When I first told be people I was going to Bangkok, I got a mixed reaction.
Those who hadn’t been thought it was cool, and seemed excited by the prospect. Those who had, generally posessed a pretty negative view: “I wasn’t a fan”, “It’s just like any other big city in Asia”, “Well I wouldn’t go back,” and “grotty” accompanied by scrunched up noses and shrugs, were some of the less positive evaluations.
Having never been to Asia before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was determined to keep an open mind.
So off I set, laden with a suitcase full of bug repellent, enough sun cream to ensure I remain luminous white, a sleeping bag liner, and way too many clothes (I will never learn), for my first adventure to South East Asia.
Bangkok was to be the first stop on my rather round-about journey around Thailand, Cambodia, and Bali. The plan (or what could vaguely pass for one) was to spend a few days in the city, before I left for Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Stepping off the plane, the first thing that hit me was the heat. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but arriving from snowy England, wrapped in jeans, a hoodie, and a leather jacket, even at 7am I was sweltering. The intense heat, combined with the panic of my transfer not arriving, and the exhaustion from not sleeping for god-knows-how-long, meant that by the time I clambered into my taxi, I was more than ready for bed.
Back home, I’d probably have moaned about the taxi ride from the airport – stuck in endless traffic and a driver tapping away on his iPad – but even in my horribly jet-lagged state, I tried to soak everything up, looking out the window as we passed beautifully ornate temples, a military base that looked like a palace, little cafés, and street food stalls. It was going to be exciting.
After reading up on the different areas of Bangkok, I had eventually opted for accommodation close to the main tourist spot, Khao San Road, but far enough away to avoid the noise (a good night’s sleep comes high on my list of priorities these days), and this turned out to be a pretty good decision.
My apartment was modern, clean, and fresh, with a balcony looking out over a canal, free drinks and snacks (seaweed flavour crisps are my new favourite thing), about a five-minute walk from the craziness of Khao San Road – the perfect way for an exhausted, grimy, and slightly terrified Westerner to ease into Thailand.
I’d practiced some key phrases, and had swotted up on Thai customs and etiquette (don’t wai children, in fact, don’t wai anyone, don’t talk to monks, don’t show the soles of your feet or your shoulders, don’t stand in doorways, don’t turn your back on Buddha… it was a lot to take in). The websites I’d looked at made it sound overwhelming and scarily conservative, and was worried I’d do something wrong, but I was relieved to find that, of course, everyone was friendly, welcoming, and the atmosphere was generally way more chilled than I was expecting.
I quickly learnt that as long as you’re polite, respectful, and make an effort, you’ll get on just fine. And a smile really does go a long way.
My initial impressions? It’s kind of hard to tell so early on, having only seen such a tiny portion of the city, what Bangkok is really like, but from the outset, it doesn’t appear anything like as intense and bizarre as I had been led to believe (New York streets are crazier, for sure), and I was excited to see more. The discord between the incredible temples, with their elaborate decorations, vivid colours, and glinting gold details, and their very ordinary surroundings is both jarring and fascinating. You don’t need to wander far along the streets, lined with food stalls and bored-looking tuktuk drivers, until you stumble across another beautiful wat.
I’ll be writing more about the things I got up to in Bangkok in my next few posts.