Bangkok is overwhelming.
Bangkok is like every Asian megacity I’ve ever been to, thrown into a blender that goes to eleven: tuk-tuks, touts, heat, shopping malls, temples, food stalls, traffic, backpacker districts, vast outdoor markets, crumbling old buildings. Hedonism, chaos, hustle.
I’m not going to attempt to explain Bangkok to you. Not on my sixth day. If you’ve been here, you have your own impression of the place, and if you haven’t, you still probably know that it’s full of temples and sex. The Internet is full of very good descriptions of both.
Instead, I’ll update you on how I’m doing and where I’m headed.
A week in Bangkok
I’ve been in Asia for pretty much exactly six days now, which isn’t long enough for that first phase of jet lag and emotional fragility to have passed. In that very short time, I’ve gone on several dates, attended a Halloween party full of expats and a language-exchange Meetup full of travelers, visited an impossible number of temples, gotten sunburned and dehydrated, eaten street food in Chinatown, gotten a massage (the real kind), and occasionally slept a little. I’ve been fortunate to connect as well with some locals.
I have a mild cold.
I’ve seen enough of Bangkok to recognize that it is vast and complex, with different sides. Around Sukhumvit is a major tourist district, also popular with expats, with lots of slick restaurants, rooftop bars, posh new malls, hotels, and sprawling areas for Arabs, Koreans, Japanese. There are tuk-tuks and touts everywhere, and the whole thing is more or less a red light district, where if you’re a white male foreigner you will inevitably have clumps of women or ladyboys calling to you to have a massage.
I’ve also been to the old part of the city and toured the vast temple complexes, seen streets lined with shops selling giant gold Buddhas — where do they all go? — ridden the express boats on the river and the SANSAB boats along the canals. The canals, in particular, give Bangkok a unique flavor, both as a means of transport that gets you around the impossible traffic, and as the backdrop for fascinating alleyways that are essentially an extension of people’s homes, especially across the river in the Thonburi district.
Moving on up
So Bangkok has been alternately exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, lonely, social. I’ve been all over the place, basically — geographically and emotionally. I’m hoping things can settle into more of a flow as I move along.
Today I’m moving on to my next destination, Ayutthaya. I’ll go after I have lunch with a woman I met who works for the UN monitoring human rights in the region.
I’m nervous about the actual travel part of travel — more so than I need to be, I know. A Thai friend has offered to drive me to the Victory Monument, where you can pick up minivans to Ayutthaya, and I have a room booked on the other end, and all of my stuff is in my bag, so what’s the problem? I don’t know. I’m just nervous.
Part of it is the ongoing lack of sleep that will pass in a few more days. Part of it is the travel jitters I always get when I go into something unfamiliar. But I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation already. Bangkok is the kind of city where I push myself too hard to do everything, to keep going, to see what’s around the next corner. I’m hoping Ayutthaya will be a mellower place where I can spend a day or two doing nothing and not worrying about it. I need to remember, too, that I’m going to be at this for quite a while. I need to pace myself. Six months is a long time, and I’m only six days in.