first 24 hours in bangkok

Bangkok is a bustling, crowded, smoggy, lively, dirty, vibrant place, on par with any major world city. The roads are packed with cars, Tuk Tuks and little 125CC motorcycles. The sidewalks are filled with street vendors selling everything from knockoff designer products to hill tribe handicrafts.

So far, I’ve managed to navigate around the city via an assortment of modes. The Sky Train is easy but limited. I was able to take it to the river, where I boarded a boat up the river to the massive Wat Pho temple. Thailand’s oldest and most famous Thai (or “ancient”) massage school is there. Due to its popularity with tourists, it has moved to a more prominent location and raised its prices. Still, 300 baht (about US$8.50) for an hour of pulling and pummelling is a bargain.

From there, I hailed a Tuk Tuk and, with the help of one of the guides at Wat Pho, negotiated a ride to another wat (temple), then to Golden Mountain, then to the Sky Train station at Siam Square – all for 40 baht. Part of the deal was that we’d stop at a touristy shopping center, for which the Tuk Tuk driver would get a petrol coupon.

As for my chosen digs, I avoided the famous backpacker lane at Khao San Road in favor of slightly higher-end accommodations. The downside of that decision is that among the backpacker crowd, it’s usually pretty easy to connect with other travellers to find tour and meal companions.

There are plenty of eager companions among the locals, but the ones who volunteer for this duty are mostly working girls, and that’s not really my scene. Every bar and club seems to have a welcoming committee of these, although I can’t say for sure it’s not a couple of neighborhoods in particular. Last night I wandered the areas around Sukhumvit and Silom roads. Maybe I’ll branch out a little more tonight.

There are, of course, different degrees of “working”. Some expect simply to be treated to a good time – a nice meal, drinks, a gift or two. Others depend on the money they get for offering additional services, for which they typically earn more than the average Thai civil servant.