Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bangkok: Through my perspective

I have been to Thailand on numerous occasions, and Bangkok tops the list, not because it is the capital but as the city which I have only passed over on transit, or stayed only for a night without really getting to know the place. While I can say I have been to Bangkok at least three times, I have not really 'seen' or discovered the treasures guarded by the metropolis city which graces the top positions on the Asia list for many things.

Bangkok is known to many as this extremely busy and heavily populated city in the midst of rapid modernization, yet at the same time maintaining the bits and pieces of yesteryear with the sprawling streets of stalls lining the borders and within the city.
It is quite an interesting sight, really, to see the mix of aggressive development skirted by the memories of the humble lifestyle of the locals, creating a rather sharp contrast between the high rise skyscrapers versus the modest abodes of street traders painted on a large canvas for all to see and especially tourists who marvel at the alluring characteristics in this crowded city.

For one to truly appreciate a place, rather than just purely physical admiration, it is vital to take note of the history and background of the place to be able to understand the state in which it is today.

Starting from its early beginnings, Bangkok was made the capital, taking over from Thonburi and Rattanakosin which were the original capitals under the rule of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century. Its strategic location which was right in the middle of the heart of Siam (then Thailand) made it the best location for development and modernization between the 1960s to the 1980s period where the economy boomed rapidly. What started as a small trading capital continued to grow in its area and today, it is one of the busiest cities in the world.

However, the rapid economy growth and modernization lacked synchronization with the urbanization which was neglected in the process and hence, the city became a picture of unkempt appearance with the haphazard-like landscape. The irregularity of the buildings and structures placed beside each other makes it seem like a disorganized puzzle, in need of proper planning and organization to put them back in the right places. It is not going to be an easy task, with the locals being used to the way it has been and also the political struggles are posing a huge problem to the country's government since the 20th century which is still ongoing until today.
It may sound like it is less attractive than what it was supposed to be, what with the disheveled style and the chaotic environment, but it is just a mere illusion for it really depends on how you look at it.
While Bangkok may seem disorderly, it actually holds within it that unique and rustic charm which defines her own identity among the other cities in the world, and is the main attractive factor which lures travelers from all over the world to fly in to personally see and experience for themselves what the city has to offer.

The fast-booming city has indeed grown in its population, making it one of the most populous cities in the country, with at least (or more than) 14 million people living within this metropolis city and at the same time, welcoming millions of visitors every year. It is no doubt, an extremely dense and crowded city, especially if you were to travel during the peak holiday seasons, as this is also one of the most popular tourist destinations where you will find yourself wrestling through the crowds at each of the tourist spot. Traffic condition can be bad on the road, as I have talked about it in my earlier post, and while the public transportation system (BTS) can be a convenient way to get around, there will also be crowds as we are talking about millions of people using the system.
These are reasons why Bangkok also tops the list of one of the cities with the worst traffic congestion in the world, alongside New York, India, Manila, and Jakarta.

Having said that, that does not deter the enthusiastic travelers from exploring the city and looking out for that warm touch of the local lifestyle which is like a magnetic force in pulling people towards them. The Thais are still very much continuing their trading lifestyle; oblivious to the many changes taking place in the city in times of the heavy development, evident in the many stalls set up along the streets and the locals themselves are still indulging in their own local industries.
It is not uncommon to stumble upon stalls or street vendors with rather modest looking owners sitting there on a stool, looking blankly until someone walks near their stall or looks at their items on sale.
It is then that they will start with a beam or a smile and a warm greeting with that eagerness to assist you. That is the trademark of Thailand; their hospitality.

Snapshots of the local scenes on the streets

Food stalls can be found by the streets too; as the Thais love their street food and it is not hard to spot the locals buying their food from the stalls themselves.

The Thai hospitality is one that is much talked about and ranks high on the list of the best hospitality in the world. It is no surprise at all, as the Thais are friendly people, not to mention courteous too. There are no shortage of smiles or greetings when in Thailand, as the Thais show you how they welcome you to their country. Generally, their customer service is notable too, as the Thais show you through their actions (and their beautiful smiles) how they prioritize their customers with utmost importance. Be it by the roadside stalls or even in the malls, the Thais are always ready to assist you.
(Of course, there are still very few exceptions, but just exercise caution and you will find that their service and hospitality is still good; satisfactory to the least).
It is this warm trait which upholds the dignified and much talked about status of the Thai society, and it is amazing, even respectful that such attributes are not lost in the fast-paced evolution today.

Coupled with the warm Thai hospitality, and with the trading business still running in parallel with the economic development, it is no wonder that Bangkok is also known as the shopping capital in Asia; and there are some who even termed it a Shopping paradise. From cheap fashion finds to high street brands and luxury designer labels, there is something to suit everyone and there is no end to the multi storey malls dotting the cityscape. People just love to shop in Bangkok, and there are many who would just be in Bangkok purely for shopping purposes. The fact that Bangkok does not rely on imported goods alone and has her own manufacturing producing the mass of fashion items, from clothes to bags and accessories, is enough to justify for the reasonably good prices and unique stuffs which can be found here. Furthermore, the fashion retail industry is booming to the extent that they are now one of the major exporters of their local fashion products to other countries; especially neighboring countries. There is no end to what you can find in Bangkok, as the number of shops and shopping malls within the city can keep you occupied throughout your trip, if you purely travel for the purpose of shopping. Even if you are not keen on hunting for clothing or fashion items, there are many souvenirs and even handicraft items which are worth your attention while traipsing the malls and streets, and you can usually walk away with a good bargain. Totally not into shopping? Then just scour these shopping places for a glimpse into the local culture; for this is where most of the locals hang around and you could experience the local lifestyle through observing the way they interact with each other and foreigners, and also the way they dress themselves. It is still a very interesting sightseeing journey, in all.

Major shopping malls are making their presence in the modern society; and air-conditioned corridors lined with spotless glass paneled windows belonging to contemporary designed shops are trending among the younger generation. It is the price of development, but it has not totally taken over the local culture of street shopping as it is obvious that the locals still enjoy their streets lined with cheap and affordable finds. The mixed economy in the midst of the growth of the country has also seen the division of the economic status in the society; thus creating the gap which is waiting to be filled.

Economy aside, I have also observed that the Thais are a religion-centric community; and I would say there is a huge population of devout Buddhists in this society. It is common to see small shrines along the road and the locals would be standing with full awe of the deities, silently and focused on their prayers, while being oblivious to the passersby. Bangkok is well known for the beautiful Buddhist temples which are so commonly found, especially in the capital, that the temples have become the eminent icons of the city.
It is indeed an impressive culture, to see that the concept of religion remains unshaken by the rapid paradigm shifts with the emergence of science and technology in today's modern world.

Besides religion, I am sure it is general knowledge that the Thais adore their King, and they regard their monarch with great importance. The abolition of the absolute monarchy definitely has seen its effects in the rising of political struggles throughout the 20th to 21st century, and recently, these have made their appearances to international news; portraying a picture of political instability in the country, or specifically in the capital city of Bangkok where protesters are seen to be protesting against the government. Rumors and reporting of such chaos will cause a slowdown in the country's economy; especially in the tourism sector, on which Thailand is heavily dependent on, as the tourists are turned away in anxiety over the risks while traveling to the country in such a doubtful period.

Despite the headlines and the anxiety over the tumultuous condition in the city, the beauty and the charms of Bangkok are still intact, quietly waiting for their admirers to soon make their moves towards the city and revel in the many exotic attractions the city has to offer.

Bangkok, in short is truly an exotic destination, and while there are many attractions to cover, do take your time and do not rush or you might miss the true inner beauty lying within waiting for you to discover. While the weather can be rather hot and humid, due to its geographical location near to the Equator, it can also be rather unpredictable at times with rainfalls making its way into the climate particularly towards the end of the year. It is common of a tropical weather, and should not be a deterring factor to truly enjoy the travel experience as all one would need is a hat, umbrella, and perhaps a rain poncho, to get you through the tropical weather. It is not all bad too(trust me, I grew up in this climate), as it is summer all year long, where you can leave your thick clothing at home and just put on lightweight cotton shirts and pants; even shorts and sandals which are typically what the locals would wear. (Though, do take note and be mindful of the religious places which would require you to cover up when entering). That would make it easy to pack, and leave ample space for souvenirs. As Bangkok is a developed city, there is no worry should you forget anything at home for you can always get anything anywhere. One just need to have enough spare cash and coins in case of need when traveling in Bangkok.
Like most cities in the world, there is no safe proof way to guard against crimes and caution is always to be exercised wherever it is. Follow the safety guidelines and always be alert wherever you are.

With all that in mind, all you need is a passport in hand, and you're ready to take that trip to enjoy Bangkok.

The picture of modernization coupled with the toss of the urbanization is indeed a unique combination and to me, it is an alluring factor which forms the identity of Bangkok.
The city is just like an exotic flower, with many petals to uncover and relish in its beauty, and is awaiting for her visitors to see and admire.

Bangkok awaits to welcome her visitors~

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