The hum of the city is all encompassing. It fills the narrow streets and lanes with as much prevalence and vigour as the highways and motorways. The buildings crowd together as passengers on a rush hour bus, jostling for space in the skyline. Echoing off them that steady drone of traffic rises to the crescendo of a rushing ambulance and then dies off in comparative silence. It is an orchestra to empty ears, already accustomed to such auditory accosting.
I’ve heard Bangkok called the city of squalor. You can’t say they’re wrong. This place has a filth that seeps down into our very bones. Even walking the streets in shoes leaves our feet blackened as rotten fruit and in days tiny cuts and sores swell, weeping out the corruption inside.
Bangkok to me is much the same.
By day, the worst is kept under wraps, as though avoiding the clarity of sunlight. All that remains are tiny pieces of the night: shadow of an evening butterfly, a faint whiff of garbage, a broken beer bottle on the grimy footpath. They are only hints of what is yet to come. When the night does fall, fluorescents hide the fact from hungry eyes. People in droves begin to wander the streets, waiting for the entertainment that sustains their holiday atmosphere. Bars light up and drinks and drugs change hands like schoolyard marbles. We are all children in an adult playground and the lights are red and flashing.
In the streets tuk-tuk drivers and pimps come together in an odd urban blend. They approach passerbys with the same perseverance and surprisingly similar results. Calls of “You want tuk-tuk” collide mid-air with those of “You want ping pong show” and the steady smacking of lips is enough to make me cringe. Is this the City of Angels so trumpeted by Kings of old? Perhaps it’s my general dislike of cities, but I have to say I’m not seeing it.
That’s not to say of course that Bangkok has no redeeming qualities. Noodle soups eaten at street stalls by bustling roads, complete with wantons floating in delicious circles around rice noodles, still fill us to overflowing. Icy fruit shakes ordered standing shoulder to shoulder with pimps and lady-boys taste just as fresh as they would anywhere. And with just a little wandering the city opens up even more. Thai desserts are spooned out in the half-light and stumbling over uneven pavers I snack on sago swimming in coconut milk and sickly sweet black rice pudding. Venturing out further, we encounter Bangkok’s history in palaces and temples, trekking aimlessly among the crowds at markets both large and small. The little treasures we find we hold close and do our best to glaze over what disagrees with us. This may not be the famed City of Angels, but it is a city ready to test and amaze the willing explorer.
This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.