Dawn rises over Bangkok. South East Asia’s City of Angels.
Angular skyscrapers line the sweeping city vistas.
A city of collisions.
On the side streets that weave off Sukhumvit Road, flashing neon lights whisper the secrets of last night’s debauchery.
Seedy bars spew out coked-up European men. Stumbling back to their hotel rooms. In a stupor.
Across town, on Khao San Road, casual sex, echoes of western dance music, KFC and stale alcohol fill the air. Discarded plastic food cartons drip remains onto the street. Young Brits, having calculated the volume to cost ratio of every drink on the menu, lie comatose hunched over neon plastic buckets filled with vodka based remnants.
A robed monk walks silently through the streets of his Bangkok. Head bowed.
Long boats race up and down Bangkok’s muddy waters. Canal networks bordered by dilapidated wooden shacks.
Frenetically picking up and spitting off tourists and locals alike. The ticket officer hangs off the edge of the boat. You hold your breath. Certain she will fall in.
The Venice of the East.
Standing majestically on the Chao Phraya river.
Sky trains tower over the city. Carrying thousands of people per day in zooming overhead carriages. Squeezed in. Bag straps caught in the doors. A pickpockets paradise.
Lanes of traffic pan out in front of you. Crawling at congestions pace.
Tuck tuck drivers frame the roadside edges. Some luring disoriented tourists with complex scams. Willing to take you to your destination via their commission based detours – a ‘ping pong show’ or a ‘clothes tailor’ pit stop.
Gleaming golden temples, palaces and monuments stand pristine in glory. Testament to a history gone by. Seducing you. Charming you with South East Asia’s exoticism and natural beauty.
Beggars sit in filth on the pavement and the well heeled sip Singapore Slings from the roof top bars of luxury hotels against vast panoramic city views.
The temperature rises steadily. Nauseating heat.
Security guards sitting outside their guarded buildings move from foot to foot following the shade.
Street vendors are forced to search for a shady tree to park their wagons under.
Heat burns through Bangkok. Chasing down the air in narrow alleyways. Stifling. Hanging oppressively.
The super-malls invite you into their swanky icy temples. Ralph Lauren promises to sell you his American Dream.
Hot outdoor markets flood the streets selling clothes, shoes, and trinkets. Welcoming ‘sah-wah-dee-kahs’ are shouted. Everyone wants you to buy from them.
Sizzling food, traffic, pollution, drains and incense create a cacophony of smells which bake together in the afternoon heat and flood your nose in waves.
You stop to look at your map and are pounced on by touts. Men shout ‘Lady, where you go? Tuuuuuuuuuuck Tuuuuuuuuuuuk?’.
Contracting and expanding under the weight of serving more than 8 million people.
A city that’s still growing.
Women bent digging on construction sites. Their bodies carefully wrapped up. Keeping out the sun’s debilitating rays. Back breaking work in the day’s cruel heat.
A playground for the rich. A city where the poor are worked hard. Too hard.
Towering skyscrapers and wide streets. Full of commercial hubbub.
Food stalls gather under freeway bridges, lining the pavements. Dishing out fried meats, fish skewers and rice dishes. Sizzling under charcoal whilst you sizzle in the heat. I point at random items. I’m not sure what. I pray for the best.
Golden domed sky scrapers glitter in the shimmering sun towering over rusty corrugated iron roofed shacks which cling to the edges of the freeway and canals. Collapsed roofs and rubbish piled against the walls suggest abandonment. But you spot clothes hanging out to dry. Or children playing.
A city that wants you to part with your cash. Filled with elaborate scams.
Conversely, a city that fills your heart with the authenticity of a beautiful land. Beautiful people.
A city of contrasts.
Beauty against ugliness. Wealth against poverty. Authenticity against vast scams.
Most people start and end their journeys within South East Asia in Bangkok. A jumping off point for exploration of wider Thailand, its tropical islands and the exoticism of Vientiane, Yangon, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Saigon, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and elsewhere. All roads lead through and back to Bangkok.
I first came to Bangkok back in 2001. The departure point that lured me to my first South East Asian adventure. The city cast its net. Something about the place planted itself under my skin. It continues to seduce me back, time and again.
Bangkok. A city that promises something for all.