When thinking about the world’s most dubious cities – the places where anything goes, where the party rages all night long, and dirty deeds occur on a regular basis — places like Las Vegas or Amsterdam always spring to mind, but usually the one that takes the cake is the chaotic capital city of Bangkok. Whereas most of the rumors you’ll hear have some grain of truth to them, I’ve found that – much like in the other cities of notoriety that I’ve visited – the unsavory reputation that precedes Bangkok is largely unfounded, and where it does exist, it only represents a small facet of the country’s culture. The “areas of disrepute,” so to speak, in Bangkok are largely confined to a few small streets and alleyways of the city (Patpong Alley, Soi Cowboy, Nana), most restaurants and bars close at midnight (if not before), the drunkest people you’ll meet will all be foreigners, and the average Thai person you meet on the street couldn’t be much more friendly and accommodating.
Bangkok today, however, is a city that seems to be trying to hide it heart behind modern shopping malls, air-conditioned public transport, flashy rooftop bars, and posh restaurants. The ruse doesn’t completely work, however, as you’d be hard-pressed not to feel like you’re stepping back in time when wandering around the ancient wats and temples that dot the city, braving the hot and hectic markets, or strolling through the street food stall-lined streets of Chinatown. It takes a few days to get used to the crowded atmosphere, the traffic-jammed streets, the smog that blocks out most of the sky, and the oppressive heat that stews in the concrete jungle, but once you do, you’ll realize that Bangkok has grown on you and you’ll begin to see why it is one of the world’s great cities to visit.
Venturing into the “Old Town” sector known as Ko Ratanakosin, a pseudo island created by a bend in the Mae Nam Chao Praya River and a small canal, you’ll see what the city looked like decades, or even centuries ago, as you wander through the tiny streets and alleys, marvelling at the glittering wats (temples) and palaces that still remain today. And although there are hundreds of wats strewn through the city, the “holy trinity” that most travelers choose to visit include the 82 meter high tower of Wat Arun, the pagoda-strewn landscape and reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, and the Grand Palaces and Emerald Buddha of Wat Phra Kaew.
Another of the cities most iconographic images is that of the bustling markets. I’ll give you a tour through the wet market of Klong Toey in my next post, and the Chatuchak Weekend Market isn’t to be missed (one of the largest markets in the world, actually), but the most photogenic — and photographed — is that of the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Though the market’s existence is largely propagated by the many tourists who visit, it is still a pretty unique experience to see how villages used to conduct their commerce before the area’s many canals were filled in to create the concrete city we now see:
Being that my stay in Bangkok overlapped with that most ignominious holiday of Valentine’s Day, I was faced with the decision of how to celebrate. Being that I’m just a solo traveler, I wasn’t up for enduring the embarrassment of being labeled ”that guy” out at the bars and restaurants eating by myself, and venturing over towards Soi Cowboy or Patpong Alley isn’t really my cup of tea. So after much deliberation, I decided the best way I could celebrate this romantic holiday was to watch a bunch of Thai boxers beat the tar out of each other instead. The style of Thai Boxing is known as Muay Thai, and it involves using any of the eight points of contact (punches, kicks, elbow strikes, or knees strikes) to inflict damage upon one’s opponent — as opposed to traditional boxing in which one can only use the hands.
After a week and a half in the city, I’m planning on heading north next, taking in the historical cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai on my way towards Chiang Mai. As I promised earlier, I’ve still got a few posts in the works focusing on the culinary scene here in Thailand, so hopefully I’ll have the first ready in the next few days. And lastly, much like I found in Singapore, the phenomenon of roof-top bars has swept through the city of Bangkok. I’ll leave you off with a few pictures from the Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel. Enjoy!