We spent 3 months exploring southeast Asia, and we used Bangkok as our base, which worked extremely well. You can get anything in Bangkok, and it's easy to get cheap flights to the rest of Asia. We ended up entering and leaving the country five times! During this time, Bangkok served as our home away from home. We experimented with lots of different luxury hotels, but eventually settled in to stay at the same residential hotel time after time, stroll through the same alleys, and visit the same shops. As a result, we got a sense of life in Bangkok.
The Royal Temple and Palace are astounding, and we loved seeing Bangkok from the commuter longboats that race along a river that weaves through town. We also had a chance to explore Bangkok's malls in depth...did we mention that you can buy absolutely everything in Bangkok? A Gucci backpack? Yes! Nike jeans? You bet! Name a product and pick a brand, then put the two together... you'll find it in Bangkok! A word of warning though - before you bring home a suitcase full of knock-offs, check your local customs laws. Not everyone thinks this stuff is as funny as we do.
We used Bangkok as a hub for seeing Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Australia and grew to love the city. There is simply no city in the world as completely chaotic as Bangkok -- imagine the disorganized urban sprawl of Los Angeles smashed with the density of Manhattan, then add street vendors down every street cooking up every imaginable Thai dish or selling pirated CDs, software, clothing, luggage, etc. Now add traffic, construction (and construction debris), and hordes of pedestrians, and you've got the beginning of a mental image of Bangkok. You can stand on any street, think of a product or service you may need, look around to find a vendor within your line of sight! Speaking of pedestrians...you might be curious about what it's like to try to walk around in this environment -- in all our travels, Bangkok definitely ranks as the most hostile city for pedestrians. On any given street there are many obstacles: broad streets without crosswalks so you have to watch the traffic lights and make a dash for it, sidewalks packed with vendors, manholes without manhole covers (waiting to swallow tourists), vents spewing vile odors, and, as if that wasn't enough, motorcycles racing down sidewalks to avoid Bangkok's standstill rush-hour traffic. Combine this with the ever present heat and humidity characteristic of southeast Asia and choking smog and you realize that getting to that 7-11 across the street is a challenge.
How could we fall in love with a city so clearly hostile to people? There's something energizing about the chaos in Bangkok. Add to that incredible food from all around the world -- in addition to great Thai food, we ate our best Chinese meal ever, wonderful sushi, great Indian food, and tasty Korean food -- at bargain prices, and treats from home simply not easily had elsewhere in southeast Asia.
We loved the quirky things about Bangkok as well. For example, we found a movie theatre with English language films and settled in to watch the previews (in Thai). Our favorite was what seemed to be a public service announcement evangelizing that vendors should post prices and that consumers not bargain! Once the previews, commercials, and public service announcements were finished, patriotic music began to play & a picture of the king was displayed on the screen -- everyone in the theatre stood as a collage of images of the king in heartwarming scenarios were shown!
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