Bangkok ~ First impressions (and tastes!) from the Kingdom of Thailand

There are few things (for us) more exciting than being about to land in a new country…  A Thai adventure is around the corner (or down the runway, more precisely).  Our beaten up, written up, tagged pages of our travel book on Viet Nam has given way to a crisp, new, unopened book on Thailand.  Our entry point ~ Bangkok… Woo hoo!

It’s a super short 1.30 hour flight from Saigon, so really no big deal…

First realization: this is a different game altogether. MUCH larger, more modern city than anything we have experienced in Viet Nam. Sky scrapers all around.  Cars drive on left side of street and our taxi is speeding on the highway at a speed we never reached in Viet Nam (where for the most part traffic moves at a steady slow-ish pace).Virtually no motorbikes on the road here…
As we drive into Bangkok from the airport, a “Long Live the King” reminds us of the importance of royalty in the Kingdom of Thailand.

It is an interesting time to arrive in Bangkok.  Over the past few days, the political situation has been heating up. Two parties — the “red shirts” and the “yellow shirts” have been embroiled in a major upheaval.

The former Prime Minister, a Telecom Industry Billionaire who had a populist philosophy and political base, was kicked out a few years ago for corruption.  He went into self exile in Dubai, but not before putting his sister in power. She was doing okay as an intermediary for a while, while he really ran the country from abroad, by remote control.  She then made a tactical mistake by trying to pass amnesty legislation that would allow her brother to come back home.  That’s when the opposition said “no go”, combining this attempt at Amnesty for her brother, with an attack on a ridiculous policy she instituted that consisted in the government buying rice from rice farmers at an inflated price (the result being the depletion of government coffers, and tons of rice sitting in government warehouses).

Keep in mind that the Billionaire’s party has won, consistently, fair and square elections in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011.  From a Democracy perspective, they are the unquestioned “just” rulers.  The opposition has not and has no chance of winning at the polls.  So the opposition’s attempts to remove him and his sister have been through a manipulation of the judicial system.  Some call it a judicial coup.

The military, so far, is staying out, but they are warning that if the political process isn’t able to yield an acceptable compromise to govern the country, they will not hesitate to take control.

Here are internet pics of the crowds in downtown Bangkok. (We will be staying AWAY from the protests – tempting as it is to get a first hand view — because the situation is ripe for the so far peaceful crowd to turn into a chaotic mob).

Map of where the protest rallies are taking place

So that’s the context of our arrival in Bangkok. We have a home exchange in a luxury apartment ~ so big, it feels more like a house, in the center of Bangkok.  Adam has organized a stage with one of the top restaurants in Asia (named “one of the top 50 in the world”).  He leaves at 10 in the morning and gets back at midnight, everyday.  Rather than tired, he comes back exhilirated with the knowledge gained and experience he has.

On the street in front of the apartment building, is a thriving scene with numerous women “of the night”, except that here they seem to be of the “all day” variety, frequented by older rather creepy looking Western men hanging out in the bars. There is also quite a large “ladyboy” scene, of what at first seems like attractive Thai women, until you look just a bit closer…. Bangkok is hot, steamy and provocative!

View of Bangkok from the window of our home exchange apartment

The neighborhood is near a station of the beautiful, colorful Sky Train, which means we can easily access most of Bangkok, or at least all the sites we want to see – namely all the grand temples along the central river that winds through the capital.

Bright colored cars dot the road
Cool city when one is color blind.  These radically bright colors help break out of Sepia landscapes…
The outside of each train has bright adverts coloring it.  The inside has bright orange and yellow seats.
Bangkok Sky Train, clean and efficient

Most surprising to us, besides the amazing ease of transfer from one line to the other, the overall cleanliness and slickness of the Sky Train system, is the infrastructure that one finds at the stations. Micro-shops for banks, currency exchange stores and airlines, fresh fruit juice stands, dried fruits and nuts, clothing stores…

View from the window of a Sky Train winding through Bangkok, high above the streets

OK so Bangkok, we now realize, is an ultra modern metropolis.  High rises and high end malls aplenty.  One mall has a large aquarium on the ground floor and almost all of them have gourmet supermarkets, packed with upscale produce and people shopping at all hours.  Interesting to  note that is these gourmet markets include eating “spots” where we find people sipping champagne while eating oysters.

Siam Mall, in the center of Bangkok
Super modern, efficient, buzzing with shopping activity.

Bangkok offers street food everywhere as well as clothing, shoes, watches, knick knacks, you name it, you can buy it on the streets of Bangkok.  Unlike Viet Nam, which has fairly set hours for food, Thailand seems to be on a permanent munching schedule.  Thai people eat most of their meals out of the house and when eating in the house buy their food to go from street stalls.  Eating is a very social activity and not restricted to any particular times.  Here is a sampling of what we find on our first strolls.

Strings of ball shaped sausages grilled and served with small onions
Not food, but a flower stand on a bike for morning buddhist offerings
Sticks and sticks of beef, chicken and pork, BBQed to order
A barrel of fresh seafood kept cool over ice – mussels, squid, pressed fish, shrimp, made into seafood salad
chicken and fish on the BBQ
Small food stalls line the streets in clusters
A full restaurant on a bike – here the chef’s specialty: spicy live baby shrimp salad
How live? well, the shrimp was still wiggling when Ben had his first bite
Fresh pomegranate juice
Kom Yum seafood soup – even “not spicy” is SPICY in Thailand
8 siu mai for 20 bahts (66 cents), pretty good price – same dim sum inside fancy mall, 3 siu mai for 3 dollars.

We take a spin through Bangkok’s Chinatown, which has a long history as a trading center in the region and where street food originated as a Bangkok “culture”.  Bangkok, the modern city, has grown around it as Chinatown retains its now older architecture.  Still the vibrancy of Chinatown is always great fun.

Color is everywhere in Bangkok.  Even the taxis are bright shocking pink, orange and bright blue.
Beautiful old warehouse building in Chinatown, indicative of the older architecture that has remained (though many buildings have not been restored).

It is time to take to the river that defines Bangkok.  When the city inevitably grinds to a halt due to excessive traffic, locals take advantage of the river taxi system which allows one to quickly cross town from one destination to another.  It’s also an excellent way to see some of the famous Wats (temples) built along the river system.

There are multiple river transport system, which we haven’t yet figured out.  Some stop at every pier, others are “express”.  To us, it’s all great fun to see all the activity and the juxtaposition of old and new architecture along the river.
Find a pier, jump on board, pay on board 15 Baht (50 cents)
The imposing financial center buildings are ultra modern…
but there remain vestiges of yesterday as well along the river…
The river is wide and is a reliable spot to get a fresh breeze
Cool high rise along the river
Young monks, like most Bangkok residents, take the river taxi to get to their destination – no doubt one of the many beautiful Wats

Bangkok is not all temples and monks though… come night time and the city turns sultry…  Sex is big business in Bangkok and it is a big destination for sex tourism.

This street caters to Japanese businessmen and Japanese sex tourists.  The entire street has women hawking “menus” with pictures of women, as one might see food menus.  One “karaoke” establishment (front for brothels) touts women in air hostess uniforms.  This one caters to Japanese men’s fantasies about women in white men’s shirts…
Prostitution is not technically legal but is recognized by the state as a revenue generating part of the tourism industry. Since the Viet Nam War, which brought US soldiers en masse as customers, the city has gained somewhat of a reputation for its “demonstrative” shows which men hawk as soon as one gets out of the nearby sky train station:  “ping pong ball show mister?”,  likewise showing a menu of what one might see women “perform” in the way of sexual circus acts.

8 thoughts on “Bangkok ~ First impressions (and tastes!) from the Kingdom of Thailand

  1. Gili

    Pomegranate juice is one of the best things ever – very popular in Israel as well. As a useful (?) piece of information, you can make pomegranate juice by squeezing halves / quarters in your bare hands, but best to wash your hands first (!) and do it either half naked or with clothes you don’t care about 🙂

  2. Jeff Bell

    It is interesting to read your post. We’ve been in Bangkok about 4 months now and the same political problems persist, even though there was indeed a coup to remove the sister. There is a lot of tension and uncertainty in the country right now, but nobody knows how it will play out.

    We live in a quiet, leafy area of Bangkok about 10 miles from downtown, more like a Thai village surrounded by a megalopolis. Your pictures remind me of what is a few miles away but I rarely go see!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Jeff , yes these were our very first impressions of Bangkok! As always living in a place for an extended time is a completely different experience to ” passing through”. We spent about 2 months living in Chiang Mai and had an amazing experience. Prior to that we were living in Nicaragua for 5 years ( that’s when we started the Green Glibal Trek.)

      I look forward to reading about your upcoming life in Bangkok!


    Peta, this post should be required reading for anyone planning a trip to Bangkok. Not only for the photos but the description of the city, people, street life, and political problems. I knew they were having serious political issues but didn’t understand until reading your post. When we visited we had an apartment in the Sukhumvit area, so we got to see everything (well almost everything) that Bangkok has to offer, and we loved it. ~James

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you James, that is a huge compliment. May the editor of the New York Times read your comment and select our post for the New York Times Travel section… 🙂

      Re the political section it is often a delicate balance because Ben is more prone to providing in depth geo political comments, but people are not necessarily interested in reading those.


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