It’s 7 am. It’s raining. Oh well, we chose to travel in the rainy season. Mistake perhaps… or was it? We leave airport Suvarnabhumi and take a taxi to the centre of Bangkok. I look out of the window to the striking billboards, the pink and green-yellow taxis and the massive amount of tuktuks. I feel excited. I’m in Bangkok, the ‘City of Angels’, at least that’s what it’s called. I don’t see angels, just a very busy city with a lot of motor vehicles and because of that a lot of exhaust fumes. But I don’t mind. The excitement remains. I’m ready for Bangkok. And I’m ready for the chaos of this city.
Because Bangkok means continuous chaos around you. I hear you think: ‘Wait a minute… I don’t want to go there!’ But wait a second. Chaos in Bangkok does not necessarily mean something negative. Chaos can be nice, inspiring of exciting. Your eyes are wide open and your ears are pricked up. All your senses are heightened. Ready to capture all the images, colors and (not always fresh) smells. At least that’s how I experienced Bangkok.
Bangkok has various ‘chaos moments’, the one better than the other. But all inspiring or surprising. Read along and, if you’ve been to Bangkok, look if you recognize them.
Bangkok is a melting pot of motor vehicles. Taxis, tuktuks and scooters. They are everywhere. Taking a taxi or a tuktuk requires some bargaining. Especially for the tuktuk you need some self-confidence. Taxis are the green-yellow, pink or blue Toyotas. Make sure that the driver puts the taximeter on or make a price agreement in advance. Really make sure that the taxi driver knows where you want to go. We experienced a couple of times that the driver told us (after he hesitated for a while) that he knew the address, but after 10 minutes of driving he really had no clue. ‘Yesss, I know where it is… (Yeah right). So, if you see the driver hesitating, don’t get in. He doesn’t know where you want to go. And watch out with the green-yellow taxis. These are private taxis where the drivers want to offer you a ‘package deal’ where they take you to all sorts of sights or shopping malls. Sounds convenient right, but don’t do this.
Tuktuks in Bangkok have a bad image. The drivers overcharge, drive dangerously and take you to shops you don’t want to go. Although…that’s what people told us. While we were in Bangkok, we took the tuktuk a couple of times and honestly, it was not that bad. You just have to stand your ground. First of all, check if the driver knows the address, then set up a price and then firmly say: ‘No stops!’. And that worked for us. Obviously there are cheaper means of transport in Bangkok, but the tuktuk is at least the most exciting one. It’s speedy, ghost driving is no problem and traffic lights are to be ignored.
You can describe the weather in Thailand as humid and hot. Although we were in September in Thailand (on paper the worst (read: rain) month of the year), we had a lot of sunny days. Even on a cloudy day I was sweating and burning in my neck and on my arms. Luckily, in the late afternoon it rained for a short periode of time so that the evening could have a fresh start.
I really recommend traveling in the rainy season. There are less tourists (especially outside Bangkok), lower prices and it’s still hot with occasionally some rain. I have to say that you also need some luck. For example we heard that it had been raining non-stop on Koh Phangan, but when we arrived the sun was just starting to shine. Luck was on our side.
The heat in Bangkok makes you less focussed. You’re tired, you’re hot and you have no idea how to get to the Grand Palace. This makes you the perfect victim for the ‘scam guys’. These are friendly attentive men who want to help you find your way in Bangkok. But at the same time they’re trying to achieve something else. On our first day in Bangkok we came across two of these men. This is the way it goes: you’re walking down the street and you’re approaced by a friendly Thai. He asks you where you’re going. You think: ‘Nice! Some interaction with the locals’, and you say you’re going to the Grand Palace. And he tells you a story about how the Grand Palace is closed in the morning. These mornings are for the Thai to pray and in the afternoon the Grand Palace opens for tourists. But luckily the guy has a solution for you. He offers you a personal tour with a visit to three sights. And that will cost you 2.000 Baht. Fortunately, we are down-to-earth Dutch. So we got rid of the guy so that we could check out for ourselves if the Grand Palace was really closed. And of course it wasn’t: the Grand Palace is opened every day. Don’t buy these stories. Ignore the friendly guys en keep on walking.
4. Khao San Road
Khao San Road is a backpacker area. Here you can buy anything. From excursions to massages and tailor-made suits. During the daytime this street is not that special, but at night it really comes alive. The sheds go out and the neon lights go on. The bars are opened and the scantily clad ‘ladies’ do their best to lure the customers in for a drink. A stark contrast to this are the smartly dressed men who try to sell you a tailor-made suit. Are you hungry or thirsty? Then take a look at one of the food carts. Here you can choose some Pad Thai, a fruit shake or (if you’re in for a real treat) a roasted scorpion. Are you a bit tired? Then lay down at one of the many massage salons or give yourself a recharge with some laughing gas. And of course I must not forget the famous pingpong shows, the extra earnings for the tuktuk drivers at night. These are shows where a woman preforms ‘certain activities’. You can find out which activities on the menu at the driver. Yes, also this kind of entertainment you can find at Khao San Road.
Bangkok is thé city of streetfood. Several streets are ligned up with food carts and temporary restaurants with a terrace of plastic chairs. The cooking-stove is on the street and the fresh ingredients are displayed outside. The smell of fresh pepper and spicy sauces enter your nose. Everywhere around you there’s something to see, there’s something to taste. You can come here for a snack, for dessert, but also for your evening meal. And it’s also easy for a vegetarian, because there is always an egg or vegetable option. Perfect! Choose your ingredients, order a Chang beer and take a seat at on the plastic chairs. Streetfood is the way to experience the Thai life. Eating some noodles with the local community on the street, while the world goes on around you.
The chaos of Bangkok, I love it. The crazy tuktuks, the hustling drivers, the sun, the heat and the food carts full of fresh vegetables. Bangkok is exciting, sparkling and surprising. Every day was a game to me with certain challenges: ‘Can I eat this?’, ‘With or without ice cubes?’ and ‘Should we take the tuktuk?’. You have stay focussed and that gave me energy. And after a day or two you’ll start to see the humour of this. You’ll recognize the ‘friendly guys’ and you’re curious what their story is this time.
Bangkok has also a pretty soft side. Stay tuned! You will read about that in the next article.