Wild. Young. Inspiring. Pulsating. Passionately alive. Pure adrenaline. That´s Bangkok.
Incredibly loud. Pretty freaking dirty. Full of smog. Grey. Cruel. Slaying. That´s Bangkok. Which type of Bangkok do you choose?
I was unsure which one was gonna be my personal pick when I first arrived in Thailand´s capital a while back. Just starting out on my Asian adventure had its challenges – I had barely time to marvel at Bangkok´s huge Suvarnabhumi airport with its impressive colorful statues, when a rather harsh realization hit me: The famous Thai kindness does not necessarily extend to some slick taxi drivers! If a driver refuses to use a meter, as it was the case in my experience, just hop out and into a cab with a driver willing to use the meter! Anything else is not gonna help you keep those pennies, ahem excuse me, Bahts, together for a stunning Thai meal, or a donation to beings in need, or a crazy Muay Thay– event-attendance.
Bangkok City: Tradition meets fashion meets cozy guesthouses
Once you have avoided the pitfalls of unruly Taxi drivers, the seductive Thai juggernaut is finally awaiting you: a buzzing place of countless shopping malls and of intoxicatingly beautiful temples. A place where a myriad of new trends in fashion and music are being birthed and tradition and modern times melt into a tantalizing, sense-overwhelming pot of inspiration. Sawadee Bangkok, hello Bangkok, here we come!
If you are on the lookout for an affordable accommodation, look no further than Soi Kasern San 1 in the famous area “Siam Square”. You´ll find Wendy´s guest house here – a clean, comfy yet humble place smack in the middle of the city, where the staff charms visitors with their very warm and lovely demeanour. They definitely made me feel like family when I stayed over!
Thai tales, take one: Of Wai-greetings and wild dragonfruit
The Wendy guesthouse staff let me in on the traditional Thai “Wai”- greeting, where both hands are held in a prayer posture in front of one´s face and a slight bow with the upper body is made to demonstrate appreciation. For my fellow Yogi-lovers out there, you might feel reminded of the Indian Namaste – this is no weird coincidence at all, as both go back to the Indian Anjali Mudra! The Wai-greeting is usually accompanied by a, at least by European standards, very high pitched “Sawadee” greeting (meaning “How are you”, or “hello”) or, alternatively, a “Kop-Khun Ka” enunciation (meaning “Thank you”).
Once you turn the corner from Wendy House you are right on the main street, where countless mobile food stalls offer delicious tropical fruit such as stunningly pink dragonfruit or deliciously wobbly lychee-fruit. Buyer beware: Dragonfruit is absolutely fingerlicking good and addictive! While being bombarded by the notorious honking of the never-ending stream of cars and Tuk-Tuks and the sellers praising their produce, you are also likely to spot some bright orange- green signs advertising the 7-Eleven convenience stores. Here, you can purchase snacks, drinks and other lifesaving small essentials 24/7.
Thai tales, take two: Of fabulous lady boys and racing tuk-tuks
I remember feeling peckish and getting myself a lovingly prepared dragonfruit (of course), as well as a sandwich at 7/11, kindly warmed up for me by a beautiful lady with a very deep voice. Wandering on through Bangkoks bustling streets, it soon became clear to me that this wouldn´t be the only lady boy I would get to see in Thailands 8,2 million metropolis. One of the exciting facets that Bangkok has to offer is its vibrant Transgender, Gay and Lesbian community.
The huge amount of lady boys, meaning of women who, biologically speaking, used to be, or still are, men, are simply an integral and oh-so-delightfully-lively part of Bangkok´s city scape! They belong as much to the city as the oodles and oodles of cars and tuk-tuks that envelop the city every afternoon in a cloud of dense, slightly smelly smog. Or the elevated rapid transit train, also known as Skytrain. Or the overpowering grey of thousands upon thousands of buildings and skyscapers. Or the many petite and fashion-conscious Thai women. The ladies and the lady boys add dashes of gorgeous color to a partly pretty grey Bangkok and just make it into what it is and what it´s loved for: a cosmopolitan, mind-blowingly exciting and aspiring mega city.
Thai tales, take three: Sniffing up some inspiration at BACC
After my stop at 7 Eleven , it was time to head to the thought-provoking BACC, the Bangkok Art+Culture Centre (corner of Th Phaya Thai and TH Phra Ram1), a contemporary arts hub located just around the corner from my guesthouse. I was greeted by two around four meter-tall men in uniforms: two giant puppets, dressed in sort of diving wet suits, displaying the numbers “1914” and “1939”, respectively, on their chests. This kinda modern memorial to WWI and WWII was just one of many outstanding features that caught my attention – even the facade of the arts center itself was quite a treat, an architectonic feast for the eyes reminiscent of the Guggenheim-museum in New York.
The inside of the building makes art lovers´metaphorical tail wag with the finest in modern Thai art. Alongside extravagant pieces created by aspiring new artists, there are also creative cafes and an arts library to be visited, artistically decorated craft shops to be inspected, and even a pantomime school to be marveled at. The icing on the cake? When I left the building, I just happened to come across a giant Thai rock-concert!
I decided to mingle for a while with the many relaxed and stylishly dressed Thai youngsters that had gathered in front of the stage and I enjoyed getting carried away by the unusual and melodious Thai language and musical sounds. In general, the Thai music-industry ventures far out of the mainstream, especially Indie-bands are setting the trends in Thai music-land. Keen on a taste of that yourself? Head to Brick bar (265 Khao San Road, downstairs at rear of Buddy Lodge complex), where fun house bands take to the stage every night, playing a lively mix of ska, bouncy pop covers and Thai-indie!
That´s all for today, my friends! Stay tuned for the next posts, in which we will discover why a visit to the fishmarket at 6 AM is the best way to end an incredible night out in Hamburg, and how it feels to hang out with a giant reclining Buddha that´s a humble 46 metres long in Bangkok!
Back to you, dear readers: Have you ever been to Bangkok, or Thailand for that matter? What surprised you most about its culture?