A couple of weeks after 2014’s coup d’état in Thailand, I was in Bangkok for a short stay. Lots of people were advising against going, because of the curfew and the military presence in the streets. As usual though, the Thai people made everything look as if nothing really happened, and to be honest, if I hadn’t known there had been a coup, I wouldn’t even have noticed. So early in 2017, when I was in Bangkok again, and the whole country was still reeling from the passing of its monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, I was expecting more of the same. Things were a little bit more subdued than before, but in the end, Bangkok will always be Bangkok. Here’s a short impression!
Stand up for the King
Anyone who has taken a cab into the city from the airport has no doubt seen the huge billboards along the highway. It’s like roadside junk mail, but they are so huge that you can’t not look at them. Most of the time they’re quite colourful and shouty, advertising products ranging from cosmetics to cars. This time though, they were mostly black and prominently showed the king’s portrait. It’s rather touching to see the respect bestowed on their monarch, and anyone who’s just a tad bit perceptive will notice how it permeates the entire Thai society and life.
Since we’re on the subject, here are two examples of how this reverence may surprise you.
I make a point of trying to go to the movies when I’m traveling. Seriously. It’s my own personal Big Mac Index of how customer-minded a country really is. During my last movie in Paris, I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in those cramped folding chairs, whereas in Asia, it feels like spending an evening in the cushy seats of the Royal Box at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Is that confirming a cliché? You be the judge. In Bangkok, there are plenty of theatres to go and see the latest Hollywood flick — my personal favourite is Paragon Cineplex in Siam Paragon mall, although this time I went to SFC in Terminal 21. And all of that is to say that before the movie starts, you are kindly expected to stand up and pay your respect while a short film is shown highlighting the King’s accomplishments.
I also try to go running when I’m traveling, which is much harder than it sounds when it’s humid and scorching hot outside. My favourite spot to do this particular activity in Bangkok is the gym, although occasionally I head out to Lumpini Park, a green oasis in the middle of the city. There is a road track for runners that takes you all the way around the park, and if you go early in the evening, you could be mistaken for thinking there’s a race going on. However, if you are there at 18:00, you’ll hear the national anthem playing through the speakers, and everybody will just… stop running.
Floating markets galore
There’s no shortage of floating markets in Bangkok, and everybody will tell you that theirs is the genuine article. One of the nicer ones however, may not even be in the city itself. Let’s head to Amphawa Floating Market, in Samut Songkhram, which is a little over an hour’s drive from Bangkok!
The market itself stretches along both banks of the river, and offers a huge choice of food, drinks, and everyday goodies. Just like any other market, it can get pretty busy, but at least the crowd is predominantly Thai. Make sure you are in discovery mode, and take your time to check out the beautiful wooden interiors of some of the shops, bars and restaurants. Food can be ordered and eaten just about everywhere, and more often than not, it is cooked on the long-tail boats themselves.
If you don’t find your fancy at the floating market, there’s a great roadside restaurant on the outskirts of Samut Songkhram, called Red Seafood (Google Maps). It looks a bit like a supermarket on the outside (and on the inside, to be honest), and you’d be hard pressed to find foreigners here, but the owner’s son speaks perfect American English and will guide you through the menu like a pro. The food is simple but fresh, and tastes deliciously.
What other reason but delicious crab do you need to get out of Bangkok? 😉
Enjoy your travels!