Readers' Submissions

Subjective Impressions Of Bangkok

  • Written by Anonymous
  • May 28th, 2005
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Bangkok Addict


I am a Westerner who teaches at a second-rate private college in a country that is not very far from Thailand. Although I like living there a lot more than in the West – whether Europe or America – the only place I want to go to in my holidays is Bangkok, Thailand. And the only place I would voluntarily move to is likewise Bangkok. A lot of people on this site have criticized Bangkok for various reasons, so I would like to offer a more appreciative perspective. However, a qualification is in order. Although I love Bangkok, I have never fallen in love with a Thai bargirl, or a Thai “normal” girl for that matter. And as a happily married man, I can’t envisage that happening in the near future either. But I have fallen in love with Bangkok, to the extent that you can be in love at all with a geographical location. And I think the best way to appreciate Bangkok is by using your five senses.

Why Bangkok looks good

Bangkok may not have the aesthetic unity of Venice or Edinburgh, and it may not have the impressive skyline of Singapore or Hong Kong. But unlike Venice or Edinburgh, it is by no means similar to a museum. And unlike Singapore or Hong Kong, you know when you have left the airport. While it is not known as a green city, it is green enough for me. There are no depressing cold winters in Bangkok, which means that whatever is green stays green. And the sight of a single coconut palm is enough to put me in a relaxed state of mind. Actually, I’m glad that Bangkok does not exaggerate its greenery. I live in a house that is surrounded by coconut palms and rice paddies, and while admittedly beautiful, it produces an inordinate number of very aggressive mosquitoes.

One of the most delightful things about Bangkok is taking long walks. I remember walking from Wat Pho to the river, via Chinatown and Silom, and while that is a very long walk, it is more rewarding than long walks in any other city I have been. The reason for this, I think, is that Bangkok offers unparalleled variety and surprise. And unlike Western cities, people work in the streets as well as inside the buildings. Architecturally, there is variety too. One encounters stunning Thai Buddhist temples, Chinese Taoist temples, the odd Western-style church, traditional shophouses, wet markets, corporate skyscrapers, spruced-up hotels and slightly absurd monuments to the art of “massage” or beer-drinking. Unlike some contributors to Stickman’s site, I think Bangkok is the best place in the world for walking.

The variety and surprise of Bangkok’s nature, architecture and street life is enhanced by the sight of its people. Bangkok’s women are known for their beauty, but there is variety here too. Not all of Bangkok’s people look the same. Indeed, you would be hard put to find an Asian place where you find some native-born women who could have come from Shanghai, while others could have come from Jakarta. However, it’s more typical that they look as an optimized combination of Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinas and Malays. However, what really sets both the men and women apart from other Asians is their propensity to smile. Heartfelt or not, this smile means that they age gracefully. Old people get wrinkles all over the world, but in Bangkok they get wrinkles that smile. This makes for quite a contrast with – especially – northwestern Europe and Hong Kong.

Why Bangkok sounds good

Some people find Bangkok noisy, but to me, Bangkok provides the sound of life. If I wanted silence, I would visit an intensive care unit at a hospital or, even better, a graveyard. The sounds of Bangkok also express variety and surprise. From the soft tones of the Thai language to the louder sounds of a power drill, Bangkok has it all. And Bangkok is also a very satisfying place if you like music. The Saxaphone near the Victory Monument station has the best and most professional live music this side of Tokyo. There are also music venues that offer everything from live heavy metal to live classical. But I have developed a special penchant for Thai music, which few Westerners seem to appreciate. Rather than copy the latest fad in Western music, which is common in such Asian countries as China, Japan and the Philippines, the Thais have developed their own type of world music. Rock, blues, jazz, disco and what not is simply absorbed into the harmonies and vocal styles of traditional Thai music, and the result is – at least to me – seductive. Even when I’m not in Thailand, I find that a beer is often best enjoyed with a Thai CD playing in the background.

Why Bangkok smells good

I regularly travel to Europe, and I almost always make it a point to pass through Bangkok on my way home. One reason for this is the characteristic smell that greets you at the airport. Especially in Europe, I find that my nose gets to little stimulation. And it’s much more than the pollution that smells in Bangkok. What you get in Bangkok is more of an intoxicating blend of odours that suppresses the car exhausts and includes tropical plants and spices, humid heat and the mouth-watering smell of Thai food in various stages of preparation. It is a smell that even on its own would make a trip to Bangkok worthwhile.

Why Bangkok tastes good

Thai cuisine is popular virtually everywhere, and for a good reason. It offers a spicy version of freshness and variety. Indian and Malay food can be spicy too, but both cuisines have their drawbacks. Indian food is generally quite heavy, and does not really leave enough room for a night of beer-drinking. In some people, including me, Indian food produces painful visits to the toilet. Malay or Indonesian food is usually hot and spicy enough, but the entire cuisine consists of no more than 15 or 20 generic dishes. Chinese food is often fresh and varied, but with the exception of Sichuan dishes, it is often not exciting enough for those of us who have a “spicy tooth”.

Thai food is, however, almost as addictive as nicotine. After sampling authentic Thai food for a week on my first trip to Bangkok, I suffered severe withdrawal symptoms subsequently. I went from liking spicy food to craving it. After my first encounter with Thai food, I simply find Western and other bland cuisines tasteless and boring. Paradoxically, I also developed a craving for rice, which is not exactly the spiciest of substances. But it complements spicy dishes perfectly! So now I want at least three spicy meals a day, and at least two meals a day that include rice.

The addictive flavours of Bangkok are not limited to food, but also include its excellent Singha beer. Although some tourists complain that it’s not a real English ale or an authentic German pilsner, for me Singha beats them all. Interestingly, the British beer critic Michael Jackson called Singha Asia’s best beer. And I agree. But unlike most Westerners, I think the way to really enjoy Singha is with a spicy Thai meal and with large quantities of ice, preferably in a hot outdoor restaurant with Thai music in the background.

Why Bangkok feels good

This is a trickier question, until you remember that Bangkok is the world center for three types of massage: foot massage, traditional massage and body massage. Need I say more?

Stickman's thoughts:

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