It’s ugly and beautiful, dirty and clean, poverty-stricken and rich, busy and peaceful, noisy and quiet, cheap and expensive. Bangkok is a beautifully overwhelming city where your senses are constantly under attack.
Sticky. Hot, humid and wet. Smoggy. You go out in search of dinner, clutching your phone and keeping your money in your “
African Asian purse” (ie, inside your bra). After all, it’s been eight hours since you last ate. Your eyes dart between what’s ahead of you and down at your feet. Stepping on animal feces and tripping on holes gives the Thais more reason to look at you, a farang, the foreigner who doesn’t belong. They try to ignore you, though, as they don’t like attention. A peaceful people, they keep to themselves and avoid confrontation.
Tonal, high-pitched conversations surround you as you walk along uneven pavement. You hear an engine rumble behind you as a motorcycle avoids traffic by riding on the sidewalk. You jump. The occasional souped-up cars have you covering your ears and rolling your eyes. Nothing new.
Your nose hasn’t experienced smells until it’s come to Bangkok. The stench of garbage and sewers is poignant, but is overpowered by wafts of delicious street vendors mixing, grilling and deep-frying. You smell chicken, beef, pork, and fish blended with scents of coconut, pineapple, and papaya.
The city is so colourful, you wonder why every city in the world doesn’t learn from this one. Bright vivid taxis and tuk-tuks dot the streets, forming rainbows on the roads. It’s amazing how the motorbikes tempt you with their traffic-weaving skills. They don’t look dangerous, they look almost… fun.
The advertising world is at its peak in the “Big Mango”. It’s as if Times Square blew up in Thai. Massive billboards like the streets, enticing you to buy things like skin-whitening cream, because the whiter your skin, the more beautiful you are, obviously. It seems we have it backwards in North America.
Space here is limited. Everywhere you look, you see giant skyscrapers dotting the horizons. Soi dogs greet you on nearly every street corner as each building rises into the sky. Building up is how people survive here. Unlike most cities, there is no obvious “central” district; every neighbourhood has something to offer, you just have to know which sidewalk to look on.
You receive smile after smile from each stall as you walk to find food. Thais are friendly, and, to some, perhaps overly-friendly, compensating for their fears. Some are honest and some lie. Some are genuine, and some scheme to empty your wallets. You’ll always be charged farang prices, but it barely matters when you’re paying $1 for a filling dinner. You smile back at the satay man selling pork, beef, fish, and intestine skewers. You know Thai numbers enough to understand each skewer is 10 baht, or $0.38 CAD. That’ll do for dinner tonight.
You go home and rest. Something as simple as finding food exhausts you.
You love it and hate it. You’re constantly trying to translate all the sights, sounds, smells, and feels into concepts of comfort you understand. This place is not like the pictures and videos you saw when you were at home; they edited out the dirt, the noise, the flies, and the chicken’s feet floating in soup. But it also failed to capture the beauty, wonder, peace and awe of this intricate Western-influenced Asian city. A city that takes some change, redirected focus, humbling conversations, and time to get used to. A city full of excitement, delicious food, culturally-different people, and curious ex-pats.
Welcome to Bangkok.