Oh Bangkok. I wanted to love you. I adore Thai food. You have such pretty architecture. And, one of my absolute favorite songs of the 1980’s extols your, erm, seedier aspects, shall we say?
A song, which Wikipedia tells me, has been covered by a Norwegian singer, a Swedish pop group, a Swiss DJ and a Danish boy band, so you have the Scandinavian vote on lockdown, so don’t worry about that.
But overall, I liked Bangkok, but did not love it, and while I’d be interested in exploring other parts of Thailand, I would probably skip Bangkok. Here are a few of my reasons:
- It was hotter than blazes. Like sweating in places you didn’t know had sweat glands hot. Unrelentingly so.
- It was very, very crowded. There are 12 million people in this densely populated metropolis. Compare that to the 22 million in the entire country of Australia. And as a result…
- It’s very, very stinky. Honestly, it gave New Orleans a run for its money. And so many different stenches. Especially along the docks by the river. As this blogger put it so well:
“Eau de Bangkok was a memorable odor. Combining the very worse Asia has to offer, it attacked the senses, an onslaught bloody enough to make a grown man cry, or at least foul enough to make a grown man’s eyes water. There was no escaping the city’s divergent odors; the sweet perfume of plumeria, the heady scent of incense from the thousands of shrines and temples, the reek of the river and canals that form an important part of the city’s transportation system (as well as a major part of its sewer system), the aroma of street side cooking on every block, weird tropical fruit that smelled as if someone had died beneath its skin, and the fragrance typical of a bustling Asian City overflowing with humanity and its offal. The aroma of Bangkok was a physical presence. It lodged in your throat like a pig wallowing in yesterday’s slop.”
- And the poverty was nothing less than heartbreaking. Whereas we hardly saw any homeless people in Australia, in Bangkok, they were everywhere you looked. It was very humbling.
Mostly Bangkok gave me the same disoriented feeling I’ve experienced in Asian cities before: nothing looks right, even things I recognize seem off-kilter and unfamiliar. I always feel like I stumble through Asian cities in a sleepwalk state. Plus, as tall Americans, you really feel like you stick out and tower above most people, even though there were gobs of other tourists (Bangkok is a very, very inexpensive place, which makes it particularly attractive, I think).
There’s always this aspect of sensory overload I get in Asian cities, much like what I experience in the bright lights and loud noises of Vegas. In Bangkok, there was just so much to see in such a small, tight space and so many unfamiliar noises all crashing on top of each other. This was particularly true when we were at the night market where there was just a crush of people (including tons of tourists) and stalls all crammed with cheap trinkets and fake designer goods.
We weren’t looking for anything, but if we had been, I don’t know how we ever would have found it.
Even when you escape the street stalls for the sidewalks, you’re assaulted with neon signs trying to lure you into the various bars and loads of people sitting on the sidewalks eating, talking to each other or on the phone, calling out to you, trying to show you a price list.
Added to that is the sense of debauchery I’ve basically coated the whole place with in my mind. I felt like everyone was hustling, or was on the make. In Bangkok, where prostitution is not only legal, but practically a sector of its tourism industry, I eyed every tourist suspiciously, sure that they were up to no good whether it was buying sex or fake Louboutins.
When we ducked outof the night market to grab a beer at a beer garden, a European couple sitting next to us were charming one of the Thai waitresses, taking pictures of her in cutesy poses on their camera phone. They didn’t know her, but sure wanted a lot of pictures of her. What in the hell would they want her photo for, I wondered. I couldn’t think of any good reason.
I’m not a puritan or anything. In fact, I came very close to buying several vibrators on chains at the night market as party favors for Sorta Running Buddy Amy’s bachelorette party this weekend, but I know that Amy’s not into penis se toys, so me, the model of restraint, held back and did not buy those things. So that proves I”m not just not a puritan, but I’m actually quite considerate as well.
No, it’s not a sex-puritan thing. It’s more about the fact that more than anything I hate when people who have power and money take advantage of those who are weak or poor. My sense of justice and fairness runs pretty strong.
I was also nervous about safety and scams, which there apparently there are plenty of in Thailand. On the day we went to the Grand Palace, they were closed for the afternoon. There were several “official” looking gentlemen out front directing us to some of the other tourists’ sites and trying to get us to use a tuk tuk. Apparently, these tuk tuks don’t actually take you to other city highlights, but instead take you to a whole bunch of jewelry and tailoring shops.
We did, however, visit a jewelry shop on our own, one that had been recommended by family friends. We spent a very cool and lovely afternoon at Johnny’s Gems, an institution among the diplomat and embassy circles in Bangkok. They even had a picture of Hilary Clinton shopping there, but I have to confess, I did not notice a single picture on the wall. I was too busy looking at the trays of gorgeous jewelry. They were quite accommodating at Johnny’s, even running next door to get you some of the best fried rice you’ve ever tasted.
We also had dinner on top of a skyscraper. The Vertigo restaurant on top of the Banyan Tree hotel was stunning, overlooking the entire city. It was an unforgettable dinner on a beautiful night.
So between the whole eating fried rice in a jewelry store and dinner on top of a skyscraper, I guess I liked Bangkok maybe more than I initially thought. It’s a pretty interesting place for sure.