One City — Bangkok

Among the many amazing cities that I have had the privilege of visiting is Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. During a month in spring of 2001, traveling alone In Thailand without an agenda, I was in Bangkok three times: my first few days, my last two nights, and two nights in the middle of that month. My arrival is described in another blog entry, Fear.

During my planning for this trip, I read extensively before making reservations for the first two nights and the last two, leaving everything else up to spontaneity and chance. For my first two nights, I picked a hotel recommended in a trusted, low-key travel guide, Lonely Planet. When I described it to the owner of my favorite local Thai restaurant, he expressed alarm, saying that it was not a safe location, because it was where transients stayed. I listened to him, recognizing that was what I wanted, to be with fellow travelers, not with folks on a fancy tour. It turned out to be ideal. Once there, I immediately met long-term, low-budget travelers, who shared with me their experiences in lesser-known areas. That well known book, The Road Less Traveled, had always been a favorite of mine, along with its philosophy.

During those first few days, I emerged myself in Bangkok, walking the streets, using their Metro, the tuk-tuks, and the river taxis. The tuk-tuks were three-wheeled open motorcycle taxis, sometimes bicycles. I loved the challenge of deciphering the systems and using those systems with reasonable confidence, knowing that occasionally I would end up someplace other than where I’d planned. It was always an adventure. Because of Bangkok’s prevalent pollution, it was common to see local people wearing masks, similar to those that are familiar to us now, during the pandemic. Twenty years ago, it seemed bizarre to me.

One of the pleasures was eating the street food, never disappointing. I had learned enough Thai to be able to communicate that I was vegetarian, so that I wouldn’t buy something with meat by mistake. Because being vegetarian was common in Thailand, it was an easy message to convey. I was glad to take a chance on unknown foods, as long as I wasn’t taking a chance on meat! Among the many treats that I encountered was roti, a street pancake prepared to order, garnished with fruit, chocolate, or cream. Another common street food was pad Thai, that familiar dish, made to order, on the spot. I never got tired of that or of the plentiful fresh fruit, available on almost every corner: pineapple, watermelon, guava, mangoes, and more.

During my meandering those first few days, I visited Bangkok’s version of Central Park and participated in public Tai Chi, which I had learned at home. I was very moved when, walking across the park, music began to play and others signaled to me that I should stop moving. Later, I learned that it was out of respect for their national anthem. I read about a performance to be premiered in two weeks and that the Thai princess would be attending. The play was to be based on the true story of conjoined twins, Chang and Eng. Knowing that those original twins were from the country then called Siam, now Thailand, I bought a ticket, planning the remainder of my trip around this return trip to Bangkok.

After two weeks of exploration of southern Thailand, beginning with a delightful overnight train ride on crisp white sheets, interrupted by local vendors hopping on the train at local stops to sell their food and wares, I returned to Bangkok, to the same hotel, having been completely satisfied with its convenience to public transportation. My evening at the fancy theater was in sharp contrast to the rest of my backpacking month. The play was astounding, the actors portraying the joined twins remarkable, the entire story marvelous, literally, a marvel. I loved being present for it, being a witness to it. It was a night unlike the others of this month of exploration.

After sleeping in the following morning, I boarded a bus to northern Thailand, where I rode an elephant, explored Chiang Mai, visited ornate Buddhist temples, and enjoyed much Indian food. After another two weeks of glorious adventure, I returned for the final time to Bangkok. This time, I stayed at an exclusive resort, which I had reserved with points secured from extensive business travel. It was not convenient to public transportation or to the bustling city streets that I had quickly learned to love. Of course, it had wonders of its own, including elegant dining. But, I might as well have been in a great hotel in New York City! In a conversation with another guest, she shared that she had been warned to avoid street food, as it wasn’t safe. I didn’t say anything, because she was leaving the next day, but thought to myself how much she had missed by playing it safe.

Have you considered a trip that includes Bangkok? I highly recommend it, knowing that if you play it safe and take no chances, you’ll have a wonderful time and experience a bit of the exotic culture. However, if you’re willing to stretch a little, to take a few reasonable risks, you’ll have an adventure that extends well beyond the ordinary.

Copyright © 2022

Published by cyrein

Quaker, adventurer, wife, mom, sister, friend, special ed teacher, learner

2 thoughts on “One City — Bangkok

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