Saturday, January 9, 2010

Five Tips to Enjoying the Land of Smiles

There are a few things you need to know and understand about Bangkok. Once you come to terms with them, you'll begin to enjoy the city. You see, I'm an expert on this town now, as I've been walking around in in for about three hours – and if a city takes more than three hours to understand, well then, I feel sorry for all the people who take contiki tours and never get to experience anything at all.

So what is there to know about this lovely city? I will tell you.

1. You will be hit by a scooter.
You will. I'm sorry, but it's true. Just accept it, and you'll be better off. It will hurt – yes – but like most pain it will be fleeting. They're small, and the driver will probably slam on his brakes just after impact, causing him to catapult over the handlebar, and there's something to that. But you will be hit.

Why? Because if you ever so much as step onto the road, you're in their terrain, and it's all over. So stay to the sidewalks, you say, well guess what – they've taken that over too, and you'll never hear them coming. And if you do, so what? It's like a car accident victim, you tense up when you know it's going to happen and get even more injured. Just relax and let the vehicle flow into you or over you. Better than through you.

So you will be hyper aware and never go near the road, and always be on guard on the sidewalk. Good for you, you'll just be slammed into as a scooter zips through an alley, onto the sidewalk, that you thought was a door to a shop. Or you know what – maybe one will come through the door of a shop. You will get hit. Just accept it, deal with it, and move on. Watch out for the buses though.

2. Buses will try to kill you.
Again, I'm sorry, but as a tourist, you are on their hit list. It's not that they want to kill you, it's just I'm sure they have to hit a weekly quota, or maybe they just get a nice little dead white-man bonus. If you're not white, you might be safe. But probably not. I think they just get paid most for us, but even locals factor into their death toll somehow.

It's exciting! Every small thing in Joburg was an adventure, but since you hardly went out it was like one adventure a day. Here in Bangkok, crossing the street is an adventure with life and death hanging in the balance. And you embark on this great journey nearly a dozen times a day!

But wait, you say, how can it be dangerous? Just look both ways. Fine – you know what – if you think this is your article, then that's just great. You know best do you, then I should just stop right here. That's it. This article is finished here.

It is. It's finished.

I'm not joking.




Are they gone? I didn't want to peek. They are? O.K. Great.

Now that we've gotten rid of all “those people” I'll carry on. Like I said, crossing the street is an adventure. And the main reason for this isn't the scooters, who we've already established will kill you, and it's not the cars – the cars take far too long to start up so they can be avoided, or you can do like me, and hand plant over the hood. Seriously, when I'm in front of you, that is not the time to accelerate. And if you do, well then get ready for me to impress myself with my own acrobatics.

The real threat is, of course, the buses. The city buses. Now you can try and J Walk on your own, but I don't often recommend it. Or you can try to cross with a local between you and the flow of traffic (this is the best way) but one thing you should never do is cross when the little walk man is green.

I'm serious here. Those people who we got rid of a number of paragraphs back would have some things to say, I'm sure, but they'd be stupid things not even worth the time it took to listen. They'd be speaking based on what they thought should be right, rather than what actually is. And the first thing you learn about world travel it's that the laws don't mean anything unless people are all buying into them.

Now go ahead, look at the little green walk man. He's even animated, showing a happy little guy dancing across the street. Yup, he's not red. Not saying be still. He's saying come, come to be. But do not! This is an evil digital LED enhanced Siren and it hates you, for the second you step off the sidewalk, lulled into safety a bus will barrel around the corner, and make you dead! That's just how it works.

Crossing the streets in Paris? Please. Anyone can make it to the Arc de Triumph. But getting from the McDonald's one side to the 7-11 on the other here in Thailand? Well good luck to you.

3. There's always another 7-11
This is a very important thing to remember. In fact it may be the single most important thing for a solo traveller to remember when they enter this lurid city of chess tournaments, and child prostitution.

Are you hungry, and unsure what those things in bowls are? Are you starving, looking at super cheap hunks of pineapple, but questioning the cleanliness of the hands what cut it? Are you starving but unwilling to pay for grilled meat, as there are no prices listed and you don't want to end up with the tourist special? Then head to the 7-11.

Seriously. You'll love it. It has all the trappings of home, from the way to bright white lights, to the double chime as you walk through the door. The one difference is that the porn magazine collection is the first thing you'll see, and trying to find a home and garden rag amongst the smut will be – well it's not worth bothering. Unless you want twisted pictures of who knows what, stay away from the magazines.

So there you are, and you're hungry – grab a chili dog, or a chicken burger, or some chips, or I don't care what. You can eat enough to fill your stomach twice over for only sixty baht (About 2 bucks). And, of course, you'll be thirsty after devouring so many salty treats, so help yourself to two liters of coke for 22B, or just a bottle for 10. At these prices it's like everything is free. And you do not need to stock up, because there will always – always – alllllll-ways(!) – (as my old photography teacher used to say) be another one around the next bend. If you manage to walk three streets, five minutes each, and do not come across a 7-11, well then you sir win the prize.

And, again, you need not break the bank to experience such treats and wonders for everything seem to be on permanent sale here.

4. Treats and Wonders, all on sale
Remember when you were a little kid, and you were allowed to have ice cream maybe once a week, and it was such joy? But then you became an adult, and you could eat ice cream all damn day if you pleased and suddenly it lost its joy? Well get ready for Thailand because you're about to regress my friends.

When you walk up to a Dairy Queen and see a large Blizzard priced, not at four or five bucks, but instead at 40B well then it is time to indulge. Now there are a few things to keep in mind: one, ice cream is one of the big no-nos of travel. But as I'd already downed a slushie (ice is another thing to stay away from) I figured I couldn't do more harm – which isn't true – and then why not throw some fruit (the last danger thingy) into the mix for a strawberry banana treat?

What else should the savvy traveller remember? Well, you will get what they give you, not what you order. English is not spoken as much as you would think for a major city. That, or they just like to mess with you (which is fine – in fact, I kind of hope that's what's happening.)

And last? Who knows what you'll end up paying. Like I said, I ordered a large Blizzard, and I'm pretty sure that's what I got. I mean it was big and all. But nothing on the menu was priced at 40B. Nothing. Not even a cone. The medium was 35, the large as 45. So, just go with it. Enjoy your treat. Indulge. It's not like they'd try to screw you over...

5. They will try to screw you over.
Don't be mad. You just paid eighty six cent for three burgers, and a coke. For them it would cost the equivalent of two hours work. Or something like that. I'm just guessing here – but the favourable conversions do the locals no good. So if you get charged an extra 30B just suck it up and pay the extra dollar – what would you do with it anyway? Drink three more cokes? I am going to drink a lot of soda in this country. That has already been decided.

So, keeping these five things in mind, I wish you the best experience possible. And good luck.

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