This city is huge! And it’s nothing like the cities in Vietnam. It feels very Western. I walked out of the terminal at Suvarnabhumi airport and into the main building and an involuntary giggle escaped my lips as I spotted a Boots (British drug store), Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Baskin Robbins, etc, etc. Within my first 2 hours here, I had already heard more American accents than I did in a month in Bali and Vietnam.
This is a gross over-exaggeration, but Bangkok feels so much more western than Vietnam that it’s almost like I’ve just returned to “civilization” after a month of camping. There are McDonald’s and Starbucks everywhere. And the prices are up. It’s still cheap compared to the West, but just not AS cheap. And nothing is as cheap as all those stories I read about people traveling in the 80’s.
The dollar was so strong then, and SE Asia so less developed. But there are trade-offs: the main train line that links the city here (the BTS)didn’t even exist then. In fact, it’s only been here since 1999 and they are still adding to it. My Lonely Planet guide incorrectly lists the train line’s end point, which has already been extended in just the last year.
So, then I start thinking to myself that this is a city that’s really growing and coming up in the world. And then I walked into a mall. And another involuntary giggle escaped my throat, as I gazed on the luminous altar to capitalism and modernity. And this is just one of many malls here- the big ones are all in a row in one area of the city, oddly enough. I can’t believe I thought Bangkok would be like Vietnam. It’s completely different. Some of the streets feel the same- dirty little stalls and food cooking alongside the road, but it’s clear that many parts of the city are just as modern as the US.
In fact, I was jealous that there are stores here that I don’t even have at my fancy mall close to home. Especially the nice British ones like Whittards of Chelsea. Wow. It’s going to be difficult to reconcile these two very different sides of Bangkok, and my other experiences in SE Asia.
Incidentally, you would never think to head to the mall for good food in the US, but in many parts of SE Asia, there is a food court level with really, really good food and also high-level restaurants, to boot. It’s nice to find a place that serves the hygenic equivalent of the local street food, too.
I had an excellent mango with sticky coconut rice (black rice!) at one spot, and Kim and I ate the best Pad See Ew in the world at another. Really. At a mall. 🙂