Monday, 9 September 2013

One Week in Bangkok...

There are too many options and most of them are only available to locals. This is not to say that you can't take them, only that you may not be aware of them. I could take a bus if I knew how to read Thai... but I can't, so every trip is an adventure to an unknown destination in the general direction I want to go.
There are these Toyota mini pick-ups everywhere. They're like the local version of the local bus routes. If you are on an actual bus, it's probably an intercity/district bus. Tuk-tuks (the tourist money grab), motorcycle taxis, and these pick-up trucks are the transportation mode of the day. They cost about 30 cents (10 baht) per ride. If you pay more, you're being ripped off and you should get out or re-negotiate (cost of the trip is usually discussed at the beginning of the journey). 400 baht ($13) may not seem like much of a fortune to the average westerner for a Taxi, but you could eat 3 meals a day for 6 days for the same amount of money in Thailand. Tuk tuks are for tourists. Don't use them unless you know where you're going and how much it costs to get there or they will rip you off- that's their goal, white boy.
Taxis do not have GPS, unless they are coloured blue.. Google Maps (and Wi-Fi service) is your friend, as a newcomer to Bangkok. Taxi drivers are stupid. They don't know they're own city at all and will often ask for a phone number of your destination so they can call and get directions. To be fair, these cities outside of North America have no idea what gridlock is since there is no grid to lock, but city streets made for a horse and carriage don't accommodate motorized vehicles very well. Nor is there a way to make streets wider when the buildings are built right up to the edge of street in the first place. Naming and numbering those same streets is a nightmare. It's no wonder they are clueless. Taxis are very cheap for the service they provide, but be prepared to know exactly where and how to get where you are going. If you have internet available to you, mapping out and planning your trip ahead of time will save you a lot of headaches. It is much easier to point at a map on your smartphone and say “go here” than to try to mime your way to a destination the taxi driver doesn't know of, or how to get there. Showing them a map also prevents them from trying to scam you by taking a “short cut.”

The Internet and Mobile Phones
Getting on the internet is as easy as buying a USB dongle and a SIM card from the 7/11. There are a couple of service providers to choose from, but they are all essentially the same. Once you have the USB stick and SIM card, you can purchase time for about $5 or $10. As far as I can tell, you are charged by time rather than amount downloaded, but I haven’t really tested that theory yet. If you spend a lot of time screwing around on Facebook, you will spend a lot of money doing it, but if you are just checking for messages and communication, then your pay-as-you-go service can last a few days or week. Many places have free Wi-Fi if you ask, but you will need a username password almost every time, too. I brought my mobile phone from Canada and unlocked it for about $20 (Rogers wanted $50). With another SIM card picked up at the 7/11, I suddenly had a phone again and access to the provider's Wi-Fi network when I was in range of a hotspot. This can be a little spotty as well, but better than nothing.

Food & booze
I am loving Thai street food. There is still a lot of rice in every meal, but no soup or kimchi. When you do eat soup, it’s usually with noodles and you add your own spices to flavour it. Your options are sugar, vinegar, red pepper, and fish sauce. You can make it as sweet, sour or spicy as you prefer. Pad Thai is usually a plate of rice with a choice of meat and curry-like sauce poured on top. You can also get all sorts of meat on a stick, fresh fruit smoothies... There are endless possibilities when it comes to eating food on the street and the prices can’t be beaten. In a restaurant you can easily expect to pay the equivalent of about $5 or $10 per meal, but street food won’t cost you any more than a dollar.
Alcohol is readily available, but chain stores won’t make any sales before 5 pm or after 12 am. It’s pretty easy to bypass this law by going to a mom & pop store or one of the millions of bars throughout the city. Domestic beer is about $1.50 for a large bottle or tall can, and about $1 for a normal sized bottle. In a bar, the cost is closer to $3.

The people
When it comes to people, I've found that they are pretty much the same no matter what country or culture you are in. Each country has their own idiosyncrasies, but for the most part they are the same. Aggressiveness is frowned upon in all Asian countries. It shows a lack of control, but when encountering language barriers it’s sometimes unavoidable. In Canada, when you want to get something done, there is more of a sense of doing it right NOW rather than later. In Korea, and Thailand, as much as they like to talk about a fast culture, there is actually a pretty lassier-faire attitude to getting things accomplished in a timely manner. Generally, people are pretty friendly and helpful everywhere, but you will always encounter that one person who isn't when it matters most. And that is true in every country.

The City
Bangkok is a large sprawling metropolis with the same problems as every city-- traffic and pollution. When compared to some place like Vancouver, it’s disgustingly dirty, but if I compare it to Seoul, it’s really no different. Certain areas are very well maintained. Especially around the large malls where there are litter police (and tourists). Tossing a cigarette butt can result in a fine. In other parts of the city however, it can be so dirty, the smell is overwhelming. There are a least a few garbage cans on the street, so it’s not like Seoul in that regard, where the garbage can seems to be non-existent.

Bangkok is criss-crossed by an extensive canal network. It is possible to travel to any part of the city by water if you so desired. They are also very polluted, but effort is being made to clean them. They add a contrasting beauty to the city overrun by traffic congestion, with the banks of the canals choked full of foliage and lined with banana trees. The bananas should be rip in a week or so, but the Thais will probably snatch them up as soon as they are able.

There are stray dogs and cats everywhere, but they are pretty tame. I wouldn't attempt to pet any of them, but I don’t fear them either. I've also seen lots of rats and a few geckos crawling up the side of walls in the evening. The wildlife is very noisy at night, but you soon get used to the din of frogs and crickets and other assorted fauna. One day, I was walking over a bridge spanning a canal, and stopped to enjoy the view. When I looked down, I saw what I thought at first was a log, but turned out to be a very large lizard. When he saw me staring at it, it dove and disappeared into the murky water. At a school I visited, the grounds had large ponds filled with water lilies and fish. If it wasn't for the plastic bottles on the lilies, it would look very nice.

The Weather
Hot. That is all. Sometimes it rains, but it’s still hot.

The Nightlife

 There are more bars than you can shake a stick at. I've been to a couple of the usual hot-spots. Khoasan Road is full of college kids getting drunk. It is fun to people watch there because they are so out of control. Since it’s so hot all the time, some bars consist of nothing but a bar set up on the street with a tent over it. Another area called Cowboy Street is all old men and girlie bars. I walked down the street to check it out, but I didn't partake in anything offered. My new residence is in yet another part of town known for its ‘pong’ show, also involving scantily-clad or naked girls. I have yet to explore this since I just got here today. The place I'm staying at costs $3 per day.