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?
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?
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.
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, 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?
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?
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