Saturday, March 12, 2005

Bangkok – city of contrast


My journey to discover nuances of Bangkok city and its people started with my first trip in 97 and since then is continuing with almost once a year visit. This city is so similar in character to Mumbai or Calcutta. Every visitor in his first visit would be shaken by extreme social, economic conditions that nestle side by side in stark contrast. But slowly this contrast gets glossed over by subtleties of Thai people, their cuisine and most important their culture that is ingrained with hospitality and innocence.

Bangkok brings images of pagoda, cheap textiles, massage parlous and atrocious traffic snarls. Over the years, traffic situation is somewhat eased with the introduction of sky rail. Nonetheless, going from downtown to airport at peak hours can make one nervous- no matter how early you start your journey. The sight of small shrine in front of every home reminds of ‘tulsi vrindavan’ in village home ‘aangan’. In India, ‘namaste’ is overtaken by western handshake. In Bangkok, it is very much “Sawasde” all across economic and social spectrums.
How often we attribute the dishonesty and cheating to poor living conditions. We blame dilution of ethical standard to blatant pursuit of western life and material happiness. Bangkok represents unique paradox in this regard. Here night clubs are mushroomed like grocery shops in bazaar, alcohol/drug abuse is rampant and so is flesh trade. But amidst all that -one thread is common – ‘sincerity to customers and modesty ‘. You can walk in any of these joints any time- you can be not just safe but are treated like a VIP. However the same cannot be said for shopping in bazaars. You could do all the hard bargaining and would always end up feeling of being over smarted by a seller.

Visit to world’s largest and sprawling restaurant – Royal Dragon is a must. Here waiters serve food on their skates. Most rooms have glass panes with Karaoke facility. The restautarant is like a floating palace over a lake - Chinese architecture design with sloping roofs of orange-red tile roof. Most Thai restaurant would serve leaf similar to beetle leaf with combinations of peanuts, tiny green chilly and few spices. Add more than one chilly and you need a bottle of local Singa beer to start rescue efforts. Robinson, Carrefour malls bring western ambience and Indra Market – motley of shops selling fake ‘Rolex watches to branded shirts’. Baiyoke Sky Hotel is ubiquitous from anywhere in downtown, however paying money to go to top of 84th floor revolving restaurant is not value for money - at least not for food, view of city can be great but subject to vagaries of pollution levels . Thai boxing and music unfolds another dimension of Thai culture.

Often visit to Bangkok rounds up with crocodile park, pagodas and shopping. But one must keep aside a day to visit Ayuthaya (I often wondered if this name came from Ayodhya). This place app. 85 kms from Bangkok was Thai capital from 1350 to 1767. Ayuthaya is located at the confluence of the Chao Phaya, Pa Sak and Lopburi rivers. A canal joins them and encircles the town. Ayuthaya has many historic ruins, two museums and is a tranquil place to visit. There is Ayutahya Wat Phra Sri Sanphet temple and Wat Phanan Choeng that contains a highly revered 19m high Buddha image.

Next time when you visit Bangkok, do tell others that you have been to ''Krungthep Maha Nakorn, Amarn Rattanakosindra, Mahindrayudhya, Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajdhani Mahasathan, Amorn Piman Avatarn Satit, Sakkatultiya Vishnukarn Prasit''. Yes that’s Bangkok – longest city name ever found!!

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