Blitzing through Bangkok

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Apr 15 2012, 07:19am hrs
When I told my friends I was going to Bangkok for a short business trip, I got all kinds of crass and lewd jokes coming my way. But that was expected. Bangkok, and Thailand at large, has a reputation after all, of being home to a huge massage industry and a deceptively large population of lady-boys. But jokes aside, Bangkok has an extremely attractive electronics market, and as a tech buff, I couldnt wait to get there and start shopping for the latest technological marvels.

So, it was with a light heart and a heavy wallet that I joined a group of journalists for our flight to Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok. A note here: Im sure youve noticed how Hindi-sounding the name of the airport is. Well, dont be surprised, its a trend youll see all over the place if you visit the city. After all, 92% of the population is Buddhist and theres a sizeable population of Indian-origin people living there. Alright, so back to the flight. Its a four-hour flight from Delhi to Bangkok, so Id suggest taking a book alongthe relatively low importance and popularity of the route means that only smaller planes frequent it, which means youll be lucky to get one with video screens behind every seat.

Stepping out of the plane was an experience in itself. Going by just the climate, you could have stepped out into a bright Chennai day and you wouldnt have noticed the difference. But Im getting ahead of the story. I was warned in advance that immigration lines in Bangkok are a nightmare, routinely taking two hours to get through. I dont know if I was lucky, or if the stories are wild exaggerations, but I got done in 10 minutes. And here comes note number two: with the climate in Bangkok usually very hot and humid, most buildings set their ACs to very low temperaturesbe warned, you wouldnt be the first person to catch a cold by just sitting in your hotel room.

On our way to the hotel, we couldnt help but notice the modern look the city has. Expressways, bridges and underpasses weaved over, under and beside each other to convey a feeling of concrete fluidity I have only seen in the West. The newly-opened Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link, which our bus was speeding down, is a whopping 18.6 kilometres long!

So, thanks to the new link road, we reached the centre of the city pretty quickly, only to be foiled by something uniquely Thai. The royal family was travelling on the very road we needed to take to get to our hotel, and so all traffic was blocked on it, which meant our bus had to circle the block several times before it could take the right turn. Now, such blockages happen in India as well, thanks to our politicians. But their duration is usually short, the traffic police knowing full well that theres just too much traffic for them to stop for too long. In Bangkok, however, the royal family is king (pardon the pun), and traffic will be stopped for as long as the security forces think it needs to be. Finally, we reached our hotel and crashed for the night.

Or so the organisers thought. In fact, an intrepid bunch of journalists like us wasnt going to waste our first night in a new city by just sitting in our hotel rooms. We went for a walk and were pleasantly surprised to find that the city stays awake till quite late. The streets were teeming with people, hanging around street corners talking, or trying to sell all kinds of things to eatranging from simple satay, to snakes blood (theyd actually kill a snake in front of you and drain its blood, if you so wished!).

The first half of the next day was spent working, but the second half was spent on a cruise on the main river in Bangkok, theChao Phraya. The river was as they are worldwidelargely clean, but with definite hints of garbage towards the banks. Its the banks that really set the river apart, however. Dotted with impressive steel-and-glass building and traditional temples alike, the landscape is a stunning example of exactly what makes Bangkok so special. Even though most companies favour Bangkok for their company retreats or meetings, there is an ever-present traditionality that melds the hard lines of modernity with a softer, older tone.

It is perhaps a good time to get into the similarities between Bangkok and Indias major cities. Ive already mentioned that the weather is like Chennais. But the overpowering feel of the city, its streets, the traffic, the people and the stray dogs (yes, they have them too!) is of a Mumbai-Delhi hybrid. Some roads are broken and pitted, people cross the roads wherever they want to, even when there is a zebra crossing nearby, beggars sit in corners and pickpockets loiter, ever alert for an easy lift.

Finally, we come to shopping locations. Unfortunately, it was a short trip, and so we didnt have much time to shop. The best place to go, in that case, is the MBK mall. It has everything, from electronics to food courts and clothes stores, and little shops selling everything from spiders in amber to knives and samurai swords!

On the last night, we did go to an adult show, I freely admit. This being a family publication, however, I will refrain from going into the details. Ill let it go by saying that if youre over 18, and have an open mind for such things, do try to go for one of these shows. If nothing else, its something you will never, ever get to see in India.

As holiday destinations go, Bangkok probably plays second fiddle to the nearby Pattaya city and its beaches. But if its a fun couple of days youre looking for, Bangkok is a better choice than most.