We’ve been in Bangkok for six days already. We’re actually leaving tonight, which means its one of those waiting/lets-kill-some-time days, which is why I finally have a chance to write. Bangkok has been non-stop since we arrived. And while I’m on the topic, I need to write a little bit about arriving. Last time I was in Thailand I spent the majority of my time building a rural village on an island in the Andaman Sea, with only a day in Bangkok. So it was with much surprise that we arrived in a vibrant, thriving, modern city. I’m not sure how Thailand is classified from a development perspective, but Bangkok is first-world all the way. The bus from the airport was the nicest one we rode since Turkey, the roads are immaculate, and everyone’s driving what looks like brand new cars. The culture seems to be much more liberal than anywhere we’ve been since Greece, although I’m unsure if that’s intrinsic to Thai culture or Western influence.
One of the first things we noticed upon arriving was the king. We arrived the day before his birthday and the city was just electric. The gangways at the airport had photos of him and phrases like, “Long Live the King” or “Happy Birthday to Our Beloved King.” Riding into the city, it seemed that just about every building displayed a large photo (or billboard on the larger buildings) with flowers and shrines. Most people were wearing yellow polo shirts too (yellow symbolizes Thai royalty), although some were wearing pink polos (apparently the king had recently made his first public appearance, after a long hospital stay, wearing a pink shirt). The city was decorated with golden gates, giant flower arrangements, water fountains, and dozens of song/dance performances dedicated to the king. We walked around our first night and enjoyed the festivities with the thousands of other Thais that flocked the streets; watching the light and water shows, admiring all the decorations, and snacking on street food. That’s another thing we really like about Thailand- so much good food. The street stalls sell everything from your basic pad thai and noodle soup to Joylani’s favorite breakfast mango with sticky rice or desert banana pancakes (both of which are topped with a sugary coconut syrup). I’m also a fan of the red pork, whether in a bun or atop rice, as well as the plethora of kebabs- chicken, pork, beef, sausage, etc, etc.
food stalls, where we eat every night
all the wats have roofs like this and most buiildings have similarly shaped architecture
The king’s birthday is a national holiday and Bangkok was just crazy all day. Many streets were closed and other roads were consequently parking lots. We took a morning walk to a park near the Royal Palace and took in the madness. Dozens of stalls filled the park, giving free box lunches of rice/noodles/meat to lines of hundreds of people. I guess some organizations were just sponsoring all these stalls, so we joined the thousands of other Thais for some free grub. Oh, and everyone was still wearing their yellow polos, although today everyone was also carrying Thai and Buddhist flags. Those that weren’t eating lined the streets to wait for the king’s motorcade to pass. We thought there was going to be a parade, based on the crowds lining the streets, but they dispersed after the small motorcade passed into the palace. We explored a little bit more of the city later, heading to city center of Siam Square. Besides being the transportation hub the city’s buses, taxis, SkyTrain, and Metro, it’s a shopping Mecca. We found everything from small clothes stalls to the upscale mall, Siam Paragon, filled with stores like Hermes, Armani, and Versace- I think I’ve only seen knock-offs of all those brands since we were in Milan. Movie theaters, auto showrooms, food courts, and anything else you could want can be found in Siam Square. Our visit to Siam Square had me thinking that Bangkok is more modern than most US cities.
7-Elevens are everywhere and are all open 24/7 to accomoddate the city that truly never sleeps
the infamous Khao San Rd.
We returned to the park near our guesthouse and the Royal Palace that evening to take in the festivities. We watched the king give his speech and the monks chanting on giant screens set up all over the city. Then we stood and ate our kebabs and pad thai as we waited for the kings motorcade to pass on a circuit of the city. We saw the king as the lights were on on the inside of his car. We later learned that people come from all over Thailand just to glimpse the king as we had…Then we just looked up and watched the fireworks explode above us for about 30 minutes. It was really cool because they were being shot off not too far from us and they were exploding right above us. If I’m any judge, it seemed that the king had a pretty good 80th birthday.
birthday decorations all over the city
people in the streets to sing to the king and watch fireworks
this guy must’ve partied too hard…couldn’t help taking a photo
Our third day was spent exploring the area between our guesthouse and Chinatown. We took a river ferry down to Chinatown, which was quite interesting. Joylani enjoyed seeing all the fruit, while I liked the meat/seafood. We walked around for a couple hours, including exploring a giant indoor market that sold everything you could ever need. We didn’t buy anything, but we did have to make way several times for motorcyclists who were driving through the market- some things will never make sense to me. Afterwards, we headed over to Wat Pho to see the wat and largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. Quite a sight, although I much prefer to just admire the Thai architecture of the temples. Sorry if my Bangkok run-down is more of a list of the things we did, but it was quick week and I’m just trying to recount what we did. Hopefully more observations and reflections will follow. I guess my realization that day, since we explored a lot of the city, is that food and shopping can be found anywhere in the city. Street markets and food stalls are absolutely everywhere- its good to be here.
Day four was a productive one. Joylani got her stomach checked out at the hospital in the morning, before we headed to the Southern Bus Terminal to buy our ticket to Ko Samui. After getting our ticket, we took a bus to Lumphini Park in central Bangkok. We hung out at the park for a few hours, seeing among other things, meter-long monitor lizards catch foot-long fish in the pond and hundreds of Thais showing up for a daily aerobics class in the evening. Afterwards, we spent a few fruitless hours wandering the thousands of stalls at the enormous Suan Lum Night Bazaar. We got a little lost on the buses on the way back, but managed to get back okay. The next day was much the same, first visiting the weekend-only, sells-everything, dwarfs-any-market-you’ve-seen-in-your-life Chatuchak Market in the morning. Afterwards, we got lost on the bus system, but ended up taking the Metro, SkyTrain, and bus back to our guesthouse. If you’re wondering why we went to so many markets, its because we’re ditching much of our belongings in Bangkok and need some warm weather clothes. So two days of shopping and getting lost- not something I want to repeat anytime soon.
Anyways, we’re off tonight on a night bus/ferry to Ko Samui. Bangkok was a pleasant surprise coming from South Asia. Developmentally, it feels like home. And while it’s a city, there are still a lot of things to see and do. The food has been good and the people helpful. I do miss three things so far though: English, chai, and shaves. Nonetheless, Bangkok has been great and I’m ready to explore the rest of Thailand and South East Asia.