Embracing Bangkok


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As you might expect, it wasn’t just our parents that were nervous about us traveling to Thailand, especially to Bangkok. I was a little hesitant to visit a city that has a reputation for all-night partying and sex tourists looking for love in all the wrong places. Ask many Americans and their latest impression of Bangkok just may have been the movie, Hangover 2, including its wild night of partying and the morning-after of putting together the pieces of the night before. Given these preconceived ideas of the city, I still tried to enter it with an open mind.

After four full days in the city, we left it and headed north to the mountains in the city of Chiang Mai, where the city is smaller, the temperatures are cooler, and the excursions lean towards elephant rides and cooking courses. Now that I finally have a city to compare to Bangkok, I realize how much I really liked the city and what aspects about it stand out the most. Here are the highlights of our time in Bangkok, with lots of pictures to tell the story.

Heat

Standing in front of the A/C unit after a run in the park. It was all I could do to cool down, along with a cold shower twice a day.

We knew going into this trip that we were entering the hot season, but I could have never imagined the intensity of the heat and humidity. It is hot, hot, hot. Even with getting up at 6am, we still couldn’t beat the heat. With a daily run in a park by our place, as well as walking about 10-15 miles around the city all day, we were in a constant state of sweating. I never knew how much I liked A/C, or air-con, as they call it here, and we gladly entered any mall or shopping center that we could to get a break from the heat. I can’t say I’d ever get used to the heat, but I can find a way to deal with it, because the other 10 million people in Bangkok somehow have.

Sweating it out with the locals on a 90 minute ride outside of Bangkok on a non-A/C commuter train.

Street food

Sidewalks and roads are jam-packed with food vendors, cooking up lots of spicy dishes with pork, fish, noodles and rice.

It’s hard to imagine just how many food carts there are lining the streets, but give it a try. Sidewalks are narrow pathways, choked by the many vendors selling noodles, rice dishes, skewers of meat, fish…the list continues. We haven’t been able to fully partake in the street food because of our vegan lifestyle, but we have eaten our weight in fresh tropical fruit, like papaya, pineapple, and mango. They’re fresh, cheap, and oftentimes, already skinned and cut up for about $.30-$.75.

Two of our dishes from the vegetarian stall at one of the many local malls. It was good and cheap. This meal cost $3 total.

We’ve also eaten our way through the many vegan options in town, one being in an air-conditioned mall (bonus!), and a few at Indian restaurants. Apparently we belong in Southern India, because that’s most of the types of food we’ve been eating here, along with vegan thai food.

A man pedaling a bike with loads of dried fish for sale. We unfortunately walked downwind of this bike for way too long on the sidewalk.

Traffic

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and in Bangkok, that means even more congested traffic than the normal time, which would put many cities’ traffic volume to shame.

Oh boy, is there traffic. There are cars, motorbikes, bicycles, food carts on wheels, foot carts on bicycles, and mixed in there are lots of pedestrians. The streets are oftentimes so crowded that the motorbikes drive on the sidewalks. Though this is definitely a hindrance for us pedestrians walking on the sidewalks, it all seems to work, or at least we all get to our destination in the end without any major mishaps. Another aspect of traffic: they drive on the left side of the street, so when we go to cross, we have to remind ourselves to first look right, then left. Sounds easy, but it’s amazingly complicated after 30 years of the opposite motion. The traffic also adds to the heat in the city, so we try and take back roads whenever possible.

Motorbikes waiting for a green light. They all slip between lanes and head to the front to get a jump on all the other cars and trucks. Nerves of steel is what they need to drive in this city.

Bustle

A view of the city from our room in Bangkok. Big buildings and lots of them in every direction.

Busy doesn’t begin to describe just how much is going on in this city at any one moment. It is sensory overload, from the constant whir of traffic in the background, to the food cart’s spice-laden smoke wafting onto the sidewalk, to the sheer amount of people going about their day. We heard people getting up as early as 4am to start their day, most likely to beat the heat. It’s a lot to take in, and I imagine it’s a love/hate relationship that some people have with the city, and in our case, we love it. Ok, we hated it the first day because we had our life on our back in our backpacks as we made our way from the airport to our hotel, fearing someone would rob us of our money and passports, but after a day to take a sigh of relief (in air-con, of course), we braved the bustle and after a few days found it quite manageable.

Waiting with hundreds of others at the Bangkok train station.

We stumbled upon these guys playing rattan, a kind of hackey-sac game with a wicker ball and a net, kind of like volleyball. They used their heads and their feet.

Another view of both rattan players. Bets were being placed on who won the match, and the guy in green eventually prevailed.

We took a break from the land and tested out the commuting on the river. It was crowded, kind of crazy, and a little unnerving, but worth it.

Beauty Among Buildings

A view of a wat, or temple, at night as we took the river boat back home.

Despite all the traffic, all the commotion, and all the concrete in the many high-rises, there was still a lot of beauty in the city. Our daily run was in a park with a 1.5 mile loop, which every runner/walker/thai chi/exerciser seemed to be using. It’s a beautiful greenspace surrounded by busy streets, but offered reprieve from anything motorized.
As with a lot of countries with a long history, old is mixed in with the new, so we never knew when we’d stumble upon ancient temples, lush parks, or interesting sculptures amidst the city streets.

An interesting piece of art along a busy street.

Just outside of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, among the city traffic, are these elephants that caught our attention.

We stumbled upon this beautiful park along a busy drag of touristy hotels and restaurants.

So there it is, our impression of Bangkok in all its hot, busy, and beautiful glory. We already look forward to our next visit there before we fly out of Thailand in mid-April. It just shows you that you can’t judge a city by the movie. Well, maybe Las Vegas.

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