I don’t really like Bangkok. This is the third time I’ve passed through, each for a couple of nights. It hasn’t grown on me.
The city receives more tourists than anywhere in the world, 21.5m per year, most using it as a gateway to the real wonders of South East Asia.
People frequently talk of “energetic” cities. It’s sometimes misplaced, like Dubai for example, which I found sterile and shallow, the only energy found in malls, bored locals, expats, tourist brand-whores and the impecunious (who can’t afford air-con) all seeking solace from the unbearable heat. Most of the rest of Dubai is an empty, shiny, glass and concrete jungle, entirely devoid of soul.
Whilst it has little of the Dubai’s bling (or buck) Bangkok is indisputablely, resolutely, and ceaselessly energetic. The streets are filled with vehicles – cars, bikes, taxis, tuk tuks, buses – with people dodging betwixt and between them, aside and along main roads, side streets and dirt tracks. Countless markets pulsating with buyers and sellers radiate vibrant colours, myriad exotic fragrances and the hubbub of a thousand tongues. Temples and palaces are jam-packed with tourists and worshippers, malls throng with shoppers.
n.b. I have to say, whilst not all Chinese tourists are rude, selfish and pushy, all the rude, selfish and pushy tourists we encountered were Chinese. Unashamedly shoving and bashing their fellow visitors with sharp elbows, I was quite taken aback with the general lack of manners and courtesy amongst their various and numerous tour groups.
Whilst the Chao Phraya – Bangkok’s main river – is dirty, brown and polluted, a ride along it (and the suprising number of canals) is good fun. Banks are lined with rickety wooden shacks hanging perilously over the water, dilapidated and fragile, untouched by modernity.
Bangkok is a chaotic carnival, a hectic, harebrained, urban mess. The air is thick with smoggy fumes, rubbish bedecks road and river, crazy bundles of tangled wires teeter atop ancient air conditioning units, paths and roads are uneven and pocketed, a haphazard maze.
A day in the city is exhausting, your body fighting its way past others (often Chinese), your lungs fighting for oxygen amidst the smog, your brain fighting to understand whether you’re being ripped off and how to navigate the metropolitan miasma.
It’s an experience – I guess – but I’d never choose to visit as a destination, nor is it somewhere that should eat into your invaluable time on the continent.
40 hours was plenty enough, and it served its purpose as our gateway from Europe to the mysteries of Myanmar – AKA Burma.