Friday, February 22, 2008
Bangkok Impressions- A Ringside View
Bangkok Impressions- A Ringside View
Syed Ali Mujtaba
As I was at the Anna International airport in Chennai checking in my luggage for the flight to Bangkok, I spotted some one right behind me talking to an American tourist guiding him about Bangkok. He turned out to be a professor of philosophy and frequents Thailand to lecturing on Buddhism. His general guideline was to learn few words like Swadeekrap for greeting and Kop Kun Kan for thank you. All my flight I tried to digest these words but never came to its perfection till I was actually using them.
I had no trouble from the airport to reach my hotel at Sukmevit, Soi 11, as my fare was metered correctly. No haggling, no cheating. This was something very unusual to me as in India taxi drivers are notorious to fleece the tourists.
I stayed about ten days in Bangkok and had a good overview of the city. Life is fast phased. There is lot of fun an excitement for every one here. People are friendly and the development reflects on their gait. Their character seem to me was based on honesty and self integrity.
Comparing to India’s size, Thailand is much smaller but their infrastructure looks way ahead of India any of the Indian metropolis. It can be easily compared with any of the western city. The roads are a treat for driving with orderly lane system and full of flyovers. I could see the development work going on at very many places in the city. The work was on progress for BTS sky train line that would be connecting the main city with the airport. I think in a years time would be completed. Bangkok is a shinning example of infrastructure development. I think the policy makers from South Asia must visit here to see what development really means.
Tourism is the main source of income of Thailand. They have added color and much fun fare to it. The presentations of Thai dance -drama are a treat to watch. There are lots of bars, pubs, massage centers every where in Bangkok. The city is a shopper’s paradise. There are very big molls like Siam paragon, MBK, Pentium plaza and Dixi. Goods are cheap especially on the road sides. All brands of watches from Omega to anyone one can get on the road side. However, one may be excited at buying something for the price bargained, but if this work for more than couple of hours, it could be a worth bargain!
All in all Thailand particularly Bangkok offers the return for your money from the tourists’ angle. There are eating places, the road side food sellers, fruit shops all must reminds of India. There is life on the roadside much after the regular shops get closed. There are evening bazaar, followed by the night bazaar and the morning bazaar. Life does not stop in Bangkok. There is little crime on the street and every one seems to be safe if not secured in this city.
The most disturbing part about Bangkok is its traffic.Even traveling from one place to another is a great problem in terms of time and speed. However even then every one observes the discipline on the roads there. Despite bumper to bumper traffic, there is perfect orderliness. The noise pollution is kept to minimum. The sky train, the surface and the underground train has decongested the road to some extent. Then there are waterways inside the city where boats ferry people from one place to another. I had an opportunity to ride one such from Pertunam to Boobay. The boats are mechanized and travel at quite a high speed.
"TUK TUK," the auto rickshaw of Bangkok is something one should not miss to experience. The tuk tuk drivers are a character in themselves, very friendly and very talkative. However, tuk tuk are not cheap as one may assume, some time it could be more expensive than the taxi fare. The other mode of transport is the motorcyclists which takes people from one place to another on the pillion. This reminded me of Goa, where such motorcyclist are called Pilots. The great part of these motorcyclist is their dare devil act. Within no time they can take to reach their destination and no marks for guessing how?
Coming from Bodh Gaya, the place where Sidhart became Buddha, it was delight to see the celebration of Buddhism in Thailand. There are lot many Buddhist temples in Bangkok. One can find the statue of Buddha in every nook and corner of the city. The people generally fold their hand once they see the Buddha statue. I could see Buddhist monks moving on the street. One of them was seated on the back of a truck with large sized statue of Buddha and begging for alms. I was amazed to hear the shloka; Budhham, Saranam Gachami being played on the sound system at the magnificent Ancient city campus in Bangkok. I chanted this sloka all along my sight seeing trip since it was very haunting for me. The ancient city showcases Thailand in its original form.
On thing that struck me most was that people here worship elephants. I saw elephant statues at many places. Near the Ancient city there was huge elephant statue with two faces making a huge impression on the passerby. I saw a Ganesha statue in gold and people praying it. I also saw some one taking elephant on the street and people giving alms to him. It reminded me of India where cows are worshiped in the similar way.
Thailand’s economy thrives on tourism and tourists from all over the world come to Bangkok for different reasons. One of the greatest attractions for them is sex. It’s a paradise for those looking for sex. It won’t be in correct to call Bangkok the sex city of the world. One can find street girls in many places in Bangkok. There are umpteen numbers of bars and bar girls calling you for drinks and ready to give you company. The Patpong area is famous for its bars, discos, neon lights, girls and sex shows. There are two sides one for the gays where men seek men; the other for the strip tease shows. This place remains over crowded all through the night and one can witness the celebration of sex in its highest form here.
Suan Lum Night Bazaar is another great place where I enjoyed eating Thai food. A large number of food stalls are lined up on both sides of the open air sitting arrangement. The sheer size of the place, its lightning arrangemt, the live music going on, the waiter and waitresses moving around creates a great atmosphere.
"Pataya," is another fun city of Thailand. A beach town that is less than three hrs of bus ride from Bangkok. It’s much quitter place as compared to Bangkok but there are lots of attractions here. The tourists throng here for relaxing. There are water sports like speed boating motor cycling in the sea. Every one loves swimming at the Pataya beach. The walker’s road is main place in Pataya. There are many attractions here besides shopping. Then the coral-island is a huge attraction in Pataya.
One thing that makes Southeast Asia is so different from South Asia is the involvement of woman folks in the day today life outside their homes. They are dominant force on the city's landscape. They outnumber men in the buses, trains and every other place one can imagine. I saw this in Seoul, Hanoi and Singapore. My idea was reinforced in Bangkok as well. This aspect is some thing peculiar to the Southeast Asian countries and key to their development.
Thailand has been seeing a lot of development. The reason this is the country thrives on tourism. Over the years they have developed their country keeping in mind to attract the tourists. However, my general impression is there was a mismatch between the infrastructural development and the human development. The people seem to be not all that affluent compared to the country that showed signs of opulence. I was told that there is stark poverty in the countryside of Thailand. All such people make a beeline to Bangkok to earn their living. There is some ugly fall out of the tourist’s economy on Bangkok as well. This stark reality one can see below the surface and has to delve deep into it.
On the whole Bangkok is one of the most exciting places in the world. No words can describe it; one has to be there to experience it!
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He was in Bangkok to attend a media conference and was there from 20 to 30 January 2008.