Today is our last day in Bangkok and although we have been truly enjoying the trip so far, we’re happy to say goodbye to Bangkok, although not in the way that sounds.
Coming from Vienna, Bangkok is the opposite in every possible way imaginable. The people are friendly (except the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers – in Vienna the taxi drivers are often quite nice or at least indifferent) and the Viennese are, well, the Viennese. Bangkok is dirty, loud, lacks any real green space (we never found the time to visit Lumphini Garden, unfortunately) and as a tourist you walk around with a giant target on the back of your head and you feel it almost constantly. That being said, we still like Bangkok. As a place to live, however, it’s not for us. I get that many others feel differently, but it’s honestly not our thing. It has definitely been an experience, however, and one certainly cannot expect European standards in Southeast Asia, but we are not so naïve as to have truly expected it.
We’re torn on Bangkok in every possible way. The activity is fast, the prices are cheap, the people are truly friendly and happy but as a white person, you definitely feel like you don’t belong. This evening we went for dinner at a local restaurant near the hotel that received brilliant reviews for its duck, so we went for a visit. The food was great and the restaurant shabby at best (although all great eateries are) but we kept getting this feeling while there that we were unwelcome. In fact, some Thais that walked in past us (we sat right near the entrance) made the popping sound at us that you hear all over on Khao San when these guys try to get you to come see a ping pong show.
The day was a relaxing one, though, spent reflecting on the past few days and recovering from the trip so far. We had hit the ground running, jetlagged and all, and hadn’t stopped until today. Late breakfast, easy water taxi ride to the flower and fruit market and a relaxing walk through it (despite the onslaught of activity there) combined with a delicious lunch (we’ve yet to eat something we really don’t like in this country and we’ve been trying nearly everything) in one of the market halls. Then a 3-hour ride on the water-taxi again up to the end of the line and back to the stop near our hotel. When riding along the river you see the contrast that is Bangkok: abject poverty literally sharing property lines with gleaming apartment or government buildings, homes literally collapsing into the water while new villas are being built next to them.
It sounds like I am trying to trash the city but I really am not. Any developing country has its own issues and one cannot expect the standards of home, especially in Southeast Asia. This is our first trip to the region and while I perhaps wouldn’t go so far as to call it an eye-opener, it’s still a trip that has got me/us thinking.
I would hate to paint any single people or city with a broad brush. People love slamming Vienna for the attitude of its residents but love the city for its quality of life. I love everything about Vienna, even its rough edges, which aren’t all that rough, but I can understand why some are put off by the place. Bangkok and just about any place for that matter are the same way. Just like people, too, I suppose. You can either accept them for what they are and hope they improve (or help them along in whatever way you can), or you decide it’s not your thing and move somewhere else.
Tomorrow morning we fly to Chiang Mai and I’m a bit wary. It turns out this time of the year the farmers in the region around the city begin burning their fields, preparing for the next season’s crops. Burning is illegal but from what locals say there isn’t much in the way of serious attempts to put an end to it. Air pollution is extremely high now, almost as high as Beijing in terms of particulates in the air, at least, so I’m somewhat concerned. Though then again, I’m from Vienna, the city where even the birds smoke. How bad can it be?