Travel Journal: Bangkok

I didn’t have much time in Bangkok because of a terrible 30 hour delay in DC which involved an ice storm, and an Emirates Airlines that seemed not to have considered contingency planning or developed any sort of communications strategy for when things go wrong.  In the end though, everyone got to Dubai, and on to their final destination safely, which is the only important detail.

Bangkok is a massive developing city.  The thought of touring the entire city is daunting, as it appears to sprawl out endlessly in every direction from the sky.  The central area of the city, which is nestled against a large bow in the meandering Chao Phraya River, is quite large by itself, and contains attractions like the Grand Palace, Chinatown, the backpacker epicenter cum New Jersey boardwalk Khao San Road, and many other attractions, few of which I was able to see in my 36 hours there.  Two things stood out to me while I walked around, and I’ll leave you with those observations.

A Chinatown wood-fired noodle soup restaurant.  In the US we'd call that "artisanally fired noodle soup".  Delicious soup, for only $1.50.

Space

Because Bangkok is either hot and dry or hot and wet year round, nearly all space becomes usable all the time.  Thus, walking along the narrow neighborhood streets one finds small food stands consisting of a one or two burner gas grill – which often sits on a table top, I didn’t see a range on the street – a cooler with soda, water, and sometimes beer, a few plastic chairs and some tables.  They are everywhere, thousands of them, usually with no sign or any discernable menu.  This proved to be a bit of a barrier at times, as I was at a loss for how to order anything at stands where the proprietor didn’t speak English or have a menu with pictures.  Sometimes I just pointed at things that other people were eating, and that sufficed.

When space isn’t utilized by a bare-bones bar or restaurant, it’s personal space.  Walking along canals and narrow alleys, families relaxed just outside their houses in plastic chairs, sometimes with a sun umbrella up, and passed the time chatting, smoking, and laughing.  Their houses were nearly always wide open, with a few people lounging about, perhaps a TV on in the background.

Anything that fits can use a path in Bangkok.  

 

As I continued to walk, I Bangkok began to feel like one giant common area, where the barriers between the public and private were blurred or overlapping, sometimes indistinguishable.  This sense was compounded by the fact that streets often terminate in someone’s house.  As you are walking, you realize suddenly that the street has ended, and you are standing on the porch or entryway of someone’s home.  More than once I found myself scrambling to escape unnoticed, a bit mortified, as walking into a strangers house in North America is alarming at best.

Safety

While you very likely may get your bag snatched if you leave it unattended for a few moments in a busy area, and while there is likely other petty crime about, I was struck at the mix of people on the street after dark, and the fact that private homes continued to be wide open, lights on, family lounging by the TV.  Many small streets, which could only accommodate one motorbike or perhaps four people walking abreast, were shrouded in total blackness, which was cut by the greenish fluorescent lights of a home spilling out into the street, or a laundry station (where yes you can just put your clothes in, pay, and come back 20 minutes later – except that the machines are right on the street), or a small market.  The darkness at times felt a bit menacing, but to my surprise I was passed by schoolchildren still in uniform, often with toddler siblings in tow.  Families of Western tourists, with golden haired young children sometimes in strollers also passed by, plodding like cattle from restaurant to restaurant, or back to the hotel to cool down in the pool. 

Tuk Tuks in Bangkok, a cheap easy way to get around.

The experience couldn't be more different from DC, but I won’t go into that.

Thanks for reading , next post will be coming from the beautiful, laid back island of Ko Lanta.