A Glimpse of Bangkok

It took us over 30 hours to get to Bangkok. We have now been here for a little over twice as long. And it's time to go.Bangkok is everything we expected and more, and in some ways, less. It is every bit a traffic-packed, polluted, bustling modern metropolis of high rises, luxury brands, and endless eating options. The metro and Skytrain offer outstandingly easy, efficient and clean public transportation for foreigners and the local middle and upper classes to some sectors. The ferries are cheap and great, as long as your route is on the river. For everywhere else, there are taxis, where you can at least enjoy a break from the heat whiile parked in traffic. English is almost as widely spoken as in New York. There are plenty of places where you can also pay almost New York prices. We expected--maybe even hoped for--a stronger sense of disorientation and a feel of foreignness that we have not yet found. So why travel--at least to cities--when they are fast becoming more and more the same? We have been asking ourselves that a lot. I don't have a great answer. Fun, sure. Even without really falling through the rabbit hole, there are clearly things to gain from new experiences. It is often the little things that make us laugh or go "huh." Some miscellaneous observations from our time here:

  • The direction of passing in a crowd seems to switch indiscriminately between left and right, even in the orientation of escalators from one floor to the next.
  • There aren't many Americans around. Most of the white people we see are Australian, with a sprinkling of French, Israeli, and northern European.
  • I really don't know what you do if you don't speak the native language or English. We met a few people really struggling.
  • Even in this land of cheap knockoffs, every luxury brand, from Hermes to Paul Smith, has multiple stores in town. It's not clear who's buying.
  • The taxis are all the colors of Skittles.
  • Everything seems shiny and new. The cars are overwhelmingly late models. There are many more sparkling pickups than the average big city, and fewer luxury cars. Construction is hot and heavy. Even along the highways on the outskirts of town the buildings looked very liveable.
  • I don't get how the tuk tuk drivers make a living. We had offers to drive us around for 3 hours for less than the price of noodles on the street (just over $1).
  • The subway ticket machines are oddly persnickety about 1 baht coins: we watched one woman feed the same 5 coins through a dozen times (with the long line growing behind her) before the 3 she needed finally "stuck." We had earlier given up on our small coins after way fewer tries.
  • Street food is the thing to eat, and can be delicious, but without a guide or understanding of the language, it's still scary.
  • There is a very loose understanding of "vegetarian." Out of one discussion, we ended up with morning glories with Thai bacon. I still don't know how you get vegetarian lamb curry. (No, it was not a faux-meat kind of place.)
  • I always thought the rather odd assortment of vegetables used in curries at Thai restaurants in the US was cost-driven, but they use the same carrots, cabbage, peas, broccoli, etc. most places here. Those veggies also made up the bulk of the rather uninspiring selection at the Aor Tor Cor (MOF) farmer's market. With a few notable exceptions (perhaps more on this later), the food overall has been closer to what we get down the street at home than I expected. Most has been good but not great.
  • Ice with holes in it is "generally safe to drink:" the holes are supposed to show that it wasn't made on site.
  • We haven't found anything I'd call spicy since the green papaya salad that kicked my ass the first night, even with our protestations that we like it hot.
  • There really are a lot of unattractive middle-aged white men out and about with hot young Thai women.
  • There actually seems to be a pet culture here. Husky pups were disturbingly common in 95+ degree heat of the Chattachuck Market's huge domestic animal section. (By the way, about a quarter of Chattachuck was open when we went on Thursday morning to see the orchids and other plans sold on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and it was a downright peaceful way to explore.)
  • Bare knees and shoulders and toes are everywhere.
  • There are also people in coats in the 95+ degree heat. If you're going to go running, doing so mid-day in a parka and full-face ski mask seems to be a thing, at least for some people. Ick!
  • Only maybe 1 of 10 Thai women had painted toenails.
  • There were girls in what looked like school uniforms everywhere, at all times of day. If they were really students, I don't know when they go to class, or where all the boys were.
  • Several places had Thai prices and foreigner prices. I can't bring myself to bargain over a buck though when it clearly makes more difference to them than it does to me, even I am perpetuating the expectation that foreigners are suckers.

With this brief glimpse of Bangkok, off we go to the small world heritage port town of Hoi An, Vietnam!