Bangkok

Click Pic for Bangkok Gallery

Wow, Bangkok! How you have changed.
But then you haven’t.

Our first stop in Thailand is not known for its relaxing atmosphere, but coming from 42C, smoggy, crowded, taxing Delhi, Bangkok is like a laboratory: Sterile, smog free, dust free, clean.
Like a new oasis in Asia. Like a health resort your doctor would tell you to go to after years of suffering.
When we arrived, it felt like the whole city was placed underneath a dome. One that is attached to a multitude of pipes on its outside, transporting fresh air from the Swiss alps, which is then pumped into the city.

 

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Compared to Delhi, Bangkok is like a laboratory: Sterile, smog free, dust free, clean.

If this can be said about a place like Bangkok, then it’s a pretty good measure how bad Delhi was.
And of course you do notice the pollution in Delhi while you are there, but to fully realise it is something else. The true measure of what man-made action can do to the environment in a specific place is something you only fully realise when you have left.

And Bangkok is of course far from being pollution free. In fact looking at the “Asia pollution index”, the city comes in at number 39 of most polluted cities in Asia, but compared to Delhi (ranked 5th), pollution has yet to be invented.
And this is not to diss Delhi. I loved Delhi as I mentioned here,  just not for its pollution and noise.

Wow, Bangkok! How you have changed.
But then you haven’t.

How silent your vehicles move along clean roads, as if robbed of every horn. How proud you present your LGBTI men and women and how your heteros don’t stare but merely acknowledge western women, how relaxed you are in so many ways, how cool, how civilised, how good you smell. Eva and I were truly stunned.

Screw your culture shock! There is no culture shock when you come from the western world to Asia. The real culture shock is when you come from Asia to Asia. When you come from Delhi to Bangkok.
There is your shock therapy right there.

It’s the small things that Eva and I noticed that are here but were absent in India. That cars would often stop to let you cross a street. On the highly efficient skytrain system, people let you get off the train first before they enter and queues are almost as efficient, thought out, organised and shaped to perfection as they are in the UK.

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A stark indication that your skytrain system is running well is when you have the time and resources to produce posters like this. It means late trains, overcrowding and other primary issues related to the service must be a thing of the past.

Wow, Bangkok! How you have changed.
But then you haven’t.

The last time I was here was 15 years ago with 2 friends of mine and in no way I remember Bangkok to be like this. In such a good shape. It has progressed almost beyond recognition. There is a lot not to like about shiny skyscrapers and big ass malls that now seem everywhere, but they are an unfortunate testimony to a seemingly healthy economy.
Thai students mostly sport the latest gadgets and embrace a coffee culture that we have perfected in the west. It is as reassuring as it is disappointing and the same case that was made for Mumbai can be made for Bangkok. The difference is that Bangkok is already way down the corporate road, whereas you feel Mumbai still has a bit of wiggle room.

And wow, have you changed.

The last time I came you had a king and now you don’t. We found a city and its people still in mourning, with memories of their beloved king EVERYWHERE. His counterfeit is on display on skyscrapers, spanning 20 floors or more, on malls, on skytrain stations, on government buildings, on houses, right down to the smallest food and market stall and some people still walk around with a black ribbon attached to their clothing. His presence is so overwhelmingly everywhere that one wants to mourn with the people and share their pain.

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Occasionally, pictures of the new king can be seen, but for now the Thais seem reluctant to let go of the old one. They are such good people. You want to hug them all day long. And wow Bangkok, have you changed.

But then you haven’t.

The food stalls are still there and trust me, Eva is in heaven. They are there and as numerous as they always been. They just look cleaner, safer, more stomach friendly than 15 years ago. The smell that they emit is still mouth watering. The soups, the meat on barbecue sticks, the basil, the lemon grass, the chillies, the sprouts, the grilled fish, the fish sauce, the banana pancakes enriched with condensed milk and the squid, the squid, the holy squid. Every bloody day! God I love this place!

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40 baht, 60 baht, 80 baht (€2), is nothing for a glorious fried Morning Glory. It’s nothing for a Pad Thai made by Asian gods. But yeah, sometimes I mess up and drag Eva into a restaurant and we pay 300 baht (€8) and it still doesn’t taste any better than on the street. How could it?

No, you haven’t changed.

Bangkok still attracts some of the same western people that are roaming its streets. They are a special creed and oblivious to the fact that they are visiting a country that is in mourning and it makes one feel embarrassed. We are embarrassed for them, for us, embarrassed that we in some way belong to the same tribe and you want to go around and apologise to every single Thai, but then you somehow don’t. You somehow disassociate by looking the other way.

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You somehow disassociate by looking the other way.

And when night falls, the food stalls make way for the nightmarkets and the stalls with the sex toys, the fake Viagra pills, the fake shirts and shoes, the “ping-pong” shows.. And the later the night, the more fake becomes the famous Thai smile. All to please the special creed people. Much turns fake.

What might have been exciting to me and my friends 15 years ago, has faded somehow and that is OK. Growing mature is OK. It has the benefit that you somehow know, that you miss very little.

It is on other levels that we love Bangkok and its people and its food, and its King and for now, after India, we both enjoy how relaxed the city is and we hope that it can change a little. Or change much. Or don’t change at all, but maybe just mature with us.

 

Let me take you back.