You can’t really prepare for Bangkok in all its contradictions. Like all big cities, the extremely rich and extremely poor share the same streets, but in Bangkok they literally brush shoulders. Every stretch of pavement is fair game; giant shopping malls cater to the label-obsessed super rich and right outside children sit on the street begging. In England we like to try to hide our social problems with so many rules and regulations on who can be where. In Bangkok life is lived on the streets and just moving around, slipping in and out and through these worlds, is an experience.
I heard somewhere that street selling in Thailand is illegal except in dedicated market areas. I read somewhere else there are over 900,000 street sellers in Bangkok. You can find any goods or services, yes including that service, at any time of day or night and the price is always negotiable. In Bangkok someone is selling the one thing you want but a million others are selling a billion things you don’t.
This thought struck me when, on our second day and in weather the likes of which my body had never previously experienced, we went to Chatachuk Market, the biggest market in the world. On arrival at the first stretch of stalls we saw a man dressed in drag dancing over a dead body wrapped in a tarpaulin. Later I found a cockroach in my Pad Thai. Despite these traumatic events, the market was amazing. If I wasn’t close to passing out because of the heat I would have bought so much tie dye. Just be careful you don’t get lost.
Next we visited the temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace which are conveniently located next door to eachother. Yes, it was baking hot. Yes, there were a million tourists. Yes, the dress code is irritatingly strict, but you really have to see this place. No matter how intense your disdain for sightseeing is or how passionately you object to the spoils of oganised religion is, you’ll be impressed. I promise.
After an exhausting day spent at the Palace I must admit we saw Wat Arun from the ferry on the Chao Prayha river and that felt like enough.
We spent a day walking around the sprawling expanse of Bangkok’s Chinatown, where the gold shops outnumber the restaurants. There’s some incredible street food on offer here and the markets are worth a look. If you fancy trying Shark Fin soup this is the place to do it. Beware of tuktuk scams (we were randomly taken to a tailors and harassed to buy things) and prepare to walk for a long time in the sun. Just as I reached exhaustion, a tiny oasis of air conditioned calm appeared in the form of Double Dogs tea shop which I can thoroughly recommend for delicious tea and sweets served with proper Chinese ceremony.
The Indian Flower Market is beautiful, especially at night, but there are few places to eat and drink so have a plan about where to head when you get hungry. Unless you want to eat flowers.
Probably my most enjoyable experience in Bangkok was my first Thai massage. Not being entirely sure what to expect I went to a posh place called Ruen-Nuad. Rather than one of the hundreds of shop front type massage parlours all over Thailand I chose a place more like a spa. Clean, calm and private. I can’t really describe what went on on that futon but when it was all over I felt like I had been steam rolled flat and then re-inflated like that terrifying man at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It felt good.