I figure a few folks would enjoy my insights into Bangkok’s culture. So here is what I posted on Thai-Blogs a few days ago. Enjoy!
Perhaps it’s because I flied solo a lot more during my latest trip home now that my mom (sick) and my friends (work) are no longer available as my sidekick, and that I am older and can drink more than one beer before passing out drunk, I just suddenly realize a few simple things in life of a Bangkokian I never noticed before.
Here goes my “Ah-ha!” moments and survival tips about taxi cabs, pedestrians, love affair with food, and nightlife in Bangkok.
Cabs that have “Available” sign (Wang – or empty) lit up in the window doesn’t necessarily means that they are actually available. Many cabs would leave the light on eventhough they have passengers. Laziness or forgetfulness on the cabbies’ part? Either way, it’ll leave you feel like a jackass hailing a cab that wouldn’t stop.
Dude! What are you doing in my cab??
This is not New York or London where you can hail a cab, get in, tell them where you want to go, and they’ll take you. In Bangkok, you hail a cab, open the door and ask the cabbie if he would take you to your destination. If he says yes, you get. If not, close the door and hail another cab.
Oh yes, Thai cabbies can say no. Not quite what the government had in mind when they wanted all the cabs “modernized” to meter system. The meters were installed in cabs to regulate the pricing of fares and so that the cabs will take you anywhere you want. Before this, you have to haggle with the cabbie and they can tell you that they don’t want to go where you’re going. Now, you may have the regulated fare but the cabbies can still refuse to go to your destination. Why that is? Apparently, the longer time spent sitting in traffic–usually related to distance you want to travel–the less money the cabbie would make during that time. So, you’ll find yourself in a pickle trying to get a cab to take you to Central Chidlom from the Grand Palace during rush hour.
Cabbies wait for no man…
…just before 9 a.m. and again before 3 p.m. unless you’re on their way to turn in their cars or they are independent (which is quite rare). You’ll see empty cabs zooming right past you, empty and all. Those times are like the shift change in taxi driving world. The cabbies rush back to their respective cab companies to turn in their cars or they get fined if they’re late. Understandable. Only when you’re not in a rush to get somewhere yourself.
WALKING IN BANGKOK
Cars have the right of way
It’s not like in the US where cars would stop, usually, the moment a pedestrian sets his/her foot on the road. American pedestrians have the right of way, you see. It’ll always be the driver’s fault. Not so in the Land of Smile. You set foot on that road, you must pay attention or end up a roadkill. Cars don’t usually watch for you and they’d zoom in from every which way. You didn’t think there is a lane there, but a motorist would make one. You thought the street was clear, but then you didn’t think about the mopeds. You thought it was one way traffic…surprise! Not this time in the afternoon and say hello to the bus!
What crossing lights?
Red crossing light at certain intersections means absolutely nothing. I approached the crosswalk on Rama IV Road from Chulalongkorn hospital to Robinson Silom. I saw the walking light turned red, so I stopped at the curb. Folks behind me didn’t even hesitate a step as they started crossing. Well, the traffic was at a standstill nonetheless, so that sort of make sense. But what if the light turns green while you’re crossing, you ask? Then, you’d run for your lives. As I did with my brother and sister in law coming back to the hospital one afternoon.
Watch where you’re going
Quite literally. Sidewalks of Bangkok is no cobblestoned roads of Europe. It’s more like Cambodian minefield. The pavements could be raised, sunken, cracked, dented, uneven, and occasionally littered with dog poops.
You should know by now from Richard’s Food Blog that Thai people LOVE to eat. Any Thai of any walks of life enjoy everything from gourmet expensive 5-star hotel dishes down to street cart vendors. We enjoy eating and we enjoy good food. There is endless possibility of cuisines available in Bangkok. Name a cuisine and we can probably find you one.
The proof of how Thais love to eat is in our shopping mall. The food court in the U.S. occupies a corner of the mall. Over in Thailand, food courts take up almost an entire floor, not counting individual sit down restaurants. Then there are hot foods vendors down in the supermarket area, and random snack carts scattered through out the place. Look at the food court at Siam Paragon! The entire sublevel! It’s massive.
Not a single mall in the country goes without a food court or at least a few food carts, I dare say.
IN THE CLUB
Heineken or Heineken
When your brew of choice are usally New Castle Brown Ale, Bass, and Guinness, you may die of thirst in Bangkok. Unless you know where to go. Or BYOB from wherever you came from. I despise Heineken and not very fond of Singha, and pretty much those two are available nationwide. Everywhere. And nothing else. Really.
It was like sign from the heavens when I spotted “Guinness” banners hanging outside The Robin Hood in Na Na area. At least there’s still hope! I’m sure other foreigner-filled joints like those down in Kao San and expat pubs up and down Na Na would have a better selection of imports. (I know for sure BED Supper Club has Guinness AND Fosters).
Cocktails cock up
Similar to selection of beer, cocktails in Thailand can throw you for a loop. Definitely NEVER EVER order a martini unless you’re in a 5-star hotel bar. (Actually I can’t even vouch for that one yet.) Don’t be surprise that if you call for Kamekaze “shots” and you end up with something slushy in a pitcher to be poured into shot glasses.
Certain places though have gotten the drinks right. My friend’s restaurant Kinnaree Gourmet Thai in Sukhumvit Soi 8 is one. They have drink menu that is quite thick and well tasted by the owners and their friends. The bartenders actually know what they’re doing. Well, at least the cocktails that Note served us were delicious and pretty much the only martini I had in Thailand that actually tastes like one. (Ask for their chocolate martini – vodka and creme de cocao serve in a glass swirled with chocolate syrup…yummmmy!)
Cry me a whiskey river
Limited selection of beer? Bubmling cocktails? What in the hell do Thai people drinks at the club?? Whiskey, of course.
What I call “Thai Party Pack”: a bottle of whiskey, a few bottles of cola, water, and soda, a bucket of ice, and a few glasses. You’ll enter typical Thai clubs and you’ll see more tables than bar stools. Folks park their Party Pack and position themselves around such table and dance the night away. Starting for the good taste on a budget of Johnny Walker Red Label. So, no dancing on the table. Not because of disrespect, but you won’t have room with all the mixers. Heh.
The more expensive the whiskey for the more expensive and exclusive clubs. Certain places would have you purchase a bottle of expensive whiskey as your admission. If you didn’t finish the bottle, they’d put your name on it and save it for you until next time.
For folks who don’t drink whiskey, your choice could be very limited depending on the club. The one I went to with my girlfriends on this trip had either Barcadi flavored malt beverages or, you guessed it, Heineken. Not about to sink THAT low, I grit my teeth and had Heineken.
That is all I can think up right now. I’m sure you guys have more to add. Feel free to comment!