Asia keeps surprising me.
The diversity is not, perhaps, on a par with that of Europe. But this is my third (fourth if you count India) trip here, and I’m starting to appreciate the subtle nuances in flavour across the continent. However, there is a generic feel to most large Asian cities – hectic, smoggy and noisy, with personal space at a premium (except for Tokyo, where no matter how many people are around you, you always seem to feel utterly isolated).
Not Bangkok. Apart from that peculiar sticky city climate which is ubiquitous in this part of the world, the place could not feel more different from Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Hanoi et al. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t being deafened by constant hooting, and the simple reason for the comparative silence is the Thai attitude. The people here are famous for their laid-back approach to life, and yet their friendliness and enthusiasm means that this never descends into lethargy. The whole feel of the place is just infinitely more relaxed, and this rubs off on the visitor. If you want somewhere to ease you through the worst stages of jetlag, you could do a lot worse than Bangkok. The fact that you can wander along street markets and browse at your leisure, without being accosted every thirty seconds, removes that element of bewilderment which is so often a feature of the first few days spent acclimatising to a different culture and a different timezone.
The architecture is also vastly different from that of the Far East, yet you can still detect that region’s influence. Thailand’s geographical location is evident in the appearance of its buildings – the style is a true collision between Chinese and Indian, and the result is phenomenal. The intricacy and perfection is awesome, and the visit to the Grand Palace was a spectacular start to the trip. Everything sparkled, whether from gold leaf, glass inlays or glazing, and to boot, the gentle sound of chimes constantly filtered through the air, as hundreds of tiny bells hung from the edges of every roof.
Unfortunately I have to curtail this as the hotel charges by the minute for internet access and I’m in a race against my wallet…so there’s just time to recap the first comedy moment of the sort that only seems to happen when you’re far away from home. On a plane, somewhere between Dubai and Bangkok…A large woman is sitting next to me, sleeping ‘loudly’…as I rise to go to the toilet, a barely audible sound issues from the back of her throat, she shifts slightly and then punches the video screen on the back of the seat in front of her. I’m still not sure whether she was awake or asleep at that point, but she sure as hell had a mean right-hook.
Laos is on the horizon…