Let's just get this out of the way: I loved Thailand. I did not really love Bangkok. We still had fun in Bangkok (and as we were able to get further and further away* from the party-tourists, we enjoyed ourselves more).
Many people compare Bangkok to New Orleans (which I do love, immensely). And I really could see that comparison. The food was great! There's a flourishing night life.
Bangkok is a good place to have jet lag, if your jet lag keeps you awake at night and you don't mind trying to ignore a plethura of disturbing racial/class/trans/feminist issues.
I'm sure we could have stayed in a much higher end area (or a less bar filled one) and chosen to hide our necks in the sand in terms of the seedy side of things in Bangkok, but we didn't. We stayed in a low rent, tourist, red light area. It makes a difference. I'm also aware I didn't see all of Bangkok and that I have a skewed view because of that. But Bangkok was such a different experience for us than the rest of Thailand. Even when we got outside where we were staying.
(That said, the hotel room in Bangkok was the largest of everywhere we stayed. And it had a kitchenette, which was really great.)
Older farang (foreign) men buying (or attracting teenage Thai dates/brides. Younger farang out for a "good time," shitting all over Thai culture in the process. Thai cab drivers making fun of the "lady boys" while also offering to take us (along with our six year old) to a show: these things were really, really, really not okay with me.
Bangkok isn't trans-friendly as I thought it would be. Sure there are "lady boys" everywhere (let's just call them ladies, ok?) but the Thai men we met had serious chips on their shoulders about it and made lots of disparaging remarks (yeah, mostly cabbies and tuk tuk drivers, but they all said out of the blue disparaging things).
(I come from California, home of COYOTE and am in favor of sex-work decriminalization. I identify as strongly sex-positive. I have friends who work or have worked in the sex industry in the US and Canada - those are very different experiences than those that I saw in Thailand. I'm not even sure when money was being exchanged or not. It just felt uneven on multiple levels.)
The main issues I had with Bangkok really seemed to stem from the (hordes and hordes) of tourists and "sex-pats." (Yes, there's a term for it. Oy.) The Thai we met in Bangkok seemed resigned to this fact of life. It brings a lot of money into Bangkok. The Thai working in the tourist industry in Bangkok (cabbies and tuk-tuk drivers especially) were friendly when they thought you'd buy the con they wanted to sell you and then closed down entirely once they realized we wouldn't. Meh. Everyone needs to make a living, but I didn't go to Thailand to buy jewelry at someone's "special, this week only, expo."
(Yes, we ended up on an adventure due to falling for the start of a gem scam on our way to the Grand Palace. But since it didn't cost us any money - I am not the sort who buys jewelry and I smelled the scam pretty much immediately but figured we wouldn't get taken for more than the tuk tuk fare - we just ended up seeing one more wat than we had intended to see and sight seeing through Chinatown. No harm, no foul.)
In the end, Bangkok reminded me most of Amsterdam, another city I am not a big fan of because of the overwhelmingly annoying tourists. (And not surprisingly, we rather accidentally stayed right next to the red light districts of both cities. Ooops.) It isn't that the tourists are there to party (that's true in New Orleans and Las Vegas), it's that the partying is oblivious (and somewhat detrimental) to the culture around them. In Amsterdam, the druggies shit on the streets and don't give a fuck who is gonna step in it (I wish I were kidding). In Bangkok, the (sex)tourists buy and buy and buy and don't give a fuck what - or who - they are buying as long as it's cheap. Obliviousness. Not everyone, but seemingly the majority.
I know lots of people who love Amsterdam. I know people who love Bangkok. There was a lot of beauty** in Bangkok. A lot of Thai art and culture, underneath the cons and the tourists.
In the end, I think there are some places that resonate with us, and some that don't. Chiang Mai resonated with me. Bangkok didn't. No hard feelings, Bangkok.
Remind me not to stay near a red light district again, though. Even if it's cheap and seems far enough away that it won't be an issue. ZOMG.
* Another really strange cultural juxtoposition: going from a day in the suburbs of Japan (serene, immaculate, nothing out of place, not many western tourists) to bustling, smelly, trash-everywhere Bangkok. My feeling is that the trash is related to the tourist hordes, because whenever I asked a food vendor where the garbage was they *thanked* me for not throwing trash on the ground. Tourists don't give a shit: they have no invested interest in keeping a place clean.
** The colors in Bangkok were beyond gorgeous. Also, I loved the wat and the greenery we were able to find. And did I mention the food? Oh my, yum.
But if I never have to deal with a taxi or tuk tuk driver in Bangkok ever again, I will be most happy. (The Skytrain was really fabulous.)