Culture shock in Bangkok

What a culture shock! Arriving in Thailand for the first time after almost 15 years proved to be a mixed bag of feelings. This is not the Bangkok I knew. There is a new airport, actually with a highway connected to it. No more need to take the dreaded “Tuk-Tuk“, as there is this new shiny new thingy – called “Skytrain” – which moves tourists (and locals) fast downtown. Speaking of the inner city. This has changed as well. During my stay in Bangkok, I kept looking for familiar places – such as temples and hotels I stayed in. Although I recognized some temples, they seemed to have been transported to a new location as the surrounding area looks just so different.

Bangkok on a rainy day

In my personal opinion, Bangkok was (is) growing faster than other cities like Shanghai or Hong-Kong. The transformation definitely seems to be for the better for the locals and this creates the well-known dilemma: I preferred the rough edges and the chaos of Bangkok 15 years ago. But I confess that the living conditions for people having to go to work everyday probably weren’t as good as now.

And to my surprise, I did enjoy some of this Western-style comfort a lot. Namely being able to withdraw money from an ATM at every corner. This is in contrast to Uzbekistan, from where I arrived, where either ATM’s are frequently out of money or the banks doing manual cash-advances are at the other end of the city. Getting money in 3 minutes instead of 3 hours is definitely a travelers’ relief.

Using the canal ferry to go places in Bangkok

The Soi1 Guesthouse, where I stayed, was smack down in the center of the city and the owner has a lot of travel advice for backpackers, such as a round-trip by foot, canal ferry, river boat and sky train. This round-trip starts right next to the hostel and totals out for all the transport vehicles at 80 Baht (US$ 2.50). During the tour I was walking up to the river boat ferry (17 Baht / 52 US Cents), where locals board.

On the way there, some hawkers tried to persuade me to take the river boat cruise for 1000 Baht (31 US$) at the tourist landing pier. Needless to say that I wasn’t really considering changing plans. And the local ferry brought me happily to all the major attractions along the Mekong river.

However, visiting Chinatown in Bangkok – after having visited China itself was kind of disappointing. And then, I am not the market guy. I like the photo-ops – but I am bored by all the stuff that people try to sell me. Yes, I have a knife, hat, flip-flops and a lighter. And no, I don’t really want to carry a ventilator in my backpack. I even had an umbrella – hey it’s wet season right now – that I borrowed at the guesthouse. And the food stalls in Chinatown didn’t really appeal to me (read my China entries to know more about how much I like the food there). And since I really love Thai food, it would be blasphemy to eat Chinese food in Bangkok (Hamburgers and Pizza are exempt from my “blasphemy rule” for reasons yet to be defined).

Ferry boats waiting for passengers

Since I’ll return to Bangkok (and Thailand) in a couple of weeks, I wanted this stay to be short. So I left pretty quick for the Cambodian border near the Thai city of Trat. There, I slept near the border before going to cross it early next morning. A lot of friendly people try to ease the tourists’ way into Cambodia. One guy wanted to carry my backpack across the border. Another one tried to fill in the customs form for me. And yet another one wanted to walk alongside with me for the 100m “no mans” land between border posts – pointing out the obvious (“you need to walk there for passport control”). All this against a fee, obviously. Being well prepared for this border is essential and I was successful in fending off all the hawkers – although it was 7am and my mind somehow still was back in the sleeping bag. It also pays to go online and check how much costs transportation to and from the border. However, the experience was quite funny and I found myself surprisingly relaxed in the midst of hawkers, tuk-tuk- and moto-drivers humming like a bee swarm prices for unneeded services at me.