Blessed with the five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch… we humans seldom utilise our full array all at once. Bangkok rarely gives you opportunity to use one at a time. This doesn’t signify negativity however. Far from it. Bangkok, a modern day megalopolis offers a contrast of chaos and charm.
Existing as a Welsh country boy, a typical annual vacation would involve a common European hotspot where we could devour all-day breakfasts in a bar screening ‘Only Fools and Horses’, accompanied by sunburnt drunken folk. So, Thailand seemed a world away to what I was familiar with. Inspired by documentaries and with encouraging advice from a close friend, Bangkok was chosen as the first stop on my ‘Around the World’ backpacking adventure.
Arriving at the Suvarnabhumi Airport bus terminal, the heat became an immediate adversary. A Thai January will have you rinsing sweat from your short pockets, even in the early hours of the morning. Lumbering a 25kg wardrobe on your back, backpackers literally cart their lives for weeks, months, even years at a time. A combination of this weight with the intense heat puts you in a vulnerable position; and after a 16 hour flight from the UK a luxury bed is a definite welcoming contrast. However, as a backpacker, luxury is a scarce treat. Affordable rooms from £2 per night, allow us to appreciate what Bangkok has on offer.
With budget in mind the option to take the bus from the airport, as opposed to the more expensive taxi seemed a worthy one. Engulfed in humidity, our other senses are heightened even more by nasally Thai vocals which penetrate your ear drums through a distorted sound system. A constant screech of car horns accompany the revving of Tuk-Tuk engines. Thoughts are saturated as bright neon signage, plastered in curvaceous Thai script pass our peripherals. Iconic lime and yellow tuk-tuks snake between the bright pink taxi cabs, whilst locals push their make shift food vending carts, alongside the fume excreting traffic. The compendium of colours and textures takes you to sensory overload. All this, beneath a contrast of modern skyscrapers and ancient golden stupa’s from the many Buddhist temples.
Thai’s are culinary perfectionists and believe in using every taste receptor on our complex tongues when conjuring up cuisine. It seems a shame that the smells of these cuisines are sometimes overpowered by the stench of pollution. Taking a first step off the bus at the infamous Kho San Road, once the bus fumes had passed, you could taste the delights in the air: dried squid, Pad Thai, fragrant curries, sweet pancakes, even scorpions and bugs are served up by local street vendors, who have engineered some of the most unusual, yet efficient, manoeuvrable cooking carts that you could imagine. Usually attached to the fronts of bikes or motorcycles, affordable ‘freshly’ cooked delicacies are cooked in gas fuelled woks for as little as 30 Baht… This is extremely cheap!
On Kho San road, people replace motor vehicles in a cacophony of high pitched tones and techno bass-lines. Calls of “Cheap-Cheap! Mister-Mister! You buy?!” are used by the locals to entice you into the many bars, restaurants, guest rooms and market stalls. Expert Nepalese tailors endeavour to lure you into the many boutique showrooms. After fitting oneself into a Kashmir ‘designer’ three-piece suit, it calls for some tranquillity.
By now, a complexity of sensory extremes had overwhelmed one’s mind and body. Within moments… harmony. Locked in a kind of wrestling hold with a strategically placed knee against my spine, my body took a sudden jerk, followed by a crunch. Wow! Accompanied by the scent of burning incense sticks, a one hour Thai massage would equate to less than a pint of beer in a UK pub (this is a standard male way of gauging whether something is good value for money).
All of these comparisons should be embraced. Allow Bangkok to encapsulate you. To experience the sudden transformation from euphoria to serenity, will feel overwhelming at first, but to absorb this cities traditions, culture, people and their lifestyles will be a journey like no other. Tomorrow’s itinerary includes a ‘Floating Market’, before observing the sunset from the top of a modern sky tower, accompanied with a ‘Happy Hour’ cocktail. Only in Bangkok!