The Bangkok Chronicles: Good Kid, B.A.N.G. City

Thailand’s capital is renowned for its chaos but that chaos brought me a weird sense of comfort. Wayward souls are scattered throughout the entire city of Bangkok. As much as I can try to deny it, I was one of them. The same can be said of a lot of cities, filled with people who don’t know who they are or who they want to be. After traveling for so long, the appeal of Bangkok to me was that no one has to know who you are. Not even yourself.

It had been over sixteen months since I stepped foot in a city that made me feel at home. It’s hard to let your guard down and get comfortable when you know that you have to pick your life up and start over yet again in just a few days. The excitement of traveling is undeniable but when you move too fast, you lose your sense of wonder and become numb. Or whatever that Ferris Bueller quote was.

My passport ran out of empty pages, putting a halt to my next month of travel plans and leaving me stranded in Thailand. In a way, I was relieved. After being away from home for so long and suddenly experiencing a seemingly constant string of bad luck, I was longing to settle somewhere and gather myself for however long it took. I had to go to Bangkok to renew my passport at the U.S. Embassy but I wasn’t necessarily restricted to Bangkok.

Despite the typical backpacker mindset of “get out of Bangkok as soon as possible,” there was something about its madness that enchanted me.

Bangkok is a bustling metropolis of over 14 million people yet I knew no one aside from a Thai-French girl who proved to be even more clueless than I was. A steady stream of acquaintances passing through the city meant that I could occasionally wander outside of my cube of solitude and make an effort to socialize.

All roads lead to Bangkok, after all. From fellow travelers that I previously met on my trip to random Instagram followers, it wasn’t too hard to find company.

It is an inevitable stopping point for any traveler rampaging their way through South East Asia but few are willing to call it home. A night out on Khaosan, a visit to a trio of temples, maybe a floating market or a Muay Thai fight, and they are out of there. To many travelers, Bangkok is merely a stepping stone to bigger and better things. You get there and the first thing you do is try to figure out how to get out. In short, to many travelers, Bangkok is just another festering cesspit like every other Asian capital city.

bangkok chinatown

But Bangkok isn’t Khaosan Road. It isn’t drunkenly eating scorpions while chugging a bucket of vodka and Red Bull. It isn’t elephant pants and 7-Eleven toasties. It isn’t ping pong vagina shows and it definitely isn’t Soi Cowboy. Okay, maybe it is Soi Cowboy a little bit. Bangkok is too many things to list, but none of those are it. To say you’ve been to Bangkok while limiting yourself solely to checking off the young Westerner’s to-do list is a lie. You are doing this incredible city and yourself a huge disservice.

Today is my fourteenth day in Bangkok, and the fourth day of being “stranded” here. My first two times in Bangkok, I felt the same way as every other backpacker. I forced myself to do so much stuff in Bangkok that I couldn’t stand it any longer. My second time in Bangkok, I avoided doing anything just because I hated it so much. The traffic, the yelling, the salespeople, the everything, I was just sick of all of it. It was only on my last night that I found myself wandering and becoming enamored with the mayhem.

bangkok motorcycle traffic

You start getting used to the white noise that is inevitably present at all times. Even the briefest pause in the ambient chaos would prove eerie. You become numb to the honking and the yelling, but I promise that you would notice even the briefest silence. Bangkok has a lot in its repertoire but serenity is not one of its many talents.

Perhaps that’s what drives so many travelers away from the city and towards the calmer islands or the strange hippie commune of Pai. The islands were beautiful, and I had a great time in Pai. Still, if I had to pick anywhere in all of South East Asia to be stranded, Bangkok would be the clear winner.

The various districts offer a home away from home for any type of person. Walking out of my hostel in Silom, the financial and business hub of Bangkok, I felt like I was back in New York City, competing for sidewalk space and subway seats against hordes of suit-wearing businesspeople. Strolling through Sukhumvit, I felt like the nightlife scene of Bangkok could compete with anywhere in the world. From Above Eleven’s stunning rooftop bar to an art gallery-bar hybrid located in a dilapidated brick building, Bangkok’s nightlife has been nothing short of diverse, and it has been undeniably booming.

bangkok above eleven

You could truly be anywhere in the world when you’re in Bangkok. For me, more importantly, you could be anyone in the world. I first felt that way while pseudo-ironically throwing back gin and tonics by myself at the bar while waiting for a friend. I could have been anyone. No one had to know who I was, and truthfully, no one cared or even pretended to care. When I realized that, I had no desire to return to the backpacker communes of Bangkok.

After sixteen months of traveling solo, I never got the chance to truly be alone for more than a few days. I was always telling my life story to a polite but mutually uninterested stranger who was more focused on how he could one-up what I’ve seen and what I’ve done. I love meeting other travelers. The social aspect of traveling is everything that I believe in and stand for but let’s face it. Rarely does it happen that one of the dozens of people you speak to night in and night out makes a genuine connection with you. If everyone changes your life, no one changes your life.

I resent that attitude, but forgive me, for I am tired.

At least twelve days left to go until I make it out of Bangkok. I’m stranded and I’ll get lost within five minutes of leaving, but never in the last year have I felt more at peace than when I am just another invisible wanderer in the commotion of this city.

Maybe it’s a little bit of traveler’s Stockholm Syndrome after fourteen days of being Bangkok’s prisoner. Maybe I am genuinely in love with Bangkok.

Twelve days to go. The time for rest is over. The leap back into chaos begins tomorrow.

Good kid, B.A.N.G. City.

The Bang City Chronicles are to be continued.

bangkok tuk tuk

victory monument bangkok

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21 thoughts on “The Bangkok Chronicles: Good Kid, B.A.N.G. City

  1. Good article. I’ve lived in Bangkok almost five years, I’m fascinated by something new every day. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I don’t understand people who stay for a couple of days, leave to see the “real” Thailand (usually a farang resort on the beach), then complain about Bangkok as if they had explored and understood it. I recommend Lawrence Osborne’s book “Bangkok Days.” He lives in Bangkok and gets Bangkok, Thailand, and SE Asia better than travel bloggers. A few quotes from the book below.

    What Bangkok offered to the aging human was a culture of complete physicality. It was tactile, humans pressing against each other in healing heat: the massage, the bath, the foot therapy, the handjob, you name it. The physical isolation and sterility of Western life, its physical boredom, was unimaginable.

    Westerners choose Bangkok as a place to live precisely because they can never understand it, for even the Thai script, that variation of written Sanskrit, is impossible to master. It’s this ignorance which comforts the farang. However conversant in Thai culture, he will never get close to the bottom of it.

    The farang is in reality not alone because Buddhists themselves seem not to believe in loneliness.

    They say Bangkok is not a city but a collection of ten thousand villages. But each one is as dense, as impossible to decipher as your average city.

    deep down I suspect I wanted to remain in day-to-day incomprehension relative to the language, which I never learned to speak well. It was like a soft wall enclosing me at all times, and I preferred for many reasons not to penetrate it too adroitly

    Here you just melt away and it’s like you never existed. This just encourages you to live in the present as much as you can.

  2. Check out the W District if you’re in Bangkok. It’s a nice spot to hang out and get good street food and beer. It’s near the Sukhumvit Phra Khanong Station.

  3. What a very artful and personal reflection on this time in Bangkok. It’s always interesting how your opinions on a place can change based on your circumstances.

  4. Great account of your love for this city. I for one can only take small doses of it, 3 days max. Its a different kind of chaos and despite the amazing food, shopping and other fun things, the cacophony of noise and traffic is exhausting for me. But I have many friends who love just that. Funny how you found peace amidst this insanity.

  5. I love the style of writing that you use. Unlike other Thailand blog, where everyone talks about island beaches, this blog post shares an overview of the city life and what to expect. Great post.

  6. I was in Bangkok for 48 hours but, I loved each and every part of it. Loved the lively city with vibrant and never sleeping city. I loved Buddha temple and Palace a lot.

  7. Hello there, great article 🙂 I would love to visit it, to try its street food and then escape to some beach of the South. Your pics of Bangkok are so authentic, so well done!

  8. Hey, I’m so glad you actually found “your place”. You never know where the next trip will take you, and there – yours took you to the city where you were finally able to breath. I can relate to getting lost in all the noise and bustle of the city. I even have trouble sleeping for the first couple of nights when I get to some wilderness with no electricity and traffic. Even though, I do enjoy the silence afterwards. 🙂
    Hope you’ll stay in Bangkok as long as it feels good.

  9. We have been to Bangkok a couple of times and it does not fail to surprise me every time. There are so many different flavors in the city that keeps you drawing in.

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