What is that Smell in Bangkok? [2023] (2023)

Bangkok is notorious for its unpleasant smells, thanks to a number of factors such as smelly local cuisine and a problematic sewage system.

There are some things that people can do to help minimise the smell. But in general, Bangkok is still a smelly country.

People living in Thailand may have gotten used to the different smells of their country despite their adverse effects on the general quality of life.

However, tourists may be shocked when they first encounter these different aromas wafting around as they walk through the streets of Bangkok.

In this article, let’s look at why Bangkok smells, what factors are causing the stink, and what Thais are doing to address the issue.

What is that distinct smell in Bangkok?

What is that Smell in Bangkok? [2023] (1)

To be fair, other big cities may have their own distinct smells that tourists may find “smelly” or “stinky”. The same is true for Bangkok!

Travellers can encounter unique smells that they will immediately find alien or strange. However, this depends on where they are located in the country or city.

Tourists entering Thailand usually pass through two airports – Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang. Once they are in the said airports, tourists will smell jet or aviation fuel, until such time that they transfer to the taxi or bus area where they will then smell burnt fuel.

Based on where guests will be staying, they will be treated to different smells in Thailand.

These varied scents are mostly due to the food items being sold in the different areas of Bangkok. In particular, such areas include the downtown Banglamphu and the upmarket Silom and Sukhumvit hotels.

Food smells in Banglamphu are prevalent, thanks to the many unique dishes being prepared here. The sources of these aromas include fish heads being fried in stalls, chicken feet being cooked, and stalls selling one of the smelliest fruits on earth, Durian.

On the other hand, Silom and Sukhumvit have very expensive hotels that are usually well-run and kept fresh and clean. As such, the said properties have very hygienic and well-maintained kitchens that rarely have the smell of cooking food on them.

Tourists who choose to wander the food markets of Bangkok will experience an all-out assault on their sense of smell. These markets are commonly poorly ventilated and will normally have around 60 dishes being cooked at the same time.

In addition, waste management isn’t a top priority in these parts as excess oils and food are disposed of in the gutters and drains beside the tables of the food stalls themselves.

This kind of waste disposal results in the accumulation of dirt, detritus, rats, and vermin around the area.

Unfortunately, this poor approach to waste management by these food stall owners often leads to smells that are quite offensive and disgusting to first-time travellers in Thailand.

Smelly Local Food Items in Thailand

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As stated in the previous section of this article, one of the major contributors to the distinct smell of Thailand is the local cuisine or food items sold in and around the country including Bangkok.

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Some travellers may even pass up on the experience of trying these smelly food items because of the unpleasant aroma they possess. But despite their unpleasantness, these local cuisines are in reality quite delicious!

Below are some of the dishes that tourists shouldn’t judge based on their stinky smell and that we recommend they try out if they are brave enough to stomach their smell, that is!

1. Kao Neaw Durian

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This Southeast Asian fruit gets a very negative image for being the world’s most unpleasantly smelling fruit in the world. In fact, there is no grey area when it comes to liking the durian fruit as you only really hate it or love it.

There is one way to enjoy this stinky fruit, though, and it is in the form of Kao New Durian. This Thai dessert recipe involves serving durian with sticky rice and coconut milk.

Health buffs may also be glad to know that the durian fruit is good for you as it has high iron content, and is rich in vitamins E, C, and B.

Durian also has tryptophan, an amino acid that can help improve feelings of happiness and alleviate insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

While it is recommended that travellers try durian out, we would recommend keeping it out of refrigerators, public transportation, and air-conditioned areas. This is because the smell of durian can stick around for days.

2. Pla Kem

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In Thailand, they have sun-dried salted fish called Pla-Kem. Unfortunately, this salted fish cuisine isn’t just stinky right before it’s cooked as it still gives off that stinky stench even as it goes into the frying pan or stove.

Eaten with a side of boiled rice, Pla Kem is commonly topped with some chilli, shallots, fish sauce, and some lime juice. Since the majority of Thais want their meals to burst with flavours, this combination adds a kick to the flavours of Pla Kem once served.

In Bangkok, Pla Kem can be bought or purchased in restaurants, supermarkets, and markets. However, these sun-dried fishes are commonly found near coastal towns as Pla Kem is mostly made using fish forms salt-water sources.

3. Tao Jeow Lon

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Tao Jeow Lon is not a dish per se but a sauce used for dipping made with chilis, coconut milk, and some fermented soybeans. This dipping sauce isn’t very visually appealing as well since it resembles regurgitated baby food.

Nonetheless, countless people and locals love this dipping sauce for its nutritional benefits and the satisfying and strong taste it adds to various Thai dishes. Most Thais love to eat Tao Jeow Lon with some hot rice and some boiled or fresh vegetables.

Those who like and who will fall in love with Tao Jeow Lon are in luck as this dipping sauce is really easy to prepare and is available in almost all restaurants and markets in Bangkok.

4. Som Tam Pla-Ra

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Do you fancy eating some exotic salad? Then the Thai cuisine called Som Tam Pla-Ra may just be what you are looking for.

This salad is prepared using fermented fish and the smelliest kind of spicy papaya. Locals usually prefer that their Som Tam be prepared only with some fermented fish but there are some who would prefer to have an entire fish thrown into the salad.

Others go the extreme route though and even throw in some field crabs into their Som Tam Pla-Ra.

Regardless of how this salad is enjoyed, it is best eaten with other local side dishes such as spicy liver salad, ground pork salad, grilled pork, fried or roasted chicken, rice noodles, or sticky rice.

5. Kao Klook Gapi

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Combining shrimp paste and rice will get you the smelly local dish known as Kao Klook Gapi. The dish’s name is a literal translation of rice (Kao), mix (Klook), and Gapi (shrimp paste).

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Locals eat Kao Klook Gapi with other food items such as parboiled eggs, acacia or cha-om omelette, and fried mackerel. A lot of Thais enjoy the flavour of this dish but this food item is also thought of as highly nutritious.

This is mainly because Kao Klook Gapi contains a full set of nutrients all in one dish. However, tourists should be aware that after eating Kao Klook Gapi, they may need a breath mint and deal with the spicy flavour that it can leave in one’s mouth after eating.

Aside from different side dishes, locals also enjoy Kao Klook Gapi with some unripe mangoes. People can easily get this local cuisine from any Bangkok restaurant or market.

6. Pad Sa Tor

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Stink beans, also known as Sa Tor, are beans stir-fried with either shrimp, beef, pork, or chicken and some chilis. It may smell like someone just passed gas but locals are in love with this dish for its health benefits and its fantastic flavour.

A number of studies showed that stink beans can positively impact the prevention and management of constipation, depression, PMS, anaemia, obesity, blood pressure, and diabetes.

Usually eaten with some rice, Pad Sa Tor can be purchased from most markets in Bangkok. However, it can’t be easily found in upscale and city restaurants as it is considered a dish that is country-style.

Some Good “Smells” in Thailand

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Of course, not all smells in Thailand or Bangkok are bad. In fact, there are some that are considered good smelling or even fragrant.

Tourists who visit any of the temples or the “Wats” will immediately take note of the smell coming from the sticks of incense offered to the Buddhas. These incense sticks help relieve stress and also make the area much more fragrant.

Some countryside night markets provide sweet and delightful aromas when preparing dishes for the locals and tourists. Guests will surely have their appetites stoked once they smell the fish, fried rice, grilled meats, and soups being prepared in these markets.

Spice vendors and stores can be found all around Thailand and tourists will surely fall in love with the different fragrances and colours offered on display by these traders. In fact, these vendors offer what one might call an authentic Thai experience.

Lastly, Thailand is rich in fragrant trees and flowers and these certainly bring about a fragrance that tourists can appreciate. One such flower is the Ylang Ylang, also known as the Canang odorata.

The Ylang-Ylang has a wonderful fragrance and is claimed to awaken the secret desires, passion, and love in humans. Another popular and fragrant flower is Frangipani which seems to be a crowd- favourite for most tourists

What are Thais doing to address that infamous Bangkok smell?

Both private individuals and the Thai government are doing or planning to do something to address the negative smells in Bangkok. Below are some of the said actions:

1. Private individuals commonly sniff on Ya Dom.

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Once tourists get off their planes and head out to Bangkok, they may notice that a lot of locals carry little white tubes. While they may look like Chapsticks, these white tubes are being sniffed by Thais making it clear that it is not lip balm.

These small white tubes carried around by locals are called Ya Dom and they can make the days of locals a little bit easier when it comes to bad smells.

These tiny inhaler tubes have in them something fragrant or pleasant-smelling such as peppermint, eucalyptus, menthol, or something similar.

Sniffing long and deep on a Ya Dom can provide individuals with instant relief from the nasty smells in their immediate surroundings. In fact, Ya Dom can be compared to Vicks Vaporub which can provide immediate relief from congestion once sniffed.

Fortunately, travellers can easily purchase Ya Dom from any of the many convenience stores around Thailand and Bangkok. Once you have your little white tube with you, touring the country and the city will be much more pleasant.

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2. The Thai Government acts against smelly canals.

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The Thai Government has acknowledged the need to address the untreated wastewater passing through the subterranean tunnels of Bangkok. These waft through the city’s sewage grates, resulting in that horrible smell that only gets worse during summer.

As such, the Prime Minister of Thailand wants to resolve the issue of making the waterways of Bangkok a little less smelly.

One such example of improving waterways is the Ong Ang canal which was formerly identified as the stinkiest canal in Bangkok. The situation of the said canal, though, greatly improved after half a decade of beautification projects were implemented.

Fortunately, it seems like the Thai government is now much more focused on resolving this issue and is poised to address the two problems that contribute to Bangkok’s smelly waterways namely flooding and sewage.

FAQs about that Bangkok Smell

What is that Bangkok smell?

The smell of a typical Bangkok street will usually be a combination of pungent sewage and fragrant jasmine.

What are Thais sniffing?

Thais sniff a small white tube called a Ya Dom which contains a pleasant-smelling ingredient such as eucalyptus or menthol.

Is Bangkok considered clean?

Bangkok is not considered clean and is in fact part of the top most polluted cities in Asia and in the world.

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What does Thai food smell like?

The most prevalent smell of Thai food is its curry component.

Does Bangkok really smell so bad?

The smell tourists can encounter in Bangkok can vary depending on where they are located. Areas with open drainage will definitely encounter bad smells due to the rotting detritus in Bangkok’s waterways.

On the other hand, staying in high-end hotels or near temples will most definitely have pleasant smells thanks to well-maintained spaces and burning incense sticks in the Wats.

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What is the smell in Bangkok? ›

Walking down a street in Bangkok you can smell fragrant jasmine and pungent sewage on the same block.

What are they sniffing in Thailand? ›

The small inhalers are filled with something pleasant; usually menthol, eucalyptus, peppermint or something similar. A long sniff from a ya dom provides instant relief from the fetor. Much like Vicks Vaporub when you're sick, the inhalation offers congestion relief along with masking the odors of the city.

Where is the safest place in Thailand? ›

What are the safest places to live in Thailand? The safest places are Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Krabi, Koh Samui, Chiang Rai, Kanchanaburi, Phang Nga, and Kuala Lumpur. Avoid southern Thailand because of political and religious conflicts.

What is the stinkiest smell on earth? ›

The 10 Worst Odours in the World
  • Hydrogen Sulphide.
  • Fact: Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, uses geothermal springs beneath the city to provide hot water. ...
  • Raw sewage.
  • Corpse flower.
  • Rotten flesh.
  • Special mention: gangrenous flesh. ...
  • Thioacetone.
  • Durian fruit.
Oct 18, 2017

What is the best smelling city in the world? ›

Grasse is known as the perfume capital, not only in France, but of the entire world. Some of the most "distinguished noses" have visited Grasse to be trained. There are just about 2,000 primary scents included in lessons and perfume aficionados must know how to recognize every single one.

Can you kiss in public in Thailand? ›

Thailand. Unless you're in the confines of your resort or hotel room, kissing in public is a major no-no in Thailand. In more cosmopolitan areas like Bangkok, hand holding is okay.

What is Thai inhaler used for? ›

Traditional Thai herbal inhalant relief for nasal congestion, stuffy nose & dizziness made from various Thai herbs known to improve blood circulation and help with nasal congestion, dizziness , motion sickness, relieve stress, alleviate headache and clear airways.

What happens if you have drugs in Thailand? ›

Drugs. Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. Possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment. If you're found guilty of being in possession of 20 grams of a Class A drug on exiting Thailand you risk receiving the death penalty.

Where do Americans live in Thailand? ›

Expats living in The Land of Smiles are mostly found in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, and Thai islands like Koh Samui and Koh Tao. However, Thailand is such a popular destination among expats that you are guaranteed to find a welcoming expatriate community no matter where you live in the country.

Why do Americans move to Thailand? ›

People move to Thailand for a number of reasons: to enjoy retirement, work or travel long-term around the country. No matter why you're moving there, you will need to get the correct visa and paperwork.

Where do rich people live in Bangkok? ›

  • Sathorn. The Silom-Sathorn district is dubbed as the “financial district” of Bangkok, The central location is the city's Central Business District, where high-end offices such as the Empire Towers and Sathorn Square are located. ...
  • Lumphini. ...
  • Thonglor. ...
  • Khlong San. ...
  • Sukhumvit.
Apr 19, 2021

What is the smelliest part of a human? ›

Focus on the areas where you sweat the most, like your armpits and groin area. Removing some of the bacteria on your skin regularly can prevent unpleasant body odor. Keep your armpits shaved, so sweat evaporates quickly and doesn't have as much time to interact with bacteria. Hair is a breeding ground for bacteria.

What smells worse than a skunk? ›

It turns out the Lesser Anteater is five to seven times smellier than the infamous skunk. The Lesser anteater uses its stench to ward off any unwanted visitors and predators.

What is the smelliest city in America? ›

10 of the nation's smelliest cities
  • Gilroy, California. Scent: Garlic. ...
  • Chicago, Illinois. Scent: Chocolate. ...
  • Baltimore, Maryland. Scent: Freshly baked bread. ...
  • Julian, California. Scent: Apple pie. ...
  • Little Havana in Miami, Florida. Scent: Cuban coffee. ...
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Scent: Beer. ...
  • Mackinac Island, Michigan. Scent: Fudge.
Sep 19, 2018

What country smells the best? ›

Ten places with distinct 'smells' and aromas you should visit
  • GILROY, THE US. ...
  • MUSCAT, OMAN. ...
  • MODENA, ITALY. ...
  • KYOTO, JAPAN. ...
Mar 6, 2020

What do you smell in Dubai? ›

Dubai's top ten smells our noses won't forget
  1. 1 Dubai Metro. After a full day of work and a sweaty walk from the office to the Metro station we admit to being at our most pungent on the commute home.
  2. 2 Sunscreen. ...
  3. 3 Al Reef Bakery. ...
  4. 4 Cheese room. ...
  5. 5 Spice Souk. ...
  6. 6 The spa. ...
  7. 7 Fish Souk. ...
  8. 8 Shisha. ...
Nov 10, 2015

Do they use condoms in Thailand? ›

While condom use with sex workers is common in Thailand, condom use is inconsistent with casual partners and extremely rare among married couples [22]. Only 21% of sexually active Thai high school students reported ever having used condoms [23].

Which part of someone's body should you avoid touching in Thailand? ›

Don't touch people's heads

In Thailand, the head is considered sacred and the cleanest part of the body, so it's deemed offensive to touch people's heads or hair. If you slip up and do this accidently, apologise as soon as you can and you'll find most Thais will quickly forgive you for it.

Do you put toilet paper in the toilet in Thailand? ›

Thai people don't use toilet tissue in the same way others might. Instead, they use water to wash themselves to get clean. Look for a bum gun (toilet hose) or a water bucket. If you are using tissue, do not throw toilet paper in the toilet!

Is inhaler good for lungs? ›

Bronchodilators, or most commonly called inhalers, are medications that are breathed through the mouth and into the lungs to help relax muscles that tighten around your airways. The medicine helps open the airway and lets more air move in and out of your lungs and helps you breathe more easily.

What is peppermint black inhaler? ›

Black Inhaler

extra cool, extra strength with double the Eucalyptus oil which can help kill bacteria in the respiratory system! With its sleek, black design the Black Inhaler is the new must-have item. It also has the perfect blend of refreshing scents from Peppermint Oil and Menthol creating an extra refreshing scent.

Is Thai inhaler good? ›

Herbal inhalers are very popular in Thailand because of the natural benefits or remedies they offer. In Thai, they are called ya dom (ยาดม). These inhalers are made using several herbs that are produced and harvested locally. Because of the natural components, herbal inhalers are 100% safe and effective.

Can you buy Xanax over the counter in Thailand? ›

Xanax is on the list of controlled drugs in Thailand and no reputable pharamcist will sell it to you without a prescription.

Can you smoke on the street in Thailand? ›

Key pointers of the New Smoking Law

Smokers are not allowed to smoke in public buildings or public areas, except for open-air areas. There is a 5 meters exclusion zone around the entrances and exit areas of all significant public spaces. Smoking in restaurants, bars and pubs are also not allowed.

What is the age of consent in Thailand? ›

2551 (2008) Sec. 4 “Child” means any person under eighteen years of age. Age of Consent: 15 years old Criminal Code of Thailand Sec.

What is the best smell in the world? ›

But vanilla has now been crowned the world's favourite smell by a team of international experts. Scientists from the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm presented 10 scents to 235 people from nine different cultures around the world.

What is the IKEA smell? ›

The scent of IKEA

ADLAD, for example, has a soft and gentle scent of trees to remind one of the trails they may have taken during a holiday or morning walks. "Not wild, more friendly, and welcoming like a Scandinavian forest. It's the scent of home, the scent of IKEA.

What are the 7 smells? ›

Scientists have classified odors into 10 basic categories: fragrant, woody/resinous, minty/peppermint, sweet, chemical, popcorn, lemon, fruity (non-citrus), pungent and decayed.

What is the most popular smell? ›

The odours were chosen to be representative of stuff that is found all over the world, from sweaty feet to ripe fruits, and the results were published in the journal Current Biology. And the most popular smell was… vanilla! That's right.

What smell do most people love? ›

And according to the results, vanilla is the most pleasing smell around, followed by ethyl butyrate, which smells like peaches. Artin Arshamian, researcher at Karolinska and one of the study's authors, said humans may have similar olfactory preferences because it helped early humans survive.

Which country smells the best? ›

Ten places with distinct 'smells' and aromas you should visit
  • GILROY, THE US. ...
  • MUSCAT, OMAN. ...
  • MODENA, ITALY. ...
  • KYOTO, JAPAN. ...
Mar 6, 2020

Why do Vegas hotels smell so good? ›

While some visitors find fragrances used on the casino to be offensive, some patrons adore the distinct fragrance of their favorite casino floor. A psychological tactic, resorts carefully select aromas to support their brand image, mask unpleasant odors, and keep you parked in front of a slot machine longer.

What are the smells of Bali? ›


The flower is ubiquitous around Bali and is commonly used as a decoration, for religious offerings (it's not unusual, for instance, to find a frangipani in someone's hair), and even in spas.

What is the smell of Victoria Secret? ›

Victoria's Secret Pure Seduction is a flirty, floral fragrance. A sexy, passionate romance of succulent red plum and sweet freesia that is alluring, sensuous and soft on the skin.

What should 😺 smell like? ›

Normal vaginal discharge has a mild, musky scent that is not unpleasant. This means that a slight smell is normal. Any foul (bad) or strong smell, or a smell that is unusual, is a sign that things are out of balance, and that you should get yourself checked out.

What's a smell that everyone likes? ›

The team found the smell ranked the most pleasant was vanillin, the main component in vanilla extract. The following preferred scent was ethyl butyrate, a fruity, pineapple-like odor. , The chemical compound Linalool's floral and spicy scent—found in over 200 plants including lavender—ranked third.

What smells put you in the mood? ›

Aphrodisiac scents include pumpkin, lavender, vanilla, cinnamon, peppermint, and ginger. Despite some skepticism around the use of aphrodisiacs, studies show that many of these aromas do work — they can be easily incorporated into anyone's fragrance routine.

What does the smell of vanilla do to guys? ›

Vanilla has long since been a favourite for men everywhere thanks to its creamy, mouth-watering aroma. This is mostly due to the fact that smelling it reminds boys of food and instantly makes them feel excited. The soft, musky aromas are also said to rate highly with the fellas as it's warm and comforting.

What smell makes happy? ›

Orange, grapefruit, and lemon are all energizing and uplifting scents," says Cynthia LaBonte, aromatherapist and herbalist at Newport Aromatherapy. "We associate citrus with cleanliness. Their top notes go straight up the sinuses to the head and make us feel better, fitter, and even more confident and in control."

What is the smell of luxury? ›

It is a blend of notes like galbanum, mandarin, bergamot, pear, jasmine, peony, gardenia, orris butter, vetiver, vanilla and musk.


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