Bangkok is a city on almost every traveler’s bucket list. Why is that? Well, to be fair, Bangkok is pretty awesome. It’s teeming with beautiful temples, tantalizing street food, and hot tropical weather. Plus, the prices are extremely cheap for westerners looking for a budget destination.
But there is also a more serious reality to visiting Bangkok. It’s a city with major pollution and environmental issues. Unfortunately, most travelers see Bangkok as a must-visit when traveling through Thailand.
We made the same mistake by spending a week in this bustling city. But after spending about a day in Bangkok, Jack’s throat started hurting. A day later, he started getting congested. It ended up being because of the poor air quality, which is pretty scary.
To help people see why visiting Bangkok isn’t all that it’s stacked up to be, here are 10 reasons why NOT to visit Bangkok, Thailand.
10 Reasons to NOT Visit Bangkok, Thailand
1. Bangkok is the most visited city in the world.
For the past four years, Bangkok has had more tourists than any other city in the world. Even though cities like Paris, London, and Rome have garnered bad reputations recently due to their over-tourism, Bangkok has somehow escaped that label.
In 2018, over 22 million people visited Bangkok, which works out to about 63,000 people per day. This is an insane amount of tourism, and it actually ends up driving the prices for locals living in Bangkok.
2. The air quality is really bad.
We’ve previously visited places that don’t have stellar air quality (looking at you, Los Angeles) but we’ve never actually been somewhere that made us look up real-time pollution values due to how we were feeling.
During our time in Bangkok, the Air Quality Index (AQI) has been so high that it’s ranked on the wrong side of the Top 20 worst cities in the world for air pollution. Less than six weeks before our arrival, it ranked in the Top 3. Surprisingly, the AQI has actually improved in Bangkok since the 1990s.
The thick smog layer lingers over the city almost all day and obscures your vision, burns your eyes, and tightens up your chest. People here wear masks for a reason, and you should too if you find yourself here.
3. There is traffic literally everywhere.
The fastest way to get around Bangkok is on the back of a motorcycle. Cars are in a constant state of gridlock and buses are no better.
We saw firsthand how bad the traffic situation is when we got a cab to go a couple of kilometers away. It ended up taking over half an hour, which is insane!
The train system (there are actually two; MRT and BTS) is simple enough to use but doesn’t have nearly the coverage a city of Bangkok’s size needs.
4. The fantasy of Khaosan Road is long gone.
In it’s prime days, Khaosan Road was an idyllic backpacker getaway. It was a place where backpackers and tourists of all sorts of backgrounds would go to relax, getaway, and indulge themselves in whatever may come to mind.
Those days are over.
Khaosan Road, while still very popular with travelers, is now lined with international fast food chains such as KFC, Subway, and Burger King. The bars and shopkeepers cater to tourists tastes rather than putting out displays of Thai culture. It’s still a sight to see, but it just feels fake.
5. The Income Disparity is among the worst in the world.
Thailand was recently ranked the country in the world with the greatest gap between the wealthy and the poor. Since Bangkok is the capital and largest city in the country, the income inequality is on greatest display here.
There are countless luxury cars driving all over town, yet on the same street there are several pickup trucks packed full of people acting as makeshift buses.
At the world famous Sky Bar, a gin and tonic goes for 650 baht ($21.42), yet all over the city you can find a full hour Thai massage for only 200 baht.
6. Bangkok continues to be a major hub for sex trafficking.
Sex tourism is a terrible reality in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, Bangkok continues to be a base for many sex trafficking rings.
Even worse, Thailand only prosecuted 36 offenders in minor sex trafficking cases, when minors are believed to make up the majority of sex trafficking victims.
To be fair, this happens in many parts of the world. But it’s worth noting this to understand some of the negative realities in Bangkok and Thailand as a whole.
7. You can’t drink the water.
So what does this mean for you as a tourist? Well, you definitely should be drinking only bottled water. If you’re definitely going to Bangkok, invest in a Lifestraw Water Bottle so you can at least cut down on your plastic waste.
8. Plastic waste is out of control.
There is so much plastic waste in Thailand, that Bangkok prep decided to have students swim in a sea of plastic bottles to draw awareness to the issue. Plastic waste is a huge threat to the environment, and Bangkok is a pretty bad offender.
While in Bangkok, we ordered delivery and the app said that it wouldn’t use unnecessary plastic (plastic cutlery) unless we requested it by checking a box. We didn’t check the box, yet it came with a whole slew of unnecessary plastic anyways.
9. Overfishing is a big problem.
There’s nothing that bums us out more than looking at a restaurant menu and seeing shark fin soup listed. It’s menu dishes like this that are causing the shark population to rapidly decline.
Luckily, Bangkok is starting to do something about this problem–they head a meeting to address overfishing in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. But it remains a big problem.
10. Thailand has way better destinations that you can visit instead.
We’ll admit that some of the issues in Bangkok are true for Thailand as a whole. But increasing tourism to more areas within a country helps spread wealth, and it can also be better for your wallet, too.
Transportation via train or bus to other regions of Thailand is very affordable. Try heading south in Thailand to check out some of the many beautiful islands or National Parks.
If you must go to Bangkok, please reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible. Here are some final thoughts on how you get do that.
- Reduce plastic consumption. Don’t use straws or plastic cutlery. Buy a a Lifestraw Water Bottle so you don’t have to buy plastic water bottles every day.
- Walk whenever possible. The streets are already crowded enough and although cabs are very cheap, they just lead to more traffic and pollution.
- Stay outside of the main tourist area. Help spread the wealth in Bangkok by staying in a less touristy area. We loved our Airbnb in Huai Khwang.