Last week, I needed something new. I was in desperate need of a weekend trip that didn’t offer the comfortable lifestyle I have been experiencing over the last two months in Chiang Mai. Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, going on weekend adventures in Northern Thailand, I felt like I was just falling into the cushioned and predictable path that every tourist takes. I was looking for a place that would be both a challenge and a cultural awakening, so I booked a flight down south to Bangkok to see what trouble I could find.
And troubling it was. Being physically and mentally conditioned to a small suburb in the states did not prepare me well for my visit one of Asia’s great metropolises. Bangkok slapped me across the face with a handful of smog, mind-blowing views and indecency from drunken tourists making regrettable and quite often irreversible decisions. I’ve never experienced the hubbub of a city as large as Bangkok, a city that consists of every lifestyle, every type of environment and thousands of tourists from all over the world. I felt moments of claustrophobia and liberation, helplessness and contentedness, situations in which I felt disappointed and others where I was in complete awe…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It all started with a surprisingly comfortable 10-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai, although I didn’t appreciate the 2am wakeup call when the attendant decided to play Thai rock music over the loud speaker as we approached our “rest stop”, but I was, for some reason, the only one that seemed to mind so I shook it off. We arrived at the bus station and after being embarrassingly overcharged by a taxi, I found myself at my hostel, which soon would become my escape from the city’s constant noise and overbearing humidity.
I took a nap then set out for the city only to be quickly caught off guard by the harsh realities of Thailand’s most bustling city. The smell was not welcoming; there was a considerable amount of homelessness and the weather made me sweat in less than a five-minute walk. While fighting the heat with frequent stops at overly air conditioned 7 Eleven’s, I couldn’t help but notice just how polarised the city was. In one district, vendors milked as much foreign money as they could on Bangkok’s tourist infested streets and in another, corporate-owned skyscrapers overshadowed impoverished neighbourhoods and alleyways. There were Maseratis and even Lamborghinis driving through neighbourhoods where people make a living under tin roofs and using draped curtains for walls; my preconceived views of Bangkok were taken for a 180-degree turn while observing this prominent yet overshadowed life. At the time, I was saddened into realising how much of the city struggles with poverty. But as I look back at it, I am at least humbled that I was able to acknowledge a hidden side of the city that many visitors tend to overlook.
The day was spent under Bangkok’s radiating glare, viewing the city from its tallest skyscrapers in the business district, along with a couple hours of relaxation at Lumphini Park and even making time to stop at the #1 voted best pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok, Thip Samai. Later on in the night, I met up with my friend Emilija and we decided on paying a visit to the infamous Sky Bar at Lebua, which is not only on top of Bangkok’s second tallest building, but is also where Hangover 2 was filmed. It only took us a confused taxi driver, a night train and a long walk to get there, but the view took the little breath we had left away. It was incredible. The city looked better than ever before, the night hid the smog while the moon and streetlights provided enough light to see for miles. The city lights, that stretched as far as the eye could see, extended into a lightning storm off in the distance, making for an experience that seemed surreal.
After spending 400 baht for a single drink and noticing unfriendly glares for our underdressed attire at this fancy affair, we decided to give in to our tourist needs and regretfully headed to Khao San Road. If you haven’t heard of Khao San Road, then you haven’t met someone who has made it out alive. 24 hours a day, the street is riddled with drunken backpackers who can’t help but spend their month’s worth of savings on street vendors and alcohol. I’ve never seen people so animalistic in my life.
Walking down the street was like being in a movie; tourists slumped over their knees throwing up their stomach contents, excessive fist pumpings by overly-excited tourists and hundreds of street vendors trying to sell us fried insects and laughing gas, all while fighting through a heavy bass that nearly gave me a heart attack. We were about three vodka buckets short of enjoying a scene like this, so we surrendered our time on Khao San and resided at a bar a block away on Rambuttri Road for a much mellower scene. A days worth of activity in the sauna that is Bangkok took a toll on us, so we called it a night and went back to our hostel for a much needed sleep.
The more I look back at my short time in Bangkok, the more it seems like a dream. The endless skyline, the belligerent, almost scary, tourists, and the suffocating air were nothing I expected Bangkok to be. I even ate a scorpion, which stands as one of the biggest feats of my entire life considering I fear them to death. Although this seems like a negative response to my weekend trip, I truly enjoyed the unique beauty that Bangkok offered; although not always aesthetically beautiful, its culture is unlike any other city in the world. From its deeply rooted history to its diverse people and limitless activities, there’s no denying that Bangkok very much deserves to be the leading tourist destination in the world. It’s impossible to fight a city like Bangkok, so it’s important I keep an open mind and appreciate every moment of my time here in Southeast Asia, as with each stop comes a personal experience with new and valuable life lessons.