People told me I would hate Bangkok. I thought it was magic
Don’t take as gospel what fellow travellers advise you – draw your own conclusions
Bangkok: ‘People told me it was chaotic, dirty, 48 hours would be enough, get in and get out.’ Photograph: iStock
Travel is all about the trusted recommendation. A copy of Lonely Planet is the first symbolic purchase of a trip, artfully placed on a coffee table for Instagram before the spine is even cracked.
That said, long gone are the days where that well-thumbed guidebook was considered some sort of infallible travel bible. In 2019, we’re coming down with recommendations from all sides, through crowd-sourcing like TripAdvisor or Google Reviews, or searching places and seeing what many, many blogs, articles and tips pop up. Maybe word of mouth from our mates was the richest source of inspiration for plotting new adventures 10 years ago, but these days, the internet is the first port of call.
The problem? Blindly following too much advice is kind of nonsense. One of the most compelling aspects of long-term travel is the freedom of cutting loose. Not knowing what you’re in for is part of that; think setting off in the morning not knowing where you’ll sleep that evening.
Back in the day – before smartphones basically – that meant rolling into a tiny town in Vietnam or Chile or wherever, trundling along hoping for the best, lugging your backpack until you clocked a guesthouse that looked least likely to give you you bed bugs. Now, everything can be sorted in advance on Hostelworld, reviews checked, pictures vetted – all you need to move on is Wi-Fi and your scrolling finger. Has that taken some essential uncertainty out of things?
I must admit I don’t know any different, but from talking to older travellers on the road in Asia, it seems the game has entirely changed in the past decade – and maybe not for the better. Rather than roll the dice and simply get lost, backpackers these days instead face an overload of information. Countless blogs are dedicated to describing in detail all the most far-flung, exotic experiences out there on the road; things that might arguably be far better discovered with the remaining element of surprise.
A case in point for me is Bangkok. It was my first stop back in October, and all reports beforehand were resoundingly negative. People told me it was chaotic, dirty, 48 hours would be enough, get in and get out. In the end, I landed and absolutely loved it. For me, the muggy chaos wasn’t overwhelming, but stimulating. I marvelled at the stone arteries of the newly emerging modern city towering above the clusters of food markets below, skyscrapers mixing with temples, the rush of motorbikes and low-hanging telephone wires. I thought it was pure magic. I regretted letting people affect my view in advance.
So maybe forget about the place’s rating. Don’t take as gospel what fellow travellers advise you. Listen and take it in, sure, but make sure you draw your own conclusions. Rather than drive yourself mad trying to know it all before you even get there, the way to do it might be to disregard the deluge of confusing reviews entirely, try not nitpick or over-research the fun out of things and – most importantly – take what people tell you at home, online and on the road with a hefty portion of salt.
Make your own mistakes, because they always wind up being a big part of doing anything for yourself on your own terms, not just travel. The dodgy hostel, wrong road, the missed bus (or two) – often, they lead us to experiences that end up being the weirdest and wildest stories of all. Just try not to get food poisoning and you’re golden. Or maybe don’t listen to this and ignore me entirely; I guess that’s kind of the point.