As riveting as life is in good old Winston Salem, most of my spring semester was spent reuniting with friends in front of Wait Chapel, eating massive amount of Chipotle, and studying. Now that summer has arrived, a lack of routine has become the norm once again.
I was recently named Wake Forest’s Pulitzer Fellow for Crisis Reporting. My reporting focuses primarily on the Thai environmental movement and how Buddhist activists, known as engaged Buddhists, have played a role in it. I also accepted an internship at WWF in Washington, DC (and no, this is not the wrestling league WWE, it is the World Wildlife Fund), so the Thailand timeline was pushed to a mere two days after my last final.
As soon as I exited the doors from the large auditorium holding stressful statistics students captive, I shifted gears into planning mode. Days later, I was waving goodbye to my Dad from the JFK airport departure gate and strapping on my travel backpack.
After 20+ hours of movies, two finished books, and potential back problems resulting from the tiny seats on the plane, I landed in Bangkok. First impressions? Confusing. Giant. Green. I booked a room at the Best Western Plus at Sukhumvit (because the name was familiar in a place that very much was not) and was greeted with bows and exuberant welcomes. During the times that I was not sleeping due to severe jetlag, there were several little things I noticed about this giant city.
1.) They don’t mess around with malls here.
When I got to Bangkok, I had to wait about four hours to check into my hotel because why not add a couple more hours to the journey, right?!?! I mooched off of the wifi at Starbucks to try and find something to do during the time, and was directed to a place called “Terminal 21.” I am hesitant to even call this place a mall, it is more of an art exhibit. Each level is modeled after a different city around the world. I don’t really know why they do this considering none of the stores match the theme on any of the floors, but, hey, it’s fun and kitschy so why not! By escalator, I explored Rome, Paris, London, and even San Francisco, with murals and sculptures decorating each level.
Thank god for this lighthouse in the middle of the mall, I almost couldn’t find it!
The truly spectacular mall that blew my mind away is called Siam Paragon. Being a Pennsylvania-native, I have the benefit of living about 35 minutes from the second biggest mall in America, called King of Prussia, which I have grown to love and cherish. I am sorry to say it, though, King of Prussia has a thing or two to learn from Siam Paragon. Right outside of the Siam BTS station (Bangkok’s above ground railway system), the mall is split into 3 parts: Siam Discovery, Siam Center, and Siam Paragon. Siam Discovery, my favorite part of the mall, is more about lifestyle products and has an entire floor dedicated to artsy eco-friendly products called “Ecotopia.” If you know me, you know this kind of thing is right up my alley. The Siam Center has all sorts of stores for middle to high-end clothes, shoes, and a couple of fun pop-ups inside which I assume are solely for the purpose of Instagram. Siam Paragon is the cream of the crop. Housing stores like Fendi, Louis Vutton, Tiffany, and anything your boujee imagination could think of, this mall is not for the faint of heart (or wallet). But one can dream.
I hung out more at this mall than tweens do in middle school.
One of the benefits of traveling alone is that I can do whatever I want, and I am not ashamed to admit that I went to this mall at least ten times during my stay in Bangkok, and I STILL didn’t make it through all of it.
2.) Creepy Ex-Pats with young Thai girls
Being you are in a foreign country, you cannot help but feel a kinship when passing by an American. There’s normally that look that passes like “Hey! We share one similar characteristic, I feel safe with you now.” As I walked the streets of Bangkok, I began to notice that almost every American I saw was a middle-aged man. I thought to myself that is so cool of them, they have probably always wanted to visit Thailand and are finally doing it, damned if they are alone! But as I passed by even more sweaty old-men, I realized they were not actually alone. More often than not, there was a much younger Thai girl glued to their side.
I sat down at dinner one night with a Japanese couple that I had met and shared my weird observation with them.
“Oh, that’s because of the booming sex industry,” they laughed, like it was something that I should have just innately known.
Apparently, a lot of older American men move to Thailand to find a young girl to date and provide a financially stable lifestyle for the two of them. To be honest, I find the entire phenomenon supremely uncomfortable and unsettling. After that, any American male I passed on the street was met with an uneasy glance and cold shoulder.
This is maybe a situation where it is better to live in ignorance.
3.) The concept of breakfast does not really exist here
I was introduced to the power of marketing last year during one of my journalism classes. Apparently the reason that I crave cereal in the morning is credited to General Foods.
Things work a little differently here in Bangkok. There are times where I woke up at 7 AM to start my day and passed by someone eating a hearty dish of noodle soup or a plate of pad thai. Pad thai can pretty much be eaten at all times of the day, which is truly a wonderful thing.
4.) Respect is very big.
Everyone is constantly bowing. As soon as I got to my hotel, all of the front desk people bowed. I looked at something in someone’s store, bows ensued. I walked past someone on the street, bows (just kidding, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this had happened). This is only one of the small signs of respect that Thailand demands. You also have to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, a temple, or office building. Oh, and you have to stand for the Thai national anthem to honor the king before seeing a movie. It felt like some sort of flash mob at first when everyone around me stood up during the previews of the Avengers.
Not pictured: me wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt in the heat because women aren’t allowed to show their shoulders or legs.
5.) Their ketchup cups are far too tiny.
How is ANYONE supposed to fit enough ketchup in here?
6.) I am not entirely sure that they have traffic laws
Drivers in Bangkok are similar to drivers in Mario Kart on Rainbow Road. It seems like there are zero traffic rules and people are just flying around doing whatever they want and don’t seem to care about the consequences. Between tuk-tuks, cars, and motorcycles, drivers just weave in and out of the road with no rhyme or reason. Sometimes motorcycles just drive on the sidewalk with all of the pedestrians and then have the audacity to scowl at YOU like you did something wrong by walking on a pedestrian-only sidewalk. I was warned by some friends that it is easy to twist your ankle on the sidewalks of Bangkok, but did not realize I would be playing a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with motor vehicles on a regular basis.
As Thailand’s biggest city, Bangkok is a melting pot of food, people, and culture. It also feels like a literal melting pot considering the temperature did not drop below 89 degrees for the duration of my stay. All in all, though, Bangkok did something that most cities around the world can do; it kept me on my toes, it kept me interested, and it kept me exploring.