I love Bangkok. Have done ever since I first visited as a nineteen year old. Yes it’s filthy, noisy, chaotic and traffic-filled. But it’s also charming, magical, mysterious and a sensory delight.
It truly is a city of contrasts, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world. You can wander down tiny, incense-filled back alleys, squeezing yourself against the wall for the rambutan man to pass with his cart, whilst watching as neat rows of white buns are placed on bamboo trays in a one room dumpling factory. You can buy anything you’ve ever wanted, and lots of things you didn’t, in shiny, air-conditioned, palaces to shopping. You can drink thick, sweet, delicious iced coffee, perched on stools in a tiny lane, listening to the clickety clack of machines printing lines on white paper for school books. You can wander through peaceful, shady, temple courtyards far away from the chaos of the street outside, as orange-robed monks meditate and elderly men tell fortunes and read palms. You can drink ridiculous cocktails on river terraces as the sun sets on ancient temples, their roof tiles glittering like the sequins on a thousand ballroom dancers’ dresses. You can get lost in what must be the world’s largest market, buying fried crickets, beautiful tribal embroidery and hair oil. You can eat mango until it’s coming out of your ears, at about 30 pence a ready-sliced bag. I could go on.
The locals, apart from the odd, persistent, you want to go to floating market tout, are utterly charming. The hotels are excellent and excellent value. The food is wonderful and lovingly prepared, whether you visit a hole in the wall noodle soup stall in the market, or a proper restaurant with linen napkins and fish ponds. The latter being a useful entertainment for fidgety small boys.
Except. It’s hard work. Very hard work. Particularly with children. Proper cities are always difficult places, it’s hard to squeeze ten million people into a confined space without creating noise, congestion and pollution. We’re staying in a lovely hotel, but it’s not in quite the right location. We can’t walk to anything from here, which means many hours a day spent negotiating Bangkok’s legendary traffic jams and risking our lives racing across multi-lane highways. It’s stinking hot, which makes it even harder, with wilty children bickering in the back of overheated taxis.
When we come back next month, we’re going to stay in a different place. I hope it’ll help. Because I still love Bangkok.