Guest post by @midlifepassion
Bangkok is an assault on the senses. I step out into the heat and humidity and am struck by the noise, the smog and sheer number of people. There are cars and scooters everywhere. They take up every inch of the roadway, honking and weaving. The roads are narrow and pedestrians, traffic, bicycles and dogs seem to come from all directions. It’s an intricate, chaotic dance that appears quite dangerous at first glance. I’m afraid I’m taking my life into my hands by venturing out into it. But surprisingly, there’s no anger or frustration, simply much patience and courtesy. The honking is more of a “hi! I’m next to you” than “get out of my way.” I’m amazed at how smoothly it all flows.
Lane markers are only a suggestion and drivers are free to create additional lanes as they see fit. Scooters seem to go wherever works for them. It amazes me how many people can ride on one scooter. Anything that can fit into a tuk tuk or onto a scooter is easily carried, whether it’s rolls of carpet or the entire family. Helmets are merely an afterthought. Maybe it’s because traffic never really moves fast enough for it to be a concern.
Food stalls and carts are everywhere. The smells are overwhelming. I find much of the food unrecognizable and am unable to read the Thai characters. Refrigeration appears to be non-existent and there seems to be a complete lack of sanitation. I wonder how I’ll possibly be able to eat for the next month.
There’s no sense of personal space. There are simply too many people for that. We’re crammed into the buses, sky train and taxis. Everyone competing for their own small space, yet with a calmness and politeness I’ve not experienced before.
A stench of garbage and filth rises along with the sun. The tuk tuks belch thick black smoke as they zip between cars. There’s a stark contrast of business suits against barefoot vendors balancing baskets filled with their wares on long carry poles. It’s a world that I could never have imagined.
As I fall into the flow and routine of Bangkok, I quickly lose my sense of trepidation and embrace the uniqueness and beauty of this incredible city and the people who live here. I laugh at my first impressions of this amazing place. I love the street food and find it fresh and healthy; it tastes like nothing I’ve ever had. It’s inexpensive, available everywhere I turn and I just can’t get enough of it.
In this city of striking contradictions there’s a sense of spirituality juxtaposed with a strong sense of superstition, a belief in numerology, luck and other seemingly incompatible beliefs. The incredible poverty is set against a background of spectacular wats embellished in gold. A reverence for the king is palpable yet there is intense fighting amongst the two predominant parties.
The people are kind and generous and go out of their way to help me – a strange white woman who doesn’t speak their language. We persevere in our attempts to understand each other with good humor and much laughter. They are curious about me and what I think of their country. I wonder whether they’d be received in the same gracious way in our country.
This is the first time I’ve ever traveled alone. I feel lighter, stronger and definitely happier. I know that when I leave here I will have been touched in ways that I never could have imagined. My life will be forever changed by this experience and these beautiful people. This is a city that I will return to time and time again. Bangkok and its people will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
Peggy McPartland is a traveler, explorer, avid fan of anything outdoors and a passionate believer in helping others. She’s made the decision to live her life in an entirely new way and will be leaving the corporate world early 2012 to travel the world and live the life of her dreams. You can follow her as she finds her way and inspires others to break free of their routines and create a life filled with passion and meaning. www.midlifepassion.com