Two years after my last visit, I find myself back at the Swan Hotel off of Charoen Krung Road near the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. Coming back to this city for the 4th time, as a jumping off point for further travel to Indonesia, Malaysia, and parts unknown as of yet, I’m struck by how different this city is from my first visit nearly 7 years ago. Steel and glass high rises have replaced many of the low rise concrete buildings. In place of small soi’s (side streets) filled with bustling restaurants and mini-marts are now bigger plazas catering to western tastes.
It would be easy to write a commentary on gentrification, and commercializations as a vehicle to drive out the working class (especially feeling that pinch in Chicago, and the USA right now), but in Bangkok, you’ll still find the two in harmony in much of the city – for now. I’m happy to just be in the midst of a global community, seeing the new mixed in with the old, and so many people wandering, exploring, and smiling at the wonder that is Bangkok, and the promise of adventure in travel.
We arrived late Thursday, January 12th after a 13 hour flight to Tokyo, followed by a 5 hour flight to Bangkok. Immediately upon exiting the plane one is hit with the sticky humidity that becomes a part of life in Southeast Asia. Warmer layers piled on in Chicago, and during the flight are quickly shed and stuffed into carry-on baggage.
Our first stop was an Air BnB off of the Phra Khanong sky train stop.
We booked more out of curiosity of expat Bangkok high-rise living more than out of a necessity for western comforts (the dated 60/70’s style Bangkok hotels you find everywhere, like the Swan, are just fine). However, it was nice to have a full apartment, kitchen, refrigerator, and washing machine at our disposal for the first five days.
Talking to a local Thai chef, Ying, the next evening we learned that many of these high-rises are about 70% empty, which is why it’s easy to rent for Air BnB.
One amazing thing about travel is that you still run into people you know from all over the world. Our first full night here included drinks with Ryan Wizniak, the drummer for Elephant Gun (and just played with 5 days before my trip) Sky Train Jazz Bar, at a great little place near Victory Monmument. Sangsom flows, the music is good, and Ultraman watches you pee.
The first weekend was filled with that Bangkok right of passage, Chatuchak (known as JJ) market. A labyrinth of stalls selling everything from clay Buddha amulets to massive pieces of furniture, as well as any piece of clothing you could ever buy (need a fur coat in 90 degree heat, they’ve got you covered!).
Long days of walking, buying, and sweating lead to early nights of sleeping and trying to shed the jet lag, which holds on a little tighter every year that passes.
Now, sitting poolside at the Swan, we contemplate our next move, whether Myanmar, or an island, before heading south so I can collect memories, photos, and visas not yet obtained.
More updates soon, and some saxophone trouble is sure to follow.
Why do I travel? This overused Mark Twain Quote sums it up quite nicely:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”