For a week now, we have been exploring the city of Bangkok. This city holds a strange place in my heart, out of everywhere I have been. There’s days when I can’t stand what I see and what I experience… then within the same day, I find something I absolutely love here. It’s difficult to explain, but I will go ahead and try.
First of all, the city is chaotic. There’s not been a place that we have visited yet that wasn’t full of chaotic energy. Even the temples we have visited were chaotic. In most cities, if you walk around in the wee hours of the morning, you can find a serenity that one wouldn’t expect in a city. Not here… when we first rolled into Bangkok, at 5 AM in the morning, there were hordes of people. First up there were the touts and scammers… trying to take all the tourists for their money. They hit us right after we got off the bus. Tuk-tuk, Taxi?!? They would ask. Friend, friend… where you go? All I wanted to do was pack up my bags, get the hell out of there to our hotel, get our Myanmar visas and leave. After walking away from all the madness of the touts, there were people selling lottery tickets, grilled skewers of chicken and pork, and fruit stands all on the side of the road. At 5 AM! And we weren’t even to the famous Khaosan Road area yet! We had heard stories of Khaosan and remembered a blog we read saying the writer and his girlfriend arrived, spent 5 minutes, and left to never come back. Needless to say, we didn’t have the best expectations. We joined all the tourists off our bus in the dazed scramble for the remaining guesthouse rooms in the Khaosan area. We knew we didn’t want to stay amidst the chaos so wandered to a quieter side street and after checking a few guesthouses, we got lucky and found a cheap, clean guesthouse owned by a local family. As we were looking for our guesthouse, we passed tables with people still drinking and partying from the night before, people passed out in the street, beggars, monks coming out onto the streets to gather their morning alms, and more food stalls selling everything from pancakes to pad thai.
Somehow though, the city has managed to grow on us. The chaos has its charm. At any time of the day, you can go out and walk around and expect something interesting to happen, or just grab a quick bite to eat. On our first day, we walked out of the hotel and passed a guy on the street. I nodded and smiled at him, only to realize who it was. I told Nancy, and she pushed me to go back and have a chat with him, and it was Mark Murphy of the band Wookiefoot! Many of you might not know this band, but their work through their organization “Be the Change Charities” was one of the big motivators that inspired me to travel in the first place. They use their music as a vehicle of change and raise money to donate to humanitarian projects around the world. They then travel (on their own money) to third world countries and distribute the money raised to smaller organizations in need. This is my ultimate goal for my music, to use it as a vehicle of positive change throughout our world. It is why I travel… to seek, to learn, to share, and eventually it is my dream to be of service in these countries that I set foot in. Check out more on their site! (http://bethechangecharities.org/)
It’s not all pretty though. One of the things I dislike the most about traveling is witnessing the adverse effects of tourism on a place. It makes me question why I am really here and if my presence in a place is even worth it. I think travel is one of the best forms of education, but when I witness the culture of a place being spoiled, it makes me sad and angry. When I walk around the area of Khaosan Road (and some other areas) in Bangkok, the negative effects are more apparent than anywhere I have traveled. You walk to get some dinner and you hear the whisperings of shady characters trying to sell entrance to sex shows, prostitutes, and more. My mind starts to wander into the dark depths of the world of sex trafficking when suddenly I hear a British tourist in his drunken world yell out to his friend… “DUDE… YOU HAVE TO SEE A PING-PONG SHOW TONIGHT!!!.” I won’t go into the details of this (wikipedia has it all if you are curious), but I can’t imagine that he would be so enthusiastic about this show if it were his own younger sister who was stolen or sold from her family, forced into the sex trade as a child, and eventually made to work in a show as an adult for a living that required her to perform random feats for the drunken throngs of tourists that pour through Bangkok every year. Don’t even get me started on the prostitution here… Top that off with all the taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers that see Westerners as walking ATMs and try to scam every penny they can off of unsuspecting tourists. You really have to have your wits about you to navigate this city. It’s enough to make me want to fly away and never come back.
Just about the time that I was getting frustrated with the lack of any sort of meaningful contact with Thai culture in the South and in Bangkok, magic had it’s way of popping in! Once again, it started with a random walk outside our hotel. We stopped to talk to a Westerner promoting his health-food cafe and were invited to play some music. The people and food were amazing! If you are in Bangkok, look up Ethos Cafe… you will not be disappointed. Our night there had us meeting amazing people and making connections that eluded to the future part of our travels through SE Asia. You gotta follow along though, as I am not sharing yet! We met a very inspirational American this night who had just come from the north of Thailand, working with Burmese refugees. She was working with a dance/circus troupe that was sharing their talents and teaching the kids in the camps how to tap into their own creativity. The next day we met with a local from Bangkok, who we got into contact through our Live Love Travel Dream facebook page. Somehow, we had sent her an invite to “like” our facebook page and we started chatting. Eventually we made plans to meet up in Bangkok. Our friend had just returned from solo travels in India and she took us all around Bangkok to some local markets and then to a hidden Indian restaurant where we spent the night chatting with her and a very nice young Nepalese man who had traveled a bit around the world and spoke more languages than I could count with my two hands! Those moments are always the most magical for me… when I am immersed in the world of the country I am traveling through. That night, as our friend took us through all the hidden corridors of the city, we could nearly forget that we were in a city that had massive amounts of tourists everywhere. It was a glimpse of the real SE Asia, and it was a night we will both hold very dearly!
We have also enjoyed the beautiful temples here in Bangkok, like Wat Pho, the home of Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha statue and the famous Golden Mountain! Experiencing the architecture here has been nothing short of amazing! To walk around on these sacred grounds is very special. The Buddhist culture has built many great shrines of unfathomable beauty. Their attention to detail is unbelievable! We could get lost for hours wandering around on the temple grounds, but then we would miss all of the amazing craft markets, food stalls, restaurants, and beautiful people that Bangkok has to offer. There’s a lot of beauty amidst the chaos. You just have to give the city a chance and explore… and find a nice peaceful room to come back to as your safe haven! In the words of a Wookiefoot song, “Be Fearless and Play”. You will be rewarded if you give this city a chance…