“Are you going to check out the Palace?” She asked.
“Yeaah….” I said, rather than admitting to the fact that after a year of barebones living in Madagascar, I hadn’t bothered to research the popular tourist attractions in the Thai capitol and indulgently went straight for the cluster of Bangkok’s malls instead. While I had loathed shopping malls in the States, I had escaped the afternoon rains in one every day since arriving in Bangkok. Each day when the other hostel guests left in search of “real Thai culture”, furiously snapping photos of monks and Buddha statues, I was shedding a small tear of joy at the site of a Starbucks. I know my past self might give my current self a self-righteous eyebrow raise for buying a McFlurry and Starbucks latte, but pretentious ideals be damned — it feels good to have a coffee made right.
Besides, hiding out in a shopping mall didn’t necessarily imply hiding out from the nature of the city. From what my brief encounter with the city, the stylish, well-designed commercial hubs of Bangkok sought to achieve more socially and culturally, than the drab shopping mall outposts of suburban America. Some, such as Terminal 21 — a mall themed after an airport with each level representing a different global city — created a full sensory experience of escapism. The Tokyo floor was filled with independent designers selling their clothes (some irresistible, some awful) while the basement housed the cutest, dessert-happy food court I had ever stumbled on. The top floor food court was modeled after the San Francisco’s Fisherman’s wharf with such attention to detail it felt obvious that the designers had traveled to and gained a good sense of each of theses places. Even beyond aesthetics, food court food in Bangkok malls were actually good. “If you want to eat like Thais do,” a half-Thai friend living in Bangkok admitted, “head for a food court.” After trading in money for a set of paper coupons, head for whatever counter looks most enticing. Personally, I decided “most enticing” meant sushi, shrimp dumplings, and mango sticky rice.
Eventually, we did wander around a temple, hopped a boat for the hell of it, and crashed a hipster bar on Thanon Mahachai (near our equally hip hostel, Niras) decorated with fixie bikes and old metal lawn furniture. But for the lion’s share of my time in Bangkok, I simply reveled in the overwhelming availability of foods I’d craved but not seen in months (bacon!), taxis that didn’t explode exhaust fumes into the back seat, and the fact that stylish young girls far outnumbered barefoot women mixing floral with plaid. Bangkok may not be filled with the “traditional” “exotic” or even “beautiful” most people travel to South-East Asia for, but it still had an intoxicating pulse distinctly its own.
Photos: (1) Iced Latte at a Cafe (2) A Bangkok Shopping Mall (3) Bangkok Graffiti of Meats