…but four nights will practically kill him.
If Jakarta is slightly strange and a little unfamiliar, then Bangkok is like Jakarta’s sexier, more mature, sassier, way more exotic and flashy older sister.
I loved it from the very beginning. There has been only one other time in my life that I have experienced an instant bond with a city, and that was the moment I arrived in Santiago. But that was calm, and serene, and nothing at all like arriving in Bangkok.
For me, the city is absolute feast of the senses. No words can really come close to describing the overwhelming overload of tastes and textures and smells and sounds that hits you the moment you step off the airplane.
Everything in Bangkok is colorful. The buses, the taxis, the shops, the people. Everything is bright and vibrant and alive.
Oh, and the tastes! I’ve enjoyed Thai food before, but here food goes way beyond nourishment into the realm of celestial artistry. Everything I ate, from the phad thai in a the hip Chili Culture cafe to the grilled chicken from a stall on an island beach, was absolutely amazing. Everything. Every dish combined with effortless precision flavors and scents I’ve never experienced before…spicy and sweet and with the slightest hint of lemongrass, or coconuts, or cashews, or chili. I ate sea bass and white snapper and phad thai and fruits I’ve only ever read about and more spring rolls than I can count, but every single bite was a harmony of pleasure and sensation that few world cuisines can claim to capture.
I was fascinated by everything in Bangkok – the tuk-tuks, the famous three-wheeled motor carriages, that putter noisily around the city, the night markets, where you can buy anything from ninja stars to snake heads to hard-carved puppets to transvestite prostitutes, the temples that literally glitter in the sunlight, their thousands of hand-carved glass mirrors shining to the soft tinkle of bells in the wind, the scent of lotus and incense in the air…everything I saw was new and different and far beyond the wildest reaches of my imagination.
I did everything… I climbed the steep stairs of Wat Arun to look over the city, I kneeled before the emerald buddha, I ate watermelon on a stick and phad thai with chopsticks, I drank lemongrass juice and coconut water from a coconut, I floated down narrow canals on a longtail boat as people hung laundry out to dry and waved as we passed, I let the wind blow my hair in a tuktuk as we sputtered around town, I bargained for a handmade skirt on Khao San Road, I wandered the thousands of stalls of the famous Chatuchak market -the largest flea market in the world-, I danced the night away…and still there were thousands more things to do and see.
Although Bangkok could entertain one for years and years, we decided to leave and spend a few days on Koh Samet, the nearest island. The journey involved a tuktuk, a car, a speedboat, a ferry, a motorcycle, and the bumpy back of a pickup truck. The island could be called paradise by many – warm, clear water on soft sandy beaches, surrounded by palm trees and the gentle backdrop of lush green foliage…it’s a place where you can get an hour-long massage on the beach for about $5, where you can eat the freshest grilled fish and sliced papaya with your feet still in the sand, where you can lay all day in a hammock or a bungalow and listen to the sound of the waves. We opted to rent motorbikes and ride around the island (which we estimated at about 5km long), so I had my first motorcycle-riding experience on muddy, unpaved roads, in the rain, on a tropical island where the street was barely big enough for a motorcycle, let alone the trucks that would come barreling around the corner and spray mud everywhere. It was dangerous, and exciting, and fantastic. We came across a tiny beachside bar where children were playing and hammocks were tied invitingly between trees. We stumbled upon a huge Buddha statue, pure white against an azure sky and leafy green palm trees and covered in wreaths of fresh jasmine. At night we ate at the shore, reclining on silk pillows, warm from the sun and the light of a thousand candles, listening to the soft rumbling of thunder, and watching the lightning out over the sea. We danced around a fire and swam in the dark ocean, and then sat and traced circles in the sand as we all told our stories over and over again and marveled at the fact that we had all somehow found ourselves in such a place.
The island was amazing and an escape from absolutely everything, but I still wanted more of Bangkok’s excitement, and so we returned and spent our last days there. It is really impossible to describe the array of experiences that one encounters in this city, and the fact the experiences one can have in his hometown, no matter where that town may be. Never have I been to a place so full of life and peace. It’s not quiet, but Thailand has a sense of endurance and longevity (only confirmed by the King’s 60-year reign -the longest reigning monarch in the world- and the people’s absolute adoration of him) that comforts you even as it throws you to the farthest ends of the unexpected.
Incredible is really the only way I can describe it. I can’t wait to go back.