Bangkok: City of Glorious Chaos

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The Grand Palace
Arriving in Bangkok brought a sense of both relief and excitement. It’s no question that after a long haul flight lasting ten hours plus another four hours from Barcelona to Helsinki, planting my feet on solid ground for the first time was just what the doctor ordered. Anyone who’s traveled with me knows that I can be anything but pleasant when it comes to preparing for a big trip, but I have to admit that I think I’ve done pretty well for myself all things considered.
I’m still working on my extreme anxiety during flights, but the tension this time was nothing that a good Thai massage, or more accurately a good Thai body beating, couldn’t handle.
My first taste of Bangkok was the inevitable traffic jam. When millions of people are packed into a city with virtually no public transportation system to speak of, you’ll find a large portion of them taking to the streets in just about every form of transportation imaginable. Cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and your trusty two feet are preferred vehicles, and you can forget any sense of road rules. It’s a free for all. You see a gap two lanes over, you seize it. No hesitation. Hesitating could cost you several more minutes earmarked for sightseeing and a few feet of progress on the road. What should have only taken 30 minutes stretched to an hour and a half, foot by foot, gap by seized gap.

Bangkok by and large is a city of glorious chaos. From traffic congestion to street food vendors to massive webs of tangled power lines, nothing about the city makes sense and yet somehow it functions without fail. At no other place in the city is this more evident than on Khao San Road, the backpacker’s Mecca for a good time in Bangkok. The only way to navigate this bustling street is to shuffle your feet as you are corralled to use only a fraction of the street due to the flood of cheap goods spilling into the streets from all sides. Between rolling carts of fried insects, phat Thai, sweet buttery pancakes, booming western music piped from the clubs, and flashing neon lights, my senses were wholly overwhelmed. Khao San Road didn’t stand out to me as particularly enjoyable. It was more of a check on the list of must-see attractions, and after one “stroll” I had seen enough. Check!

Often on extended trips it’s difficult to choose just one highlight, but Bangkok made it easy. Of course the Grand Palace and the temples at Wat Phra Kaew were unbelievably beautiful with their ornate paintings and shimmering mosaic tiled walls. But, after spending some time at both sites they began to look like more of the same. By far the most impressive sight was the great reclining Golden Buddha, housed within the walls of a mighty temple forever lounging on his side and grinning only slightly for that perfect photo. It is now part of my own collection of photos. Still, the Buddha, in all his golden glory does not take the cake as the highlight of my time in Bangkok. That title goes to the long boat tour through the backwaters and the old town of Bangkok. To me this was an authentic experience away from tourist traps and cheap plastic souvenirs. Gliding along the waters in our rainbow striped motorized canoe allowed us to see a completely different side of a city that has otherwise succumbed to the demands of modernization and progress. Peering at crooked houses precariously built on stilts over the water and waving at locals cooking on the wooden planks of their porches on the water felt like the real Bangkok and I’m grateful that this was my final experience in this chaotic city before departing for Vietnam.

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