Arriving in Bangkok, Thailand was a metaphorical breath of fresh air and a literal breath of smoggy, polluted air. We were back in the modern world after two months of walking the dusty road (a much traveled dusty road though). The downside of the modern world was that we were back to modern prices (a beer was now $3 instead of 50c in Cambodia… that’s six times more expensive!). Our very light wallet led us to maintain a lighter lifestyle.
Our accommodation for the three nights we spent in Bangkok was called Matchbox Hostel and the beds were modeled on matchboxes. The dorm room had double beds nestled in a row in the wall, like a little cubby you had to crawl into. With 12 beds the max occupancy was 24 people to a room, which was a little out of our comfort zone. However, aside from people’s inability to arrive and leave quietly in the dorm, it was actually really nice. The little cubby was like a hug from the walls. Perhaps living in small apartments had allowed us to be comfortable in this setting. The only downside of our accommodation was that we were located in one of the seedier districts. Bangkok is the home of all things that you don’t talk about and all these things were right outside our door. We tended not to go out after dark and when we did I had to hold onto Ben tightly as all the scantily clad women saw dollar signs in his eyes.
For our first day we adventured out into the west side of Bangkok city. Having read about the infamous Klong canal boats (Bangkok apparently being the Venice of Asia), we walked to the polluted river and waited for the boat to arrive. Expecting some small dainty boat to show up, we were more than surprised when a large boat, only just small enough to fit in the narrow canal roared in the distance. A sign warned us not to wait on the jetty for risk of the waves pushing us in the water. With the water black as ink and dead fish floating by, we doubted that our medical insurance would cover a dip in the canal. We braced for the boats arrival, as it came full speed into the jetty and hovered briefly while people furiously jumped aboard and clung to a rope to pull themselves in. There was no civilized boat bridge or assistant to help you aboard. Basically if you can’t haul yourself aboard by a rope in a split second, then you’re either not getting a ride or you’re going in the drink and you’ll need a tetanus everything shot.
Thankfully we both made it aboard and the boat went full throttle down the canal. When another boat was coming ahead, the boat had to slow right down and all the passengers pulled up a plastic cover that was sitting on the bottom of the boat. This was to protect them from the inevitable black plague waves that shortly came aboard. How this boat was seaworthy was beyond me, but we made it to our destination. Having little to no idea where we actually wanted to go, other than to explore, we were an obvious target for a local scam.
A friendly fellow came along to ask us where we were going and provide advice on what to see in the area. He even gave us a free map he had handy. Then he happened to have a “friend” who owned a tuk-tuk who would take us all around the city for only a few dollars. Luckily we had read to avoid anyone who seemed unnecessarily friendly (what a lovely world we live in), as we may be caught by the well-known Gem Scam. The scam involves being greeted by a friendly fellow and offered a ridiculously cheap tuk-tuk ride where instead of taking you to the places they agreed they take you to their friend’s gem store and demand that you buy something in order to leave. All the scammers get a share of the money you hand over and the gems are worthless. We just wandered away quietly, reflecting on how sad it is that you can’t trust a friendly stranger.
Wandering down Khao San Road, the backpacker district, we were overwhelmed with pestering hawkers and trinkets for as far as the eye could see. Everyone seemed to have a good price for us. Unfortunately, we had no desire for frivolous souvenirs. Having walked one direction down the road and not wanting to walk back down the street again, we kept walking and ended up at the Chao Phraya River, a large river that headed south. We jumped aboard a boat and puttered along in a much more relaxed manner than earlier. At the far end of the route, we disembarked and caught the metro back to our hostel. Bangkok’s public transport system was very good and it was easy for us to make our way around the town. At rush hour, the trains were very busy, but everyone lined up politely and didn’t push to get in. It was almost Canadian levels of politeness, which I wouldn’t have thought existed anywhere else in the world.
That evening we did a first and ate proper street food for dinner. I had avoided any form of unhygienic cooking practices as if I could catch food poisoning just by looking at it. However, now that we felt poor and we were in a modern environment, I agreed to the unthinkable; noodles and meat cooked on a BBQ located in a gutter. I could barely look the vendors in the eye as I handed over the money and collected the meat on a stick. I felt dirty. Even the rats rummaging through the rubbish next to me didn’t deter me. I could do this, I told myself. Ben guzzled back all sorts of animal anatomy without a thought, while I tenderly nibbled at the crispy goods. Now that 48 hours has passed I can confirm that the street food neither killed me, nor upset my stomach. I feel like superwoman.
The next day Ben muttered words that I never would have thought would escape his mouth. Perhaps it was the humidity or perhaps there was a lack of oxygen in our matchbox bed. Whatever it was, I was delighted. Ben asked me if I wanted to spend the day at the mall. Two of Bangkok’s malls are in Trip Advisor’s top 5 places to visit in the city. They did not disappoint. The malls of Bangkok are gigantic, with seemingly never ending floors and heading out in all directions. There are cheap market-like malls, there are flashy expensive malls, there are tranquil malls with waterfalls and rain forests in them and there are themed malls that are decorated elaborately. There is a mall for everyone and every mall was for me. Given our shock towards the prices of the modern world we were reluctant to purchase anything. Luckily for me, being in a mall is enough. I don’t know what stars aligned to make it happen, but even Ben has to admit he enjoyed his day at the malls.
Before we knew it we were off again. We headed back to the airport using the public transport that we were now well acquainted with. Along the way we inevitably got lost and a lovely lady came over and pointed us in the right direction without setting off our sensitive scam detectors. We didn’t even have to ask for help, she could tell by the way we walked back and forward with our backpacks with confused looks on our faces. Perhaps the humanity in the world is not lost to those that run the gem scam. I had expected to be revolted by the big city, but I loved it. There was a strange excitement about Bangkok that filled the air and left me wanting more. Hopefully we’ll be back one day, although next time we’ll stay away from the red light district.
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