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.
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.
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.
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.
36 thoughts on “The Bangkok Chronicles: Good Kid, B.A.N.G. City”
I love Bangkok. The street food is worth trying out…
I’ve had my fair share of street food here, and I think I only knew what 20% of it was that I actually ate.
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.
Thank you! I’ll check out the book when I have time. It seems really interesting. I’ve also been looking into potentially moving to Bangkok or Thailand in general.
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.
Loved this! Been to Bangkok several times and you have really captured how I see it as well!!
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.
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.
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.
The first time I set my foot in Bangkok I was like, This is it. The diverse activities you can do in such just in the city is amazing. I love visiting temples in daytime and going out at night.
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.
Yeah, definitely one of the most exciting cities in the world.
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!
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.
I like a balance of busy city then relaxing beach. I do get bored though just sitting around. I understand your love of a busy city.
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.
I like some much Bangkok. It´s a little chaotic but very interesting. And i love the weather…. And the street food.
I know exactly how you feel. Bangkok does have a calming sense even if it is chaotic city. I got back from there only 10 days back and I am questioning myself why I delayed going there all these years? And honestly i wouldn’t mind living there for a couple of months 🙂 Btw, love how you have written this post!
What an interesting read about your feeling whilst on the road. I always travel with my partner so i suppose we don’t meet as many people as we would solo. I personally didn’t like Bangkok because it just seemed so buys, chaotic and so so touristy. Maybe we should give it another go.
I have read quite a few of your posts but this has got to be my favourite. Perhaps because it wasn’t about travelling pre se but rather you shared your deepest thoughts. I for one hate Bangkok. I can’t handle the noise, pollution and congestion. I don’t think I could feel at peace there ever! Great for eatinga dns hopping is about all there is there for me. Perhaps being stranded was the best thing for you:)
Bangkok will always be in my memory. People also told me to get out of the city and head north asap (which was also nice) but I have been to bkk over 5 times in 4 years and always love it!. So much fun and vibrance 🙂
Gosh what a busy and bustling city! Looks fun to explore but possibly a little too overcrowded for me! Great post.
This is on my list of places to see one day. I’d love to see Bangkok sometime. It sounds like a fun place to visit.
I love reading about your adventures! Thank you so much for sharing! Your posts are so interesting and just make me want to grab my passport and head for the airport!
I enjoyed my time in bkk. From the tuktuks to the food options to all night parties.. It was all so soo much funn
I went Bangkok few times and it is certainly not new to me. Love how your explore the city of Bangkok. I still have not seen a Muay Thai fight before, would love to watch it next time when I go Thailand.
I like your writing style! I haven’t been to Bangkok but you make me want to experience it. The atmosphere seems electric!
What an adventure, being stranded in Bangkok! It is a city I have always wanted to check out for myself.
Bangkok seems like an amazing city. We will visiting Thailand next year, we are so excited!
Boy that looks like it would be a wild experience. I would really love to see Bangkok.
Bangkok loks like a great place to visit. I loev the culture and the people. I would love to go here one day.
It’s interesting to hear a perspective like yours. Most people only think about the trendy spots to visit and get out. It’s refreshing to hear your experience.
You have the most beautiful, real way of writing. I was absolutely enthralled after reading your post Eli. Sadly I’ve never been to Bangkok and even worse I was one of those people who always dreamt of going to Thailand, but saw Bangkok merely as a stop over to other interesting sites. You’ve totally changed my mind
Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. I hope you get to go someday and I hope you find yourself falling in love with the chaos like I did!
I don’t have any idea about this place but it looks like Bangkok is also a nice place to visit and it also intrigues me of how beautiful this place is.
The art and culture here is so amazing. Thanks for the insight. I would definitely want to visit here!