I love Bangkok. It comes as a surprise really. I am not a city person, but as always thinking about the shape my next venture might take, I cannot dismiss Bangkok as a possibility…
It was certainly not ‘love at first sight’. My initial reaction was fuelled by visiting all the tourist attractions, inevitably overrun by foreigners, and staying in the Bangkok plush area of Sukhumvit, with its abundance of 5* skyscraper hotels for the cash-rich jet-setters. Modern, state-of-the-art shopping centres such as Terminal 21 and EmQuartier may well catch the eye of those with deep pockets, but as I tend to shop out of necessity rather than enjoyment, shopping malls generally hold very little appeal. At least Terminal 21 had a few surprises in store that kept me amused and intrigued… You don’t often bump into London landmarks and sights whilst on holiday. And the food and restaurant floor of the EmQuartier offered a varied cuisine to tantalise even the fussiest of palates as well as a beautiful view of the sparkle and shine of night time Bangkok.
On my return from Phuket, I chose a different hotel, a few sois (or roads) away, just in the Ekkamai area. A quieter, pleasant and more homely atmosphere with lots of restaurants, bars and coffee shops offering breezy outdoor seating as well as indoor air-conditioned spaces, a place exploding with social life vibes. A nearby shop sold a vast array of Western food essentials, suggesting I had hit ex-pat territory. Wide, clean roads were lined with aged, gnarly trees and the uneven, pushed up pavement slabs told the story of a city with a history. There was no impatient honking of horns, only the normal, expected humdrum of busy traffic at peak times. Motorcycle taxi drivers found respite in the shade of tree canopies or other shelters. At lunch and dinner time, the air was bursting with the tempting, fragrant aromas of street food. Exotic fruits in vibrant colours, sometimes sprinkled with a Thailand-spicy concoction of chillies, salt and lime, begged to be eaten. Definitely a place where I could rest my suitcase for some time before the inescapable itch to move on will once again bubble to the surface.
Of course, I fitted in trips to the Wats, Wat Arun and Wat Pho to be precise. Ancient temples nestled in the old part of town, which attract tourists from all over the world to revel in the architectural accomplishments. As luck (or bad luck) had it, the imposing spire of Wat Arun was shielded from view with extensive scaffolding covering the intricate patterns of Chinese porcelain and coloured glass in the stonework, but I could climb the smaller, surrounding spires and stand in awe of the achievements of craftsmen of long ago eras. The Buddhist temples are still used as places of worship, so a waft of sweet smelling incense lingers around the countless statues of the Buddha.
On an early morning bicycle trip, I weaved through an unusually quiet Chinatown, as the Buddhist festival of Ullambana, or the Festival of Ancestors, literally turned the normally bustling area into a ghost town. For a short period only – it is believed – the doors of Hell are opened to allow loved ones to return to earth as ghosts and devotees place offerings of food, drink and other worldly comforts in front of their houses to ensure that their deceased relatives may have an easier ride and be given forgiveness. Paper is burnt… not just any paper, but paper bank notes, paper mobile phones, paper televisions, paper cars or paper aeroplanes.. Just about anything a modern ghost might need to smoothe the journey in the hereafter.
We cycled through the flower market, and the vegetable market, explored yet another Wat, crossed the river and took photographs and selfies with the skyline of modern and new Bangkok in the background.
In those three days, I barely scratched the surface of what Bangkok has to offer.. I avoided the seedy places, the ladyboys’ exploits, the tourist-orientated markets and missed out on the floating market – which only operates at weekends. So I certainly feel there is some unfinished business, a reason to go back… maybe just for a long weekend, or maybe to join the ex-pat community for a little while. Time will tell, there is no rush… I have not yet finished with China.