Bangkok. You either love it or you hate it. Or, if you’re like me, you love it for about 30 minutes … and then you loathe it.
We came to Bangkok ten days ago to get some errands done. After living on the island of Koh Tao for the last six months, I was looking forward to our trip to big city. Island life is quiet and uneventful, which is mostly wonderful, but sometimes it feels like the real world is happening elsewhere while I’m napping in a hammock.
So we left our tiny island and traveled by ferry and bus to the real world of Bangkok.
This is what happened:
With a skip in our step, we leave our hotel before noon, armed with a map and a simple list of errands.
Immediately outside of the hotel, we begin to push up against a thick wall of traffic, humans, and humidity. The real world is crowded and overwhelming, but it’s exciting.
Street vendors block all but a few feet of pavement with their food carts, and the herd of pedestrians compete for space among pots of boiling beef stock, barbecuing fish, and mounds of deep fried crickets, ready for eating. Smells of garlic and spices mingle with the stink of human excrement wafting up from the gutters.
We push on between stalls selling handbags, faux leather wallets, t-shirts, sunglasses, shoes, hair accessories, iPad accessories, accessories for your accessories. Thai baht changes hands, and a happy customer adds another pair of black studded heels to her collection for this season.
An old man with dark skin and dirty clothes sits cross-legged on the pavement with a donation cup by his diseased feet. He presses his hands together towards the wall of humans. Please, he asks with his eyes. Please. The crowd parts to give him a wide berth. He’s the only individual here who owns a square foot of uninterrupted personal space.
Above us, on a billboard the size of a tennis court, a model who is only vaguely Asian-looking promotes skin-whitening facial moisturiser to all the dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned people below. Deodorant brands promise ivory armpits, nipple lipsticks offer to pink-up areolas, and a whitening feminine wash offers hope to those born with swarthy vaginas.
East wants to be west.
But the Westerners are carrying oversized backpacks as they fight their way through the mayhem, heading towards buses that will transport them to the beach for the deep tan they can’t get under the florescent lights in their corporate offices.
A bald monk glides past, looking like an orb of golden light in a sea of lost hope, until I notice that his eyes are fixed on the iPhone in his hand. I picture an enormous statue of Steve Jobs reclining in the middle of a golden temple with offerings of fruit, flowers, and burning incense at his feet. Wat Jobs.
An advertisement for an unremarkable car tells me I should Be more, while a neon sign at the top of a skyscraper projects a simple message across the entire city: Joy is BMW. Forget enlightenment, people. Turns out joy is a $100K car. Just ask the monk!
We keep pushing upstream through this torrent of humanity. So many humans busy heading nowhere.
The real world is crowded and overwhelming, and it’s no longer exciting. It’s depressing. This city is a swarming mess of contradictions
Perhaps we can escape this craziness in a taxi? We flag down a tuk-tuk, and we’re sped forwards for ten glorious seconds until we turn a corner to meet an endless horizon of red brake lights. Exhaust pipes fart noxious fumes in our faces. It’s a bazillion degrees in the middle of the road. The foot traffic overtakes us. Maybe we should try the train instead?
We board a train to the other side of town and then discover we’re heading towards Rathathewi instead of Ratchapraprop. Dammit—how did we make that mistake? We fight through the crowd of commuters and birth our way out the doors to join the familiar zombie-shuffle of pedestrians.
“Let’s just go back to the hotel and drink beer,” I say. “We can order a pizza.”
“Yes!” Ivan says. “But where is our hotel?”
“I have no idea.”
“We’re completely lost.”
“Let’s follow the Joy is BMW sign.”
“Why not? Everyone else is.”
Finally, as night settles over the city, we return to our hotel with bloodshot eyes, haphazard hairdos, and blackened feet from pounding our way over miles and miles of filthy Bangkok pavement. And not a single item on our to-list gets crossed off.
We’ve been in Bangkok ten days now. We’ve consumed a lot of pizza and beer.
I miss my hammock.
Have you been to Bangkok? Did you love it or hate it?