Not much beats Bangkok in terms of its visual-feast-factor. Even though I’ve taken at least a dozen extended stops in this Asian megalopolis, it continues to defy description, each time reminding me that it will forever dazzle my eyes, entice my taste buds, and catch me off-guard with new and unfamiliar scents and sounds.
Like, for example, the new and unrelenting sounds outside my hotel room, of what sounded like a chorus of cows in feline-like heat – until the staff informed me that those were frogs that emerge during the rains (ah, and what a monsoon-like downpour last night!).
But nothing beats people-watching: whether it be camera-wielding first-timer tourists gawking at every sight; a band of orange-garbed monks – honoured and sequestered in reserved areas even on boats; labourers shedding sweat as they cart/push/haul goods double or triple their weight; nimble-fingered makers of floral garlands, whose handiwork results are used daily as offerings to the king and other deities; flocks of tattoo-bearing, holy-earring-wearing, ganja-smoking, poi-playing, rasta-looking, backpack-hauling twenty-somethings on Kao San Road; and the dolled-up lady-boys, those bisexual marvels who raise the normative bar for alternative lifestyle and gender choice (acquisition?).
There is all that. And the ubiquitous 7-11s. The fast food joints. Wats (gilded-roof temples), wats and more wats.
Red Buses. Pink Taxis. Bright blue and green tuktuks galore.
Flower markets brimming with yellow-orange marigolds – and large bunches of freshly-plucked roses selling for the equivalent of less than $2.
Men on bikes navigating narrow alleys to deliver heavy crates of mangos and coconuts.
Lounge chairs set out on sidewalks – now also on the streets – or that spontaneous shoulder massage or foot reflexology.
Thousands of stalls all around Bangkok, hawking street food, including hundreds of hole-in-the-walls, in which the “best pad thai in all of Thailand” is served. Or other such traditional street fare.
It also appears that you can take the Thais out of their kampong, but taking the kampong out of a Thai is much less likely. For example, you might spot an older couple having a morning tete-a-tete (or rather, tablet-a-tablet) at a trendy coffee shop; but latte or flat whites be damned, they’ll still bring along their bags of sticky rice and grilled meat skewers.
There are also Thai families entirely decked out top to bottom in black, still in mourning over the much-loved King (who died months ago…); not at all surprising if you take in just one neighborhood’s extensive displays of all the king’s talents and all the king’s skills…
Apparently, the monarch was accomplished in a range of activities that stretched far beyond his royal position; from woodworking to music composition, from photography to sailing and water skiing. The quintessential, irreproachable, Renaissance man. No wonder the Thai people still grieve.
There’s an unmistakable rhythm to this city, a constant and colorful thrumming, that slows down only in the wee hours of the night (and even then, in some corners, not at all); only to resume, full-tilt at dawn the following day.
Even with the flotsam and jetsam, on streets, alleys, behind stalls and above all floating along the entire length of the Chao Phraya (river); even with the unimaginable stench that often rises and holds me in its vise; even when the perpetually grey skies remind me that we are all engulfed by a vast cloud of smog; even when the late-night train from airport to town breaks down for close to 90 minutes with no Plan B in place and no taxis in sight; and even when the unquenchable squawking of frogs threatens to disrupt my night’s sleep… still… yes, still.
Unquestionably, ridiculously, surprisingly, enchantingly, Bangkok still has a grip on me.
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