Beat Your Own Track

September 11, 2000

Every city has its major tourist attraction. While in Paris you check out the Eiffel Tower. Those in Cairo gaze at the pyramids. While in Rome you head off to the coliseum. London has its bridge and Pisa has its tower. Bangkok also has its standard list of things to see and do: The Grand Palace, The Floating Market, and the Reclining Buddha are some of them. I would like to suggest some additional things to do in while here.

Take a bus. Bangkok has busses heading in every direction. For a small amount of money – seven to twenty baht, meaning up to 50 cents – you can hop on and take your own tour of the city. Driving techniques and speeds vary. Get off wherever you like. There is always something interesting waiting for you.

Take a taxi. It is quite likely that the driver is not sure where you want to go either. Bangkok is huge. Give the driver a break, sit back, and enjoy the scenery. Watch out your window.

Use the sky train. It provides fast,110900k1.jpg efficient, if somewhat boring routes back to some destinations. You can have the taxi or tuk-tuk driver bring you back to one of these main stations and then take it from there. While on the sky train watch for how many people are talking on their cellular phones and check out the fashion trends.

Enjoy a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River. Public boats run up and down the river until dusk. You can also hire a longtail speedboat or take a rice barge. You get to enjoy majestic scenes of river life.

Sit in a park. People watching is an excellent activity. You are also likely to catch a game of trakaw. This is played using a little wicker ball and volleyball net. Everything but the hands is used to get the ball over the net and keep it from hitting the ground. The wicker ball reaches incredibly high speeds and is played with amazing agility and skill. You can be sure there are a few bucks placed on the game you are watching, as betting is popular in110900k2.jpg Thailand.

Visit a Buddhist Temple. If you are lucky perhaps you will catch the chanting of the evening prayers. As long as you obey a few ground rules such as dressing appropriately and neatly, not pointing your feet at any Buddha images, and not touching any monks, you will be received warmly and the monks will more than likely take the opportunity to practice their English with you.

Look in a local pharmacy. If you are familiar with some basic prescription drugs you will be very shocked at what is available over the counter here. Everything from birth control to what may be considered controlled to be substances in other countries is available. Looking, however, does not mean buying. These pharmaceuticals may just be copies of the real product, which does not guarantee their strength or effectiveness.

Visit a supermarket. If at one of the bigger chains, you are likely to see both western food and local items. Check out the prices. You can also see110900k3.jpg products that give you insight into life in Thailand. Skin whitening cream fills the shelves of the women’s beauty aisle. There is an abundance of insect killers, sprays, and traps. There are also many unidentifiable-to-the-western-eye vegetables on the shelves. Definitely take the chance to look into other people’s shopping carts.

Check out a local market. Anything you can think of is for sale. From light bulbs to lingerie, markets are a more interesting but more stressful solution to indoor shopping. Be prepared to bargain and make sure you smile while you do so. Get an overview of local prices. If an average Thai person makes less than 800 baht a day, paying 800 baht for a T-shirt makes no sense.

Try some Thai food at a local restaurant or food stall. You will not find spicier food at a lower price. If you are not sure what to order, point to what other people are eating and give it a go. For a few dollars you can get a large sampling of local cuisine and stand a good chance of finding something you will really like.

While in Bangkok even those with the most organized iterneraries will end up hopelessly lost if not on an organized tour, so why not make being lost part of the itinerary? This way you will avoid the stress of feeling lost and save the energy that goes into fixing the situation.

Take it slow and take it all in. You do not have to go anywhere in Bangkok; Bangkok will come to you. As long as you know your address (it is a good idea to have this written down in both Thai and English) you will eventually get home. Just go with the flow and enjoy.

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