Bangkok is my favorite city in the world. Bangkok is its foreign name and locals call it Krung Thep. Which, as it glories in the longest city name in the world, is short for:
Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit
กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบูรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์
The name, composed of Pali and Sanskrit root words, translates as:
City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra's behest.
168 letters. I can’t say it either.
Bangkok is one of the world’s great megalopolises. Without going into great detail about geographical boundaries, the population is approximately 15 million people and the city is set in the Chao Phraya River delta in central Thailand, covering about 1500 sq km.
It is dirty, overcrowded, vibrant, filled with traffic, restaurants, shops and industries of every description, and I love it dearly. I only know a small fraction of the city and like to stay in a couple of areas whenever I visit the city, having lived in those areas previously. And even with those small quarters, I’m nowhere close to knowing everything that can be found there.
The thing I love most about Bangkok is the cornucopia of neighbourhoods. Once you get off the main thoroughfares that cut through the city, you are immediately in labyrinths of small streets, side streets and alleys. You never know what you’re going to find as you walk down those byways. A new restaurant, a tailor shop, an antique shop, a high-end jewelry store side by side with a massage parlor or a five-star hotel with a small flower stall next to it. The sheer variety is breathtaking and there is always something new to explore. I always feel a small thrill when I find a good place that I didn’t know about before.
Bangkok has two types of weather. Hot and wet, and hot and dry. I love both. Although, if you are visiting and like to do a lot of walking, hot and dry is going to be better for you. Having lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, I have always loved rain and it is hard for me to get enough of it. But it can be hard to get around Bangkok when the deluge begins.
Another thing that I enjoy about Thailand in general, and find interesting about Bangkok in particular, is how friendly and polite the people are. The politeness and friendliness wears thin in the heavily touristed areas, but generally I have found the Thais to be some of the friendliest and most polite people in the world.
The taxi drivers are an exception, though. Everybody in Bangkok, even the Thais, have to cater to them. This means that when you stop a taxi, you actually have to ask them if they are willing to take you where you wish to go. There are number of reasons why they don’t like to do it — it may not be a part of town they want to go to, they may be having a bad day, they might not want to turn around and fight the traffic to go in the other direction. On the other hand, they have a beautiful metro and subway system that works very well. Apps like Grab Taxi are gaining in popularity. I personally don’t hesitate to take the motorcycle taxis for short distances (though I usually keep my eyes closed as they dart between cars).
And although the traffic is bad, it is much better than it was 20 years ago. A plethora of expressways combined with far better public transport systems like the metro (called BTS here) has really made a great difference.
The city is growing, with huge skyscrapers and high-rise condominium projects springing up like mushrooms everywhere. Many of the older shop house areas are disappearing. A shop house is a small two or three-storey building with a shop on the bottom and housing above it. They are ubiquitous throughout the city. But in spite of its modernization, Bangkok still has a flavour that I have never seen equalled anywhere in the world.
It is a city of food. From the deep-fried grasshoppers at the street stalls to haute cuisine at the roof deck of some of the tallest buildings, food is everywhere. And it’s good, nay, great. I’m not much of an insect eater, although I indulged in my younger days when I felt I had something to prove. But it’s there if you want it. I’m a huge fan of Thai food: I love the flavours, the freshness, and the variety. I love the spiciness, although I make no bones about the fact that I cannot handle the level of spiciness that normal Thais do. I’ve learned to look out for the brilliant red that signals the ‘lethal’ local chilies.
Krung Thep is full of all kinds of people. The Thais themselves of course, from the street sweepers to the elderly Hi-So ladies in the five-star hotels with their 60s era beehive hair (Hi-So is local slang in Asia for High Society people), and foreigners of all shapes and sizes — Indians, Arabs, Africans, Europeans, backpackers, retired couples enjoying Asia for the first time, innumerable business people of all nationalities. The city is one of the premier people watching hot spots in the world as far as I am concerned. I love sitting in coffee shops and hotel lobbies just watching people.
It is a city that I come back to again and again. I have been fortunate enough to live there a couple of times, and there isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t visit at least once or twice. It’s always like coming home for me. As soon as I settle into my hotel and walk out on the street, I am surrounded by vibrant chaos and I immediately feel cheerful, realizing I’m in a city of infinite possibility. It is a 24-hour city. And even though I’m not a 24-hour person anymore, I love the idea that the city is.
I remember walking to a medical appointment at one of the premier hospitals in the city not too long ago at 7:30 am, enjoying the sun, the humidity, the slightly reduced traffic at that hour of the morning and being propositioned cheerfully by a couple of lady boys on one of the main streets, asking if I wanted to come in for a massage. I politely declined (in Thai), they laughed and smiled, and I went on my merry way thinking about how much I loved this city and its eccentric ways.
As a TCK, there is nowhere that I feel more at home than here.