As for most of the world's major cities, Bangkok's reputation is ambiguous: it is said to be vibrant and fascinating, yet ugly and too big; to have great food and weather while being too hot and too crowded. We decided to see for ourselves: it turns out Bangkok is all of these things at once, but overall the positives clearly win out.
Let's start with big and crowded. At 15 million inhabitants, Bangkok ranks among the world's largest cities: it is over 30 times bigger than Thailand's second city, making it the centre of all economic and cultural activity in the country, if not all of Southeast Asia. Given that Thailand is one of the oldest continuously existing independent states in the world, Bangkok, which has been the country's capital since the late 18th century, has a good claim to being Asia's oldest capital city.
Moving on to hot. With average summer high temperatures of over 35 °C, Bangkok is also one of the world's hottest major cities. We visited during the summer monsoon season: it is indeed hot, but the frequent rains provide a cooling effect and most places are air-conditioned anyway.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Bangkok (and Thailand in general) is the incredible abundance and ubiquity of amazing food. Streets throughout the whole city are lined almost from end to end with stalls selling anything from grilled snacks to full sit-down meals for almost no money. It's perfectly possible to stay in this city for a week and never enter a restaurant: once the streetside stalls close for the night, the city's many night markets come into their own.
A special mention goes out to Thailand's indescribable variety of fruits, ranging from those of which rather weak imitations are also on sale in the West (bananas, pineapples, mangoes) to those that you may never have heard of (mangosteen, durian). Mango, incidentally, combines with sticky rice to make a filling and rewarding all-day snack plate.
Just a word about dirt: we found Bangkok to be an unusually clean city, especially given the abundance of street food and ditto cats. This and the ubiquity of natural germ-killing ingredients such as chilli means you don't really need to worry about food hygiene at all. Don't worry, either, if you're not that into spicy food: you will normally be warned before tucking into that innocent-looking salad that turns out to consist mostly of raw chilli.
In terms of conventional tourist sights, Bangkok will not disappoint you either. It makes little sense to try to list everything there is to see here (a guidebook will tell you that), so we especially highlight just a few. Try not to miss the Jim Thompson House, the house of an American silk merchant and art collector which serves as a green, tranquil haven in the middle of the bustle of Downtown Bangkok: the mystery of Thompson's 1967 disappearance will haunt you for some time after your visit.
As Thailand's capital, it is unsurprising that Bangkok hosts possibly the most varied and exquisite array of Thai Buddhist temples: for example, do visit Wat Pho or Wat Suthat, but please do try to show more respect for Buddhist practices and Thai culture than some. The sometimes funny, sometimes tragic signs will explain you the rules in a simple way.
Those 15 million people all getting around generate a lot of traffic, but don't worry: in recent years, Bangkok has developed a fairly efficient public transport system combining buses with hyper-modern metro and "sky" trains as well as fast if slightly alarming commuter boats on the city's many waterways. Add to that the ubiquitous and (mostly) honest and cost-effective taxis and the picturesque but slightly less honest "tuk-tuks", and you will not need to worry about getting around.
In all, Bangkok is a city we most definitely want to return to soon. Did you visit, too? What was your experience like?