Bangkok: City of Contradictions
I enjoyed Bangkok more than I thought I would. I know that’s a terrible
anticipation to put on a city that I’ve never visited, but really, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a city full of rich antiquities and beauty, terrible pollution and poverty, and people who go the extra mile to ensure that foreigners have a wonderful experience in their country.
Our day started with a visit to the Erawan – or four-face Buddha in the center of the city. It’s not an ancient site, but an interesting one. The shrine was erected in 1956 at the corner of the construction site of the Grand Hyatt. At the time, construction was going horribly and there were many deaths associated with the site. Then they put up the shrine and miraculously everything turned around. Since then it has become a sacred site within the city. Dedicated to the Thai God Brahma, the small, gold, four-faced statue sits under an ornate canopy that is always surrounded by flowers and incense. People go to pray there as often as possible, even if just for a minute. The Chit-Lom station of the sky-train is nearby, and sometimes people even give a quick bow from the train. Certainly passers-by bow in reverence as they go about their business in the city. It’s an interesting phenomenon – business and prayer mixed together.
The corner on which the Erawan resides is the most modern section of the city. There are hotels or department stores on all four corners that boast the likes of shops such as Burberry, Kate Spade and Channel. The restaurants were upscale but inexpensive and we had a fantastic and humongous three-course lunch including Thai beer, for around $10 per person.
We took the sky train to a pier in the city not realizing that Bangkok is a city of interconnected waterways and a myriad of canals. Renting a boat for two and a half hours was well worth our time and money because we got to see a completely different side of the city. From our vantage point on the water, we could see the abject poverty of the dilapidated houses alongside golden and gilded shrines and temples. We saw kids swimming in the obviously polluted canal, using an old mattress as a flotation toy. We saw the floating market where the people had goods and food for sale in boats
attached to a pier or simply floating toward other boats. But then we had a coffee break at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel post-boat-trip.
One thing that we have found on this trip without fail is that the Thai people are polite to the point of reverence and will unfailingly go the extra mile to help someone. We have been led to places by vendors leaving their stalls to help us; we have been offered tea in places; Sydney’s curls have been petted and admired; and everyone has a smile, no matter what the circumstances. (Of course tips are much appreciated, but that’s to be expected.) When the Thai people say thank you or even greet someone, they fold their hands together, thumbs out in a “Y” shape, at their heart and bow slightly. It is beautiful.
To Westerners, the city appears polluted and dirty with pockets of glitter and shine, but obviously it’s natural for the Thai people. Somehow here, the contradiction makes perfect sense.