Busy, chaotic, noisy, smelly, dingy, dark and full of weird. It’s not hard to find the faults in this city but when looking off the beaten path and tourists traps, you will find life; vibrant and colourful.
Truth be told, there are nicer cities in the world, but Bangkok is used as a base for most SE Asia travel and mustn’t be dismissed when planning your travel itinerary. When I visited Thailand for the first time in 1999 it was a very different place than it is today. Tourism wasn’t as common as it is now and the change in the number of tourists has made all the difference. Even though Thailand, and with that Bangkok, has changed, it is still possible to get a sense of the Thailand of days gone past but it does not come easy.
Upon arrival, most travellers head straight to Khao San Road. A ‘safe’ haven for backpackers and travellers alike where you will find comforts similar to the ones you have at home. Cheap Thai food adjusted to the Western pallet, Western food, decent hotels, 24-hr bars, lots and lots of alcohol and, of course, many other travellers (usually enjoying the aforementioned). From here people take taxis to and from the temples, malls and other tourist attractions. As much as this is an easy and comfortable option, doing so will make you miss out on the ‘real’ Bangkok and the heart of the city – the locals.
When wandering through the city on foot, you come across little shops, local restaurants and small houses. Some are built from scrap metal, cardboard or any other material that is cheap to come by, held together by corrugated iron roofs or simply a plastic sheet that provides shelter from the rain. One little room houses entire families that share everything they have. Lots of people live on an income of under £100 a month and with this salary have to support families larger than the ones we have at home. However, upon sighting a foreigner they won’t hesitate to share the little they have. Food and drinks flow freely, games will be played and you will be the guest of honour in these lovely people’s homes.
This is the local life, hidden away in the back alleys, far away from the Bangkok most people will experience. Some of my favourite travel moments have been here, in the midst of this muggy city amongst all the ‘amazing’ tourist attractions. In my opinion, a lot of people have the wrong impression of this city and its people. Things here can present you with somewhat of a challenge but, just like in every other country with a culture other than your own, if you keep your wits about you, remain patient, friendly and have a great sense of humour you will experience everything the place has to offer. Ultimately, that’s the experience you go for when travelling. You visit a place to get a sense of different surroundings, different people and with that their culture, customs, traditions and quirks. Why not dig a little deeper?
Walk around, away from the main roads and beaten path. You pass lush greenery, little-polluted creeks and waterways, dirty alleyways, kids dancing, elderly playing games in the parks and lots of puppies. You will pass puppies. Wander the city and eat at one of the dozens of street food stalls selling fragrant, healthy, colourful and fresh dishes, The dishes being cooked there are as local as you can get and it’s here the real favour of Thailand is found. There is no need to worry about food poisoning as local places have the quickest turnaround. This is where the locals eat and as they need their clientèle to come back in order to survive they will ensure the food is safe, not to mention delicious. The Thai have a way with spices and your pallet is sure to be satisfied.
So, go out, leave the taxis, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, buses and bikes and go explore this fascinating city by foot. It’s full of life and the memories of the people you will meet along the way will stay with you far beyond your stay in Bangkok.