A nervous traveller’s guide to the far east – Bangkok

Bangkok over Brexit

About four months ago my wife and I came home from our respective offices, took one look at each other and said pretty much at the same time, “I’m really fed up.”

A combination of illness, stress (me), general tiredness, boredom (her) and endless pointless talk about Brexit gave us the push we needed to say “The UK is really bumming us out right now. Let’s piss off to Asia for a few months.” My exact words were a lot more colourful but my wife tells me that saying ‘fuck’ every other word doesn’t make you sound ‘clever’ or ‘edgy’. Apparently it just makes you sound like a pretentious wanker.

So we handed our notice in at work, informed our landlord we would be vacating the small 1 bed flat in London we’d been paying an arm, a leg and I’m pretty sure a part of our souls for, and started booking flights and accommodation.

I love seeing new places and trying new things but I'm a big wuss. I find the fear of wanting to know where my next pay check is coming from overwhelming. It has stopped me from exploiting opportunities and experiencing new things in the past. However over the past few years I have found the daily routine to be a hindrance rather than a help. Following a protracted illness with depression and anxiety, I felt I needed to change quite a few things in my life and one of them was my fear of travelling without knowing where the hell I was going to end up.

One man and his wedding ring

My wife also wants to see if I manage to hold onto my wedding ring throughout the entire 3 months we're away (I’ve lost it about 26 times since we’ve been married...and we only got married in June 2018). My challenge to myself was to quit work for a bit and travel. My wife’s challenge to me is to not lose my wedding ring whilst we’re away. I’m doing all right with my challenge so far.

Week 1 – Bangkok, Thailand

Have you seen this man?

Strange white man found wondering around Lumpini Park, Bangkok. Approach with caution

My prior knowledge of Thailand extended to liking their food which is always a good start in my experience. I usually travel by stomach and 9 times out of 10 end up loving a country based on their cuisine as well as their general culture and customs. My philosophy has always been “If you make food I like, I am 99.99% of the time probably going to love your country. If your food makes me ill or gives me the runs...I’ll probably still eat it, but I’m less likely to give you a 5 star rating on Trip Advisor.”

Bangkok did not give me the runs, which is a good start.

What Bangkok did give me was a small taster of city life in Thailand. Bangkok is busy. The atmosphere is typical city chaos, both intoxicating and tiring all at the same time. At once colourful and dirty, the city delights and annoys in equal measure. It can be smelly and there are loads of other tourists cramping the streets along with the locals who just want us all to fuck off (note to my wife: I’m not being trendy or edgy) and get out of their way so they can get to work thank you very much. I don’t blame them. I’d be annoyed if I was being tripped up by yet another Chinese or English tourist trying to take a selfie in front of a random street sign or hotel (just to clarify, I did not do this, but I was tempted).

Reclining Buddha, Wat Po

So chilled, he let people build a temple around him.

The one thing that made Bangkok instantly more bearable were the local people. I’ve often heard country dwellers and tourists in the UK describe Londoners as grumpy and impolite. And it’s hard to argue with that analysis. Yet the Thai people who live in Bangkok are anything but. Everyone smiles and greets you with the formal Wai (a short bow with their palms pressed together usually accompanied by their standard greeting ‘Sawatdii Kha’ for women, ‘Sawatdii Khrap’ for men. It’s a really lovely way to make you feel instantly more cheerful and want to return the greeting...which is good because if you don’t, the Thai will consider you to be an ignorant rude bastard.

From the cab driver who took us to my friend’s house in central Bangkok, to a woman in a 7-Eleven who was just giving me my change for a bottle of water, everyone I met was polite, friendly and would always smile when you tried to talk to them in Thai in return. This may or may not have a lot to do with the predominant faith of the country: Buddhism. Everywhere you go you will see small prayer shrines on a street corner all the way up to gigantic spectacular temples that can dominate the skyline next to the skyscrapers. One of the guides I met on a temple tour was keen to point out that nearly 90% of Thai people follow the way of the Buddha and interpret his/her teachings as LIFE – Live now, Inspire yourself and others, Follow the path that is right for you...and always try to be Entertained with life.

I’ve heard some religious bullshit in my time (and have a bachelors degree in Theological Studies to show for it), but this is probably one of the best and nicest interpretations of Buddhism I’ve heard.

China Town, Bangkok

Not to be confused with Chinatown anywhere else.

So would I recommend Bangkok as a place to visit?

Generally yes, but if you struggle with congestion and noise as I sometimes do, you might not want to stay much beyond a few days. A week was enough for me. If however you love the hustle and bustle of a metropolis, you can do far worse than Bangkok. From the shopping, to the temples to the food, there is something for everyone here. And did I mention the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho? Seeing that is worth the airfare alone.

The Nervous Traveller’s Bangkok Dos and Don’ts for Bangkok

1.Do smile and greet people 

2.Don’t be a dick and ignore someone who has perfomed the Wai greeting and said hello. That’s just rude and you deserve to be hit by a Tuk Tuk.

3.Do visit Chinatown – it’s insanely busy, but you will get some of the best streetfood in Bangkok there. Plus it’s dirt cheap.

4.Don’t rely on anything being on time – buses, planes, trains, people...the Thai operate on their own time. They just don’t tell anyone exactly what that time is.

5.Do visit Wat Pho & Wat Arun. They are some of the world’s most impressive temples and I would recommend them to anyone visiting Bangkok

6.Don’t underestimate the heat – it can get up to 40 degrees from March onwards so remember to walk slow.

7.Do go on the river ‘hop on and off’ boat – you will see more of Bangkok this way.

8.Don’t leave your boxers in the swimming pool changing room at your friend’s condo. It’s pretty embarrassing having to ask the front desk to open up the room at night so you can retrieve your undies.

9.Do visit the flower market – pretty

10.Don’t ever insult the Thai Royal Family. You can end up in prison. Based on the people I met it’s safer just not to talk about politics or the royals in Thailand at all unless you want to start a war. It's very much like talking about Brexit in the UK. Best to just smile and change the subject.

Royal FamilyGaff

As I began to talk about the latest in Thai politics at a party, my wife gently poked me in the back with a hairpin.

Bangkok Nervous Traveller Rating:
6/10

Exciting and awe inspiring, but congested and can be overwhelming for anyone who struggles with large crowds.

Bangkok by night

I used a lift and found a rooftop bar to take this. It was hard work.

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