Bangkok: From fear to fascination

Bangkok1The Thai capital Bangkok is home to over 8 million people, a fact that is inescapable in this thriving metropolis. The transport networks are constantly jammed, and the bustling streets sit under a smog filled sky, grey from Bangkok’s burgeoning industries. However, there is a lot more to Bangkok than appearances suggest; culture, religion and cuisine combine to make Bangkok one of the most interesting and exciting cities in the world.

I’ve had a mixed experience of Bangkok. Having never been to Asia before, arriving into this busy and hectic city couldn’t have been more of a contrast to places such as London or Sydney, so it was a culture shock to say the least. To make things even harder, our hostel was on the edge of the city in the residential district of Lat Phrao; English wasn’t widely spoken and we were seen as something of a tourist attraction ourselves. Having no specific idea of our location was difficult too, as it meant that public transport was hard to negotiate and we generally had to rely on taxis, which can be a problem in this traffic congested city.

In our first few days a lot of things went wrong. We were pulled over by police when returning from a night out, demanding to see our passports and requesting money when we couldn’t produce them. Communication was a big problem, as we had no idea what was happening or whether the taxi driver was in collusion with them. I’m still unsure how it was resolved, but we didn’t have to pay any bribes! Then we were followed around the area we were staying by a man on a moped. At first we thought it was coincidence that this man was in the same shops as us, but as we watched him hurry the cashier through his purchases so he could follow us out the door it became apparent that this wasn’t the case. What ensued was a terrifying experience worthy of a thriller movie, as he chased us through a market before jumping on his moped to follow as we ran up the road. And if that wasn’t enough, a man kept exposing himself in the communal areas of the hostel whenever we happened to be in the vicinity.

Bangkok3However, our initial experience of Bangkok was unique and it shouldn’t put anyone off visiting. On returning to the city a couple of weeks later, we were given an entirely different insight into what transpired to be a fascinating and exciting place to stay. Our hostel was located in the backpacker haunt of the Khaosan Road, an area more orientated towards tourists and much less intimidating than the outer suburbs. The road itself is made up of hostels, bars, and shops selling everything from t-shirts to DVD’s. There is accommodation to suit all budgets; this can range from a shoebox sized room in a large hostel to a three star hotel. The bars are always busy and are a mecca for backpackers, as they provide the ideal venue to meet other travellers and swap tips on destinations.

The street food is another Bangkok experience that shouldn’t be missed. If anyone advises against it, don’t listen….some of the best Thai cuisine is produced by the side of the road. This can vary from traditional Pad Thai (noodles with egg, tofu, peanuts and lime) to hot noodle soups, fishcakes and curries. One of the more exotic options consists of deep fried grasshoppers, crickets and other insects, usually cooked with spices and served as a snack. We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend who had lived in Bangkok, so he was able to give us a tour of the areas not usually seen by travellers; these included winding backstreets filled with market stalls, hidden shrines and temples, and even a group of break-dancers practising in the local park.

Bangkok has areas of cultural significance that are open to visitors, such as the Grand Palace. Constructed in 1782, the palace was home to the Royal Family of Thailand up until 1925 and sits on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The palace consists of a mixture of buildings, halls and courtyards depicting the style of each resident King, and houses a museum as well as several working offices. The Grand Palace is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations, but be aware that opening times can vary and visitors must adhere to a dress code.

Bangkok2Bangkok receives millions of tourists each year, and overall it is a great place to visit. Researching the area and having an idea of what you want to see should reduce encountering any problems, and staying in a central location is advisable. There is a lot to do in this city, regardless of whether you are there for a couple of days or a week, and it should definitely be included on your travel itinerary. Despite the problems I’d still go back!

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