I’m afraid this isn’t going to be a post about temples, patterned fisherman’s pants and red light districts filled with middle-aged men and young girls. Living outside the backpackers bubble has its advantages, whilst being close enough to easily get to the sights and the nights out, I don’t have to live in an area where a tourist tout operates outside my door, where there’s people focused on finding themselves by getting lost and where you can’t walk down the street without being accosted to buy something. My rented room, it turns out, is still however very much full of the sights and sounds of Bangkok, the good and the bad.
Starting on the positive, I’m still very much in the hustle and bustle of the city. A brief walk outside my place takes me past numerous street vendors selling everything from noodle soup to unidentified meat skewers to fried coconut milk rounds (I heavily recommend the latter). Aside from Mondays, when the streets are supposedly cleaned, there’s barely a meter of pavement without someone selling something, ranging from food, to plastic turds (I don’t quite understand why, either). The main roads itself are packed with a constant stream of coloured tuk tuks, taxis, buses and motorcycles, not to mention the odd street vendor pulling along their stand, thus making climbing the stairs near the skyrail and crossing over, down to the other side far easier for crossing. All in all, its a living, working area.
Yet, close by, on the other side of the road to me, is MBK, a shopping centre I can only describe as commercialism on acid. Floors and floors packed full of vendors and customers, with seemingly more electronics outlets and stands than shrines in Bangkok (of which there is one outside most houses). There’s also a food court or several, with a card system that’s necessity escapes me. And then, for the more elegant shoppers, there’s a range of up-market shopping centres nearby. These sell designer clothes, big brand names from Europe/America and food from Krispy Kremes to French macaroons. There’s something for everyone, unless I guess if you don’t want to shop in an air-conditioned mall. This whole area makes Oxford Street look like a country lane.
I could just leave it at that, how the ubiquitous splashing of cash spurred me to get on the 47 bus with my Lonely Planet and visit some of the more cultural sights. But that’s not it. Firstly it appears that aside from the temples, some of the main tourist draws are the markets. I guess its no surprise that when Chatuchak Weekend Market, visited by locals and tourists alike, sells everything from home wares to handbag dogs and their glitzy accessories, the natural progression is the monstrosity of MBK in these globalised times. Chatuchak has much more individuality and quirkiness, but I guess air-conditioned malls are the future seen by most, if not those looking for other-worldly charm.
But, as I said there’s more to Bangkok than we realise. It’s not just a backpacker home or a outpost of capitalist excess. There’s a burgeoning art scene in Bangkok that stretches beyond the tattoo parlous and religious art, so often associated with it. Opposite MBK, there’s a cultural centre, with galleries, events, and shops that would make any Dalston lover feel at home. There’s shrines where, away from the backpacks, its much more possible to see the spiritual nature of the decadence within it. And whilst nights out are famous, there’s more to them than the backpacker strip of Khao San.