Granted: Bangkok is a city that is not easy to be loved. As the gateway to Southeast Asia, to many visitors the “Big Mango” is nothing more than an obstacle one has to overcome in order to get to better places.
And it is true: Bangkok is loud and smelly and ugly. To some, Bangkok might appear a lot like this. However, there is magic in the moloch. You just have to look at it through different eyes. When I arrived in BKK for the first time, I accidentely fell in love with the place and, in retrospect, these were seven reasons why:
1. From the very first second I accepted the fact that I was completely lost.
I arrived in BKK in the evening, the sky was pitchblack, the city illuminated and I had no idea where I was going. I was fine with it though. “Jesus, this place is h.u.g.e!” I remember thinking when I got out at Siam Station. You could probably spend a lifetime here without ever wandering the same street twice. But that fact didn’t scare me. On the contrary, to know that I know nothing helped me to stay calm and just go with the flow.
2. I asked for help.
Although I felt completely lost upon arrival, others made sure I was found. Before going, I asked my friend Yvonne for help. She gave me a lot of helpful tips and also hooked me up with Ian, who currently lives in Bangkok with his girlfriend Marianne…. They were amazing. Not only did they show me around town, but also did they fill me up on the basics one has to know to survive here. Asking for help saved me a lot of time and trouble.
3. I didn’t stay on Khaosan Road.
For me, this was the best choice. Yes, I went to Khaosan that one night and at least I know now what everybody is raving on about. I stayed at the relaxed and clean Lub’d hostel on Decho Road, where the staff was amazingly helpful. Also, the hostel is close to the river, which turned out to become my gateway to the city for the next few days.
4. I wandered without a map.
I got lost in the streets of Bangkok so many times that I’m sure I missed out on most of the tourist sights, but oh dear, was I enjoying myself! With my camera, good walking shoes and a curious mind I left the hostel every morning and went exploring. If you have nowhere to go, you find yourself floating away and actually seeing a place, noticing sweet little details, discovering the unknown. Some tourists miss out on this oppurtunity because they stick to their agenda religiously. Wandering without a map means wandering without a destination. You just wander for wandering’s sake.
5. I stayed in when I felt like it.
Alcohol is cheap, so are taxis, and as a traveller in Bangkok every day feels like Saturday. I spend my evenings with a great crowd and I am grateful to have met them. However, where they made it their habit to go out every night, I sometimes preferred to stay in, digest the impressions of the day and start a new one without a hangover.
6. I tried to talk to locals.
Not a day went past without me getting involved in some local action. An old lady gave me a free finger-massaage whilst taking the ferry to the other side of the river; I met Daeng, a local Tuk-Tuk-driver off duty, who escorted me on his bike to Wat Arun only to be able to talk in English to someone – which he had taught himself via youtube; and while walking around Lumpini Park this absolutely lovely group of students approached me because they needed help with their English homework.
7. I developed a routine.
As I usually had no idea where the day would take me, I was in no hurry to get anywhere. So I spent every morning reading a book and having breakfast on the front porch of the hostel, then walked the ten minutes to my ferry terminal next to the Oriental hotel, stopped for some fresh pineapple from my fruit-lady, who by day three knew what I wanted before I opened my mouth.
I usually spend the morning exploring, magically found my way back to the area around Silom road and had lunch in one of the sidestreets, then took a nap and went wandering again in the afternoon. Being in a strange city the size of Bangkok can be a scary thing. Sticking to some sort of routine however, makes you feel a little less lost.
And as the train left Hua Lampong station on the eve of a new adventure, I felt grateful. Bangkok had welcomed me with open arms. A city I thought I would be scared of, turned out to be this magical yet chaotic place on earth I feel happy to have laid eyes on.