Impressions Of Bangkok, A Month In

I started writing this post yesterday (August 2), but I’m publishing it on August 3. So it took me exactly zero days to fail in my quest to post something every day. Or one day, depending on how you like to count.

A bit over a month ago, I left home with my partner and her education-student classmates, destined for Bangkok, Thailand to work as a teacher. So what’s that been like?

If I had to choose a single word… sweaty.

The Heat

Of course, I’m mostly joking, but some part of me isn’t. It is quite hot here; the daily temperature is about 33˚C. And it’s not summer yet.
I started sweating soon after stepping outside of the airport, and I can count on one hand the number of times that I have spent longer than five minutes outside without sweating. I sweat when I walk to the taxi stand in the morning, and I sweat when I go outside to eat lunch. I sweat again when I walk to the taxi stand in the afternoon, and I sweat in my apartment when I get home while my air conditioning kicks in.
On that topic… thank God for air conditioning. It’s basically a way of life here, but I still feel lucky to have air conditioning in my apartment, taxis, (some) buses, office, classrooms, and pretty much any other public indoor space.

The Rain

Maybe a better one-word summary would have been damp, because that would encompass the sweat, the humid weather and my clothes after a sudden torrential downpour. Being the rainy season, that happens now and then. The timing usually lines up nicely on the end of the work day.
Rainy season is basically our fall season back home, except the rain is ten times as hard and three times more frequent, and the “cool” daytime weather is hotter than most summer days. I knew it was coming, but I still didn’t think it would be that bad until I was standing outside Mall Bang Khae under an overhang when the rain began for the first time. But somehow, people on motorcycles stay upright, even when weaving in and out of lanes on tires barely thicker than those of a mountain bike.

The Malls

This is my first time in Asia. I had heard that Asian malls were big, but now I know that they’re, like, really big. Imagine Polo Park in Winnipeg, but stacked on top of itself three times, and twice as wide, and you get something like Mall Bang Khae (pronounced “bong kay”) or Siam Paragon. There is a water park on Mall Bang Khae’s roof… so maybe a more accurate comparison for the average Thai/Asian mall is to West Edmonton Mall, Canada’s largest. I get lost every time I go in one.

Siam Paragon Mall

The Transportation

I’m fairly vocal about my dislike of car culture and cities with car-centric infrastructure (i.e. 95% of North America), and I’m both pleased and disappointed with Bangkok. There is objectively a lot of vehicle traffic, but that’s because there’s such a huge number of people that live here. I get in a taxi at about 6:40 every morning, and it’s not because I actually need to be at work at 7:00, it’s because traffic slows to a crawl after that time and my twenty minute commute becomes an hour and twenty.
Most of the traffic is made of small motorcycles—which we would probably call scooters back home—cars, and small trucks. Thankfully, there’s also a lot of mass transport on the roads. In fact, lots of the cars are taxis. They cost about 100 baht[?] for a 20 minute trip in decent traffic conditions, which sounds cheap but really isn’t relative to other options. Buses vary in price depending on whether or not they’re air-conditioned; the cheapest can be ridden for 8 baht[?], and they don’t get much more expensive than 25 baht[?]. There are a couple of other cheap forms of transportation, like motorcycle taxis or songthaews (thaew sounds like cow if you replace the c with a t): repurposed trucks with seating in the bed, which cost between 5 baht[?] and 10 baht[?].
Despite the abundance of really cheap options, taxis are usually worth it if you have a group of 4–5 since the difference between the split cost and a cheaper method is usually just a few baht, which air conditioning and the convenience of getting dropped off at your exact destination (if you can explain it well enough) more than make up for.
When you’re taking a longer trip within the city, there’s the BST: the Bangkok Skytrain system. A train ticket to downtown costs about 60 baht[?], which is much better than 250 baht[?] spent on a taxi, especially if you’re traveling alone. You do of course need to get to a BST station first, so at the moment that’s a cab or bus ride to Bang Wa station which isn’t super close to home. But in a week or two, the trip will be easier and cheaper because a BST station is opening just outside Mall Bang Khae.

A songthaew

The Air

I knew that the air quality in a massive city would be worse than that of rural Manitoba or downtown Winnipeg, but the difference is more dramatic than I expected. I’ve gotten used to it for the most part, but there are plenty of moments when, standing roadside waiting for a cab and having bus emissions spewed in my face, I think “there goes a few minutes from my expected lifespan”. It’s hard to describe, but it seems like there’s a constant mild “smelly” smell in the air. It also makes running less comfortable, although presumably the heat and humidity is also a big factor there.

The Food

You can’t talk about Thailand without talking about food (even though I almost forgot to add this section).
Pad thai is obviously a go-to dish, as is Thai fried rice, and stir-fried morning glory (a tasty vegetable that I hadn’t seen before coming here). Not only is the food delicious, it’s also extremely inexpensive. A favourite restaurant of the Winnipeggers that perenially come here for work, informally known as Ping’s, charges 50 baht[?] for a plate of pad thai (just over $2). Most restaurants in our somewhat suburban area have prices in that ballpark for food that would cost $12–$20 back home. Of course, things get more pricey if you go downtown.
There are also stalls on the street that sell things like fruit, crepes, noodles, and lots of meat-on-a-stick. I tend to stay away from these stalls for meals, because it’s really hard to avoid meat dishes, but I do buy a lot of fresh fruit and the odd crepe. Eating vegetarian here is not trivial, but it’s not impossible either—more on that in a future post.

Stir-fried morning glory

Hopefully this paints an okay picture of what my new surroundings look like. I’ll make a different post more focused on my job sometime soon.