“What is it about the city that you love so much? What keeps you coming back?”
When I recently asked in my Instagram stories if people had any questions about Bangkok this was the one that stuck most. And it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that a lot of people wonder why when I tell them how much I love Bangkok. I guess for some it is not an easy city to love, just a necessary
evil layover on your way to all of Thailand’s real treasures: the beaches, the diving, the elephants, the nature, the islands, the temples.
In a way I get it. After all, I didn’t like the idea of coming to Bangkok either upon my first visit to Thailand many years ago. In fact, Thailand overall didn’t interest me much. It seemed so… done. I was far more interested in Cambodia and Vietnam and thought myself a superior traveler than someone who would fall for Thailand’s easy charm.
And at first there was no love between me and Bangkok when we met, it was really just a drunken one-night stand. Quite literally because I had just stumbled from the plane onto Khao San Road, landed in a bucket full of nondescript alcohol, and left the next morning with a queasy stomach and not much memory of what happened the night before. A regular occurrence as it seems with Bangkok nights and one-night stands for most travelers. The song One Night in Bangkok was written for a good reason.
But as it sometimes goes with those one-night stands some stick with you and once you recover from the boozy haze you may even remember them fondly. For me, that night didn’t leave a bitter aftertaste but rather a sweet if fuzzy memory. I liked this one night in Bangkok enough to return within a year; I knew there was something about my crush that needed further investigation.
I returned a second time. This time I remember more clearly without the haze of the alcohol bucket. I remember walking into the lobby of the Asadang at 3 am after a delayed flight and being greeted by friendly staff, the smell of jasmine and the taste of cold lemongrass iced tea. My room was on the very top, a little princess tower accessible only by a spiral staircase. Orchids, a hard thai mattress which I have since come to love, and a free minibar awaited. I settled for a cold Chang instead of dubious alcohol, too excited to sleep, and sat on my little balcony from where I enjoyed the silent city, the moon watching, and in a weird way even the mosquitos from the canal below which were eating me alive.
Of course, the beginning of meeting someone new is always easy. We see no evil, hear no annoying, and whisper only words of awe. Infatuation goes for people and for cities. And while I wouldn’t dare to call it a relationship yet, who says flirtation born out of a bucket can’t turn into a long distance crush? The one you think of fondly when the real world around you is stormy and cold. The one you can almost smell when you close your eyes and go back to a particularly hot summer’s night full of laughter and cold beer. But that second time around, I immediately felt arrived and at ease with Bangkok. Now it was a feeling that there might be more to this previously drunken one-night stand, something warm, something worth exploring.
And I explore I did on many subsequent visits. Today I can say without a doubt that my one-night stand has turned into love. You want to know why? Here you go… I have written my favorite city a little love letter.
…what a joy it was to see you again! It’s not a word I use often or lightly nor do I use exclamation points all that much, but it really was that great to be back here with you. My heart did a leap when I sat in a disco taxi from the airport with a driver who did a little dance on the curbside before we drove off.
I like you at night. Some roads were deserted and quiet, others busy and steaming. And then the first market! I jumped up and down in my seat for a bit and wished nothing more than to stop and get out to take a little stroll. This is window shopping at its best! And while I feel like I have seen most of the things your markets offer by now, I am always surprised to discover something new. Are those frogs in a basket and a casual pig’s foot?
And then I realized it must be durian season. Personally, I have no love for durian but I appreciate your enthusiasm for it. A fruit so smelly and vile that it is banned from most hotel rooms and public areas has become the caviar of fruit for connoisseurs; you don’t call it the king of fruits for nothing. That deserves admiration in my eyes.
As does all your other food. I want to write a Bangkok foodie’s guide so badly but to be honest, I am mightily intimidated. You are a food god and how could I ever do justice to your stalls, your hawkers, your Boat Noodles, your fine dining, and your 1000 baht crab omelet which I have yet to try?! Even your toasted 7 Eleven sandwiches are worth a mention because together with their annoying doorbell it makes for the perfect home feeling.
You taste good. Obviously, and you know it and give people who look forward to Thai food anywhere else a knowing, pitying look – sooner or later they will be back and know better – nobody does food like you! I like how you praise your own food and aren’t shy to advertise it. If something is tasty why not call it tasty? Gotta love a place that has a restaurant for toast only and stalls that still make donuts by hand and sell them with green pandan custard.
And then there is Khao San Road, your greatest triumph and your biggest disgrace. Its own little world within you, the metropolis. Elephant pants, washed out faces fresh off the plane or coming from a full moon party, and tans that are too deep not to get in trouble with a dermatologist eventually. Tourists of all shapes, sizes, and idiosyncrasies, but you don’t judge. You love our tourists and just smile at them with a benevolent, knowing little smile and go on with your daily life. After all, there are scorpions to be sold, alcohol buckets to be chilled, and sore limbs to be massaged. Who has time to judge a tourist wearing a local bamboo hat with overly earnest face except for me? You clearly don’t and I love you for not judging.
You are hot and humid and actually quite unbearable during summer, but I like you nonetheless. The song ‘Summer in the City’ was made for you. The smells of a big city can be trying to say the least, especially when it’s hot. But for some reason I don’t mind it with you one bit, maybe because you always have an underlying smell of jasmine?
The old and new is one of your best features. You are not just Khao San Road and backpackers, glitzy malls and smog with a side of traffic jam. Your roads and sidewalks in the old part of town are crumbling, but I love stumbling along them because you fill them with friendly faces and tuk-tuks. Old men smiling broadly, women shyly, the boys are busy with their boxing lesson and ignore me. Then there are the cats and the fat brown labrador on my street, people sitting outside their houses, in front of the TV and somehow I become part of their communal life simply by walking by. Or so it feels. There is no skytrain and aircon but a riverboat and a breeze. There are bird cages hanging from the awnings and tiny barbeques where people prepare their lunches. Shops for tires, shops for electronics, shops for eggs or should I say a dorm because the ducks live here too?!
I don’t mind your fancy rooftop bars either as long as I can see what I like to call the Lego building and they allow my Havaianas. One time they didn’t and gave me spa slippers instead. I didn’t like those but I appreciated the principal.
Most of all, I love how you make me feel. How you turn me into a better, more patient version of me. You take everything that life throws at you with a shrug and a smile and how that attitude has rubbed off on me. You taught me the art of how not get annoyed. Now I can laugh with the taxi driver who takes me for a detour because he doesn’t believe me when I try to show him the way. I don’t need to tap my impatient feet, I can take a breath and just let go. I wouldn’t even complain if I saw a poster saying Keep calm and eat Pad Thai, because really – doesn’t pad thai make everything better?
When I first arrived I was humming One night in Bangkok and that was supposed to be it. I will admit, I was looking for that one-night stand. But now I realize that one night just won’t do it and long distance sucks – Bangkok, you feel like home!
Have you ever been to Bangkok? Love it or hate it?