Bangkok: First Impressions

Phuket, Thailand – I’ll start with a full disclosure: I didn’t leave the hotel my first day here. After almost 23 hours of flights, layovers, and delays I was exhausted and extremely jet lagged. And, arriving to the hotel at 1:30 AM most certainly didn’t help matters either. I was in need of some rest and relaxation, and I took it. However, I’m guessing that much needed R&R played a role in forming my initial impression of Bangkok, which was just, well, meh.

There’s nothing wrong with the city. It’s clean, very cosmopolitan, and full of very nice people – even the scammers and the touts (I’ve yet to feel threatened in anyway). So, why the blah feelings? Well, one reason is it seems like Bangkok is all about the nightlife, the food, and the shopping. It would be a perfect destination for party groups, business travelers, and expats. For solo travelers on a budget staying in a hotel? Not so much, at least in my opinion. Outside of the Buddhist temples it doesn’t seem there are many sights worth seeing in the city.

I think another reason I feel indifferent at the moment is the city hasn’t lived up to my expectations after watching The Hangover 2 and reading the Bangkok Post (an English language newspaper) on the flight. Both played to the stereotype that Bangkok is a sex crazed, seedy, insane backwater place full of go-go bars and seamy locals selling hookers and blow. While I’m sure there is plenty of that stuff to go around, it certainly isn’t everywhere you turn. Considering the expectations, Bangkok has been pretty tame.

All in all, I’d say Bangkok is worth stopping in for a few on the way to other parts of the country – just not certain it’s worth a full week or more. It will be interesting to see if my impressions change after my next visit in a few days.

If interested, here are some highlights from my initial foray into Bangkok:

  • About that sex industry. I can confirm that it is alive and well, at least if you believe the cabbies and Tuk Tuk drivers. Examples:
  • Less than five minutes after getting in the cab to the hotel after my flight landed the cabbie asked if I like to boom boom. Thinking he meant party, I responded that yes, I like to boom boom. He then offered to take me to a “very pretty lady” so that I could make boom boom (when he made hand motions emphasizing boom boom I realized he wasn’t talking about going to a coffee house). When I said I just wanted to go to my hotel because I was tired, he countered that we could pick up the pretty lady, take her back to my hotel room and I could make boom boom before I went to bed. His theory was that I would sleep better (not a bad counter argument, if you ask me). When I refused again, he looked at me with a sly smile and said he could take me to a “very pretty lady boy” instead. I just laughed and said, “No, no lady boys for me.” He laughed, and we proceeded to talk about how bad the Thai Baht is doing against the US Dollar and how much taxis cost in the States. Just a slight change in discussion topics.
  • In another incident, I was walking down the street minding my own business when a driver waved at me and asked, “You want Tuk Tuk”. I shook my head and waved him off like I do any other driver. Only, this guy proceeded to fall into step with me, reach into his jacket and pull out a picture of a very pretty Thai girl. He showed me the picture and said, “I take you to her.” I just laughed, said no, and kept walking. With my luck, the pretty lady would’ve been a pretty lady boy.
  • About the food. Even though I ate two meals in the hotel restaurant, everything I’ve eaten so far has been amazing (who knew a Courtyard by Marriott would have a full service restaurant, and it would have excellent food). Chicken Satay, Fried Rice with Tiger Prawns, and Pho – I’ve been in food heaven so far. Side note – On my flight to Phuket I was served a pastry that tasted like bacon (I think there was sausage inside). Bacon flavored pastries, mmmm.
  • I actually did get around to seeing a few of the bigger sights in the city:
  • Lumphini Park

  • Considering it’s the only green space of note in Bangkok, and it was down the street from my hotel, I thought I would mosey around Lumphini Park. The grounds were well manicured and looked nice enough. However, outside of a couple bikers there really wasn’t anyone around except

    I work out!

    for a couple guys at the Muscle Beach type workout facilities and a group playing Takraw (think Volleyball except you can only use your head and feet). It was a little bit of a downer, to be honest. Then again, I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to sit outside in this heat and humidity.

  • I thought I should go to at least one temple for the cultural perspective (plus, it’s kind of cool seeing the monks in their bright orange robes), so I chose Wat Pho – the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. While the Buddha itself wasn’t all that impressive (it was big, it was reclining), as an added bonus the entrance ticket gives you access to the entire temple complex – which is cool because it’s a living, working temple

    Wat Pho – Peace and tranquility

    and not some tourist trap. All I had to do is walk around to the monks working and praying, students in the school band practicing, and little kids playing at the daycare. Plus, the architecture is amazing. The further into the complex you wandered, the quieter it got – until all you heard were your footsteps and the fountains. I was surprised to find such a calm and tranquil place in the middle of a bustling city like Bangkok.

  • After Wat Pho I wandered over to Siam Paragon Center (a mall) in search of a sim card for my phone. I thought I was going to a normal run-of-the-mill mall, but boy was I wrong. I never found a sim card, but I did find an aquarium (turns out it’s the largest in SE Asia), show rooms for Bentley, Lotus and Jaguar cars, a gigantic five story department store, and what I can only assume are hundreds of luxury specialty retailers and restaurants. There’s even a local university branch and a Berlitz language center (students were all over the place, using the coffee shops to study in and the food court to relax). The place was virtually a mini-city.
  • In an ironic twist, the food court was filled with American fast food restaurants: Burger King, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme. I just wanted a nice bowl of Phad Thai to eat, but all I could find were burgers, donuts, and fried chicken. Maybe the spread of Western culture isn’t such a good thing.
  • Mass transit in Bangkok, while limited, is quite impressive. The Skytrain is a futuristic monorail system in the downtown area that glides over the crowded roadways and connects in with the river boats, which take you anywhere you want in the old town. Although, I must say that the river has quite possibly the nastiest water I’ve ever seen. The color reminds me of chocolate milk, and there’s all kinds of trash and other debris floating around. Despite this, I found a local fisherman casting his net under a pier. Remind not to eat the fish at any of the street food stands.

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