Frankie Goes to Thailand
Bangkok: Welcome to the Pleasuredome
Bangkok, capital of Thailand and home to over 8 million people. After stepping out of the metro that took me to downtown Bangkok, two things struck me. The first thing was the heat. While I was still dressed for a mild European spring, the air conditioning at the airport and in the metro hid the fact that Thailand’s hot season is called that for a good reason. The second thing was the different kind of modernity in Bangkok. Having never been outside of Europe before, I was not sure what to expect. I had read many things about it, but reading it and experiencing it proved to be two completely different things. On the one hand, Bangkok felt very modern like any other big city in the world. On the other hand, the city had a different character than what I was used to. Except for one place in Bangkok, the whole city radiated this mixed sensation, and that sensation alone was already worth the trip. However, there are many more reasons to visit Bangkok!
Let’s start with the most impressive venues: Bangkok’s temples. I lost count of how many temples I saw, and although all of them were interesting, these are my three favorites. Be aware that these are tourist hot spots, but for a good reason.
The largest and most important temple of Bangkok (and arguably Thailand) is the Wat Phra Kaew, located within the walls of the Royal Palace. This was without a doubt the most impressive temple and complex I saw there, and would recommend everyone to schedule a whole morning for this!
Located close to the Wat Phra Kaew is Wat Pho. Even though it is not maintained as well as the Wat Phra Kaew, it’s still both beautiful and impressive, especially the 43 meter long reclining Buddha. This massive statue in combination with the sound of people dropping coins in the 108 bronze bowls next to it leaves you with an unforgettable memory.
Wat Arun, my personal favorite. The beauty and charm of this temple is in its exterior: it’s covered in porcelain. All kind of shapes and colours make the temple look absolutely gorgeous. The stairs are steep, but the view from the top is amazing!
The tourist street of Khaosan Road is recommended in many travel guides. Don’t go here if you want to experience the authentic Thai city life. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend going here at all for anything, except for the little stands with amazing food on the corners.
Pak Khlong Market is heaven for food lovers. In small streets and buildings in the area around the Soi Tha Klang street, there are dozens of vendors with mountains of all sorts of fish, vegetables, meat and flowers. While Khaosan Road was pure tourism, Pak Khlong has more authenticity and is tourist free.
What the Pak Khlong Market is for food, China Town is for all other items. Mountains of shoes, toys, jewelry and other items. Even though the streets are extremely narrow and packed with people, don’t be surprised if a scooter still wants to pass you.
By day, Yaowarat Road is a very busy 6 lane street and the main artery of China Town. By evening, it is turned into a busy three lane street, with the other three lanes being occupied by pop-up restaurants. I recommend eating here at least once; not only because of the experience of literally eating on the street, but also because the food is great and diverse.
As mentioned in the introduction, there was one place where I didn’t experience the localized version of modernity, and this place was the Siam Paragon Shopping Center. On recommendation to also go to the ‘new’ parts of Bangkok, we went inside this shopping center. If you love western malls and displays of wealth (for example, a whole floor of the mall is reserved for the most luxurious car brands), then this is the place to go. Otherwise: stay away.
Bangkok’s traffic is horrible: massive amount of vehicles, and an equal amount of traffic jams and drivers with death wishes in terms of both speed and the maneuvering that they’re doing. In the beginning, I constantly had the feeling that at some point during my trip, I was going to be run over by a car, bus, scooter or tuk tuk, and probably all at the same time. Crossing the street as a pedestrian in Bangkok is therefore like playing a game of Crossy Road or Frogger in real life. Fortunately, there are always locals that either want to help you, or whom you can quickly join to cross the road. After a while you’ll get used to the traffic and actually enjoy the thrill of crossing the road. But to be fair towards the Thai: most of the cars in Bangkok were brand new and undented, and during my whole trip through Thailand I only witnessed one small accident, which ironically was on a small street in a small town in the middle of Phuket’s nowhere.
Transportation in the city
While you might occasionally be close to being run over by a tuk tuk, they are also your greatest friends when it comes to transportation in the city center. Although air conditioned, the taxis are expensive and bound to get stuck in traffic, resulting in precious time and money lost. Tuk tuks on the other hand are small enough to slip through the cracks in the traffic, and often drive fast enough that you don’t even miss the air conditioning. Just make sure that you negotiate the price of the trip beforehand, and indicate that you don’t want to visit a ‘souvenir shop’ (which apparently is the Thai’s translation of jewelry store).
Bangkok is a massive city which I only scratched the surface of during my stay there. Visiting it for four days gave me the opportunity to see everything I had planned to see, but I still left with the feeling that there was much more to explore. Unfortunately, I never felt at ease in Bangkok: it is simply not a city where you can let your guard down. Both caution and suspicion are highly recommended, because every hour there is at least someone who wants something from you, from innocent bystanders to scam artists. But more on this, in a few posts.
Next stop: Chiang Mai!
By Frank Mütze