We recieved our China visas and plane tickets , so we will be leaving Bangkok later tonight for Beijing. We have taken care of our logistical things (sending packages home, downloading photos, making reservations, getting tickets, etc.) and spent more than enough time here in the bustling city of Bangkok. Aside from the noticeable seedy reasons that many foreigners visit Bangkok, the city is nonetheless pretty interesting, but we are glad to be moving on.
Bangkok is a very modern city, with an elevated light rail system (the Skytrain) and the cars have air conditioning set on “cold as a freezer box” (it is very nice with the humidity here). Unfortunately the light rail system is fairly limited in its reach and mainly serves the central part of the city. Otherwise, there is a huge bus system, and many taxis and tuk-tuks for surface travel. The main issue is congestion, although the tuk-tuk drivers can be aggressive and creative is dealing with traffic jams, sometimes pushing our notions of safe driving.
Another nice option has been the canal ferries. They are cheap and with no traffic on the canals, they seem much quicker (and safer) than the buses, taxis and tuk-tuks trying to get through the street traffic.
Being a pedestrian in Bangkok is also interesting. The crowded sidewalks are often filled with vendor stalls selling foods, clothes and many other things in addition to the people trying to walk. In some areas along Sukhumvit, the elevated Skytrain has a secondary level for pedestrians. It is much easier to walk in these elevated walkways, above the traffic and the bustling sidewalks. Another interesting thing is the placement of the phone booths in the middle of the sidewalks. Odd for us American city planners, but here it is just another obstacle in the lively and packed sidewalks.
There are some bike lanes here as well, but they are located right in the middle of the sidewalks or on streets that seem suicidal to ride a bike on and nobody seems to use them. We have seen very to no people on bikes, maybe because the sidewalks are so crowded and riding with the flow of traffic is only for those with a death wish. There is also a bike library system, but it seems defunct as none of the bikes were anywhere to be seen, they all seem to be ‘checked out’ for the long term.
In Sukhumvit, we stayed in a area within the Arab quarter. We had hoped to have some good middle eastern food, but since it is currently Ramadan (muslims fast during the daytime during this month as a part of the religious observances), most of the food stalls that normally serve up cheap food are closed during the day. Sukhumvit is an interesting mix of observant Muslims (with women wearing veils) mixed in with seedy massage parlors and “working women” serving mostly western men.
One thing we have noticed here is the proliferation of 7-Eleven and Circle K convenience stores. Both of these companies have a strong presence in Southeast Asia. Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut are well established here, but 7-Eleven has a much larger and noticeable presence. They sell mostly regional junk food (not much food compared to the amount of flashy packaging), with some recognizable western brands as well. One of the companies that has made a big effort here is Lays, which sells all kinds of potato chips flavored for local tastes: basil chile, shrimp, chicken BBQ and ham & cheese.
***click to enlarge photos***