After spending nearly two months in gritty southern India, what I experienced in Bangkok was a truly severe reverse culture shock. The airports were a good indicator: the one in Chennai was a ramshackle affair, barely worthy of the name ‘international’, whereas Suvarnabhumi airport was a ritzy modern airport with all the necessary trimmings, including very Thai (?) fixtures such as Dunking Donuts and a 7-Eleven. I wandered around for a while until the sun got up before taking the skytrain into the city. I couldn’t believe my eyes; if I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was in Japan or something: a superbly clean, sleek, efficient and fast elevated railway system, whizzing past multi-lane motorways and dozens and dozens of skyscrapers. I got off the train and walked straight into my hostel, a flashy modern building nestled amidst a couple of truly ginormous shopping malls. The size of those things was just ridiculous, and there were not just two or three of them but dozens all over the city, each one bigger and brasher than the one before.
I crammed in as much as I could in two days: saw some temples (they are impressive enough but one quickly gets templed-out), went river hopping from one stop the next on the Chao Praya river and used the water taxis on some of the smaller canals, and after that I used one of the free rental bicycles to get around the old town. I visited the world famous backpacker ghetto of Khao San road, looking for cheap travel guides, but decided it sucked and was really happy I didn’t stay there. Throughout all that, I tried to come to terms with the high level of urban sophistication that had been totally absent for the past eight weeks in India. I’m sure in reality Bangkok is just one of many modern mega cities, but somehow I just felt like a kid in a candy store, marvelling about how proper everything looked, how everything seemed to work well, about how shockingly clean it was. No cows on the streets for one thing, and drivers seemed to acknowledge the existence of pedestrians and used their horns with restraint. It was really refreshing.
Southeast Asian food would be another exciting thing to explore. It was not without challenges in Bangkok, trying to determine what to eat or how to order it. I love street food, but there are no menus with street food. It also seemed quite hard to be vegetarian, as everything seemed to have pork in it. On the day of my arrival though there was a “thai cooking” couchsurfing meeting and this Thai girl made an a amazing curry. Furthermore it was fun to pop into a 7-Eleven (they are everywhere) and try all kinds of foods and drinks in bright, comical looking Asian packagings.
So yeah, Bangkok was fun, an intense two days in a hot metropolis, and a gigantic contrast with India (if I had come straight from Europe, it probably wouldn’t have made that much of an impression on me). But already I was flying out to Hanoi, to continue my Indochinese explorations. I don’t know if I would like to spend a week in Bangkok, but either way I’ll be back there mid March to catch a plane to New Zealand.