Why Bangkok Works in the Land of Smiles
Stay the hell away?
Bangkok overwhelms in every possible way. The heat, traffic, crowds, noise, the constant assault of street food on your olfactory receptors. The polluted air and intense, near-equatorial sun lend a heavy feeling to being there and there’s no escape. Every single street corner is a barrage of concrete, electrical wires, idling motorbikes mixed among large trucks and wide eyed pedestrians playing leap frog. It’d be perfectly understandable if the prevailing wisdom on Bangkok was to simply stay the hell away.
The Land of Smiles
I’m convinced that if Bangkok were anywhere else on earth, people would stay the hell away. But this is the Land of Smiles, a place where the relaxed vibe and live and let live attitude of the locals makes the even the most pernicious mix of traffic jams and noise and heat seem like easy living. People treat each other better here. The undercurrent of friendliness permeates the whole of Bangkok and it lubricates the city in a way that makes the place just work.
Smile if you want to
Friendliness is subjective. Personally, I think it’s subjective to the point that its perception has more to do with our internal response to external happenings than with the external happenings themselves.
Let me explain: Have you ever smiled at someone and said hello, only to have that person respond tersely or not at all? That person was probably having a bad day, and everything that person experiences will be viewed through the fog of negativity. If we think the world is out to get us, it probably is.
Bangkok rewards the positive traveler who willingly surrenders. The only response is to smile as the Thais do when you’re almost clipped from behind by an unseen motorbike on the sidewalk. Or when you see an elephant leisurely walking down the street. Or when your tuk tuk driver* tells you the temple is closed and to let him take you to his friend’s shop instead. Tip: he’s lying, but no worries. Smile and everything is right in the world once again.
*Not really a reflection of Bangkok. If there’s one thing I’ve found to be constant all over the world, it’s that taxi drivers universally suck.
Just go with it: The short story of the miserable American expat.
I met an American expat woman and business owner who didn’t like Bangkok one bit. I spoke with her briefly one evening in the hopes of learning something about the city. Unfortunately, I learned nothing because it was all about her. Loud and crass, she was quick to point out the city’s flaws, and at one point she yelled obscenities at the traffic in the street (that’s about when I excused myself.) And after 9 years of living in Bangkok she didn’t speak a lick of Thai, commenting that, “The language is impossible. Thais can’t even understand each other!”
Uh, okay. If there ever was a stereotypical American traveler, here she was. It was obvious that she didn’t have a clue about what makes Bangkok tick. She resisted Bangkok, and as a result she was miserable.
Finding peace in the midst of chaos
Watching the city breathe and live and thrive as you walk its streets and experience its culture is reason enough to smile. Take note of the little things: the way people treat each other, how they help each other, and how welcoming they are toward you. Slow down your own pace of life. Sit a little longer at the cafe or restaurant and watch and learn from the people and the city around you. Take the time to enjoy one of the few green spaces if you happen stumble across one.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Singha beer!