Sunday, September 21, 2014

A One Day Ramble in Bangkok

Bangkok is a city of contrasts: ancient and modern, traditional and new, serene and frantic, grand and modest, complex and simple. Most first-time visitors to Bangkok, or Krungtep (Kroong tep), as it is called by Thais (its current name), see the more dynamic sights: glittering temples alongside the mighty Chao Praya River, huge gleaming shopping malls, floating markets, Yaowarat Road in Chinatown, the Grand Palace, and the robust night life of Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Sukhumvit Road.

But for those who stay a while, often years, more layers of Bangkok can be peeled away through short excursions in any part of the city. This way, Bangkok becomes more identifiable, more familiar and thus less intimidating.

This is not to say that one can just let down all defenses and stray anywhere in this megalopolis that is ten times the size of New York City in area. Like any large world city, dangers lurk in certain places, and even the seasoned resident is wise to remain vigilant.

However, the quiet side of Bangkok, which reflects the more traditional way of life, as well as the life of those struggling to better their lives of living hand to mouth can be observed by traveling in the less well-known but relatively safe areas of the city. It is there that "cheewit Thai" (Thai life) can be experienced.

I recently took a one day tour of Bangkok, using six modes of travel (walking, motorcycle taxi, metered taxi, subway, train and canal boat taxi). Here, in chronological order, are the sights along the way.

All photos © by the author. All rights reserved. Do not use without permission.
Construction workers make 200-300 baht (~$6.50-$9.50) per ten hour day. Here workers take a break along the railway by Laksi station in northern Bangkok.

Many temporary homes (that frequently become more or less permanent) are found in several locations. This is a setting along the northern rail line near Bang Sue station.

Hua Lumpong is the city's central station and a hub of travel connections for Thais and foreign visitors alike. Here three recent graduates of the prestigious police academy proudly pose.

Chinatown is a short walk from Hua Lumpong station. On Yaowarat Road, one can observe continuous activity at Chinese Buddhist and Taoist temples.

The state lottery, held twice a month, is a very large part of Thai life. Vendors can be seen literally everywhere, some walking, some on bicycles, some set up like this man on city sidewalks. This is on Yaowarat Road. Last week's winner took home 30 million baht (about US$940,000). Such jackpots keep the hopeful buying tickets, many first conferring with fortune tellers or getting lucky numbers from temples.

A popular activity in many parts of the world: fish that clean dead skin from a person's feet. This sidewalk shop is on a side street in Chinatown.

If one wants to experience even more traditional life, it is necessary to explore the tiny alleys that twist between side streets, particularly in Chinatown. Here a man prepares gai tod, crispy deep fried chicken.

A common sight everywhere in Thailand away from the modern uptown streets: soups cooked over open charcoal fires

On a tiny side street, these men peel hundreds of mangoes each day.

Commerce is continuous, even away from the main roads, products moved by hand cart as shown here, or often carried on shoulder poles or simply on shoulders or backs.

In a small Chinese temple (only three other persons stopped by while I was there), the altar displays a wooden bell (right) and monk prayer books, two in Thai, the other in Chinese.

Durian, the most wonderful (or disgusting, depending on one's sense of smell) fruit in Thailand. Hotels often post signs proclaiming that this pungent fruit may not be taken into rooms.

A young caped crusader casts a serious look in front of an herbal drink shop. I tried one of the brews that is proclaimed to have healthy healing effects. Unfortunately, they also added a lot of sugar, which pretty much negates any health benefits.

A friend, Greg Goodmacher, a professor and free lance writer from Japan, collects information about teas for an upcoming article about Thailand tea and coffee shops. The most expensive tea at this shop is jasmine flower, which costs 8,000 baht per kilo ($113 per pound)!

An array of teas on display.

More herbal drinks brewed at another shop. I tried this one too.
Still too sweet.

Some of the herbs used to make drinks.
The far one looked like a type of cedar.

An ice crushing machine in a back alley of Chinatown. About half of the very large ice blocks (under the tarps behind the young man) had been hoisted up one by one and put through the chopper, then bagged and delivered to nearby shops.

On the walk back to Hua Lumpong station, I saw this man sleeping in a doorway. It is not an unusual sight, but it is fairly uncommon to see, even though Bangkok is quite large.

After a ride on the subway, I stopped to take a boat taxi on the San Saeb canal. There are many sights of Thai life to see along the way. Here, standing room only requires passengers to hang onto ropes slung across the boat's ceiling.

Small cable ferries take passengers across the canal for three baht
(10 cents)

Although canal boats do not have the problem of traffic jams, delays can happen. As my luck would have it, the engine overheated and we sat for several minutes while the conductors poured canal water on it until cool enough to start again.

At a wat (temple) near the boat terminus, statues of revered monks are adorned with gold leaf by the faithful.
If you want to see the less hectic and more traditional side of Thailand in its capital city, get off the main roads. You will learn a lot.

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