Bangkok has recently become a bucket-list destination for the new generation of millennial yuppies. Was it the second instalment of The Hangover trilogy? Was it some obscure One Night in Bangkok cover that everyone had playing on loop? Perhaps some overnight promotional campaign or ticket price drops? I don’t know, but suddenly everyone and their mum had been to Bangkok. I personally know a guy who quit his job at Sony and traveled to Thailand to learn Muay Thai. Sounds cliché now, but back then it was mind-blowing. It was about the same time the digital nomad trend set off. People realized that they can live on an exotic island for $500 a month while working remotely from a beach bungalow. All good things come to an end, especially when too many white people flock to one place. Have you seen The Beach starring Leonardo Di Caprio? It was filmed at Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh Island; you can get there from Bangkok with little effort. Long story short: the more people came to Maya Bay, the more of a Lord of the Flies kind of horror ensued.
The case was the same with Bangkok but, thankfully, the boom is over and the Thai capital is an absolute joy to visit. Also known as “The Big Mango”, this city radiates an organic, almost primal energy. Some might say it’s too loud, too dirty but that’s a part of its charm. Most lone travellers, especially those on a budget, begin their Bangkok adventure at the Khao San Road (it’s where Stuart of The Hangover got his face tattoo). It’s by far, the most multicultural part of Bangkok but also the shadiest. Are there any cocaine-dealing monkeys? I don’t think so. But getting your backpack or purse snatched is a common occurrence, I’ve also heard rumours about people disappearing. Don’t get me wrong but if I would be into human traffic, then a street full of backpackers would be my go-to place when looking for victims. An unpleasant by-product of its popularity is the really annoying feeling that everyone is trying to scam you. Because they often are, anyone from taxi drivers to temple staff has learned to milk every penny from naive tourists.
Take the Grand Palace as an example, people standing in front of it will try and convince you that it’s closed and they can show you something better. Even if you get past those and pay the $50 entry fee, the actual personnel inside will try to sell you “appropriate temple clothing”. That could easily ruin your first impression of the Grand Palace, which is one of Bangkok’s iconic landmarks that served as the royal residence for centuries. The monarchs live elsewhere now, but the Palace is still an important ceremonial and symbolic site. The entire complex looks like an open-air museum of temples. You walk around and think that everything there is a temple, the buildings are so beautiful and detailed it makes you think they’re a place of worship. “Wow this shrine is amazing!” you think and a random Bangkokian swiftly explains it’s just a generic gazebo. There are dozens of awe-inspiring temples in monasteries in Bangkok, if you’d ever want to get into Buddhism then this is the place. Wat Saket and Wat Arun are the most recognized. But if you want a real souvenir then you will have to go deeper and find a temple that is into Sak Yant, the traditional Thai tattoos.
Some monks still practice this centuries-old tradition of mystical body art. Everything starts with a ritual cleansing, prayer and meditation. And when you’re finally done with all that the monk starts stabbing you with a bamboo needle. It takes hours, hurts like all hell and you probably won’t even know what the ink means, but Angelina Jolie has got one and that’s enough of a reason to endure.
Don’t you worry; there are less extreme ways to enjoy yourself in Bangkok. Delicious and cheap ($2 for a meal, more or less) Thai cuisine needs no introduction and is splendidly represented by street-food stalls. The government is desperately trying to limit their numbers, probably because they can be tricky to tax. It’s an essential part of Bangkok, something that makes this city so unique. Bullying those hawkers out is like shooting yourself in the foot, what’s next? Getting rid of Thai massage joints? No trip to Bangkok is complete without a session of traditional Nuat Thai (Thai massage). It’s offered everywhere; you don’t even have to look. You can get an hour of massage for $5, but if you’re interested in the real deal then you need to check out Wat Pho. It’s one of the most impressive temples in Bangkok and is considered the birthplace of Thai massage. They still teach there; it doesn’t get more authentic than this. Keep in mind that real Nuat Thai is quite painful, if you think it’s this hot rub-down with an Asian babe then you’re in for rude awakening. For that, you’ll have to explore the frightening realm of Bangkok nightlife. Transsexuals, infamous Thai ping-pong shows, or legendary bars like the Maggie Choo’s (http://maggiechoos.com/) are all life-changing experiences. The world really is your oyster, at least when you’re in Bangkok.