The capital of Thailand is a swirling matrix of motor bikes, tuk tuks, careening taxis, plodding kebob vendors, overpacked buses, and boldfaced tourists. Over the din of car horns and screaming street vendors, a monotone Buddhist chant reverberates through the city. There are international smells: KFC, McDonalds, Burger King. There are local smells: home-cooked tom yum, bananas simmering on a fryer, buckets of freshly-caught prawn. One false step and you are flattened by a speeding scooter. One wrong turn and you fall into a canal, hoping the motor boats see your flailing arms.
My family and I dove head first into this human hurricane. How did we navigate it? A 5 hour bike ride.
We cycled away from the city center. Because, you know, we like living. After crossing several bridges, back alleys, and freeway overpasses, we discovered a different Bangkok. This area was quieter, slower, with more pedestrians and fewer taxis, more canoes and fewer speedboats. I was shocked to discover that Bangkok is as much a canal city as Amsterdam. Locals get around by boat. The waterways are far less congested than the streets, and sometimes faster.We loaded our bikes onto boats and ventured further beyond the city.
Within minutes, the city lights dissipated and we were in a rural community. I was shocked; the shift from skyscrapers to farm huts was almost instant and utterly transition-less. I would later learn that Thailand is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, with the top 1% owning 58% of the country’s wealth (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/credit-suisse-global-wealth-world-most-unequal-countries-revealed-a7434431.html). I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a rural village bordering a megacity.
We slowed our riding pace to match that of village life. At this easy clip, I was able to take in each scene of the human drama playing out around us. A fisherman reels in his breakfast. A mother hangs herbs out to dry. A group of monks ask for offerings. A young girl in school uniform bikes to class.
Biking through Bangkok was a wholly immersive experience. Apart from one treacherous freeway crossing, it was also seamless.
Though I only glimpsed a fraction of the city, I did get a taste for its rhythm and energy. Bangkok is kinetic. If you want to stay afloat, you have to move with the current.