Arriving in Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi airport is impressive in and of itself – it is the world’s 9th busiest international airport and 20th by gross numbers, and is an architectural feat considering the swampland it is built upon – but I have never arrived in my local airport without the overwhelming sense of possibility. This very well may be my unique circumstance upon landing: I grew up here and it is the only home I’ve ever known, but I have received the vaguely insulting descriptor of “ฝรั่ง” or “farang” for the whole of my life. I imagine it is meant in a similar way to when I mutter “tourists” under my breath on a crowded Friday afternoon as I try and squeeze through the crowds in the Camden Market to get to work, but this comes in a language that is coupled with the assumption of my ignorance, so it serves as a kind of inside joke. Admittedly, it is a very real first-world problem, feeling the nation-less state of the infamous “Third Culture Kids”, but there is a loneliness in being seen as a foreigner in the only place you have ever called home.
Having now spent three years as a university student, I can’t help but have the middle-class “gap-yah” fantasy of my home nation, however starkly in contrast it stands against my experience of it. Conversely, once I’ve collected my bags and I spot my first elephant-panted twenty-something, my repertoire of Thai cuss words floods back into my mind and their optimistic naïvety feels almost offensive. The air sparks with the excitement of short-haul passengers with the hope of making it big, or at least spending every last recently exchanged baht on MahBoonKhrong knock-offs, and the seemingly inevitable and limitless envy of their friends at home. An amalgamation of foreigners and locals, from the very first moment it is clear what a vibrant place it is that you have arrived in.
Bangkok is a city of excitement and possibility, and heres’ how to see it best in the morning light, ideally sans elephant pants.
In the Morning
Sunrise: Lumpini Park and the Temple of Dawn
If you’re an early riser, there isn’t much that compares to Lumpini Park during sunrise. There are people of all ages, of all heritages, revelling in one of the only large green spaces around the Sukhumvit area. Keep an eye out for the monitor lizards that’ll appear out of the lake; theres nothing quite like an enormous amphibious creature crossing your path to remind you that you’re not at home anymore. A personal favourite has to be the consistency of the large swarm of elderly people practicing Tai-Chi, seemingly oblivious to the city stretching its limbs around them as it wakes. The contradiction of their peace and the lurching start to the Bangkok business day is one of the most beautiful pairings I’ve seen in my travels, and one I would definitely recommend seeking out.
If the promise of senior citizens and oversized reptiles doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, the place to visit in the jet-lagged delirium of your first morning in the city must be Wat Arun. Translating to “The Temple of Dawn”, the temple is stunning at any time of the day, but one can imagine when it peaks. Not for the faint of heart nor the weak of stomach, the wat rises to nearly 300 feet high and requires some of the steepest stairs one can encounter to get to the view, and the inevitable sense of vertigo that such heights tend to provide. Perhaps the stairs were better built for steady-handed monks in an act of a pilgrimage than a multicultural selection of local and foreign tourists, but simply absorb and appreciate the sense of history and serenity in this most beautiful of holy places. Oh, and once you’re at the top, try not to think too hard about getting back down! If you are visiting this wat or any others, do ensure you are either dressed conservatively with shoulders and knees covered, or that you bring appropriate layers to wear inside the temples, so as not to commit the classic foreigner faux pas. Being slightly more covered up will help you seem a bit more conspicuous in the city, as it is easy to spot “farang” with their brightly coloured “Khao San Road” singlets and tiny shorts!
Take a break indoors: Bangkok’s Mall’s
As the heat starts to rear its ugly head, take this time to do one of two things: commit to the new cultural environment you’ve found yourself in and seek out the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha and Wat Po, or equally commit to the new cultural environment around you and run to the closest mall you can find. If you’re leaving Lumpini, chances are the closest will be Central Embassy – an embodiment of all the luxuries that this life can provide you with, if you have the funds. Go for a wander past Louboutin and Versace, for there is no better a place to realise that you could be Dorothy in her ruby slippers, and if you can’t, then at least you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Lunch: Street Food!
Once the air-conditioning has served as a welcome respite from your trial-by-fire in the heat, prepare yourself once more for the outdoors, or perhaps more reasonably, acquaint yourself with Bangkok’s BTS system. An efficient, copiously air-coned transport link at prices that still haunt me as I pay my £4.90 tube fare to TfL, that will whizz you through the city skies to wherever you need go. On a hot day, my only choice for lunch is Rasayana – an all raw, all vegan restaurant tucked away a short walk from Phrom Pong BTS. It is a glorious forest oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle offering massages and treatments as well as the most delicious food imaginable, it is a must visit.
If raw vegan fare is not quite to your taste, go for a wander around the small soi’s around the BTS station where there is the widest variety of Thai street food and the influences are evident. The signs will be in four different languages as you walk, but trust me that there is no more universal language than the food that people love, and will want to share. Enjoy the energy and take risks, talk to everyone you can and try everything, you are in the land of smiles now!