There is nothing like the city. The modern-day people have built barrows above the streets and injected hustle into their veins. There is nothing like the cars speeding by, bumpers bumping in traffic jams, feet moving swiftly down sidewalks as if everyone’s final destination will crumble if they don’t arrive all at the same time. City skies block out the sun because there’s nothing more futuristic than morning smog. And there’s nothing like the main city characteristic of towering buildings that make everything else seem so small.
For the most part, no matter where you go in the world, big cities are going to be similar. They will be full of shops and items to consume, they will be crowded and somewhat overwhelming, there will be traffic during rush hour, public transportation will be available, and people pushing by on the sidewalks will be inescapable. Bangkok is no different. During my first few nights in Thailand I spent three days in Bangkok and I had to become acclimated to my new environment. The city was made up with the same components as Philadelphia, but at first I wasn’t used to the different ways those components worked. In Philadelphia the street lights are just as much for the pedestrians as they are for the drivers, but in Bangkok they seemed to be just for the drivers. This meant that drivers knew when to stop for each other, but I never knew when I should actually cross the street. My group members and I would often just look for an opening and hurry across. Sometimes our guide would hold out his hand like he was the traffic police and cars would stop and let us go.
In Thailand there are so many modes of transportation and most of them are vehicles other than your typical five persons Toyota. There are sung taews, tuk tuks, motorcycles, taxis, trains, trucks that you can ride in the back of, mopeds, and much more. Motorcycles and tuk tuks can easily swerve in between other cars. Tuk tuks have a similar structure to a golf cart, they can hold three to four people, and they are somewhat scary because of the big openings on their sides. There were several times I felt as if I could easily fall out as my Thai driver sped through the city streets. Sung taews are like vans with opened backs. The inside fits about twelve to thirteen people, but people can also stand on the back and hold on as if it were a trash truck. They are safer as long as you don’t fall asleep near the door in the back (There was a moment where I did that and my friend thought that I would fall right out.)
Most people in Thailand have motorcycles because they are so cheap. They even have motorcycle taxis where people hop on the back and sit sideways. It is common to find three or four people on one motorcycle. It is also common to find toddlers standing in between their parent’s legs on the floors of mopeds. I’ve even seen a little boy around the age of four holding on to his father’s back as they drove through the city on their motorcycle. What isn’t common is to see most drivers or children with helmets on.
When I first realized how crazy city traffic was I became scared to cross the street. I would run to the side-walk even if there were no vehicles in sight. The last thing I wanted to do was die from being flattened by a speeding tuk tuk. I felt a bit more comfortable getting on the train. It worked somewhat like Philadelphia’s Blue Line train and as I stood on the platform I noticed that advertisements were everywhere just like in the tunnels of the subway. It was ten times more crowded than the train in Philadelphia and whoever was getting off had to try to maneuver themselves to the door quickly so they wouldn’t miss their stop. If they didn’t, more people would push their way on the train and the doors would close before people could exit. I was basically kissing someone’s arm the whole ride, but riding the train was familiar to me so I didn’t mind. There were also other familiar things in Bangkok like the mall, food courts, huge movie signs for the new Batman movie that said “Now Playing,” and the pollution. The sky was not clear in Bangkok which was very different compared to the rest of Thailand. In America it is the same. The pollution is always greater in the city than in the rural areas.
We went to two different malls while we were there. The first mall was full of American stores like Victoria Secret and Ann Taylor. It was very modern and westernized. We ate lunch in the food court and there were many options. They had everything from Thai food to McDonald’s. Some of my group members felt tempted to eat American food but they resisted the urge. Afterwards we went to another mall that was set up in a more Thai like fashion. It was called Platinum. There were about four parts to the mall and each part had around three floors. There was a floor for pocketbooks, a floor for clothes, and a floor for shoes. I have never been so overwhelmed when it came to shopping. All of the venders set up throughout the mall wanted us to buy things, so to coax us they would give us deals if we bought more than one item. Most dresses were only around 250 baht, which is about $7.60.
I loved seeing how Bangkok worked. The city life was fast and busy, but it was alive. I think every city has a pulse, thumping in the veins of its sidewalks. As I traveled with my study abroad group through Bangkok, I felt its pulse, the same way I can feel the pulse of Philadelphia when I’m home. It scared me at first because I thought that it was so different. But although it may have worked a bit differently it turned out not to be as foreign as I thought a foreign city would be.