When I travel, there are unique differences I notice. This is my list of Bangkok observations and interesting facts. Most of them are just a reminder of how countries and customs differ. Let’s celebrate the differences and diversity! It makes the world an interesting place. So here is what I noticed in Bangkok, in no particular order.
- Noise. Bangkok is an incredibly noisy city. There is a constant hum of noise almost everywhere, so finding quiet and calm in the city is a pleasure.
- Blocks are long and narrow. Some blocks are about half a kilometre long, so car and motorbike drivers really pick up speed, making it a challenge to cross the road.
- Crossing roads. Although there are zebra / pedestrian crossings marked on the road, they are completely disregarded by drivers. Crossing the road is like running the gauntlet!
- Pavements aren’t really made for walking. They are filled with street vendors, potholes, trees, hedges, broken paving, people sitting on stools and any other obstacle that could stop you from from walking from A to B. Some roads have no pavements, but have cars zooming up at kamikaze speed!
- Royal family portraits are displayed everywhere in the streets, on buildings, on ATMs, in shopping centres. They are generally in gold frames, surrounded by floral displays and look a little like shrines. They included the old King (the year’s mourning after his death is still not over), the new King and the Queen (her birthday is Thai mother’s day in August).
- Costs. Thailand is still very cheap compared to the UK. A fast street food meal and drink will cost around £2, bottle of water around 12p, beer for under £1 per bottle in the shop (much more in a bar), 60-minute massage for £9, haircut £15. But one thing that was expensive, was having gel nails done. I found a cheap place (£25), but most salons charge £35-£60!
- Tuk-tuks have become much smarter over the years, but most have been replaced by air-conditioned taxis.
- Uber and taxis are cheap, but traffic is so horrendous. So combine that with the inefficient (and sometimes bizarre) one-way system, and it can take as long to drive somewhere as it would take to walk.
- Skytrain, it is a bridge-train, rather than underground train, running above the streets. Efficient, cheap and quick.
- Starbucks is very expensive. It is seen as a luxury brand. Only pay this much if you need air-conditioning! Coffee on the street is cheaper and better. Incidentally, iced coffee (not frappe-blended, just coffee with ice in it) is always more expensive that hot coffee. Another random fact is that many other Thai coffee shops use the Starbucks font or round logos, which makes them more Starbuckesque.
- Skyscrapers. The centre of town is a hub of building development. You’re never further than a couple of hundred metres from a building site. Many people live in high-rises.
- Central Embassy Shopping Mall. This must be the most beautiful shopping mall I have ever seen in my life. It’s architecturally beautiful, and every shop and restaurant is a design marvel. Design rocks!
- Eathai in the basement of Central Embassy Mall gives foreigners the opportunity to eat Thai street food from around the country, in a clean, sanitary and posh environment.
Also read: Delighted by Bangkok street food
- Toilets. Central Embassy has the poshest toilets I have ever visited – not even Hong Kong’s posh toilets could compete. It came complete with heated seat (completely wasted in Bangkok’s heat), auto-toilet lid opening and closing sensor, massage vibration, sprays and much more. Unfortunately, for most of Bangkok, toilets are generally just okay, and toilet paper can’t go into the toilet. And that is the toilet paper you have just paid 5 baht for! So certainly a world of contrasts when it comes to toilets.
- Temperatures were almost unbearable at times. It often reached 34C + humidity, creating a heat index of around 42C. Well we thought at the time it was unbearable, until we reached Hanoi, Vietnam and really nearly melted!
- Beer was more expensive than we thought it would be, especially in bars. But if you wanted to buy from a shop, you had to wait until 5pm!
- Health and safety isn’t really a thing in Bangkok. Tim had to be careful not to be decapitated or electrocuted by electric cross-wires. Then there are the big holes down to drains on pavements and suburban electric wiring which looks much like a ball of wool that has got tangled!
- On-demand services. Many services are just walk-in, no appointment needed, including massage, nails, medical etc.
- Pay for chores. There is always someone you can pay to perform chores for you, from cleaning to laundry to shoe shining to street food. And it is affordable.
- Smells. I wish we could capture the smell on photographs! There is a constant “stink of drain” coming from somewhere. You may be in the poshest street, lined with embassies, mansions and exclusive high-rise apartment buildings, but walk into the street, and it smells like a drain! It is therefor important to notice the direction of the wind before taking a seat outside at the coffee shop.
- Trees and gardens. There are trees on most streets. Some buildings even have external plant pots half way up a building, filled with trees. Many high-rise buildings have stunning roof terraces and roof gardens.
- Markets. Ratachuk weekend market is MASSIVE!! Bigger than you can imagine. It could take a few hours to walk around it all. There is of course tons of tourist tat for sale, but don’t be put off, because there are also some beautiful and functional things for sale too. Better than any other market we had been to in Bangkok. You really can buy almost anything here.
- Mosquitos. We tried to buy mozzie spray, but struggled to find it. Eventually we found some at Boots! (Yes, Bangkok has Boots the Chemist) But most mozzie sprays are natural/citronella based. We haven’t found any plug-in mozzie machines with mat tablets or fluid.
- Plastic bags. I have never seen a nation consume so much plastic. They try and give you plastic for everything. Buy a single bottle of water at the shop, and they want to give you a plastic bag and a straw, street food is served in plastic bags with plastic spoons, multi-take-away-coffee carriers are plastic. Often you get your food in a plastic bag, then in another plastic carrier bag to put that in. We resisted wherever we could! But curiously, you’re never offered a (paper) serviette!
- Expats. Most expats and tourists we came across were French. This surprised us. But our building had a hotel section (we were in a home-exchange apartment) where the majority of the tourists were Arabic, mostly from Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia.
- Bread. Almost impossible to buy any type of plain bread. Most bakeries only provide a flavoured variety, both sweet and savoury.
- Advertising. Many digital/video billboards along the roads in the city (must be dangerous), projected onto buildings, at every skytrain station, in malls.
- Tragedy. A businessman got run over in the street diagonally across from our building. There was no rush to move or cover his body, and the incident seemed to be a big source of entertainment for local Thais. May were taking photos or videoing with their mobile phones. We were quite shaken. It mades us even more cautious about crossing roads! Tip: follow a local also crossing the road – they have a lot more experience at doing it successfully.
- Crockery. Most informal/family restaurants have plastic, picnic-style plates. Only posh restaurants have ‘proper’ crockery.
- ATMs. All ATMs we found charge you to draw money. There is a standard fee of 220 Baht (more than £5!), so make a few bigger withdrawals, rather than few smaller withdrawals. Remember, your bank will charge you too, unless you use an account like Revolut, where you get the interbank rate not normally available to individuals.
- Recycling and waste. We could see no evidence of recycling, except for some recycling bins in the park. And there are very few rubbish bins on the streets. We were constantly searching for a bin. But street vendors will often take your rubbish off you, if you buy something from them.
- Wildlife. We were surprised to see so many likkewaans (monitor lizards) in the Lumpini Park in Bangkok. The only other things were saw (excluding domestic pets) were squirrels and frogs. Mosquitos don’t count.
Every country is unique, with different observations. I did a similar list of interesting facts for Hong Kong and Vietnam (will be online soon), and will continue to do these for each country we visit. It gives you the info and insight that general guide books and blogs don’t give. I hope they make you curious, interested or just make you smile.
Also, would be good to hear from other travellers about what they think I missed!
You can follow this blog from the altrinchamlivingandtravel.com homepage, if you want to receive similar updates on different countries.