Bangkok. Backpackers haven, door to Asia, the first touch of adventure you’ll have once you decide to leave your regular citizen life. It’s loud, it’s packed, it’s noisy. I remember watching The Beach for the first time in my life (yes, I watched it before I read the book and I do regret it), and I was drawn in by the pictures of neon lights and night life and the opportunity of being in a place where everything drowns you out, and you’ll go by unknown in perfect anonymity.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I finally understood why Leonardo DiCaprio ever wanted to leave again in search for tropical islands: because it’s impossible to stay here. It’s flashy and it’s exciting for a while, but it’s tiring, exhausting, this city breaks you down. The smog over your head, the noise from the tuk tuks, the sheer amount of obnoxious tourists who try to follow a path that’s been trampled over for so long, it tears your heart apart. There’s not one corner of Bangkok that even remotely seems laid back. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve actually met a place that is so fascinating and yet so repelling. Every night, I feel like I have to scrub the dirt of my skin. Every day, I feel less and less welcome. So I keep wondering how backpackers can stay here for so long – some people we’ve met at the hostel have been here for years, some never wanting to return home.
I’m sure that every city takes a while to crack open. Berlin didn’t exactly come easy for me. But Bangkok is on an entire different level. It’s larger and it’s harder to conquer with language barriers. Most importantly, the Thais in Bangkok, they’ve grown cynical from the tourist impact. I don’t mean the lazy backpacker, I mean those people who come to get ripped off at ping pong shows and throw up all over Khao San, which I can imagine used to be once a sacred place for those who wanted to escape the real world. Touts trying to lure you to their diamond shops, tuk tuk drivers literally stealing your money, and prostitutes who eagerly try to seduce you. I was trying to find Bangkok, but looking European and having a backpack on really didn’t help my case: I was instantly stigmatized and with that lost any chance to get to meet the real people and places of Bangkok.
It wasn’t until a friend, a local Thai, helped us out in our Khao San dilemma. Once she was with us, teaching us easy conversation, showing us around places we would’ve never found, things we would’ve never eaten (ok, and things we will never eat again), things turned around. We learnt how to split from the usual tourist crowds and navigate on a bus and tuk tuk system that actually worked. It was still hard when we were on our own, but we came by better. After a week of touring the city with a one day trip to Pattaya’s beach (which I won’t even bother to describe – this city is an ugly slut house unworthy of being mentioned anyway), I have to say I’m actually glad to get out of all the trouble.
When it comes to Bangkok vs Berlin, there is only one realistic dimension of measurement, as Bangkok is an extreme in largeness and pollution anyway: the young locals. Even the most dramatic Mitte Hipster of Berlin would fall to shame at the sight of those fashionable kids here, the local markets (those unknown to most tourists, say Sapanput), the clothes – not only the cheap productions – the attitudes, even pop music is ridiculously in style. So the next time you complain about the sight of the cool crowds in BLN, remember to make a trip to BKK. It’ll definitely shut you up. All in all, Berlin has less of everything, but it’s better at most. What I’m taking away? Well, Bangkok is definitely not for me. I’ll come back for some serious shopping and for a pleasant exchange with other travelers, but if you’re planning for holidays, better grab some gas masks or your lungs will blacken out in three, two, one…