First impressions of Bangkok city
Bangkok has had an unwritten history with me. More than 15 years ago I first began reading about this destination X for all travelers and tourists. A hub of culture, shopping, history and everything in between. Bangkok was dubbed the mecca of backpacking and travel.
Pundits escape sharp tongues by labeling it as a place you either love or hate. An easy cop out in my book.
Why choose Bangkok?
Added benefits are that it’s a huge commercial city. In other words I can stock up on a few things. Plus, it’s, allegedly, good for having a wealth of cheap good food.
Those are my main reasons. After that, if time allows, there’s the cultural side to things too.
But first and foremost, I have to get myself sorted out.
Will the urban travel myth that is “Bangkok” live up to what I need?
First things first.
The people of Bangkok
Once out of the train-station the MRT (Bangkok’s light city rail system) is filled with relaxed people. There isn’t much stress here. Thais look like regular business types, mixed with a punkish youth element. Both never far from looking up from their smartphones. There’s about two to three tourists in each carriage. Most are white or Asian. Noted for loose tshirts, shorts, little day packs and a map. Then there’s the business expat type in crisp shirts, and sometimes a suit.
My check-in at a hotel reveals more tourists and backpackers than I have seen in quite a while.
Youth seems to be the order of the day. Twosomes of girls, looking lost with maps and running late. Couples looking sweaty with guidebooks in hand. And, single guys sitting alone with laptops in every available table.
No conversation is allowed with third parties it would seem.
The only thing more shiny than the tourists clammy skin is the shining smile from the Thai receptionist.
Yes, the Thai people are arguably more friendly here than the international tourists.
My first impression of Bangkok Thai food
Finally some Thai food. Pad Thai, minus any real meat (it was meant to have meat). But, certainly not enough to feed me. Having just come from Penang, I am not impressed with Thai food so far.
I still need to find some cola to remove the layer of grease that’s being left in my mouth. But, 7-11 corner stores are everywhere so this is no issue.
Indeed there’s even Tesco (UK supermarket) corner stores here too. Their saving grace … air conditioning. For my private room has none. It seem’s budget Bangkok accommodation is perhaps not so cheap as people make it out to be.
First impression of Bangkok’s accommodation
Cost vs value for money has me thinking Bangkok is not the budget destination it once was.
Yes, I can get a room for $5, but I may also want to damage the hippy wannabes sprawled around the floors in such establishments. Bongo drums, dreadlocks and shoe-less unwashed attire with more than a hint of patchouli is a prerequisite here. Asides from that, the cheaper accommodation seems far from the MRT which I am using a lot at the moment.
So no, I will be staying far from that tourist “road” for as long as possible I think. Instead my shared bathroom, clean fan only room is perfect for $10.
First impressions of the tourists in Bangkok
Starbucks, burger king and everything in between. White people in suits, smart tourists, and the long-term foreign residents in Bangkok that frequent them all as if it were a brief taste of home. And, still they manage to say they “Eat local”. Yet, back at the guest house it was still all about Thailand …
The American TEFL guy
In the evening it seems beer is the social glue in my hotel. Along, surprisingly, with cigarettes and bragging rights.
“I’ve been living in Bangkok for two months,” spouts one guy waiting for a “friend” at the guesthouse. “Gonna get an apartment soon I think.”
I wouldn’t mind, but when asked about what he’s gonna do here beyond work. He just said “enjoy himself“. Fair enough. Each to their own.
The Irish heart-breaker
Later that night an Irish guy with plenty of liquid loose tongue seems fit to tell me that he too lives in Bangkok. And, has done so for the past year. Border jumping every month or so for a new visa. Sounds like a lovely way to live in a place I rebuked.
He didn’t get it.
This time though, he’s going home for a while. Why? Well, his true love Thai girl dumped him for a richer English man. Not before he bought her a motorbike though.
Thankfully, he’s learned his lesson. He’s going home to work for a year. Saving up to come back. Why?
Because he’s met another Thai girl! And, this time “she’s different.”
His words not mine.
The Dutch culture girl
Finally having prized myself free of Johnny’s drunken exploits I met Anna from the Netherlands. Anna seemed to know a lot about Bangkok. However, most of it was to do with Buddha, finding her inner-self, love and the freedom of the Thai spirit.
Not quite a hippie. I imagine she’ll transform into one for a few months; before eventually de-fumigating herself and flying home to her day job at the bank.
I would dearly like to escape this place, or rather these people! Never, mind, it’s Thailand and there’s an election next week so this may yet happen.
Thankfully, Sue from Hong Kong saw my mild distress at the various tourist lifeforms and suggested dinner in Chinatown!
A walk through Chinatown in Bangkok brings sanity
Chinatown at night. A hissing of sidewalk food being cooked. Heaps of humanity walking up and down humid streets. Cars, tuk tuks, bicycles and all manner of transport are bumper to bumper.
It’s dinner time in Chinatown Bangkok. And, the streets are alive like nowhere else in this giant city.
Passing by an old lady with a serious case of bad mouth, she spits at us. I never felt so welcome.
Sue says something to her in rudimentary Thai. The old lady covers up her basket of purple something, and hisses something back. Sue laughs and we move on.
The food is all served up either steaming or sizzling. Prawns, noodles, and spring rolls. Sue knows Chinatown well and takes no crap from the waiters who rush by frequently. Finally, I too am able to grab at a waiter and shout an order. It’s obeyed, with a kind smile in return. And, I feel a bit better.
Sue’s conversation of the evening was refreshing.
“Bangkok’s changed over the years. It’s best to just do your own thing these days. And then go north or down south. Thailand is still good in these places.”
We walk back along the bustling roads. Dropping into herbal stores selling everything from shark fins to packets of dried “anything” for your aliments.
Peeling back the layers of Bangkok
Bangkok is not representative of all Thailand. And, certainly in my time within the city, it’s easy to see that there are a lot of layers to the capital itself. One could spend years exploring every nook and cranny, sub-culture, moral aspects, tourism, work opportunities and the list goes on.
However, as mentioned at the start. That is not my intention here at the moment. Maybe it never will be. I simply don’t have that initial great feel that tells me I want to spend copious amounts of time in this city at the moment.
First impressions of Bangkok last
My first impressions of Bangkok are not referred to in any guidebook I’ve read.
I’m quite sure there are a lot of different elements people from all walks of life enjoy about Bangkok. However, I cannot be “everyone” and first impressions count in many regards.
Expats, backpackers and all manner in between, sorry, but for first impressions; you really spoil it for me.
On the other hand, how the average Thai person puts up with them I don’t know. But to their credit, they do just this. And, they smile about it.
So, yes, I like the average Thai person it seems.
Maybe that old spitting lady was just telling us something, in her own way.
What to see first in Bangkok? A temple, a pickpocket, or a ping pong show? (just kidding about the last one)