“Like a limbo, you are always a step away from having fun or being scammed.” – My friend warned me few hours before I boarded the plane to Bangkok. With his words echoing in my head, I ventured out of the hostel. My first instinct was to head to the canal and get a boat which I knew would have a fixed price. I wasn’t ready to fight my way out of a scam yet.
The rickety boat that quickly approached the Hua Chang pier, in the outskirts of Bangkok, did not look like what I had imagined. Before I could put much thought into it, I was being dragged by the adrenaline-rush that made everybody in the pier and in the boat exchange places at the same time!
I don’t even think the boat was properly docked, but holding on to the precarious ropes hanging from the boat’s ceiling, I found my space and my balance standing at the back. In less than a minute the boat was at full speed again, splashing water onto the passengers. There were no side protections or walls apart from an improvised plastic curtain which passengers had to lift it themselves to avoid getting wet. To add to the breeze felt by the commotion, there were a couple of fans installed in the ceiling.
Not even the 32ºC would make me want to get wet here. The water in the canal is dirty brown and smells dank. But of course, that wasn’t a problem for Thai kids that were happily jumping in free fall into the canal.
9 Bahts (0.20£) was collected by a woman who was clambering around the boat, outside the plastic curtain. Cheap and fun, just the way I like it.
In what Bangkok lacks of charm, it has lots in practicality and that’s where I found myself amused. In between crowded temples, even more crowded markets and warm coconut waters, the fun is on the road! It is the kind of fun that merges a cheap ride with the success of cutting through the traffic and getting to the destination with a messed up hair.
I found happiness in the bargaining of a cheap tuk tuk ride, but I did take a lucky dip to find out if I was being taken to the shop of the driver’s cousin.
On another occasion, I also enjoyed an extremely slow journey siting in the ‘comfort’ of a bus. The stylish small fans hanging in the ceiling were inefficient against the drops of sweat pouring out of my skin. But like I said, they were stylish. I am also glad I only used this transport once.
Taxis can also be fun! The ones parked right next to tourist attractions always seem to have the meter broken. Thankfully if I would walk further down the road and stop a taxi, the meters were working just fine.
The trains. My most rebel moment was abandoning one in the middle of a track when returning to Bangkok from a day trip away. Yes, it was stopped (my name is not Andreia Bond). I just opened the door and left. The only thing I regret was not doing so 50 minutes earlier when we first stopped. I realised eventually I was better walking to my hostel from there than go all the way to the main station.
But my favorite of them all, more efficient time VS money, was the motorbike-taxi. There was a thrilling emotion to swing my leg onto the other side of the back seat of a motorbike and trust the driver to smoothly skip the traffic.
(Mum, skip the next paragraph)
Only once I felt I could die. Driving at 100km/h, juggling between cars and other motorbikes and the only time I had no helmet!! I should have asked for one right at the beginning! But in my defense, I thought it was going to be just a 2km ride when I previously checked on the map. Of course I didn’t have into account that some roads weren’t accessible and it turned out to be a drive I would not repeat!
Thai people are also very practical when it comes to set up their food tent. I walked up and down the street outside my hostel many times. And yet I left Bangkok without ever finding the lady with the coconut water, that I bought on my first day. To know a street very well you must visit it at different times of the day. But even then, the next day it won’t look the same. Street vendors set their plastic paraphernalia differently for different meals. In the evenings it gets so busy that sidewalks turn into temporary street restaurants.
Bangkok streets smell good and bad and bad and good all within meters apart. Rich and poor walk in different directions, side by side. It is with no surprise that it isn’t easy for visitors to fall for Bangkok.
But it is possible! To find Bangkok’s charm I had to make my ears pop by climbing to the 47th floor’s roof bar and admire the city from the top. There, hundreds of white, yellow and red lights clung on to concrete tall buildings, illuminating the skies. Where all in all, the city was as charming as a big metropolitan city could be!