I still remember back in early 2013, I visited this city for the first time. I had never been to Thailand before then, yet had heard countless stories from other travellers who had fallen in love with the country. But they always spoke of Phuket, or the islands, or the small northern towns that seemed to enrapture all those who walked through them.
Yet there’s never any love for Bangkok. More often than not, the city serves as nothing more than an inconvenient rest stop. A necessary nuisance to get access to the country’s more glamorous beaches and mountains. Some indulge in a few debaucherous nights on Khao San Road, or simply endure an overnight stay in a weathered budget hotel. But no one seems to stay here.
And why would you?
With the pollution, the ridiculous traffic, the left and right scamming, the hoards of sex tourists that plague the upper Sukhumvit area. In a country with so much beauty to offer, there are far more inviting places than a smog filled, rat infested metropolis like Thailand’s capital.
But that’s where it’s beauty lies. The city seems to make no sense, but then, it kinda does. Ferraris and tuk-tuks drive side by side on roads that practically stand still during rush hour. Old ladies sell the most delicious noodle soup from tiny street carts, often outside restaurants serving the same meal for 12x the price. The taxis are clean and safe, as good as any first world country, yet the meter rarely runs over $3. And despite all the chaos, the city still ticks along; perhaps a little messy, but definitely not broken.
I wasn’t too impressed on my first ride into town. On that trip I stayed up on Sukhumvit Soi 1, where my first walk about town inevitably led me to the nearby Nana and Asok areas (both renowned for their hustlers, overpriced restaurants, and seedy gogo bar streets). A couple of nights later I ventured out to the infamous Khao San Road, which had everything you could want and expect in a backpacker street. Then I did the mandatory foot massage, muay thai fight and numerous servings of street pad thai, and left the city a few days later. As far as I was concerned, I had “done Bangkok”, and any future visits to Thailand would be spent either sleeping in a hut up in the hills, or lounging around on one of the south’s golden beaches.
Yet a year later, something brought me back. At first, it was just a few days. That trip blessed me with the most mindblowing tom yum soup, hidden down a faraway side alley, and the most enormous and delicious fish ball I’ve ever seen.
A few days turned into a week.
I wandered the markets and ate a weird kind of apple I still don’t know the name of. I discovered boat noodles. I learned my first Thai words.
A week turned into a month.
I tried every place on Soi 38. I spent a night on the riverfront. I found an office to work at and started eating every meal with nam jim jaew. Slowly I was settling in, and the city was winning me over.
And then one night, it happened. I was sitting dazed, as my tiny masseuse pressed her forearms deep into my shoulders. I winced in pain, and heard her giggle under her breath as she caught sight of me gritting my teeth in agony. She held it there for a while, and then, as if trying to execute me, she pulled my head viciously to one side, stretched out my trapezius muscle, and pierced her elbow deep between my neck and shoulder, almost in slow motion so as to make it as painful as possible. Had the room been empty, I would’ve cried out in pain, but luckily the few other customers around me helped me refrain and preserve my dignity. For what seemed like the longest 10 seconds of my life, she held it here, overloading my brain with pain signals and surely enjoying every second of it.
And then she let me go.
Blood slowly flowed back to my head, and my shoulders slumped while I gradually returned to planet Earth. How amazing it felt. I’m sure many will agree; there a few things more pleasurably painful than a $9 Thai massage.
And so I walked home that night, bruised and light headed, but smiling all the way. And I finally realised how much I was really going to miss Bangkok.
For every city I go to, there comes a point where it starts to feel like home. Just making that one last friend, or discovering that one last amazing restaurant; just that one final experience that suddenly makes me stop and say to myself, “I think I could live here.”
Sometimes it takes 4 weeks, sometimes it takes 6, but eventually, it happens. It happened in Cusco. It happened in Moshi. It happened in Manila. And now it’s happened in Bangkok.
I love this city.
Fellow blogger Mark Weins puts together the ultimate guide to exploring Bangkok. If you’d like to be guided through the local secrets from one of the true experts on the city, 101 Things To Do In Bangkok is for you. Click here to read more and get yourself a copy.