Bangkok, Thailand: Some facts and advice for this city of extremes
I’m in Bangkok again…for another two weeks…four weeks in total. I initially came here freely after a brief visit to Chiang Mai upon entering Thailand.
I believed what I read regarding Thailand’s requirement to enter the country: you must demonstrate that you have purchased a flight out of the country. If you can’t show proof of purchase, you may not be permitted to enter.
Hence, I purchased a flight from Bangkok to Hanoi. However, when I went through security in Chiang Mai, I was not asked for this proof!
(I know, I could have purchased a ticket that allows free cancellation within 24 hours. Alas, I failed to do so.)
I had carefully planned for my visit to the “Land of Smiles.” A week in Chiang Mai and two weeks in Bangkok. I fell in love with Chiang Mai, my hotel hosts, the food, the weather, the people and the elephants!
Then, it was on to Bangkok by 10 hours on a day train for $25! The views were both spectacular and serene.
My first two weeks in Bangkok were fun, for sure. I visited the floating market, the railway market, Kao San Road craziness, and more! I also took advantage of a tuk tuk. The driver said he would take me all over the city, stopping at agreed upon tourist spots where I could take all the pictures I wanted, for as long as I wanted. All this for a mere 100 baht ($3.21)! I had a great day speeding around in this open-air scooter! We went to temples, to markets, to a jewelry store, and to a tailor. And, in this Land of Smiles, when I chose not to buy anything, all the clerks bowed and smiled with genuine courtesy.
Our last stop was at a Bangkok tour company. The Thai guide salesperson asked me how long I would be in Bangkok and when I answered two weeks, she looked startled!
“Two weeks is too long. No two weeks in Bangkok! Three days only!” She laughed when I told her she shouldn’t say that to a potential client!
Two weeks later, I flew to Hanoi for a week and then to Hoi An, Vietnam. I loved it! And, I would have stayed…well, maybe forever…in peaceful Hoi An; however, the retina challenges I have been dealing with for the last 6 months needed prompt attention. I rushed from Hoi An to the Danang Eye Hospital and the surgeon there urged me to see a surgeon at the BNH Hospital in Bangkok.
Two days later I was examined in the BNH Eye Department. The surgeon suggested I stay under his care for two weeks to address severe inflammation and edema on the macular.
So, here I am…determined to find beauty and the significance of my extended time here again.
Bangkok Facts and Some Personal Advice
Population: 8. 28 million residents. However, add to that number another 5.7 million daytime commuters who work here. That brings the population up to a daily total to 15 million people!
Be prepared to bump and to be bumped by people at virtually every step. Remember, unlike the United States, Thai people do not honor an individual’s 3-foot personal space. How could they with the millions of people driving, motor biking, pedal biking, and walking among thousands of street vendors…not on the streets, but on what we would call sidewalks! And, also unlike the US, people generally do not cue…there are no lines, only persistent assertion. You just gotta get in there if you want attention and service.
Air quality: Bangkok is among the worst cities in the world.
Consider wearing a mask to protect yourself from the high-level poor air quality. Annually, the average index is twice as bad as London, Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York City, but better than Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing. *
(Also, note, Prishtina, Kosovo often registers the worst in the world, especially when they experience a drought…so much so that the City blocks off all non-essential vehicles from entering downtown! I saw that first hand!)
While some residents are extremely wealthy, the average monthly income is 14,000 baht or about $448.
Like any enormous city, pick pockets run amuck. Note, however, I have never seen or experienced any theft or attempted theft anywhere…well, there was the one time in Bogota, Columbia, but that’s another story. Remain aware of your surroundings always. Just as important is my advice to avoid wearing jewelry, even costume jewelry. This is not because I worry about it being stolen. Rather, I suggest it to avoid your being targeted as a wealthy tourist who can afford to pay more. Indeed, little successful haggling occurs when vendors see you with flashy bangles and beads. And, why give up haggling? It’s half the fun of shopping in Bangkok!
Tens of thousands of street vendors attract more than 10 million tourists each year. And, 87 percent of food purchased in Bangkok is bought from street vendors.
Indeed, street food is fabulous, and you have everything to choose from: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, full meals and soups, ice cream, and more. Just last night, I had delicious and good-sized grilled salmon steak with rice for 70 baht ($2.24), as well as utensils and a tiny sealed plastic bag of soy sauce. I brought it back to my hotel room and washed it down with an ice cool Singha beer.
Meanwhile, one day last week, I decided to eat inside at a beautiful upscale restaurant with refreshing air conditioning. The standard Thai meal was excellent; more expensive, of course. I had a huge iced tea! I left feeling refreshed, cool, and full of energy again. About 15 minutes later, my stomach began making unpleasant noises and sensations. Within 10 minutes, a weird fuzzy feeling began around my shoulders and quickly but gradually rose up to my neck, face and to the top of my head, just as the natural light dimmed.
I was losing consciousness.
Luckily, I wasn’t on the street. I happened to be in an open-air hallway of a nice mall with shiny tile floors. I leaned against the wall, slowly slid down to the floor to a sitting position, closed my eyes and waited for this horrible feeling to subside. Suddenly, I was drenched with sweat. Moisture dribbled in my eyes as my wet toes stuck to my sandals. Burning heat surrounded my waist.
I fought fainting, concerned that I might lose my waste or become a victim of thief. I don’t know which would be worse! Thank goodness the hallway was void of people. I was all alone.
I breathed slowly and focused, willing away the impending fog.
A full hour later, I finally felt that my legs could hold me steadily up right. As if by magic, a passerby appeared and helped me up. After he was sure I was alright, he went on his way. I walked on my own power to a pristine bathroom with a very kind attendant. Two hours later, I retreated to the hallway again after a generous tip, by Thai standards, to the smiling attendant.
Although no longer severe, this whatever it was my companion for three days.
Now, frankly, I’m less likely to eat inside...but MORE important, I stay clear of ice. If I DO eat inside, I look for a lot of locals before entering!
The hottest months are March and April, climbing to the high 90’s with overwhelming humidity and searing sun.
Wear a hat, long sleeves and pants, comfortable and cool shoes for the hot pavement, and an umbrella. Also, I wear a light scarf to protect my delicate neck from the penetrating sun. Sun block is good, too. Unfortunately, I tend to perspire to a fault and that block literally slips away! I prefer not to apply it again. Rather, I take a do rag…or a dew rag…or …I carry a dark gray wash cloth and dab the profuse moisture, making sure to clean the nose pieces on my steaming sunglasses sliding on my face. Also, ducking into a Starbucks for an iced coffee and/or an air-conditioned spot for a cool Singha beer is often in order.
And, before you decide to avoid completely venturing outside, please reconsider. Of course, take your health into consideration…moderation!
Yes, the weather is challenging, but the sights are incredible! I have seen Muslim women, covered from head to toe, wearing BLACK hijab and niqab, RUNNING through the parks! And, in the afternoon heat!
Just look at my Bangkok Gallery!
And the parks! Right in the middle of the crazy, bustling, intense city are beautiful parks that serve as oases.
I walked through Lumpini Park every day. I was overwhelmed with this inner-city haven of tranquility, fresh air, huge birds, slinky reptiles, profusely blooming trees and flowers, and welcome shade from the overbearing, relentless sun. Named after the birthplace of the Lord Buddha in Nepal, the park is more than 142 acres. It dates to the 1920s and was set to be an exhibition center for Thai crafts and flower displays. Although this original vision was never fulfilled, Lumpini Park has over the years grown into the endearing center for outdoor leisure activities for Bangkokians, who would convene before and after sunset to enjoy a round of jog, light workout, aerobics, Tai Chi, tennis, and a host of other recreational activities.
Religion: The largest cohort is 90 percent who follow some form of Buddhism, followed by Islam…Judaism, Hindu and Christianity (mostly Catholic). Faiths blend well together.
While I couldn’t find the number of Buddhist temples in Bangkok, there are 40,717 in all of Thailand. Add to that, spirit houses which look like mini temples, usually perched on pillars and adorned with flowers and tiny elephant statues. Most houses and businesses have a spirit house placed in an auspicious spot, most often in a corner of the property. The location may be chosen after consultation with a priest. The house is intended to provide a shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased. The shrines often include images of people and animals. Votive offerings are left at the house to win or regain the favor of a god, spirit, or person. To that end, more elaborate installations include an altar for this purpose.
Beauty is everywhere in Bangkok; but, I had to look for it. I found it in this city replete with environmental challenges and over population, combining residents, workers, and tourists.
Note, I didn’t choose to come to Bangkok again; however, I had to face a medical emergency. The beauty is Bangkok has world-renowned health care and is ranked among the top ten cities in the world providing health care.
Lumpini Park is an incredibly beautiful respite in the heart of the city. My heart warmed every time I walked through this serene park.
As for significance, I learned about myself in Bangkok.
Granted, first, I had to be open, recognize my negativity, and take time to identify its cause.
Second, I embraced my truth: the underlying fear of blindness. I had unknowingly allowed that fear to color my mood.
Now that I was aware of my tiny but powerful inner torment, I was free to release it.
Once again, I was able to see clearly the importance of positivity, faith, and patience.
I am blessed in more ways than I can know.