As a woman traveling alone, my experience might be different than someone else’s. It is certainly different from the 22-year old backpack set. It’s also different from the couples traveling in tandem, whether 22 or 44 or 66…. You get the picture! Traveling with a partner of friend, there are two of you to confer about things, someone to watch your back, check the map, converse with. But solo, one must be vigilant. One must be brave. One must be open.
On the whole, I feel safe in Bangkok. Confused, yes. Overwhelmed by the size - ten million people! (imagine I said that in a Dr. Evil voice, please.) And hot and sweaty most of the time, certainly. But the Thai people I have met – from the toothless Tuk-Tuk driver who gave me a bargain rate, to the young lady who took pity on my lost state at the pier and helped me get “home”, to the reception people at the hostel – are sweet, friendly, and helpful. They have a sense of humor. And they are as sincere as Linus in the pumpkin patch.
It took me a day or so to recover my old attitude about getting lost in a new city – to borrow from my Spanish lexicon, “no pasa nada.” For now, I have no pressing appointments. And riding the bus in a huge circle today (20 minutes past where I could have hopped off and walked to the hotel) I saw new parts of Bangkok. I saw a Starbucks (and when I went in later, I found the coffee is comparable in price to the US, but served with a smile.) I saw, and smelled, a huge flower market, where orchids bloom, and sunset-colored marigolds are being shaped into intricate designs to decorate wats (temples). I saw a saffron-robed monk waiting to cross the street, with a mangy stray dog looking up at him with an expression of adoration. If I were in a hurry, I would have missed all that.
I am finding local people eager to practice their English (and in one case, I spoke Spanish with a Thai clerk in a jewelry store, a very bizarre experience!) And when I see a Caucasian face or hear English, I find travelers or expatriates eager to exchange travel tips and commiserate with the chaos facing us in such a large city.
Tomorrow I meet up with my tour group. Adventures from here on in will be more controlled, more orderly. And I confess that I am ready to be taken care of!
Recommendations so far for Bangkok, in case you are going: don’t bother with the weekend market unless you are feeling patient and ready to negotiate the thousands of stalls and sort through the crap to find a few gems (which I did, so it was ultimately worth going.) See the Jim Thompson house, be sure to stroll through the lush tropical garden, and take the canal boat there or back. Also, take the cheap river boat at night, but beware: they do stop running early and you might get stranded like I did! Do take Tuk-Tuks, they might be a little scary but it is the best way to get somewhere if you don’t know it, and don’t know the bus (which is less than 50 cents!) But negotiate your fare with the Tuk Tuk driver ahead of time! Thai massage; be prepared to be pulled and pummeled! Not a very relaxing experience, if you ask me, but it was $10 for an hour. I’ll try one again, just to be sure I just didn’t get the wrong – too strong – masseuse. He was cute, though! Street vendor food, noodles, etc, is cheap and so far I have not gotten sick! Street vendors for crafts (carved wooden Buddhas, etc.) are also a good bet. Speaking of the Buddha, if you are interested at all in Buddhism or statues, incense, worship, etc, go to as many wats as you can handle; each is unique and beautiful. I bought a wooden cage of birds from a lady outside the temple of the Standing Buddha and set them free inside to bring me luck
I’ll let you know if it works!