It’s always a challenge to meet the real, not-so-touristy, face of a city.
As travellers we are forced to stay in a hotel or hostel placed in the vicinity of other hotels or hostels. Restaurants are conveniently located to suit our needs. Street food vendors strategically put carts close to hungry foreign noses. Tour companies offer once in a lifetime off the beaten path experiences to see the “real” side of a city; the same experience they offered to thousands before you and the same experience they will offer to thousands after you. Temples are now attractions with visitors bumping into each other. Selfie sticks and big lenses rule the limited empty spaces in search of the perfect shot. Architectural and geological wonders are stampede hotspots, a sardine tin where one more person is squeezed in for the sake of tourism. Rushed and squashed we go from one spot to the next in an unfortunate madness impossible to escape.
It’s impossible because how can you visit Phnom Penh in Cambodia without standing in awe of the Angkor Wat? How can you visit Beijing in China and not walk on the Great Wall? How can you visit Agra in India without going to the Taj Mahal? How can you visit Bangkok in Thailand without wandering around the Grand Palace?
During my recent visit to Bangkok I went to the Grand Palace, because well…Bangkok, palace, grand, architecture, why not? I went quite early and knew it would be busy but nothing could prepare me for how busy it was in reality. People everywhere. Tour groups and pushy tour group leaders with their flags everywhere. Selfie sticks everywhere. Incredible architecture everywhere. People everywhere. Kids screaming and running around everywhere. Intricate details everywhere. People everywhere. Mindless walking everywhere. Beautiful photo opportunities everywhere. People in nearly every single beautiful photo opportunity, everywhere.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok was one of the most spectacular architectural structures I’ve ever laid eyes on with its detail, colours and royal flair but it was also one of the places which tested my patience the most. Rushed and squashed I went from one spot to the next in an unfortunate madness impossible to escape.
Later the same day I took a tuk-tuk to meet a friend working in the Pratunam area. As a habit, I took out my phone to browse Twitter and to locate myself on Google Maps until I saw a guy on a motorbike with a dog sitting on the same seat like a tiny human. I put my phone in my bag and got my camera out instead. All the unfortunate madness floated away as I witnessed a real side of Bangkok; a different side with its own kind of chaos. A side that came alive in rush hour traffic, a side where people went home from work and children in school uniforms flocked around food stalls. I watched as motorbikes found tiny gaps and listened to cars honking on the way to their destinations. I could feel the Bangkokian pulse beating from bus to bicycle, from street to sidewalk. I breathed Bangkok in and out, in and out. I kept an eye on my tuk-tuk driver; he placed his hands firmly on the steering bars and elegantly swerved from left to right in the commotion. His flip flops controlled the gears and the key tangoed in the ignition until he hit the brakes and a one hour *near death tuk-tuk traffic adventure became an off the beaten tourist path adventure.
Authentic, unplanned and not elegant at all.
It’s always a challenge to meet the real, not-so-touristy, face of a city and sometimes all you need is a local ride in rush hour traffic into the heart of the city to experience a bit of real, a bit of madness and a bit of Bangkok.