Adventures in Thailand
Part 2 - Bangkok
by Dan Brubaker
as featured in the December 1997 issue of
Mix in cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, buses, and trucks. Throw in countless taxicabs, songathews and tuk-tuks, and bake them under a sun lighted sauna. That would be a typical recipe for an unimaginable traffic jam in Bangkok!
People sit in their cars patiently, waiting for their turn to move on, which makes me want to yell to those Americans to stop blowing their horns because our jammed up traffic pales in comparison (and yes, that includes Los Angeles). I was stalled in a non-airconditioned city bus in the middle of an 18 lane intersection (10 lanes going east-west, and 8 lanes going north-south) for 20 good minutes, while four police officers tried valiantly to untangle this particular jam, telling car and even city bus drivers to back up or move to the side - and it was only 3:40 p.m. The fumes were so much that the police officers had gas masks on, and countless more pedestrians and motorcycle riders have scarves, handkerchiefs and paper masks covering their faces. In a single day, my crisp white t-shirt would turn into ash gray.
Sunday's Traffic! @ two o'clock!
Motorcycles roar past cars and even on narrow alleys where cars would not be able to navigate, or even park. I had to look back frequently while shopping, especially at Old Siam, Yaowarat and Sampeng (a.k.a. Chinatown) districts, so that I would not be a road kill. I would have no idea when a motorcyclist would accost behind me, without even slowing down, until it would scare the daylights out of me within few inches.
Songathews are actually pick-up trucks with seating on either side of the covered bed, and function as truck taxis. Tuk-tuks, a novelty only seen in Thailand, are three-wheeled "scooter" taxis with an open canopy and a seat in the back for two people. And I probably had breathed gallons of fumes riding in tuk-tuks.
Yet I loved Thailand! You must think I'm nuts! It's absolutely gorgeous, in a cultural sense. The people, the culture, the food! And they eclipse traffic problems (and actually, the majority of police work is directing traffic because the crime rate is amazingly low, I felt more safe in Bangkok than I would in downtown Houston, and even Indianapolis). Bangkok has a hodge podge of shantys, shops and apartments to glitzy malls and high rise office buildings and hotels (and they were building the world's tallest hotel at 74 stories). A luxury hotel could sit aside a shantytown, or a temple would be around the corner from a wood mill or silk factory. Pictures of the King and Queen of Thailand abound! They are everywhere in the airports, classrooms, stores, and yes even in small frames on car dashboards and in dingy places like mechanical shop garages.
PHOTO GALLERY of Bangkok
Thailand has approximately 65 million people in a country as big as Texas, and Bangkok is a metropolis of 5.7 million people. And there are more than 400 wats (or temples as they are called in Thailand) in Bangkok itself. About 95% of the Thais are Buddhists, and the males could opt to become monks at any time during his lifetime. Some could join for only a few days, months or years, and return to their "normal" lives and some stay on for rest of their lives. Novice monks get less restrictions, such as up to 12 rules, while master monks carry a maximum of 210 rules. Those rules may restrict them from a "normal" lifestyle. That would include eating only in the mornings, adhering to prayer rituals, and so on. The monks go on their routine every early morning, collecting food from people (in their houses, stores or even cars).
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a deaf person to become a monk because the monks rely heavily on master monks' teaching rituals, which means they would close their eyes and listen to the rituals. Maybe some day, there would be a monk who could sign fluently, to relay the ritual ceremonies for the deaf.
The wats and chedis (bell-shaped buildings that are almost always next to the wats) are probably the most beautiful sights in Bangkok. From a high point, Wat Saket, you could see countless upswept roof lines of the wats, some small and some gigantic across the skyline. My favorites were the Wat Ratchanada (some people thought that I took the picture of that temple at the Walt Disney World) and Wat Benchamabophit, also known as The Marble Temple. Another one at the Grand Palace complex, built in 1783, was filled with so much gold and jewels. Quite dazzling!
Before bedtime, I would drown my face in water to remove the soot that had accumulated during the day. And I would go "Vroom Vroom Vroom!" as I slumber, while cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, taxicabs, songathews and tuk-tuks roar up and down the King Rama V Road into the night.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3