. Deia says:

    I love Bangkok for its spiritual side, markets and ridiculously delicious food. Evidently some tourists go there only to drink and get laid, but the city has so much more to offer than that.

    • Thankyou Deia, absolutely well said! Of course some tourists do and that is fine if that’s what they like, but to say every traveller does and that is all Bangkok is worth is wrong. As you say the city and it’s people have so much more to offer than that! Thank you for the comment.

  3. globalmouse says:

    I love Bangkok too and actually can’t wait to take my children there. I love it’s vibrancy, its markets and food and can’t wait to return!

  4. My Cup Of Travel says:

    Great article! I was actually one of those people connecting Bangkok with ‘The Hangover’ rituals and all 😉 But I’m glad you woke me up out of this nightmare! Perfectly explained, as always! Now I will add Bangkok to my visit-while-being-in-Asia list =)

    • Thanks, don’t get me wrong that side of Bangkok does exist like it does in most cities, and I’m sure people do go there to try and recreate the Hangover! But there is just SO much more to the city as well. It really is an amazing, must see city! Thank you for visiting and commenting.

      • My Cup Of Travel says:

        Well yeah, even Amsterdam has that image… However every city is a hidden gem right? =)

    • Chasing the Donkey says:

      Yes me to also! I feel very guilty now, I really need to get there to see this for myself.

  5. Kate says:

    I would never refrain from going to Bangkok based on this reputation it has because I know from previous travel experience, reputations are often pretty off the mark once you get there!
    The problem is, people are so quick to believe what they read in The Guardian/The Sun/(even worse) The Daily Mail and then let that be the opinion they have for years afterwards.
    Every city has it’s good or bad parts, it’s like when people say Amsterdam is just marijuana and prostitution…I mean COME ON! As if a whole city is going to be that famous and just dedicated to that.

    • Exactly Kate! The problem is many people are either unable or unwilling to see past these stereotypical reputations, and then insultingly dismiss the entire city or country as JUST that and nothing else.

  6. aspty says:

    I agree – most people who hold this view of Bangkok are the ones who have not ventured past Khao San Road. Admittedly I am not a big fan of Bangkok but that has more to do with the congestion and my dislike of big cities. But I think Bangkok has a lot to offer provided you explore it properly.

  7. aurumeve says:

    Very good points! Great city! 🙂

  8. Laura Bonafoux says:

    Brilliant article, if Jeremy cant be bothered to spend more time looking into the ‘other side’ of Bangkok how can he so openly damn it. Annoys me how people slate Bangkok but when you ask where theyve been they say just a hostel and a ping pong show.

  9. Ayla says:

    Totally agree with you. I stayed on Khao San Road when I was there but I still loved the city, there is so much to see and do!

  10. Shella Hudaya says:

    I agree with you! I It’s not fair to judge something from only short experience and only from few spots. I believe there are more to explore…if people want to drunk, party, and get laid, well it’s their choice, but if they want to experience cultural and local, well, of course they should make efforts to stay longer or do research where they should go, and don’t easily judge about something that they haven’t experience yet.

  11. Ben says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Bangkok is one of the richest, most vibrant and interesting cities I have visited. And the people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. The city has so much to offer, especially for travellers like myself who haven’t visited SEA before. It’s a shame it has a bad reputation, because people are missing out on a fantastic travel experience.

  12. Mithun says:

    It’s not just Bangkok, but the stereotyping of Thailand as a country of nothing but sex and debauchery that irritates the hell out of me. As some one who has seen enough of the country, I know that Thailand offers more culture, history and beautiful beaches more than sex and modernity, so this stereotyping of Thailand irritates me to no extent. I can write countless posts on what all Thailand has to offer but if it’s a guy who isn’t going to Thailand for a honeymoon, the rest only ask about Pattaya and Bangkok — because that’s all the sex tourists before them saw on their short 4 day tour of ‘Thailand’ and told them the same.

  13. Sandy Freckle says:

    In the very early 80’s I first fell in love with Bangkok. I so agree with many of the positive reasons mentioned above. Iv’e stayed within her humid embrace many times of the years and will freely admit that for me, it’s always been something like a sprawling and fascinating hub….., albeit within a larger fascinating travelers wheel. Bangkok has it’s own special grace and style…, like nowhere else on earth. Bangkok amongst many titles has always been the ‘quintessential Asian travelers city’…., Iv’e started and finished many a memorable journey from here…., always with backpack…., and thus I also sourced generally cheaper fares and interesting modes of travel(by wing, wheel and water) to other locations. It’s always a little sad but exciting and always comforting to from and return to Bangkok. I so wish the klongs were cleaner and still had water taxis plying their trade, but then these days Im always thankful for the Skytrain and Metro systems.

    • I totally agree with you, I wish I could have seen Bangkok back in the early 80s though, that must have been such an amazing experience! Thank you for the insightful comment. 🙂

  14. Jeremy says:

    Wow, I’m only just now seeing this article for the first time, a year after it was written. That being said, I do have some hindsight that I’d like to share.

    My reaction to Bangkok occurred after having spent almost a full year living and traveling in China. What I was experiencing in Bangkok was a shift from a country with very small pockets of tourism to a country that has seemingly been taken over by it. It’s no secret that Thailand saw 2 million tourists in 2013, and all of them entered and left via Bangkok. With that kind of volume, what’s a city to do? It caters.

    Perhaps I was a little harsh with my words and perhaps the title was a tiny bit salacious, but it was a result of my frustration. Most travelers rarely see life beyond what’s presented to them as a foreigner, and much of my experience in Thailand felt fake and crafted. Even when I was “off the tourist trail,” it didn’t quite feel authentic. I know other experienced travelers who have felt this way as well.

    There are, of course, gems in any city, and there will always be more to Bangkok than KSR or the sex clubs and ping pong shows. But the fact that those places exist speak droves to the idea that tourism can be dangerous, especially when there is little regulation and a whole lot of expansion. Thailand has seen a massive takeover by tourism, and that was really my point.

    • Jeremy! I thought you read this ages ago I’m shocked! 😉 I do see your point to an extent, Thailand does to a huge extent rely on the tourism industry -particularly the gap year/backpacker industry – as it contributes huge amounts to its GDP, and yes as a result some parts are very touristy, very fake as you say. But to judge Bangkok – or indeed the whole of Thailand JUST on those merits is not only doing a huge disservice to Thailand and the Thai people but it is almost limiting your ability to truly appreciate the city and by extension the country on a much wider level.

      I don’t think the fact that the sex clubs and KSR exists speaks in any way about the negative effects of tourism. Sex industries and strip clubs exist in almost every country, almost every city. In any country that is popular with travellers or tourists you will always have the overly touristy ghettos, just look at parts of Spain! But that doesn’t mean that is all the country in question is or can be judged on.

      To be fair BKK is a hard city to get to know at first, especially for newer travellers, but for experienced travellers too. But trust me on this, if you take the time to get to know it, Bangkok will really open up to you.

      • Jeremy says:

        Hey Mike! Yeah, somehow I missed it until now! :-\

        What you say is true–in allowing myself to judge a place so harshly I greatly limit my ability to truly appreciate it. However, I strongly believe, especially after my time in Southeast Asia, that there is more to travel than just appreciation. As “professional” travelers, we must consider our surroundings and examine ourselves and our role in a country.

        I never even mentioned “The Hangover” in my article. In fact, it wasn’t even a thought when I was writing it. But the fact that this theme recurs and exists is testament to my point. Bangkok is a city which caters to people looking to get drunk and laid. And the majority of travelers who experience “real” Bangkok for a couple hours during the day return to the comfort of catered tourism on Khao San Road at night, whether they’re drinking and sexing or not.

        There’s this unspoken doctrine within the online travel world that says the “right way to travel” involves finding the real, local way of life. Yes, I love to do that, and I seek it wherever I can. But to say that I didn’t and to claim that my lack of appreciation equates to missing the point of travel…well, then those people are missing the point of perspective, opinion and frankly, the responsible side of tourism, an industry which many of these people are a part of.

        If anything, my article had a more positive effect on the reputation of Bangkok due to the large number of people who stood in defense of it. But I also think that my article focuses on something which many people refuse to acknowledge or openly discuss, and that’s the way the tourism industry in Thailand is affecting the local way of life.

      • Better late than never eh? I still appreciate the comments though! 😉

        But that’s just it Jeremy, yes Bangkok does cater to those looking to get drunk and laid, as do many other major cities, but that isn’t ALL it does and that is the crux of the argument here.

        I personally hate that unspoken doctrine of ‘living like a local’, to be honest it is a bit of a nonsense. However, those who seek it aren’t missing the point of perspective at all. Now I do agree that tourism has had a large affect on Thailand yes, again just like it has in so many other places, Spain, Mexico, Egypt, Amsterdam… And yes these things should be acknowledged by travellers, professional or otherwise. But to say that is ALL Bangkok is, is what I disagreed with. You specifically stated that Bangkok has no other culture other than the sex trade and hard drinking reputation, and I say it absolutely an unequivocally does. I love visiting KSR, I think it is great fun. I love visiting the major tourist attractions like the reclining buddha, but I love Bangkoks many other faces and layers too and I think that it is the point of travel – professional or otherwise – to see and experience all sides.

      • Jeremy says:

        I guess it was just hard for me to see beyond it. Next time, perhaps!

        Thanks for writing such an in depth response article and for promoting further discussion about the topic!

      • Always happy to have friendly debates. 🙂 Thanks for joining in! And as I said BKK is such a hard city to get to know sometimes, and it can take many visits, sometimes even prolonged ones to see past the touristy sheen.

  15. failong says:

    BKK is the pits, there is no other way to look at it, depending on the variety of your travel experiences. If you compare Thailand in general with lets say Philippines, you can hardly come to any other conclusion that the Thais are a bunch of merciless and utterly mean bloodsuckers! I think I went to BKK first time mid nineties, and first nite got drugged in good old Patpong and lost a k in USD, great start…the last time I went there was ten years ago almost and I swore never again.
    In the meantime I’ve lost 3 friends, had a gun in my face twice and survived numerous scams, and yes, Im not one of the faint hearted, BUT about ten years ago Thailands political and ethnic problems were really bubbling up and boiling over, military coups, massive social unrest, economic problems, and the whole hardening of so called Thai culture till there was hardly any fun or real nightlife to found anywhere in BKK…bars on Kaosan turned people out at midnight, so where is the nightlife everyone talks about FFS!!???
    And sex??? WTF!!!
    If you dumb enough to bed a Thai, better prepare to fight tooth and nail!!
    And the food!!!
    Everything is swimming in chillis for a reason…to camouflage how shite and off it really is!!
    Compared to any city in Phils Thailand is boring as hell, thats minus the shitty attitude of the Thais themselves that sees each and every foreigner as a legit target to be ripped off to the hilt, even attacked and murdered if thats what it takes…never mind scams galore from the cops and even at the airports…you people can have BKK, just keep the whole place away from me…sela…

    • Wow. That attitude is just … well, not surprising from someone who thinks Patpong is representative of a country and hasn’t visited in ten years. Doesn’t exactly make your points valid does it?

  16. Nan says:

    There is much more to Thailand than sex trade. Come to islands, we have beautiful diving, trekking, beaches, it is relaxed.

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