English corner #4 – FRESHWOMAN IN ASIA
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world, annually more than 20 million tourists come here. The whole country is enjoying constantly growing popularity among people from all around the world. The most common association with Bangkok is sex tourism, but it is not the only one fortunately. Bangkok is also associated with delicious, although extremely spicy, food, thai massage available at every step, and many famous temples, or monuments.
The land called „land of smiles” attracts both, those who want to relax, and those who prefer to enjoy the night life in one of many clubs in Bangkok. Also, backpackers will find here a whole bunch of „must-see” points to visit. I will tell you today about my impressions from Bangkok. It was my first destination in Asia, so I was still fresh, because later, less and less things surprise me there.
The reason of my travel
How it all happened that I landed in Asia? To be honest, I was never really attracted to it, but let’s start from the very beginning.
A year ago, during a student exchange in Florence, I met Kinga. I never thought that we would like each other, and certainly that I could go with her on a journey to the other end of the world. Kinga is a typical introvert who, however, loves to travel. This is one of the few features that connects us and made us to be friends. Our friendship survived the return to polish everyday life and we met again for the first time in my hometown, Katowice. It was the beginning of May, we could feel the summer in the air while was having breakfast with my mother. Then we have started talking about travels. From ordinary road trips around Europe, we went to the more exotic ones, Kinga talked about Southeast Asia, which she had wanted to see for a long time. My mother, who also loves to travel, spontaneously suggested that we may go together. Kinga immediately found this a fantastic idea.
On the other hand, I was slightly amazed of my mother’s willingness to send me so far, because sometimes, when I don’t speak to her for two days while being in Wroclaw she is already worried. However, I nodded that this is a great idea. In the evening, Kinga returned home, to Warsaw, and our plans died down for three weeks. Each of us returned to our duties but I think we both had it still in mind. In June, I have started looking for tickets intensively. It was not so hard because our summer time is the rainy season in Thailand, definitely less popular, but cheaper. Not realizing it, we bought tickets and it became clear that in a month I’ll be visiting Thailand. For the first time in my life, I will travel with a backpack, not with a suitcase.
Bangkok is a city of contrasts, on the one hand you will see luxury skyscrapers and on the other slums. This city never sleeps, and the road is always full of speeding cars and scooters. Among my friends and family, many people have already visited this city and everyone came back with different impressions. Generally, how many people, so many opinions. That’s what prompted me to write a text, how it really is with this city. Due to the popularity of Bangkok, it is easy to find information, how to prepare for it, and to learn a little about local customs before we get there. However, the excess of knowledge can spoil the sensations that accompany being somewhere for the first time. In general, I think that if you choose a country with a completely different culture and religion you are forced to get acquainted with the minimum knowledge about the customs and culture that apply there, so as not to offend anyone. Due to the short time I had to prepare for this trip, I knew only the aforementioned minimum about the place I was going to. Fortunately, my companion knew absolutely everything. Thanks to that, I can consider this lack of preparation as a big advantage. My opinion was devoid of previous prejudices, and all my impressions were very natural.
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world and is considered as one of the region’s most exciting capitals. It’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis, where countless adventures await. One of them is undoubtedly sex tourism, which is very popular here. Everywhere, you can meet elegant Farangs (this is how white people are called in Thailand) with young Thai women, though no one comes here to moralize someone, such a charm of this country. Another element are night clubs, full of beautiful women, who often turn out to be men. Bangkok is famous for it, namely, out of 63 million people, 150,000 are transsexual.
Coming back to my story, exactly on July 16, 2019, after 16 hours of flight, we landed in Bangkok. Already walking through the airport I felt the atmosphere of an enormous metropolis. After completing all the necessary procedures, we were able take the sky train, which has taken us directly, and without any traffic, to the city center in about 15 minutes. It was still a long way to our hostel, so we decided to take a taxi. Standing in the scorching heat, the thought of an air-conditioned car that would take us quickly to the destination was wonderful, especially after so many hours of traveling. I could not have been more wrong. Taxi drivers do not know the city very well here, that’s why we were the ones who had to explain, how to reach the hostel with the GPS in our cellphones.
Finally we arrived. Our accommodation was in Chinatown, now I know that although the hostel was very good, it was not quite a good decision. The smell that was in the streets was unbearable for me. Kinga, a little more adapted, because she had already stayed in India for couple of weeks, also often covered her mouth.
It was 9 am, excitement would not allow us to go to sleep, so after an hour we went for sightseeing. Chinatown is located by the river, which was very beneficial to us because it is one of the public transport. The Chao Phraya River is just as important as the River Thames in London, when it comes to determine the city’s geography. The Chao Phraya River flows through the very heart of Bangkok. Many of the city’s main tourist attractions are right on the river or a short walk from the ferry stop. The use of it in Bangkok gave us a sense of teleportation, because depending on the place we wanted to reach, it is often the fastest possible option. Let’s remember that Bangkok is in a permanent traffic jam.
As I said, everyone will find something for themselves in this huge city, as it was morning we focused on culture. The number of monuments, temples and Buddha statues to see is countless. This even shows the fact that all Thai coins have an embossed image of the temple on the back, always different, but it is always from Bangkok. In each guide, the obligatory position is the Wat Pho, temple from which we had started. It is older than the capital itself, its creation dates back to the 17th century, and the famous „Reclining Buddha”, which is the hallmark.
The statue is 46 meters long and 15 meters high and is all covered with gold. The complex has the first Thai massage school in Thailand, which is still active today.
The next temple that day was Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn. It is on the opposite bank of the river from Wat Pho, which means we could use the ferry again, it is beautifully decorated and it is a symbol of the city. Moreover, its image is on a 10 baht coin. A Buddhist temple built in the shape of the gang, i.e. a characteristic spire in the shape of a corn on the cob, and surrounding turrets on four sides. This shape symbolize the five sacred mountains that were supposed to be home to the Gods according to the Khmer family. The construction is covered with colorful ceramics and porcelain, that shines beautifully in the sun and gives an unique charm to the temple. July is the rainy season, so as it befits, we were caught by the rain, or actually a downpour. Undaunted, we waited a quarter and moved on to eventually eat something.
What you don’t know about Thai food?
I consider food as an important element of each trip. I had some concerns in this matter because I do not like spicy cuisine, despite that I eat Asian food quite often. I could not wait to try it where it belongs originally. It was getting dark slowly, so we thought it was a good time to see the famous backpackers street Kao San Road. It is a lively street, famous for its many hostels and bars. Hungry as a bear, wet, and tired, we chose the place quickly. Here begins my adventure with food in Thailand and the first shock. I ordered pad thai, a classic Thai dish, but it did not taste as much as I could have expected. The dish was over-sugared, not over-salted, it had too much sugar. Now I know, that Thai people love sugar, they add it everywhere, unfortunately also to pad thai. Despite the terrible hunger, the heat combined with high humidity, which intensifies all smells, I haven’t even finished my portion. This day was intense, so as soon as we returned to the hotel we fell asleep immediately.
The next day the sightseeing plan was also tight, so we got up far too quickly and set off to discover Bangkok. A walk through Chinatown in the morning was even worse than in the evening because of the smell of cooked breakfast broth. It could have been smelled everywhere, and was hard to bear in such heat. According to the World Meteorological Organization, Bangkok is the hottest city in the world. The average air temperature during the year is 28 degrees. During my visit, this was undoubtedly felt. The best time to visit Bangkok is the period from November to February, when the city enjoys lower temperatures, but do not let the word 'lower’ fool you, for the average European it is still very hot.
Thailand before it became Thailand
That day we decided to see the former capital of Thailand from the time when this country was called Siam. It is two hours away from Bangkok by train. To get to the railway station we used the metro, however, a very modern metro which unfortunately does not connect the whole city. When we got there, we managed to buy tickets efficiently, and started looking for our train. Compared to the metro station, the railway station looks as if it was not 100 meters apart. It was very dirty, and many homeless people slept inside, a huge contrast to the buildings of the global corporations surrounding it. Our train also contrasted with the subway, most of the seats were standing in the middle, few seats were free. We immediately felt that we stood out, because everyone was watching us. Two hours later, when we arrived, we began another day of discovering this fascinating, unknown culture.
At the center of Ayutthaya City is Ayutthaya Historical Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the most visited place in the area. Among many temples that are located in Ayutthaya we picked the four spectacular ones of the early Ayutthaya period (1350 – 1529), which stand amongst a dense canopy of ancient trees. This once-prosperous Siamese trade and political capital goes down as the most glorious as well as the most devastated city in Thai history.
Late night entertainment
When we returned to Bangkok it was not so late, that we decided to implement one more point of the program. Bangkok is famous for its nightlife, from go-go bars, to beer bars and nightclubs, but that was not exactly our destination for that evening. We decided to have a drink with a view in one of the many sky bars. The name comes from the fact that they are usually located on the terraces of tall buildings that offer great views. In my opinion, this is a must on your bucket list. In such a place everyone can feel like a millionaire.
After a moment of rest in the hostel, we ordered a taxi, thinking that around 10 pm it should be the fastest possible solution. Unfortunately, we were wrong because we got stuck in a 40 minutes traffic jam. Along the way, we passed many images of the King, they were illuminated, so they were more visible than during the day. Our driver, equally impatient, tried to explain us the cause of the blockage. After many attempts and using the translator, we learned that tomorrow will be the King’s birthday and preparations for this occasion have already begun. Well, that is okay, the sky bars are open for a long time, so we did not have to worry. The time passed faster during our conversation with the driver and we finally reached our destination, the Sofitel Hotel. After changing the third elevator, we finally got upstairs. It turned out that there would be a free place for us right next to the terrace glass. Perfect. To our surprise there were not as many people as one would expect from Friday evening. We soon learned why. By accepting our order, the waiter informed us that due to the King’s birthday the bar closes faster today and the sale of alcohol has been prohibited since the night before the King’s birthday. This is not how we imagined this evening. Disappointed with this information, we hurriedly drank our soft drinks and managed to take some pictures. Fortunately, our way back haven’t been so long as the previous one.
The king for the Thai people is very important. Everyone who visits Thailand, even for one day, knows that. The Thai people are really very restrictive when it comes to the king and there is no exception. Special altars are built to make him famous. The easiest way to offend Thai is to say something negative about the king. We can be sure that kindness and the famous smile will immediately disappear from their faces. In my opinion, the best solution is not to tackle this topic.
A little curiosity
Kinga at any spare time read some curiosities about Bangkok and Thailand. The next morning at breakfast, I learned that Bangkok has the longest name among all cities in the world, and locally it is called Krungthep – „city of angels”. The full name in Thai is:
กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถาน อมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์
In Polish it means: the city of angels, the great city and the residence of the holy jewel Indra, the impregnable city of God, the great capital of the world, decorated with nine precious stones, full of huge royal palaces, equaling the heavenly home of the reborn God; city, donated by Indra and built by Vishvakarman. The name is so long that it hits the Guinness List of Records.
The gold is there
After breakfast, we visited the last temple on our bucket list Wat Saket, which was unique because of its location. It is on a hill and after climbing to the top, through its 318 steps we could admire the panorama of the city. Called the „Golden Mountain” because at the top there is a golden dome, 58 meters high, in which relics of the Buddha are kept. Wat Saket has its mystical atmosphere, when climbing the stairs you are surrounded by thick steam and in the distance a waterfall with a shimmering Buddha statue is humming. By visiting such monuments we can get to know and feel the culture of the country better. After all, these are places cultivated by the Thais for hundreds of generations.
The green is also there
For a change from the temples, we went in the afternoon to see one of the largest parks in Bangkok. In the city, which I would describe as loud and crowded, you can find moments of respite and a lot of space without skyscrapers above your head. I love parks and I will admit that Bangkok was up to the challenge. One of the largest parks in Bangkok are Rama IX Park and Chatuchak. We visited the latter, where you can meet crouching iguanas. It was also interesting to see seniors practicing martial arts.
After the walk, we decided to wander around the conventional city center of Siam Square and the Silom district, which I probably liked the most among the ones I visited.
In one of the tourist streets we came across popular bugs. I mean baked insects, which are considered a Thai delicacy, although this is just another tourist attraction. The natives definitely prefer rice with vegetables than such snacks. Referring to food, I think it can be delicious, but it can also disappoint. However, I would recommend eating in air-conditioned rooms because the famous street food can make you feel dizzy and nauseous with this amount of smells all around and crazy heat.
The third day was coming to an end, we are going to the next place at the following day, but we will return to Bangkok at the very end of our journey. The best description of my first stay in Asia will be a comparison that I heard from a friend „Bangkok is like an oriental meal in five flavors, after leaving the plane ” hits” you with its energy and diversity, but after a while the shock will give way to fascination.” An eight-million city that is the capital of Thailand has many faces.
Author: Magda Perz