Bangkok vs. Bangkok

I wanted to love Bangkok. I wanted to marvel at an ancient city wrapped in a modern city- historic temples with a monorail cruising by. The only thing keeping me from loving Bangkok was… Bangkok. (I’m resisting the urge to make a reference to the not-so-complimentary ’80s hit song here.)

Historic temples? They’ve got ’em. Golden Buddhas? Plenty of those too. But along the way, Bangkok will throw every possible obstacle to enjoyment in your way.

We did not arrive on a high note. Back in Siem Reap, we booked a bus ticket through to Bangkok- our first land border crossing of the trip. Once we entered Thailand, things started to go a little haywire: we were stuffed into a hot minivan, plunged into Bangkok rush hour, and unceremoniously dropped off on the side of a street… with no idea where we were and no Baht in our wallets.

Um, excuse me, where the hell are we?

No problem for us seasoned travelers, though. All it took was an ATM, a taxi ride, free wi-fi, pensive head scratching, intensive map reading, and extensive luggage rolling to get us to our hotel.

Dawn of a new day. The sun pierces the smoggy haze. The temples beckon. We could hear them beckoning- we just couldn’t get to them. Bangkok has a a sleek, easy-to-use metro system, but it doesn’t cover large areas of the old city. Understandable- I’m glad they didn’t demolish Wat Pho to make room for the tracks- but inconvenient. Yes, there are taxis (expensive), tuk-tuks (scammy) and buses (hard to figure out). Luckily, we discovered the hidden gem of Bangkok transport: the canals.

Finally, we were in the old city, ready to delve into the history of Bangkok. We were dropped off right next to a tourist information kiosk, so we asked for a city map and were handed one by the world’s grumpiest tourist liaison- really, of all the applicants for the job, she was the best choice?

An older man spotted us looking at our map and pointed out our present location, suggesting that we head down the street to see a large Buddha statue. My faith in humanity restored, I said to Karen, “How nice of him.” She patted me on the head and detailed for me the many scams she had read about the night before. The old man was perpetrating Thai Scam #23: a friendly passerby suggests something you should see- perhaps this is the only day this spectacular attraction is open this month- and steers you to a friendly tuk-tuk driver who then gouges you on the price OR takes you to a jade shop where, stranded, you are forced to by some jewelry. My faith in humanity deflated, we walked on.

Never fear, we did finally get to the good stuff. Wat Arun. The Royal Palace. The Reclining Buddha (mentioned in that song… resisting temptation to make reference). Here are some visual highlights:

I saw all that over the course of a few days (after the first day, Karen retreated to cooler activities, like ice skating). During those days, I walked a lot, sweated a lot, drank gallons of water, rode a local bus for a long time, sat in a cab for a long time, and generally wondered how anyone gets anything done in this town.

One night (or week) in Bangkok makes a hard man humble. There, I did it. Now I feel better.

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2 Responses to Bangkok vs. Bangkok

  1. karla says:

    Ahh… and the song does have a Chess tournament in it (although I hear it and the play are about the Cold War – have not seen). How connected… but I don’t think I’ll be letting Nelson go there soon 🙂 Hopefully soon you can play some chess with him from a different county 😉

    • Ken says:

      Yeah, the show is called Chess (the Cold War seen through a chess tournament), so I’ve had chess on the brain in more ways than one.

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