Bangkok through the Eyes of a Farang
Impressions from Bangkok
What’s different, new and surprising for a foreigner in Bangkok in short stories and photos.
“Farang is a generic Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from.” – Wikipedia
The Shrine Taxi
A shrine in a taxi?! Yes, this was my feeling when I took a taxi from Bangkok airport to my apartment. Effectively the inside of the taxi was covered in amulets and other religious items. A big candle was glued diagonally to the windshield on my side, obstructing my view, as well as the driver’s view. Small Buddha statues were watching the curious “farang” landed in the “Land of Smiles” after 20 hours flights.
The Crazy Traffic
Trying to cross a busy street in Bangkok is an adventure. Even if the pedestrians crossing are marked and you have the green light, it doesn’t mean you have the right to cross the street. You have to wait until all the cars and motorbikes that take a turn go first. And you have to move really fast. Motorbikes come from every direction, including sidewalks. Plus the driving is on the left side of the road. Cross the street when the locals cross and you will be safe!
The Street Vendors
They are everywhere, on every street. Selling mostly food, from chicken and fish, to boiled eggs, to papaya salad and noodles, to fruits and fruit juices, the street vendors are feeding the working Thais, the students and the tourists all day long.
You can see vendors pulling a cart with fruits or fish on a busy road, between cars and motorbikes.
Do you need to adjust your clothes or repair your shoes? Tailors with a table and a sewing machine, and shoemakers with all the trade’s tools can be found on the sidewalks of the streets.
The Yellow Shirts
The Yellow Shirts are a common occurrence, not only during royal celebrations, but also day-by-day. Yellow is the royal color in Thailand. Young and old, the people are wearing yellow t-shirts or polo shirts with the royal insignia embroidered.
Portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife can be seen everywhere, from homes to businesses, from rich to poor. The Thai and Royal flags are proudly displayed throughout the city.
An Encounter with the ‘Princess Angel’
During my visit to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, I was lucky to be at the right place in the right moment to see the arrival of the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who has a photo exhibition at the Centre. The Princess arrived at the centre in a red Mercedes followed by the security personnel. The Princess stopped at a coffee shop on the third floor and talked with the employees.
Princess Sirindhorn is admired by many Thais, who call her by the nickname Phra Thep, which means ‘Princess Angel’.
Adrenaline Rush on a Motorbike Taxi
Maybe the scariest adventure of my life, a ride on the back of a motorbike on a busy highway in central Bangkok was for sure something to remember for long time. Having to go to the Mo Chit bus hub to take a night bus to Ubon Ratchathani near the Laos border, I hired a motorbike taxi. The driver took my luggage in front of him, holding it between his chest and the handle bar. I stayed on the back seat, with my backpack. He had a helmet, me not.
Once the motorbike started, the road adventure begun! Sliding between cars and between buses at high-speed, made me clutch my legs to the motorbike due to fear that we don’t have enough space to go between two vehicles on the road, especially the buses. Plus the occasionally bumps making me to jump off my seat!
It was really a crazy ride! Much better than Wonderland! So the driver deserved his fare and tips, and the passenger enjoyed a good amount of “Hong Thong” Thai whiskey!
Riding in Style the Thai Luxury Coaches
Wow, what a surprise to arrive at the huge Mo Chit bus hub in Bangkok in the evening! Enormous double-deck coaches, colourful painted, with shiny accessories and multicolour lights, and teddy bears displayed in the windshield – all ready to go in their all night rides to destinations throughout Thailand or to the neighbouring countries.
My all night ride was to Ubon Ratchathani in my way to Laos with a cheap coach and not enough space for farang legs. But the return trip with a luxury coach was like being in an airplane, business class! A coach attendant will bring you to your seat and you will be served with snacks, juice and bottled water. Each seat has its own TV monitor and HQ headphones. You can select the seat reclining position and the foot rest angle. A really smooth ride!
Rats for Your Stomach
Do you fancy Rat meat?! You can try it. Just go to the Klong Toey Fresh Market. Besides raw pork and raw and live chicken, fish and sea food, vegetables and fruits, sweets and nuts, you can also spot some ugly but perhaps delicious creatures such as: rats, worms, bugs and insects, skinned and unskinned bloody frogs. The only creatures I tried later were small frogs and fried worms.
Did you ever try to enter a prison by free will?! The Bang Kwan Central prison in Bangkok nicknamed ‘Bangkok Hilton’ is well-known for incarcerating foreigners for drug offences.
And here I am, forcing the entrance to a prison. For some reason I thought the prison can be visited or there is a museum, taken the information from my old 2009 first edition Frommer’s ‘Bangkok Day by Day’ guide…
Taking the Chao Praya river ferry to the Nonthaburi Pier and walking through a lovely market, I arrived to the ‘Bang Kwan’ prison. I can see the tall walls with wired barbs and the watch towers.
The main entry gate has shiny golden bars, a look more suitable for Wonderland than a prison. I thought this is the museum, so I started jolting the bars. “Let me in!” The guard came asking me what I want. In the end, I understood: no visit to the ‘Bangkok Hilton’!
An architectural masterpiece, Central Embassy Bangkok is a luxury shopping mall opened in 2014 I’ve never seen anywhere in the world. A futuristic design, with a clean, minimalist interior open space, the eight floors mall with endless escalators is truly impressive.
Big Reptile in the City!
When I saw first time a free reptile in the city, it was in the Lumpini Park and I thought that one was big.
Until I encounter a huge one near a canal, right in the middle of the city, in the Kao San area. This one apparently lives in a cave under a house foundation.
The reptile is a lizard and is called “Water Monitor”. They can reach two meters or even three meters in length!
Lost in Translation
Be careful what you wish to your Thai friends! The Americans say “Cheers” before drinking and the Romanians say “Norok”. But “Norok” in Thai sounds like “Go to Hell!”
How do you pronounce “Kwai” from the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’? I used to say “Kwai” with ‘a’, but this in Thai means “penis”. Oops! The correct Thai pronunciation is “Kwei” with ‘ei’.
Learn the Thai Alphabet the Funny Way
If you want to know how the 44 characters Thai alphabet sounds, check this video out: http://youtu.be/GOlAhUc-N0Y
Bar Girls, Lady Boys and More…
They are beautiful, sexy and young. And dangerous!
Stay tuned for future posts with impressions and photos from the Bangkok red light districts!
“Listen with the ears of tolerance! See through the eyes of compassion! Speak with the language of love.” – Rumi
Next destination: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia