The first thing that struck me about Bangkok was that the city is an assault on the senses. Lights from the cafes, bars, shops, malls and of course the road. The smell of seafood and meat from the roadside stalls and the scent of perfume worn by the Thai women. The noise of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks, music blaring out from the pubs and people bargaining in the shops. And yes, the people that walk the streets - Thai, Indian, Arab, Japanese, European, American... Bangkok is a dizzying experience.
From the glittering malls to the local bazaars selling dried fish, herbs and fruits.From the hundred odd Buddhist temples to transvestite cabarets and message parlours. (Of course, I didnt have any experience of the last two. But the signs were too obvious to ignore) From the ferry boats and tuk-tuks to the Skytrain and Toyota Corolla taxis. Everything about the city is so varied and so absorbing that its tough to describe it.
But before talking any further about Bangkok, lets talk a little about Pattaya, our first stop in Thailand.
We arrived at the Suvarnabhoomi Airport late in the afternoon. The speakers in the Arrival Lounge were playing an instrumental version of Scarborough Fair. A couple of days ago in Bangalore, I had realised (once again) that the city's airport handles almost ten times the traffic it's meant to. In Bangkok, the newly built one can handle ten times more than what it was doing on that day. For a first timer like me, the monstrosity of concrete and steel that is the airport can tend to be overwhelming because of its sheer size. Anyway, we straightaway headed for Pattaya.
Nissan and Toyota replaced Hyundai and Maruti on the road. Though the huge hoardings of LG and Samsung brought back a sense of familiarity. The bus ride from the Suvarnabhoomi Airport to Pattaya wasnt very far removed from any in India except for the quality of the road itself. Small roadside eating shacks could be seen at regular intervals.Villages went by as the bus sped along the highway. We reached Pattaya in the eveing, checked into the All Seasons Hotel and went out in the street looking for something Indian to eat. At the Indian Curry House, Anwar, from Karachi made sure that we ended up having ghar ka khana.
Pattaya is very scenic and very modern at the same time with beautiful beaches, small islands nearby and of course the glittering cafes and pubs. The Thais seem to be football crazy as I could see big screens showing the EPL almost everywhere. A day and a half in Pattaya was spent parasailing, lazing around the beach, going to a traditional Thai dance performance and an elephant show, walking on the main road parallel to the sea shore with the pubs and cafes to the left and the prostitutes on the right (yes, that was awkward because I was with my dad!).
When it comes to the temples in Bangkok, all that glitters is actually gold. The Wats, as they are called, are in one word, grand. We hopped around few of the famous temples, took the ferry to cross the river to see Wat Arun and get a view of entire city from its top. The old city of Bangkok in the foreground and the financial district with its skyscrapers in the background formed quite an image of the city.
We did the usual souvenir shopping and some more in the malls and went around the city in a tuk-tuk and a taxi. I made my parents try Thai food and my mother absolutely hated it. Met a cameraman from Fatehpur Sikri who was in town to shoot for a Rani Mukherjee, Saif Ali Khan starrer, yet to be named film. Had tea with a Bangladeshi who owned a hotel with cheap rooms. Later came back to have fish and chicken at his restaurant and make plans for another low cost trip someday. Saw dad bargain with the lady in the mall to get the suitcases for 3300 Baht (Rs 100 = 78 Baht) from the initial 4800 and later found out we could have got it for a few hundred less even. And yes, this sign in front of the Grand Palace was special!
And I saw it being put to practice too.
Communication was difficult as the Thais hardly knew any English which came as a surprise, considering the number of tourists that come to the city. But it was the cheapest of the three cities with a 2 hour tuk tuk ride costing us just 40 Baht. And it had some of the charms of a typical Indian city. The bargaining, the roadside shops selling food and clothes and the like. Only, it was much more cleaner, more varied and years ahead when it came to the posh areas of the city with the tall buildings and malls. After a two and a half days of peeking into Bangkok and its life, it was time to go to another city.