I don’t know where to start.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.