Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bangkok, baby

If Hong Kong erupts, Bangkok oozes. Humanity finds its way into every nook and cranny of the Chao Phraya River basin. The city lies two meters above sea level, making water the main adversary of human development. With a population of somewhere between 10 and 15 million (who knows for sure?), Bangkok is vast and constantly evolving. Construction and decay seem to occur at equal speeds. For every new skyscraper, a crumbling facade; for every air-conditioned condo, a line of tin-roofed shacks slipping into a canal. 

For my arrival, Bangkok has rolled out the wet carpet. 33° celsius (91° F) with a thousand percent humidity. The smog descends to ground-level. Diffused view of a red evening sun in the haze.

Bangkok drivers don't honk their horns; it's considered very rude. In any other city, a mass of cars this large would be accompanied by a din to raise the dead. Not Bangkok. Cacophanous jockeying of vehicles and not a beep to be heard. A car swerves into our lane, nearly pushing us into the central divide; my driver flashes his brights and the car swerves away. He catches my eye in the rear-view mirrow and we exchange smiles. 

It's not beautiful, this Bangkok, but it is impressive. I've flown into this city more than a dozen times, but this is my first time back in 13 years. I'm anxious to see the sky train, a sorely-needed urban transit system that was long-planned, and finally built in my absence. I'm glad that I'm staying with my friend Terry, a kindred spirit who I've known since college, and who has made Bangkok his home for the last seven years - he'll be able to give me something of an insider's view for the five days I'm here. I'm also happy to have as my base a Bangkok residential neighborhood, surrounded by working folk and polite Thai whores, rather than the travelers' ghetto of Khao San Road, where mad drunken backpackers and ecstasy-addled Israeli ravers reign supreme.

My driver suddenly remembers it's time to blast my ears with pop music. Think Jonas Brothers thrown into a blender with a synthesizer and drum machine, played back at top volume with too much reverb. Looking at food vendors and pretty girls outside my window, I can't help but smile. I'm back in Bangkok and I fucking love it.


  1. Oh man, Hal, you're taking me back! Beautiful writing, and now I'm missing Thailand something fierce. Enjoy!

  2. Keep it coming Hal. Since I wont be doing any major travel for a while, I'll have to do it vicariously through you.

  3. Such wonderful writing...beautiful!