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.