A Long Timer’s Guide To Bangkok (Or, What To Do When You’ve Been Here For 10+ Years)

Everyone has their own opinion about Bangkok. Most love it, some hate it and then there are the ones who haven’t experienced it in enough ways to make any real judgments.

Any way you slice it, Bangkok is a really dynamic city with lots to offer for tourists, travelers and residents.

But what happens when you’ve experienced all the obvious sights and sounds of the city? When you’ve been here for a decade? Or more?

When you’ve eaten your fair share of Pad Thais and Som Tums (which, by the way, I feel are completely overrated). When you’ve had way too many crazy nights on Khao San Road, seen every iconic temple and tried literally every activity from all the ‘top 10 things to do in Bangkok’ iterations.

So what is there to do? For long-timers like us, this is an everyday question we must ask ourselves.

Life becomes a bit monotonous and we end up taking the city for granted. Pretty soon it’s the same old drag — go to work, workout at the same gym, eat at the same restaurants and drink coffee and beer at our favorite spots.

A year ago, that’s what I was doing too (and still do sometimes).

But here’s what I’ve found to change things up in the city, and some things you could look into as well.

Meetup Groups are my new best friends

It’s totally understandable that each person has their own interests and lifestyle. Not everything is for everyone. Meetups for me at least have been a really great resource to solve this since there is a ready made group of like-minded individuals for almost anything you can think of.

From businesses and startup groups to travel and adventure enthusiasts to even gamers and techies, the possibilities are endless. I’ve started using meetups to network with all sorts of people with varied backgrounds.

Not all meetups are worthwhile but some of my favorite ones are:

Bangkok Walking Adventures – great for urban exploration by foot and you meet really interesting people.

Bangkok International Travel – monthly meetup where 3-4 speakers share travel stories and tips and then everyone networks. I even did a presentation once myself! With my growing love for travel, this is definitely a meetup group that has been growing on me. Plus the organizer is an awesome guy.

Bangkok AfterWork – the epitome of what an long-time expat needs when he/she is working all week. This group has some of the most friendly people I’ve met with lots of cool stories to share. Surprisingly though, I’m usually one of the few who has been in Bangkok the longest. That being said, I actually learn a lot from newcomers because they have a different perspective on the city.

Keeping on my toes with GuavaPass membership

If you can’t tell by now, I hate (OK, hate is a strong word… severely dislike) routine. Going to the same gym can be utterly boring. I did it for months on end and after traveling, I just couldn’t motivate myself to get back in the same old gym.

So I bought myself a GuavaPass membership.

guavapass in bangkok

Screenshot from GuavaPass

With it, I get to try out a practically unlimited number of different types of workouts at studios all over the city, and it really keeps me on my toes. There is the, “Ooh, what activity should I try today or tomorrow?” factor that keeps me excited to work out.

It also helps me get out of my comfort zone by trying new things and exploring new parts of Bangkok, which I probably never would have visited otherwise.

Muay Thai lessons by the riverside in Thonburi? Yes Please!

Surf lessons in downtown Bangkok? Even better.

I even found a batting cage that I had no idea existed. Did you? I doubt it because whenever I go, it’s empty. What a shame.

Also I’ve come to notice that there are just way too many HOT yoga and pilate studios in Bangkok. Something I have to dip my hands (feet, legs, core and butt) into.

Go on rooftop adventures

While having a drink at a rooftop bar is an awesome way to spend an evening, perhaps there are some other, less obvious ways to enjoy the city skyline too.

By doing incessant research and exploring, I’ve come to know about certain building rooftops that can be scaled or accessed by fire escape stair cases.

There is a secret group a friend of mine created where a bunch of photographers, daredevils and urban explorers meet up and go on top of random buildings. Whether that is to take photos or to just get away from the chaos below, that’s really up to you. There are even folks that go up to jump across rooftops and land some gnarly flips.

rooftops in bangkok

At the top of the Sathorn Unique ‘Ghost Tower’. By Alexander Blecher, blecher.info (CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

While I have no idea of the legality of what they’re doing, it’s certainly adventurous. And you know what they say; you’re only in trouble if you get caught.

JUST KIDDING. I honestly do not condone breaking the law but you may be able to make things easier by asking for permission or even paying a little fee to the guard. After all, this is Bangkok!

I’ve also asked people around about where they took amazing photos of the city from a vantage point, but they either give vague descriptions or flat out reject telling you. Them photographers are pretty protective over this s***.

Enroll in a cooking class

Other than Thai fried rice, basil chicken and stir fried Mama, I’m pretty bad at cooking Thai food. And I haven’t taken any classes because traditional cooking classes usually take weeks.

But recently, I came across Cookly, which is a great platform to find not only the best cooking classes but also to have an excellent local experience. I’ve only been to one cooking class so far that was hosted by Travel Massive, where I got to make some delicious chicken satay, dumplings and quite possibly the best spring rolls, if I may say so myself.

Apart from eating delicious food, it has also been a nice way to meet some chilled out people too.

cookly bangkok

Screenshot from Cookly

Search for things that are weird

Other than just generally exploring the city on weekends, sometimes I like to go looking for odd things.

For instance, after months of convincing by my wife, I finally visited the Siriraj Medical Museum. I wasn’t so keen on going there but once I did, it was quite possibly one of the best experiences I’ve had in Bangkok. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart but worth a visit for those looking for morbid stories.

The museum houses gruesome mummified bodies that underwent freak accidents, deformities and have diseased organs. They are on display but not to be touched or photographed.

Trust me, you won’t need to take photos, since the sights will be ingrained in your memory, haunting you for the rest of your life.

I have yet to go to Phra Khanong to see the Mae Nak Shrine. It’s said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman named Maak. Lots of urban legends around that. Feel free to Google…

And then there’s the penis shrine (Chao Mae Tuptim) I want to go check out. Just because, and no — not because I have some hidden liking for penises.

phallic shrine bangkok

By Ddalbiez (Creative Commons)

But these weird sights can still be pretty touristy. Sometimes I just like to walk around and notice people doing their thing, which can be weird and strange on its own.

No one knows Bangkok fully and everyone knows it differently

No matter how long you’ve lived in Bangkok, one can never know it fully. And how you know the city varies hugely from person to person, because we all have different interests and capacity.

My parents know Bangkok in a completely different way than I do. My mom, for instance, knows the alleys of Pahurat and Sampang markets really well and can navigate them with her eyes closed. That’s because she goes there almost two to three times a month for gift shopping and buying materials for her hobbies. Ask her about most other things, however, and she’s clueless!

Another local or long-timer might know the latest swanky bars, restaurants and clubs in the city while another would know the best cheap, local places to chill out at. Luckily, I try to be on top of both spectrums.

That’s why it’s so important to make connections with all sorts of different people, but only if you are open to different lifestyles. Otherwise it’s all same same, but different.

Refer to point #1 if you wonder where to meet such people.

To be honest, living in Bangkok for 15+ years hasn’t given me any superpower insights into the city. Ask me in another 5 or 10 years.

I’d love to know how you guys spend your time in Bangkok. Is it just routine living for you or do you like to try new things in the city?


Featured image is by Mark Murray and used under a CC BY 2.0 licence