Journey into the world of Bangkok…
It may be 2019, but the ability to hop on a plane and within 12 hours be on the other side of the world, in a completely different culture, a completely different way of life still amazes me.
At 5pm, I stepped off my Thai Airways flight from London to Bangkok and took my first steps in South East Asia again. It had been a good number of years, I can’t recall quite how many to be precise, perhaps a decade or so, since I had last been in this part of the world. Then it was Malaysia, now it was Thailand.
As soon as you step off the plane, you are hit with the unmistakable and identifiable senses that are so infamous with this region of the world. The humidity unrelentingly smacking you in the face from the very first moment you arrive. The humidity has a certain aura about it though I find, an almost distinct personality – there is the immediate, unforgiving heat, then there is the aroma that seems to come hand in hand with it. It’s not distasteful, it’s just that common scent so associated with the South East Asian atmosphere. With the combination of the two, it would be hard to imagine you were anywhere else.
Clearing immigration and customs and working my own way through the family and friend reunions and amongst the wades of drivers and tour operators waiting to pick up their customers, all the qualities that accumulate to create the buzz that surrounds airport arrival halls, particularly it seems in Asia, I joined the ever-lengthening queue for a taxi. I had debated and toiled with the best way to get to the centre from the airport. There were numerous options available, but I opted for the ease and comfort of a taxi. Bearing in mind this was now 6pm on a Friday night in Bangkok, I think no option would have been particularly well suited for a pondering and marvelling tourist with large luggage, trying to find their way. I got my taxi number from the machine and made my way across to the parking space that had been allocated to it, met my driver and off we went, leaving the airport behind and heading for the bustling and soon to find jampacked world of Bangkok.
Getting familiar with the local transport. Here, journeying by Tuk-Tuk
Getting acquainted with Bangkok’s sites
Whenever I get in a taxi in a foreign country, I try my best to strike up some level of conversation with the driver. And although I couldn’t quite catch his name, we were able to somewhat have a disjointed and fragmented conversation. We spoke about the usual things you might expect – from life in London and the UK, to family, to what life as a taxi driver in Bangkok was like. The friendly enough driver did his best with the limited English he knew but that being said, it was still a lot more articulate than my Thai! I am possibly the least eloquent when it comes to languages. I was never very good at school with them, and always found it difficult to pick it up despite trying and having a girlfriend at the time who was a language whiz and subsequently went on to study languages further. But I still try my best. And I think it is important for any traveller to at least try and pick up some of the local language. Even the basics – ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘how are you?’. It can make a big difference when trying to integrate and immerse yourself with the locals and the local culture. Besides, no matter where you are in the world, I think most people find a Brit with poor linguistic skills amusing. So at least that in itself can act as an ice-breaker.
I anticipated a considerable length journey into the centre from the airport, based on the time of day and it also being a Friday, however, it ended up taking over 2 hours to do the 40km journey. A journey which in normal circumstances would have taken about an hour at most according to the taxi driver. However, always one to try and find a positive in any given situation, the endless sitting in stationary traffic, did give me plenty of opportunity to observe and admire the lively and bustling city that keep on buzzing on around my own world inside the taxi. Motorcycles honking and zipping past the taxi windows from literally all directions, with no prior warning, the sound of 30-40 bikes and scooters all revving their engines and then setting off from traffic lights all together in unison. People crossing the roads whenever they get an opportunity, the Sky-Train racing past overhead, overcrowded buses carrying factory workers home or to work. Not to mention the countless ‘massage’ parlours and other entertainment establishments so synonymous with Thai culture. By now dusk had turned into proper night-time (it does that here too!) and being a Friday evening, people were out in the bars and restaurants – just like you would expect in any major city around the world. I find there is something almost comforting about that – the fact that even on the other side of the world, when it gets to 6pm on a Friday, people go out for dinner and drinks with friends and family. It helps to reiterate the sentiment that I’ve heard many people say before – that despite the country we live, despite the culture we live in, despite skin colour or language – human beings, underneath all that, are fundamentally all the same – and 6pm on a Friday whether you are in London or Bangkok – you want a beer!
It got to just past 8pm when I arrived at my friend’s apartment. I am staying with my old roommate and friend from secondary school who is Thai and despite attending school in the UK for sixth form and university in the UK after that, now lives back in Bangkok. After the weekend settling into life in Thailand’s capital, today we will be heading for the island of Koh Samui.