I recently returned from a fab few days in Bangkok where I attended the Travel Bloggers Exchange conference. Known as TBEX, the conference was inspiring, the networking was awesome, the learning was useful, but most of all, the city of Bangkok was completely surprising.
It was my first time in the “City of Angels” and my expectations were completely misaligned with reality. Here’s what I discovered:
- I expected a big, dirty, chaotic city. Instead, I found a big, clean, calm city. Yes, there was bumper to bumper traffic, but the drivers weren’t in any hurry and seemed to accept the traffic situation they were in.
- I expected it to feel more third-world. Instead, parts of Bangkok are extremely high tech and advanced – the wifi for example was a hundred times more reliable and faster than it is in Australia. There were areas that did feel less advanced, where the buildings weren’t as nice, the pavement was uneven, but it wasn’t nearly as traditional as I expected. Having said that, I only had a few days and didn’t get to all corners of the city.
- The people were calm, caring, and extremely polite. They don’t call it ‘the land of smiles’ for no reason! I even had an elderly Thai lady offer to help me carry my suitcase down the metro stairs (of course I declined her help).
- I expected the food to be good, but laden with way more chilli than I could handle. Instead, there were plenty of dishes that my low-chilli palate enjoyed. My favourite street food was the sweet crisp Thai crepes with either the egg yolk sugar filling or the shredded sweet shrimp. They were sweet, delicate, and melted on the tongue. The white cream inside is a soft meringue. If you are after a recipe, I found one on Appon’s Thai Food blog
- I expected a concrete jungle, which was delivered, but I didn’t expect to see so many trees and greenery.
- Bangkok was much, much cheaper than I expect. A dish of pad thai and a fresh mango juice cost less than A$10 in an upmarket restaurant in a shopping mall housing designer outlets such as Prada, Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choos and the like. A 15-minute Uber ride cost me A$1.40. A pint of beer in an expats pub cost less than A$5.
- The metro was easy to navigate, and while it was crowded at times, there was never, ever any pushing or shoving. On the platform, passengers queued on either side of the markings that showed where the doors would be when the train stopped.
- Almost every sign was in English and in Thai, all over the city.
- There was no reference whatsoever to the bomb that went off at Erawan Shrine just eight weeks prior. It was very much business as usual, and in fact, I had to google it to check that was the bomb site after I thought I recognised it from the news footage.
- There are way more expats living in Bangkok than I expected, and of those I met, they seem to love living there.
- The wealth in Bangkok is hardly comprehensible – the best example is that there are gold shopping trolleys and baskets in the gourmet supermarket at Emporium Shopping Mall. In the same supermarket, a punnet of Australian imported blueberries cost just under A$9.
- The contrast between high tech Bangkok and traditional Bangkok were enormous and had me forever in amazement. This picture of a lady carrying a traditional yoke was taken just outside Erawan Shrine. Across the road is one of the poshest shopping malls I’ve ever seen.
- I hardly saw any beggars – perhaps I was in the wrong area for that. The Thai people seem very proud and enterprising – running stalls that sell everything from simple flowers for offerings at shrines, to second hand designer clothes.
- Everyone, and I mean everyone, from the 75-year-old flower stall lady outside a shrine to 12-year-old students on the train has a smart phone.
- Taxis are pink!
- They drink butterfly pee – which is what we thought when it was first explained to us – but in fact, Butterfly Pea is a flower and they use it to make a delicious purple drink that’s not overly sweet. Quite refreshing actually.
- Electrical wiring was just like Vietnam – so messy with wires and cables everywhere – this wasn’t totally unexpected.
- You can buy anything and everything from Bangkok’s biggest market, the Jatujak Weekend Markets – from live reptiles to massive artist paintings, silk scarves, pots and pans, designer clothing, shoes, bags, toys, trinkets and second hand clothing for less than A$1 – it’s a sensory overload. But again, there was no pushing or shoving (the only exception was the tourists)
- There was no scenes or experiences from “The Hangover” movie – but I wasn’t looking for mischief so my play time was pretty tame.
- No one bats and eye at lady boys, drag queens, or at the odd coupling of old overweight western man with much, much younger Thai woman.
I found Bangkok a big city with every single convenience, and then some, without the hustle and bustle or stress associated with a big city. It had a real feeling of calm. Everything seemed easy, and the warmth of the Thai people melted my heart – they make eye contact and smile, all the time. I can’t wait to go back and explore the city deeper and travel further beyond to the stunning beaches I’ve only seen on postcards.
Besides the excitement of uncovering layers of a new city, I absolutely loved being around other travel bloggers at TBEX – some are serious, some are looking for fun and good times, others just taking it all in their stride. One thing we all have in common, a tolerance and curiosity about the world and its people, which makes travel lovers so interesting to talk to.
Have you been to Bangkok? What were your impressions?
I can highly recommend the five-star Sivatel Hotel where I stayed – a one minute walk to the Phloen Chit station and in the Embassy neighbourhood – the British Embassy was across the road. It was very clean and luxurious and cost approximately A$190 per night, with breakfast (A$950 for five nights).
Travel Bloggers Exchange
TBEX Asia 2016 will be held 13 – 16 October 2016 in Manila, The Phillipines