The Big Mango
The Big Mango—the most populous city in Thailand (9.1 million), the land of 7-Elevens, tuk tuks, and air con malls—that’s right I’m talking about Bangkok. We took the overnight train from Krabi to Bangkok in a second class sleeper. It was actually pretty nice. We had our own beds that came with blankets and pillows. It was significantly more pleasant than my overnight train in Italy a few years back (a story for another time). We left the train station and were met by a barrage of taxi drivers trying to overcharge us for a ride. We tell them our destination and they say “oh protesters, very dangerous, for you 500 baht.” We get in a metered cab and it costs us about 60 baht without a protester in sight.
Generally the people in Thailand are incredibly nice. They are full of smiles and good nature toward seemingly everyone. Just like in any country there are people who try to extort tourists but as soon as you leave the main tourist areas people generally treat you like one of them. For this I commend them because we tourists tend to be so awkward, sweaty and unfortunately confused that we stick out like dirty, inappropriately dressed sore thumbs among our fashionable Thai counterparts.
There is a lot to do in Bangkok. You can go to museums and temples or take a walk through Chinatown to eat some birds nest soup. But we have become somewhat jaded in our tourism. We would not be disappointed if we left Bangkok without stepping foot in a temple. In fact we have been to more malls in the last week than we have in the last year living in the States. With the intense heat and car exhaust permeating the air there are two places you can seek relief; the mall or 7-Eleven.
I think traffic in Bangkok is the worst I’ve seen. Delhi was bad, but you also had cows, bicycle rickshaws, and pedestrians scattered throughout the traffic making it difficult to navigate. The more alternative forms of transport aren’t around in Bangkok leaving the roads to throngs of cars and motorcycles either careening down the road as fast as possible or locked in a dead standstill. I feel like in LA there is at least a rush hour to avoid, but here you just can’t avoid it. It is either bad or worse. Luckily the Thai have come up with an answer: the motorcycle taxi. For a small premium you can hire one of these vest-clad gentlemen to whisk you away weaving in and out of cars, riding on the sidewalk or against traffic. They do whatever it takes to get you to your destination and invariably get your adrenaline pumping all for less than the cost of a latté.
I used to love visiting big cities. Taking public transit, seeing the sights, and experiencing the culture were all things I looked forward to when I would set off over the ocean. Now I really like trying to live and eat without much of an agenda. The street food in Bangkok is awesome. We’ve gotten barbecued pork on a stick, donuts on a stick, spring rolls (with a stick instead of a fork), pineapple with a stick, fried bananas, and fresh coconuts.
One thing that amazes me about Thailand is that everything comes in a plastic bag. I’ve witnessed people getting food in a bag from 7-Eleven, only to walk outside take it out of the bag and throw the bag in the trash. We get looked at funny when we ask for no bag, perhaps it’s because of our flawless Thai pronunciation, but it’s worth it not to perpetuate the use of plastic bags. In fact at this point my Thai language skills amount to “Hello,” “Thank You,” and “I don’t need a bag.” My favorite Thai bag creation is when you buy a drink from a street vendor that comes in a plastic bag. No cup, just the bag and a straw. Somehow this simple design captures so much of Thailand in a single beverage.
It’s also interesting to see how everyone uses straws. You buy a bottle of water, you get a straw. Can of coke – straw. I even got a little milk juice box that came with a straw on the package and I got a straw. Yes, they also give you a straw with your beer. I haven’t observed anyone using straws for beer, but they do drink it on ice and with good reason. It’s so hot outside that if you don’t drink fast it will be hot before you finish half of it. It’s kind of an unfortunate reality, you want a cold refreshing beer because you’re hot and exhausted, but before you can finish, it too is hot and flat.
I do have to say that the publicly acceptable act of picking your nose is awesome. Not only does it provide you with endless entertainment, but releases you from having to worry about digging for your own prize, which is a necessary chore given the pollution in Bangkok. Now if only they had tissues readily available…
So for the next few days in Bangkok we will be relaxing at super upscale Dunkin Donuts and drinking beer in the movie theater because we can. Thanks Big Mango!