Bangkok: Me luv you not so long time
This is my 5th time in Bangkok, the 2nd time for Lissette. I’ve previously written about Bangkok and how it is a city that grows on you. With a fresh – and different – perspective I don’t know if that is accurate. In fact the opposite might be true.
I had a great time when I passed through here about 12 years ago. I was single, horny, and at a different stage in my life. Days were spent exploring the city’s highlights, nights were about drinking and girlie bars. Bangkok was the craziest, most exciting city I had ever visited.
I met Lissette back in 2005. In 2008 we passed through Bangkok on our travels through Thailand and Laos. We did a lot of the tourist stuff and I still found Bangkok exciting. The temples, taking the ferry down the river, the frenetic pulse of the city. Lissette found the city dirty though and was pretty happy when we left after 3 days.
Now that we are spending more time everywhere we go (we’re now retired full time travellers), we experience things from a new perspective. Our apartment (which we booked through Airbnb) is close to Sathorn Road in the center of town. You would think that this area, with all its embassies and the financial district nearby, would be pretty refined. It is and it isn’t. You’ll see huge condo buildings (like ours) with rooftop swimming pools and gyms. Hotels rise up 60+ stories and contain popular bars and restaurants where the beautiful people go. The Skytrain is ultra modern and rides up over the city. You’ll see huge digital billboards on the walls of buildings advertising soft drinks, cars, and skin whitening creams (I’ll get to that below). Especially seen from above, Bangkok appears incredibly futuristic. But get in close and walk the streets and you’ll see broken sidewalks, hanging electrical wires, and you’ll have to make your way through millions of little shopping stalls, multitudes of people, as well as a sprinkling of street dogs, cats, and beggars lying or sleeping on the sidewalk. Keep your eyes on the ground and towards the gutter and it won’t be long before you see a cockroach or a rat. Bangkok is not made for walking; sidewalks are an afterthought and seem to serve primarily as a spot to park motorcycles or put up some kind of hawker stand. Crossing any street is a time-consuming nightmare because turning cars have priority and you’ll often find yourself waiting for a break in the traffic along with locals and stray dogs (there is something to be said about survival of the fittest in Bangkok). And then you get to a major street, which requires you to walk up the stairs of an overpass to cross to the other side. If the streets and sidewalks are not bad enough, you have the endless concrete of buildings, roads, and the skytrain overpass along Silom and Sukhumvit roads. Add to that the exhaust fumes from 4 lanes of cars, trucks, tuk tuks and motorcycles. I’ve heard people say that the smog in Bangkok is comparable to a tire dump on fire. It’s an exaggeration but not that far from the truth. Add to all that the smell of raw sewage emanating from the manhole covers and the putrid stink from some of Bangkok’s canals.
All to say that Bangkok is an assault to every sense in the human body. We don’t know how people can live here every day, especially the poor. You seem them pushing food carts, cooking food over huge vats of boiling oil, and going home to squalid slums. Somehow, through it all, they smile at you. Ordinary Thais (ie those not in the tourism business or those not looking to scam tourists) are still the among the friendliest people we’ve met.
Our thoughts on visiting Bangkok? It’s funny how impressions on a place vary according to where you are in life. If you’re single and coming to party it’s definitely a fun place. As a couple it is a lot less interesting. Don’t get us wrong, Bangkok is worth a visit if you’ve never been. But 2-3 days will suffice to see the highlights. You’ll be ready to move on after – we’ve been here 3 weeks and have both been getting increasingly irritable. One more week and we’d be heading towards divorce court. So, as the title of this post suggests, make Bangkok a quickie and not a long term relationship.
Observations, thoughts, tips
– Tuk-tuks. Maybe take it once for the novelty of it. But otherwise avoid them: they’re dangerous, overpriced, and you’ll usually always be hassled for a tour (and it’s often shady).
– Taxis. I’ve visited Bangkok a few times and it’s getting harder and harder to find a taxi driver who wants to turn on the meter. They only want to deal with tourists that agree to a (high) fixed price. I found it shocking to have taxi drivers basically just say “no”. Note: taxis in Bangkok are required by law to use a meter and if people are settling for a fixed rate they’re just making it bad for everyone else.
– Gems. One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one I wrote detailing how I got scammed back in 2002. It’s still going strong, witnessed by both the comments I receive and offers I still get walking down a street in Bangkok. Don’t ever get fooled by someone (usually a tuk-tuk driver) who; a) tells you that a temple is closed b) offers to take you for a ride somewhere else.
– Women. People always complain about the ‘dirty old men’ who come to Thailand and who hook up with Thai women. Many of these men end up losing their life savings to these women who, for the most part, are anything but ‘poor victims’. I wrote about it here.
One of the nicest things to have reconfirmed is the friendliness of the Thais, especially towards Lissette. As a white guy you sometimes get preferential treatment in certain parts of the world. Prior to coming here with Lissette in 2008 I had wondered how she would like it and how people would react to her. She had loved it. Locals are just as friendly this time around.
Lissette is turning heads. They’re not used to Latina curves. We passed a construction site and all eyes were on her. She said she felt like a roasted chicken walking down a soi full of stray dogs.
Everything in Bangkok is organized to separate the tourist from his money. Even little things like taking the ferry down the river. Get off at Saphan Taksin pier and you’ll see the ‘ticket counter’ for the ferry. They’ll ask for 50 baht to take you down the river. Note that this is not the ferry that locals take down the river – those cost 15 baht. The one they’re trying to sell you is the Tourist Boat. For the record, the tourist boat has blue flags and you pre-pay, the local ferry has orange flags and you pay when you get on the boat (they pass every 20 minutes). While we were down by the pier a Thai man started talking to us, asking where we were from. Of course he had family in Canada (sic). He cut the conversation short when we told him that we had been to Thailand many times before. Don’t know what his game was but he had one. One thing I’ve learned in Bangkok; everyone is hurrying you, pressuring you to get on that boat, take a tu-tuk etc…don’t. It’s probably a scam. After many experiences here we know not to rush into anything.
We’ve seen a lot of ads for whitening creams and surgical ‘enhancements’ of eyes and noses here in Bangkok. Go to the pharmacy and you’ll see a whole section dedicated to skin whitening creams. You’ll often see women walking around with parasols or umbrellas to hide their faces from the sun; the prejudice here is that the paler you are, the more attractive. Shame.
The Skytrain, or ‘BTS’ as people call it is a great way to get around the city and people should organize their stays around it. A bit strange though; you go to the counter to tell them where you want to go and they won’t give you a ticket – they’ll tell you how much it costs, give you change, and direct you to the ticket machines. The cost varies by the number of stations you go.
We’ve stayed in an apartment building and the security guards do a lot of saluting. One old man gives us the royal salute while clicking his shoes at the same time. Is it because of the new military government? Never experienced that in Thailand before.
We’re happy to be in Thailand but looking forward to moving on. Next stop: Hua Hin.
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