Having lived in Bangkok for two and a half years, my wife and I have had the opportunity to visit most of Bangkok’s top attractions, as well as many of the off-the-beaten path places that most tourists and many expats never make it to.
Here’s a list of our most overrated (and overpriced) and underrated experiences in Bangkok.
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Though cognizant that it’s arguably the “#1” tourist attraction in Bangkok, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, at a whopping ฿500 entry fee, it doesn’t stack up in terms of bang for your buck to other cultural attractions in Bangkok.
With entry to Wat Pho and Wat Arun (two of the other “Big 3”) priced at ฿100 each (plus at Wat Pho you at least get a free bottle of water), is the Grand Palace really five times better? Not to mention the countless other Bangkok temples you can visit for free or a mere ฿10-30.
฿500 is roughly the equivalent of entry to Angkor Wat in Cambodia – an all day affair and probably the second most impressive sight I’ve ever seen after Machu Picchu in Peru. Even in Bangkok, I’d probably rather spend that money on a 4D IMAX movie at Siam Paragon. At least you get two hours of AC for that price.
Fancy Thai Restaurants
Whenever my friends from overseas come to visit Thailand, they almost always want to visit one of Bangkok’s fancy Thai restaurants (Nahm and Bo.Lan, for instance, or to a lesser extent, Krua Apsorn).
While I admittedly haven’t been to all of them, I’ve been to some, and I almost always leave disappointed. Not so much in the food necessarily (it’s typically good, as is the presentation), but in the overall value and authenticity. Some of these chefs aren’t even Thai – Nahm’s head chef is Australian – but my bigger gripe is paying Western prices for Thai food in Thailand.
Personally, I’ll take a mom and pop restaurant or even a good street food stall over a fancy Thai meal any day. In fact, whenever I take those same friends who are visiting for a local meal where there’s no English menu and I have to order everything for them, they almost always leave saying that was their best meal in Thailand, not the fancy restaurant at ten times the price.
Craft Beer Scene
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good craft beer. But at ฿300-350 a pint, I rarely get them.
Bangkok’s craft beer scene has exploded in the past two years but how they get away with charging their prices escapes me. For the same price (or less), you can get a “craft” burger, pizza, pasta, fajitas or whatever else your Western taste buds are craving.
Craft beer is one of the very few things in Thailand that costs more than it does in the West, so when I do partake, I typically find a deal like Wishbeer’s 5-7pm happy hour where all their draft beers are ฿200 a pint. Still not cheap, but not laughable either.
Jim Thompson’s House
This is another top Bangkok attraction that I personally think is overrated. Not for the price so much – ฿150 baht – but rather because it’s just boring.
Bangkok is such a vibrant city with so many exciting things to do. Spending an hour or two of your typically three day vacation walking through a modest (by today’s standards at least) house of someone that you likely knew little to nothing about before arriving in Thailand is not how I would want to spend my vacation.
For expats, maybe it’s worthwhile if you’ve run out of other things to do in BKK. But for visitors, your time is better spent perusing one of the many nearby malls which are rightfully famous.
My wife and I love to vacation. We try to take one at least every six weeks. However, without fault, no matter where we go, we’re always thrilled to come back to Bangkok.
Like New York City where we used to live, it’s a city that has everything and never leaves you wanting for anything. As much as we look forward to our vacations, we equally look forward to coming back to Bangkok.
As suggested earlier, the malls of Bangkok are among the most famous in the world, but nonetheless, I don’t think they get the proper credit they deserve.
Before we moved to Asia, my wife and I were not Mall People. In fact, when people told us we’d love the malls in Bangkok, we foolishly scoffed at them.
But having lived here for almost three years now, I can honestly say that not a weekend goes by when we don’t visit at least one of them. Not for shopping, unless you count groceries, but rather just for the experience and people watching – and of course, the AC.
We’ve been to over a dozen countries in Asia (not to mention the rest of the world) and I can confidently say that no one does malls like Bangkok. Whether it’s Siam Paragon, Central World, MBK, Central Embassy, EmQuartier, Terminal 21, or even our own Mall Bangkapi, each one is unique in its own way and each seems to be more glamorous than the one before.
Frankly, were it not for the malls in Bangkok, I don’t think we could live here. And best of all, they’re free.
Living in Hua Mak away from the BTS, MRT and Airport Link, my wife and I use the Klong Saen Saeb as our main mode of transport into the city.
But surprisingly, few of our friends use it. Instead, they’ll take a mototaxi or even a regular taxi to the BTS to get into the city. In traffic, our commute is often shorter and certainly cheaper.
Although admittedly smelly at times and always a chance of a splash (make sure to sit on the side and try to take control of the pull down cover if possible), at a maximum ฿16 pp, it’s cheap, relatively fast and convenient.
More recently, last weekend we visited the Old Town area and used the Chao Phraya Express Boat to get from Phra Athit to Silom. Besides being cheap and fast, you also get amazing views of the city. We’ll certainly be using it more in the future.
Though only a short distance from the city, Bangkok’s “Green Lung” feels a world away.
We visited a few months ago and rented bicycles for the day. On top of being different and somewhat active, we also left with dinner for the next three nights (a whole duck, a whole fish and a seafood smorgasbord of squid, shrimp and oysters).
Make sure to visit on a weekend when the Bang Nam Phueng floating market takes place, where we got the majority of our take home food.
Scala/Lido Movie Theaters
Bangkok’s movie theaters are among the best, and cheapest, in the world. Every mall worth its salt has one, and many have specialty cinemas like IMAX, 3 or even 4D, butler service and private beds.
But my go-to theaters in Bangkok are the Scala and Lido cinemas which are located across from Siam Discovery.
They charge ฿100-120 (depending on the length of the film), show the same first run Hollywood movies as SF Cinema and Major Cineplex, and have equally good, big screens. Scala in particular is a unique place with an early 1920s feel. And best of all, they don’t have commercials and have far fewer previews.
You can find the show times here.
What are your picks for overrated and underrated Bangkok?