“Wow!” and “Oh my God!” have probably never been used as much as they were on my first visit to Bangkok. After an 11 hour flight from London, we arrived in Bangkok at 7am in the morning; the sun was shining and it was hot! Very hot.
Every year thousands flock to Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok - a city which never sleeps - and now I know why. Since my first visit in 2011 I have been drawn to the chaos multiple times. I can’t get enough of this charming city and everything it has to offer.
An adrenaline filled taxi ride and the notorious Bangkok traffic
One of my very first memories of Thailand is the taxis. Firstly the colours - pink, yellow, orange and green – were definitely more cheery than the black cabs at home. The interior was pretty with the Buddhas placed on the dashboard, flower garlands hanging over the mirror (offerings to the goddess of journeys) and Thai baht notes pinned to the ceiling – even now I’m not quite sure why they were there. However, all the prettiness soon faded when I discovered that the taxi didn’t have seat belts (later I discovered this is the norm). My initial panic was increased when we got on the highway. Never had I experienced driving like it; people were cutting each other up left, right and centre...
And then there was the infamous Bangkok traffic. After what felt like a high speed chase down the highway we were suddenly brought to a standstill. Crawling 1km in 15 minutes I have since realised is not out of the ordinary, but to be expected. Having young children weaving in and out of the cars to sell drivers garlands of flowers is all to be expected.
As we made our way to the backpackers’ haven of Khao San Rd I was awe struck with the scenery and the vibrancy of the city. In England at 7am you will pass workers with their eyes half closed, yawning and clutching their Costa coffee. Not in Bangkok. Street food stalls were buzzing with locals getting their morning breakfast; market stalls were flourishing selling their fresh produce; horns were beeping; people were chatting and students sat precariously on motorbikes making their way to school. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
It was a complete visual treat and a feast for the senses.
One thing which always strikes me when I visit Bangkok is how the city’s grandeur and glamour is weaved with poverty. One moment you might be looking at the intricacies of a beautiful temple, perusing the shops in Siam Square, or taking a stroll through the breath-taking Lumpini park, and the next you are greeted by a group of homeless people sat together, or a child cradling a cup begging for money whilst his/her parent watches on in the background. It is something I have adjusted to, but I still find it heartbreaking.
Dodging the infamous tuk tuk scam.
Feeling slightly disorientated we dropped our backpacks off and decided to head out in search of the Grand Palace. We had walked about 20 meters before we were stopped by what we thought was a very friendly local. The conversation started with him telling Joe to be careful walking along the path, as he had seen another tourist falling over. Ahh, that’s kind...we thought. 10 minutes later we realised what was going on. After the nice chit chat ‘how are you? First time in Thailand? Where are you from?’ his intention soon became apparent. When we told him we were heading to the Grand Palace, he told us it was closed and offered to show us around 3 other temples for the whole day at a cost of 15 baht. Luckily, we knew what he was up to and politely refused – several times. Out of nowhere his friend suddenly appeared with a tuk tuk ready to take us on the tour. We quickly learned that sometimes you have to give a hard ‘no’ and just walk away – even when they are following you down the street. That was in 2011. In 2013 we walked the same strip of road and we saw him again. This is one thing I love about Bangkok: the familiarity. Each year we go to the same bars, street food stalls and roti cart and they always have the same assistants. They never remember us – who would when each day you serve thousands – but we never forget them.
Crossing the road
Trying to cross the road was another interesting experience. Whatever happened to pushing a button and walking when the green man is on? Trying to figure out how to cross the road in Bangkok took us some time. Eventually we realised that in Asia you have to step out in front of moving cars and just pray that they stop. So far it has worked...
The backpackers’ gem: Khao San Road
From the moment I stepped foot on to Khao San Road I loved it. The atmosphere, the bars, the music, the food and the hustle and bustle of people. Everything. It had a really laid back feel – quite hedonistic – and I was surprised by the sheer volume of people (mainly tourists) wearing harem trousers and Chang tops. I still find it funny that tourists buy all this stuff to fit in with the Thai culture, yet the locals don’t wear it. Joe’s Thai family laughed when they saw his Mum wearing pink elephant printed harem trousers. But this is all part of the Khao San experience. Along with the “suit sir?”, “tuk tuk”, “ping pong show?” and the incessant gribbiting noise made from the wooden frogs that Thai ladies try to sell you. Over the years I’ve learned that you have to just ignore the questions, give a firm 'no' and walk away, or you will be drawn into a long chat.
Some tourists loathe Khao San Road (it’s easy to see why) but I don’t feel like my adventure has started until I’ve been down there, or Soi Rambuttri, for a few drinks.
Bangkok has stolen my heart.