Bangkok wears me out. She is brash, loud, sour and chaotic. The sun is heavy and the air soiled. By the end of a morning of simple walking, my skin and eyes and feet cry for relief.
She is that sister that doesn’t care what you think and will pull you along for the ride, whether you want to go or not. There are moments I cannot stand to be in Bangkok. I guzzle water as the sun bakes my skin dry and scratchy, even as oily sweat glistens from every pore, and the haze that softens the skyline irritates my eyes.
Today I gave a shrug and embraced her, only in my own way. To follow the weary zombie-like tourist hordes when you have a chronic medical condition is insanity. I would wipe out within an hour in the 34 degree Celsius heat.
Instead of joining the steady flow of tourists heading to the Royal Palace, I turned left and walked past sidewalk-crowding vendors of amulets and meat-on-a-stick. A major event was occurring at the Sanam Luang – royal parade ground – that swamped the surrounding streets with barricades, checkpoints and police. I didn’t feel like shuffling through metal detectors just to walk a street, so I took another detour into the shady back lanes of the nearby university until I found a garden perch along the river, still in the middle of noisy, tumultuous Bangkok, but far from the crowds. Stretched out on a bench under the cool kiss of a banyan tree, I watched the world parade by on the Chao Phraya River. Long, plodding barges. Packed river ferries, passengers jumping to and from the floating platforms. The mad churning of longtail motors in the murky waters.
Time stretched. An hour passed. Bangkok breathed, in and out.
I would say we reached an understanding. Bangkok will be Bangkok, but she will allow me spaces to slow down and contemplate as her world races by.
I’m staying in the Udomsuk neighborhood, far out on the Skytrain. I always stay here when I’m in Bangkok for one reason besides easy BTS Skytrain access – the glorious spices and smells of the night market. Spilling out into several streets and sidewalks, the market springs to life around the evening rush hour, as businessmen and businesswomen, housewives and students pack the lanes between stalls buying fresh fruit, fish, and ready-made meals scooped into clear plastic bags and tied off with a rubber band. I always stop at the same stall for my curries and Thai basil comfort food, assembling a feast better than any Thai restaurant and significantly cheaper. I love the textures of the market – spiky yet elegant dragon fruit, piles of different kinds of mangoes and bananas, massive jackfruits that look like medieval weapons, and glistening fish that stare at me with horror.
I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy any fish here. It’s those reproaching eyes.
With street food, I follow one simple rule that so far has helped me avoid the dreaded traveller’s diarrhea – always pick the stall with the massive line of jockeying women. You’ll never go wrong, no matter what you point at. I’ve tried so many dishes I’ve never learned the names to, in various ranges of spicy, without a single problem. Tonight it’s a minced meat (I believe pork) with a variety of spices, garlic, and holy basil. Super spicy, but amazing. Cooled down by rice. Finished off with mango sticky rice. It doesn’t get better than that.