I visited Bangkok, Thailand nearly two years ago, with the cause of the trip being mainly expedited as part of a free flight redemption (*one-way). Little did I know that I would come to love the place with its unique and fascinating culture.
Sure, the airport arrival and departure procedures were a big hassle — as we spent nearly 3 hours on each leg, narrowly missing our tour and the boarding time respectively (I do hope they have fixed this by now). Yes, there was stress-inducing tension through the narrow alleys (sois) of the city, with traffic looming on each turn and passersby careening wantonly alongside the vehicles. And what more could be said of the almost unbearable heat that Bangkok experiences year-round?
But once you walk past the inconveniences, I’m sure you’ll see that Thailand can show you much more (and I don’t exactly mean ladyboys!). It was only there that I came to know that they follow a different calendar, the Thai Solar Calendar, so don’t get shocked if the timestamp on your GST return is light years ahead from 2014 (FYI: This year is equivalent to 2557!) Which leads us to Buddhism — Thais are the one of the most devout believers of Buddha, and to signify that are the multitudes of temples (Wat) for worship. One could do a “temple run” in Bangkok and will not run out of temples to see! The best known would be Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) located along the Chao Phraya river, with its iridescent pagoda (prang) rising like spires, but the grandest of those is located near the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), with Buddha superimposed and in solid gold.
I also started to like Thai food and delicacies upon devouring heaps of their usually spicy but flavorful dishes. One could not miss pad thai (stir-fried noodles), tom yum goong (spicy soup with prawn and lemongrass), tom kha gai (chicken in coconut milk soup), and khao phad (fried rice, usually served in pineapple husk). Probably an unofficial national dish too (often seen in the food streets) would be sticky mango rice (khao niao mamuang) — never really thought that rice and mangoes were a filling combination!
I can say that the people are warm and respectful. Even if I was a bit daunted navigating through town or haggling for wares, they were polite, even helpful. Taxi drivers are generally honest. Language wasn’t a big hurdle as some can understand English. And my view of Thais was greatly improved by Sytney, the guide who toured us around — knowledgeable, funny, and went the extra mile to provide a memorable experience for the group.
Bangkok may not be the most urbanized of major cities in Asia but it has a pleasant mix of old and new, with a view to modernization. The malls we visited there were huge, clean and wonderful, and the night markets were just as interesting (almost everywhere). Transportation comes in all shapes and sizes — hence the traffic! One thing I regret was not trying the Skytrain (but then we were already situated in the centre (where it mainly operates). I’d love to return to Bangkok and re-experience its charms at my own pace. Right now there is just too much unrest over the Thai political system and it is saddening that the country’s being cast again in an unfavorable light. Hoping that the general elections run smoothly to get this otherwise peace-loving nation back on its feet.