Monsters in Bangkok
Bangkok. The airplane window is so sweaty that anything is barely visible outside. The feeling is as in a Turkish bath – steamy and sticky. Perfect conditions for my hard-to-tame hair. A promise for an adventure!
We arrive during a dengue fever outbreak. Despite that we religiously apply and reapply a mosquito repellent throughout the day and wear long sleeves in the evening, we get our first bites from gigantic mosquitos. They bite through the clothes! While I wait for the agonizing symptoms, we get bitten a few more times until we stop counting the red skin swellings. It turns out not every mosquito carries the disease and even during an epidemic, it’s all about how lucky you are. I have to say, we were very lucky!
Noisy. Dirty. Sultry. Colorful. Run-for-your-life street crossings. Quick and strong showers outside the rainy season. Bangkok is the place where lizards cross your way downtown and huge tropical butterflies nearly kiss your face in flight. The place where something is always cooking – from early morning street food vendors eagerly prepare unconventional foods and put them for sale with no description. Local targeting at its best. They seem preoccupied and in a hurry and not very concerned about food hygiene. Raw eggs and uncooked meat lay around in sweltering heat without any refrigeration. Regardless of this, the food looks delicious and we later try it at a local food market. No regrets and no unpleasant consequences for our stomachs!
The most visited city in the world. Guides brag about a cosmopolitan city yet you can’t get rid of the feeling that you are transported back in time, probably in the 70’s: the buildings are dusty, almost demolished without any traces of glamour. Even the city center looks worn out and without the usual gloss of Asian metropolises. Entire families have their dinner directly on the streets, in front of their homes. Laundry is also done on the pavement. This is the city where some people live in stilt canal houses and wave at you with big smiles on their faces as you pass by on a long-tail boat.
As to oppose the not-so-glamorous architectural impressions, Bangkok’s temples are splendid and marvelous. The beauty is so cruel that it hurts the eyes and you never get tired of visiting yet another temple. Surprisingly, photography is allowed inside. What it’s not allowed in some temples is to get close to the altar where Buddha statues erect from floor to ceiling. This privilege is for Thai people only.
Bangkok is a place where you confidently try on shoes just to regretfully find out that your own shoe size doesn’t fit! Larger sizes are simply not available. The explanation of this ”miracle” is that Asian feet are famously small, thus shoes are logically small too. European shoe brands come to rescue.
Entire streets are packed with kitschy shops selling Buddha statues and offerings (from fake flowers to cleaning supplies). We find these shops on both sides of the street intriguing.
Riding a motorcycle is a very popular way of transportation in Bangkok. The drivers are so specialized in sneaking between cars and pedestrians that you really need superior navigation skills to survive. You need to be fast and furious! There are either no traffic rules or no one seems to care. Both riders and car drivers move around according to their gut feeling and mysterious hand signs which they show to each other. Just because the traffic light is green it doesn’t mean that you are safe to cross. There is a constant traffic jam in Bangkok and those with immense patience will eventually reach their destination.
Returning from a trip around Thailand, we take a cab from the airport to our hotel and blend with the city lights. The car gets stuck in a traffic. No problem, I think to myself, there is no rush. Suddenly I notice a huge shadow running across the car ceiling. I stare and recognize with horror a cockroach as big and as thick as my thumb. Imprisoned in the taxi, I practice the most sophisticated yoga positions on the back seat. The driver seems careless even when the thing runs across the wheel. We are obviously very uncomfortable out there but no reaction comes from the statue on the front seat. Let’s assume this is due to the language barrier. Minutes seem hours. I seriously consider opening the door and running into the traffic. Just when I pray really hard for our lives, the hotel shows up around the corner. I am so grateful! I open the door and run off to my salvation. As we would find out later, the painfully long cab drive since we’ve noticed the cockroach lasted only 10 minutes.