Saturday, March 20, 2004

I landed in Bangkok airport, negotiated my way through customs, waded through the army of taxi touts, rushed past the barrier of air conditioned doorways and I was bathed in the crush of the Bangkok heat. And my body did sag.

I found a taxi and watched the amazing street scenes rush impercetibly slowly past my window. I have been here for four days now. Bangkok is a city where the everyday business of the people is conducted on the street rather inside emotionless buildings in London where the outside is used only as a means to reaching another destination. There are so many taxis here they defeat themselves. Bangkok is one big traffic jam - even in the early hours you can find yourself trying to ask an uncomprehending taxi driver about football whilst waiting in motionless traffic. This is done thusly: "You like football?" *smiles back* "Football?" *smile* "Theirry Henry? Owen?" *smile* "Manchester United? Arsenal?" *smile*

On the sides of the streets can be found tuk tuk (three wheeled motorbike taxis) drivers half asleep only arousing to wave at Farang (westerners) and ask if they want a ride. Alongside these are street traders, food stalls (cheap and yummy), and at least one random activity at least every twenty yards. It is definitely like nothin else I've seen. Walk for ten minutes as a westerner and you will be guaranteed to have had at least thiry or fourty people conversing with you in some way. Usually it is to tout you on behalf of some business, but sometimes it is just friendliness.

tuk tuk, fruit stall, and gubbins. A typical picture of Bangkok

It is often all too easy to forget just how cheap everything is for someone from London. haggling is expected. I just bought a cool looking vest and haggled 20 bhat off the price down to 200. 20 bhat is probably about 35 pence. It is nothing to me and means more to the trader, but is really is expected and earns you more respect. For this reason, I would not haggle aggressively or for too much, but do it with a smile, say thank you (kawp Kun Kha to women, kawp kun khrap to men) and you will be treated greatly. They've probably asked you, a Farang, a higher price anyway. To give an idea of the cheapness, bottled water is 5 bhat (about 7p)!

But the heat, traffic, sheer persistence of locals approaching tourists and noise makes Bangkok a city which becomes too much for more than a few days. The trick is not to attempt to cram everything you can see into your stay. Relax, spend some time away from the sightseeing for a while, and you will make it a much better experience.

And air conditioning. Find some air conditioning.

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