Khrung Thep, the City of Angels, has always held a special sort of magic for me. It’s exciting, safe, there’s pad thai as far as the eye can see, and according to the ladies along Sukhumvit Road, I am apparently a “hansum man”. This is always good for the ego, even if I think they might be less than totally sincere.
I love the wai, the showing of respect by placing your palms together and slightly bowing. I love the energy of the city, the kindness of the locals (I was treated amazingly well), and I love that there’s a 7-Eleven every fifteen feet in case you’re hot and need to buy your ninth bottled water of the day.
Money goes further here than almost any other major city I’ve been to, and there’s also a refreshing “screw it, let’s do it” attitude to almost everything – from riding on the sidewalks if you’re on a motorbike taxi (because, honestly, it’s just faster) to just about anything else you can dream up. I’m quite certain the response to the most inane idea floated by any westerner would be met with a shrug and the ubiquitous “up to you” response by the nearest Thai. I saw this in action more than once, as a Swedish guy staying at my hotel asked if he could ride on the wheel well as we took the tuk tuk up soi 8 to Nana BTS station. He had a heck of a time holding on, and met almost certain death on four different occasions, but hey – up to you.
I’ve been here for three days and I’m realizing it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m heading to Vietnam tonight, and while I’m thrilled to be visiting this new country, it feels like Bangkok was rushed. I’ve been to this city a number of times, and I love it more every time I return. Bangkok is the kickoff to a couple of weeks in Asia for me, starting with Thailand, Vietnam, and a return to Thailand, to visit Chiang Mai and perhaps Chiang Rai if there’s time.
I love to explore the city’s temples, cultural sites, and markets. This trip was different than the previous occasions when I’ve come through Bangkok, though, as I was attending TBEX Asia, the conference for travel industry professionals and writers. This didn’t leave a lot of time for other pursuits, but it was still a phenomenal three days.
The first night was a spectacular kick off at the Queen Sikirit National Convention Centre, or as I like to call it, the QSNCC. (I actually just started calling it that so I don’t have to type Queen Sikirit National Convention Centre again).
The party was held to welcome to Thailand hundreds of travel writers and industry professionals from around the world. After an hour or so of eating tiny food on sticks and meeting other attendees, the show began outdoors, on a stage outside the QSNCC and sitting over the water. Dancers, musicians, interpretive artists, emcees, and dignitaries all hit the stage and it was quite a show. We then had a mini loy krathong festival and set our candles and incense out into the water.
With that, TBEX was launched, and the next few days would be spent learning from each other. It was a phenomenal conference but I won’t bore you with the details, because it’s a fairly tight niche group that has any interest in which breakout sessions I attended.
While not at TBEX I did manage to get out and take the Skytrain (BTS) to the Chao Phraya River and board a tourist ferry that takes you up the river to Wat Pho (and several other river-adjacent locations like the Grand Palace and Wat Arun).
Wat Pho (Temple of Reclining Buddha) is one of those places that makes you stop checking your phone for whatever your current social media addiction is and just take it all in. I am usually wrapped up in photographing everything I see, but I made sure to take a few conscious minutes without looking through the lens, to just breathe in the air, and bask in the pure beauty of this place. It wasn’t that busy when I was there, so I had total freedom to wander and explore.
The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, and has the distinction of being the earliest centre for public education in the country.
To boot, it’s also the birthplace of Thai massage (you can even get one there if you like, but be warned if you’ve never had a Thai massage before – it might be a tad painful, and more of workout than you bargained for).
The big attraction is the Reclining Buddha, a 46m gold leaf covered monument. It’s indoors, in a long, narrow room that makes it almost impossible to see the whole thing in one shot. It really is impressive.
Outside, there are stuppas, and spires, and amazing architecture that make you feel like you’re living in another world. I loved every minute of it.
In addition to Wat Pho I got out to see some muay thai at Rajadamnorn Stadium, one of Thailand’s biggest muay thai stadiums. I’ll create a post about that, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will say that if you’re thinking about going to see the fights one night, go. It’s controlled mayhem and an assault on the senses in the best kind of way.
Being in Bangkok also meant visiting my tailors, Victor and Jesse Rajawongse, on Sukhumvit Road near Soi 4. Rajawongse Clothiers have been making custom clothes for me since 2006, and I can’t say enough about these guys. Victor is Jesse’s son, and he’s my main contact. I walked into the store and he knew me immediately, despite the fact that I haven’t been there in a few years.
Victor is professional, courteous, and always delivers on his promises. He measured me for some new shirts, and happily put up with me while I took pictures throughout his shop. The next day I went back for a fitting, and about eight hours later my spiffy new shirts were delivered to my hotel. Awesome.
One of my favourite things is to sit in a pub in one of the busy sois around Sukhumvit and just watch the world go by. Insane traffic, the never-ending stream of people, the sights and sounds – it’s better than TV. One time a few years ago two Burmese flower girls ran up to me, stole my shoes and ran away. I looked at the guy next to me, an affable Aussie, who just shrugged.
“Those shoes coming back, y’think?” I asked him.
“Don’t know mate.” (I can’t remember if he actually used “mate” but let’s say he did).
The waitress came over and said, “Not worry. Shoe come back.”
I trusted her, and sure enough my shoes came back about five minutes later. The girls had cleaned the shoes for me with little brushes and wanted money for their efforts. Sucker that I am, I gave them a few baht, not because the shoes were cleaned (honestly, they looked exactly the same), or because they were extorting money from me for a service I neither wanted nor needed, but because I now had another great story to tell.
So that’s three (too quick) days in Bangkok. I’ll be back next week for another short stay and can pack in a few more things that I was hoping to get to next time. And if I don’t I’m not too worried about it. I’ll be back. Bangkok has me.
But for now, I’m jetting off to Vietnam on an Air Asia flight – stay tuned!
What are your favourite Bangkok memories? Or if you’ve never been there, what intrigues you about it?