Is Bangkok City a Beauty or a Beast, Our thoughts after visiting Thailand’s Capital
Bangkok, the vast capital city of Thailand, also known as ‘The City of Angels’ officially has the longest name in the world.
‘Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit’
More simply put by the Thai’s as just ‘Krung Thep’.
Our reason for driving the 700km and the 9 hour journey down to Bangkok was for a commissioned assignment for Tripfilms.com. We had been asked to create 6 short films on the city to upload to their travel films website.
After visiting 7 years ago on our round the world trip, our memories of the ample city now faded and muddled, so when we arrived we were abruptly swept into its moving current and battered against its rocks before we even had time to take a breath.
Just 2 more souls joining the 12 million already living in the overwhelming ‘City of Angels’ tight grasp.
We began naively, thinking we would be able to find our way around with just a Google map print out. We knew the name of the area where our hotel was and thought it can’t be too hard to find.
Little did we know what was to come.
Road signs in Thailand are frustratingly sparse, not letting you know where you are heading, until you are almost upon it anyway – giving a sign in advance to help show the way would just be too easy.
For 5 hours we drove our noisy car through the Saturday morning Bangkok traffic, under and over bridges and round in huge circles, trying in vain to read the road names. Hoping to get even the smallest glimmer of our location from the tiny and worthless map.
The sun beating down unwelcomingly through the barely tinted windows, scorching my skin.
The longer we drove, the more frustrated we became, the car closing in on us making us want to get out of its increasingly claustrophobic metal casing, irritable and sticky against the leather seats, even with the A/C.
By the time we had been driving around Bangkok for 4 hours we began to give up hope, My eyes constantly staring at the almost useless map, wondering if anything new would appear if only I could just stare hard enough.
Delusions of a massive sign appearing at the end of each road brandished with directions to our hotel never became reality.
Tuk Tuk drivers were of no use, “it was too far” they said. The crumpled and worn map I managed to acquire from a taxi driver as I tried to get directions was no help either. He shook his head at me and told us “it’s no good, you will never find it,” this being the general advisory theme. We left him sitting outside the Grand Palace waiting for his next prey, the basic tourist map clutched in my hand.
It was clear that we needed a new plan of action, get out of the city and head north, following the ‘Christmas cracker’ toy compass we have stuck on our dashboard. A humorous gift from the previous owner that has become an essential guidance tool on our adventures. Inching our way towards the hotel, asking for help along the way.
We realised half an hour later we were drawing near to our destination. Made clear only by the fact that the road signs began to say ‘Lat Phrao’ not minding that this area alone is 20 square kilometres and the hotel could be anywhere.
My elation at seeing the sign could not be hidden, Js weary driving face got a little happier as he let out a long sigh. We were getting close, no longer where we in the city center, driving past the sights we were here to see yet unwilling to look at them through our frustrations.
Leaving nothing to chance now that we were in the right place, a motorcycle taxi man was hired and he led us through the residential ‘maze like’ streets to the sanctuary of the apartment hotel.
Grinding to a halt outside, the damage of the drive here could clearly be seen, a dusty sheath of dirt had accumulated over the cars body after almost 14 hours on the road, the exhaust hanging off and the accelerator cable clinging on by just a single thread sized wire.
As Jmayel released his right foot from the accelerator, the loose pedal fell into the foot well, clunking with a dull thud. Lazily deciding to give up now that the machine had stopped moving.
We didn’t care, we had made it to our destination and that was all that mattered for now. After we unloaded the car, checked into our apartment and consumed some quick refreshments we headed back out to begin our tasks.
It’s the sprawling mass that hits you first.
Then the heat, rising and mixing with the traffic fumes, stagnating in between the high rise concrete structures.
Black clouds spewing out of the behinds of the many vehicles on the roads.
Not many people would call Bangkok a beauty, however after dark and when it’s all lit up, the city lights glittering against the night sky it is pretty spectacular.
Bangkok at night
Yet on the whole and in the unforgiving and stark illumination of broad day light Bangkok is more of a mighty beast.
There are nice parts and attractions are certainly plentiful and enjoyable all in their own right. It’s the heaving bulk they create when they are all combined that makes Bangkok an overwhelming and daunting city.
All said and done, Bangkok is infectious, a bubble of curiosity, excitement and annoyance all growing from within.
From our stressful beginnings in Bangkok to the time we came to leave, we were full of satisfaction, pleasantly surprised and wishing we had stayed for another couple of days.
In Lumphini Park
Bangkok has a way of getting under your skin and making you want more.
Whether you’re in the street hailing a taxi or haggling with a tuk tuk, surrounded by the tranquility of Lumpini Park or weaving your way through Chatuchak Market. Downing cheap beer on Khao San Road or splashing out on cocktails at a rooftop sky bar. Eating street food or being served a fine meal with crisp white napkins and sparkling cutlery at one of Thailand’s best restaurants.
Chucking your backpack down on the floor of a traveller’s hostel or checking into one of the many plush hotels. Crammed into the Grand Palace or cruising down the Chao Phraya River on a long tail boat, Bangkok really does have something about it, even if it is exhausting.
There are not many places to just breathe in Bangkok, the crowds, traffic, heat and sheer size take away that luxury.
You are sucked into the throng as soon as you arrive and there’s not a lot for it. Take a deep breath and just go for it. And if you make it out the other side – bonus.
Chiang Mai feels like a quaint little village in comparison to the dominant mass of Bangkok and we now have a renewed appreciation for our little city.
Bangkok is the number one in the city locals eyes and nothing could take its place.
Once Bangkok has its claws in your flesh it would be a struggle to remove them.
If you hanker for the city life Bangkok has it all. For me however, a week in its clutches and I’m ready to get out.
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home
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