Same same, but different. This Thailish T-shirt philosophy sums up Bangkok, a city where the familiar and the exotic collide like the flavors on a plate of pàt tai.
Until you’ve eaten on a Bangkok street, noodles mingling with your sweat amid a cloud of exhaust fumes, you haven’t actually eaten Thai food. It can be an intense mix: the base flavors – spicy, sour, sweet and salty – aren’t exactly meat and potatoes. But for adventurous foodies who don’t need white tablecloths, there’s probably no better dining destination in the world. And with immigration bringing every regional Thai and international cuisine to the capital, it’s also a truly diverse experience. And perhaps best of all, Bangkok has got to be one of the best-value dining destinations in the world.
The language barrier can seem huge, but it’s never prevented anybody from getting along with the Thai people. The capital’s cultural underpinnings are evident in virtually all facets of everyday life, and most enjoyable through its residents’ sense of fun (known in Thai as sà·nùk). In Bangkok, anything worth doing should have an element of sà·nùk. Ordering food, changing money and haggling at markets will usually involve a sense of playfulness – a dash of flirtation, perhaps – and a smile. It’s a language that doesn’t require words, and one that’s easy to learn.
With so much of its daily life conducted on the street, there are few cities in the world that reward exploration as handsomely as Bangkok does. Cap off an extended boat trip with a visit to a hidden market. A stroll off Banglamphu’s beaten track can lead to a conversation with a monk. Get lost in the tiny lanes of Chinatown and stumble upon a Chinese opera performance. Or after dark, let the BTS (Skytrain) escort you to Sukhumvit, where the local nightlife scene reveals a cosmopolitan and dynamic city.
It’s the contradictions that provide the City of Angels with its rich, multifaceted personality. Here, climate-controlled megamalls sit side by side with 200-year-old village homes; gold-spired temples share space with neon-lit strips of sleaze; slow-moving traffic is bypassed by long-tail boats plying the royal river; Buddhist monks dressed in robes shop for the latest smartphones; and streets lined with food carts are overlooked by restaurants perched on top of skyscrapers. And as Bangkok races towards the future, these contrasts will never stop supplying the city with its unique and ever-changing strain of Thai-ness.
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