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City slickers

Bangkok: Village of the Wild Plum

Clive Wedderburn September 19, 2014

The official Thai name for Bangkok is: Krungthep Maha-khon Amorn Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya! Hadilokpop Noparabatchatathani Burirom Udom-hanivetmahasathan Amompiman Avatamsathit kkathattiyaavisnukarmprasit.

 
Which literally means: Great City of Angels, Abode of the Emerald Buddha, The Invincible Realm, Grand Capital of the World Endowed with Nine Precious Gems, rightful City Abounding in Royal Palaces Which Resemble the Divine Living Places of the Reincarnated Gods, City of the God Indra... As befitting the Heavenly City of the Gods and Kings.
 
....and breathe. Challenging? Welcome to the Far East.
 
The minute you exit the airport you realise you are not in Kansas anymore. The intense heat and pungent odour almost tips you back into the arrivals lounge. But since you came all this way (14 hours from London Heathrow) ignore first impressions and hail a taxi into town. Just do it.
 
Though many people use Bangkok as a gateway to countries such as, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the rest of Thailand, in my opinion Bangkok is a destination in itself. The city is one of my favourite places on the planet.  It is the very epitome of what travel means to me and here are several very good reasons why.
 

The City

 
One night in Bangkok
 

Another name for Bangkok is the Village of the Wild Plum. In which case, this is one fruit you should definitely pick. To the untrained eye Bangkok is huge, sprawling and confusing and too big to take in all in one go. This chaotic city hides its points of interest for you to uncover like a treasure hunt. It is a city that challenges the senses, and has an edge, so be careful otherwise you may cut yourself. But this edge makes every journey an adventure. If the basis of your personal travel manifesto is to explore cultures that are different from your own, Bangkok is a great place to begin your education. 

So, while some travellers may melt and swoon from the oppressive heat and the over-bearing aroma from the open sewers and search for the next connecting flight out of there, others will sit back, buckle up and enjoy the Bangkok rollercoaster ride. 
 

Thai People

 
Friendly faces
 
Thailand is called the Land of Smiles, but please, don’t be misled. Thai’s greet you with laughter and a Thai smile is a sight for sore eyes. But that doesn’t mean they are passive.  They are smart and quick to spot an opportunity.  They have a knack of sizing a person up within seconds of meeting. Though Thai’s are gracious and kind, they don’t suffer fools gladly and anyone who presumes that their smiles denote unwavering subservience had better think again.
 
Millions of travellers have passed through this gorgeous country through the centuries. We are not the first and certainly won’t be the last. Thai people know how to provide a fine welcome and go to great lengths to pamper guests. If you think you know customer service – think again; the Thai's invented it.
 

Thai Food

 
Culinary Heaven
 
Do you eat to live or live to eat? If you answer yes to the latter question, make a B-line for Bangkok. The city is a culinary treasure trove for the curious epicurean, a melting pot of many different rural communities from north, south, east and west. Have I ever had a bad meal in Bangkok? Never. Will I ever? I seriously doubt it.
 
The al fresco restaurant experience you’re enjoying in Bangkok, the one with the menus, pavements tables and chairs, with parasols, condiments and cold Chang beer; it’s not actually a restaurant. Take a look around. There is no restaurant and no kitchen. The food is made by a little old lady with a small hot coal fire and a wok perched on a wire mesh. Yet your food will arrive on time and she still has another twenty customers to serve.  Go figure!
 
What is even more extraordinary is that the Red Snapper Steamed in Banana Leaves with Lime and Ginger is going to be one of the finest meals you have ever tasted - for just two of your English pounds. Welcome to Bangkok.
 

Transport

 
Thai Tuk Tuk
 
Great cities have iconic forms of transport. For New York has the Subway, for London, the Red Bus, for Rome, the Vespa, for San Francisco the Trolley Car and Bangkok has the Tuk Tuk. For any European used to being cosseted in the cotton wool of health and safety, these three-wheeled mini-milk-floats on acid either represent outright madness or a revelatory experience. There are no seats belts. But there is a grinning maniacal driver with a Zen-like approach to traffic management who laughs in the face of danger while you hang on to the colourful little chariots for dear life. When you arrive, in one piece, remember the old adage:  it’s not the destination, but how you get there that counts.
 

The Massages

 
Life is stressful; we know this. That’s why a massage is the perfect antidote to life’s little conundrums. In Thailand, massages are not a luxury, as they are in other countries, they are an everyday occurrence. And if you know of a better place to get a massage anywhere in the world, then put your suggestion in the comment box below because I for one would love to know.
 
Put aside all sniggering suggestions of sexual services and happy endings. Find a reputable salon and treat yourself. If you have never experienced a heavenly foot massage while drinking jasmine tea, then you have not lived. The best parlours will provide you with loose Thai robes to ease your embarrassment. Tucked away in your own cubicle you will drift away as firm hands lay steady pressure on aching muscles in desperate need of manipulation. All thoughts of work and worry, family, home, bills and barking dogs will be eased away as tension becomes a distant memory. 
 

Doing Nothing

 
Reclining Bhudda
 
 
A good gauge of a great city is how interesting it is to do absolutely nothing. So, pull up at an appropriate bar or cafe, preferably one with lots of food on the menu, order an ice-cold beer, flick through a book, and sit – and watch. Eventually someone will strike up a conversation, whether it is a fellow traveller or your host or a hawker or a curious local; you won’t be alone for long. Time will pass, the afternoon will fade, and the tropical heat will come and go in waves. As evening progresses the smile on your face becomes a permanent fixture. 
 

Doing Something

 
In Bangkok you can switch hustle and bustle for peace and enlightenment in a heartbeat. The Floating Market tops my list. Found on the outskirts of the city you are piloted at speed in a wooden long boat along the river, bow lifting out of the water as you traverse Bond-like past traditional wooden houses on stilts, until you join smaller waterways and slow your progress, transfer to paddle boats until you meet with the market. Relax as your boat jostles between costermongers selling everything from fruit to flowers, plastic nick-knacks and all manner of stuff you didn’t want, plus a lot of stuff you never knew you wanted. Return with an armful; barter and buy – it’s all part of the process.
 
Another place to take a breather is Wat Arun, known as the Temple of Dawn. Climb the steps of the tower and take in the hazy view of this rich, crazy capital city. As peace gently descends, a bell will chime somewhere. At that moment, after all the madness and far from the madding crowd - yet at the defining centre of the city - you will get it. You will finally understand what makes Bangkok one of the greatest cities on the planet. The people are astute and friendly, cheeky and proactive. The food is outstanding. The streets are chaotic and smelly. The heat is oppressive. But please, Bangkok, please don’t go changing. Ever.