Intense – Bangkok, a week later

I don’t know where to start.

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok – the Grand Palace.

I’ve been back from my trip to Bangkok for a week now, and I still don’t think that all of my experiences in this city have quite sunk in. The week went from me not thinking I’d have much time to look around, to a series of trips hosted by Thai friends old and new, to my current state of still being overwhelmed by everything I saw.

As I sort through my photos, they’re helping me to recall just what I did, and organize my thoughts. I’ll write more about specific days later, but right now, the impression I have of this enormous, fabulous city is one of intensity. It’s crowded, hot, and confusing for a newcomer, but Bangkok never seemed really to be in my face – just quietly packed with people, with cars, with heat, and with incredible visuals.

Early morning, Chatuchak district, Bangkok
Early morning, my first day – view from the 19th floor.

The weather, at the tail end of the rainy season and with tropical storm Gaemi bearing down on the Viet Nam coast, provided some poundingly heavy rain on Tuesday, punctuating, but not relieving, the incredible heat and humidity.

Torrential rain - Bang Mot, Thonburi, Thailand
Torrential rain on Tuesday, at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.

Like the rain, Bangkok’s traffic is intense, but differs in being relentless, in a quietly, almost calmly, Thai way. Floods of cars, motorcycles weaving in and out, and in the tourist areas the omnipresent tuk-tuks, three-wheeled taxis that sound like buzzsaws afflicted with a bad cough, occasionally backfiring for added impact. But surprisingly few horns – somehow, drivers just flow together and the whole mass of vehicles plows ahead to where it’s going, liberally interpreting the lane markings.

Phahon Yothin Road and the Union Mall, Bangkok
Phahon Yothin road, near my hotel. Regular traffic, not rush hour.

I found the city full of astonishing sights, from stacked shopping malls to splendid temples to packed residential districts leaning over its canals. In some places, the density of residences seemed to be matched only by the density of the air, and around some of the smaller canals, another kind of intensity – a smell that I’d describe as breath-taking, if I’d dared to take a deep breath.

Bang Sue canal, Bangkok
The Bang Sue canal. Beautifully tranquil next to busy Phahon Yothin road, but not for the faint of nose.

And what about the temples, the Grand Palace, the Chao Phraya river, the parks and government buildings and skyscrapers? Everywhere I turned I found something else to arrest me – from the canal, side streets, and a temple on Wednesday, to markets, street vendors, and beautifully lit buildings on Thursday night, to Saturday’s trip to the Grand Palace, a long-tail boat tour, the famous Wat Pho temple, and points in, around, and beyond. In this city, the visuals are often stunningly over-the-top, at least to these inexperienced western eyes.

Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Pho, in some of its jaw-dropping splendour – there’s a whole lot more of it than this.

So here I am, a week later and still getting to grips with Bangkok. I’ve made new friends, some Thai, some not. I’ve been shown things I knew about, and many I didn’t. And I know that if I’m invited again, I’ll go back like a shot. In the meantime, I’ve plenty more to sort out and write down, so stay tuned.


Photos, as usual, are in a set on Flickr – incomplete as of now, but expanding daily.

I am highly grateful to my friend and host, Dr. Jonathan Chan, for arranging several excursions around Bangkok, and for donating the services of his two students Gab and Som for Saturday’s trip. More on all of these will follow.

About Richard Wintle

I am Canadian by heritage, and a molecular biologist and human geneticist by training. My day job is Assistant Director of a large genome centre, where I do various things along the lines of "keeping the wheels on". In my spare time, I tend to run around with a camera, often chasing race cars, abandoned barns, and sundry wildlife.
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12 Responses to Intense – Bangkok, a week later

  1. cromercrox says:

    wow!

  2. Grant says:

    Went to Bangkok years ago. (A bit of story. Had the last exam for my undergrad in the morning, left NZ that evening via Australia with my brother & sister. My parents flew from Nepal and met us there. Bangkok airport was low tech chaos then. Like dropping into one of those near-future sci-fi film sets where everything is happening at once and nothing quite makes sense.)

    Anyway, thing I wanted to say is what you describe is part of the general reason travelling in Asia appeals to me. Having local hosts would make your trip different to mine. Now for a job that would give me an excuse to travel more… :-)

    • I imagine that was Don Meung airport? It just recently re-opened for domestic flights after being flooded last year. I can report that Suvarnabhumi airport is huge, modern, clean, organized, and packed with useful restaurants and tons of duty-free stores.

      I wish I’d left enough time to leave Hong Kong airport on the way back and go and visit a new acquaintance – next time, maybe.

    • I remember the old airport Grant describes – went through there in ’91, stopping over in Bangkok for a week en route from Sydney to London. The place definitely had a touch of Blade Runner-style future madness about it.

  3. cromercrox says:

    Like dropping into one of those near-future sci-fi film sets where everything is happening at once and nothing quite makes sense

    You’ve visited Cromer, then?

  4. This is the most Blade Runner-esque photo I took during this visit:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ricardipus/8054292979/in/photostream

  5. Joanna says:

    You went to Bangkok?!

    And howdy Ricardipus! :)

    -Joanna

  6. Frank says:

    Oh, lucky you! I love Bangkok, and the Royal Palace complex especially. I could look at that amazing gold stupa for hours. The colourful tiles on the roofs of the temples are gorgeous too. The food is amazing too – a real tastebud knockout (literally).

    Must admit I’m not so keen on the traffic and air pollution.

    • Agreed re: everything. What really amazed me is the extent of the (hand-done) decoration on the temples and surrounding buildings… absolutely everything either painted, inlaid, or covered in mosaic tiles. Incredible.

      The food knocked my socks off, too – from the street-vendor satay to the delicious meal at a sit-down restaurant in the Central Plaza shopping mall. Just wow.