Travel Diaries: Living Like A Local In Bangkok

Bangkok, if you can look beyond its infamous reputation, is one of the most fascinating cities in the world
Yaowarat night market at Chinatown, Bangkok
Yaowarat night market at Chinatown, BangkokPhotograph: Shutterstock

It’s 4:30 a.m., and I look out of my window to see a city that is already buzzing with life. The symbolic relevance of the sunrise seems to be irrelevant here. It’s the start of just another regular day in a bustling metropolis, but if you ask me, no two days in this city are the same.

Bangkok, if you can look beyond its infamous reputation, is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. It is a world of contrasts, where historic temples and towering skyscrapers stand side by side, watching over a captivating urban tapestry. Premium luxury cars navigate the same labyrinthine alleyways as pushcarts, and modern boutique stores share space with family businesses that have stood the test of time. But it’s only when you look past the curated tourist trail that you begin to see the substance of this city.

My agenda on this trip was to live local—I found myself a place to stay in a residential neighbourhood, making the conscious decision that all of my plans would revolve around what people who live in Bangkok themselves do. Now, there is no way to “research” this beforehand, so I followed a few simple rules of thumb. The first was to spend more time in the suburbs of the city, far away from the tourist centres, and the second was to follow the crowd. When I walked out of a Metro station, I took the exit that most people were using and followed them until I found something of interest to me. While this meant that I very often found myself in entirely irrelevant places, I also discovered many interesting places, including a hole-in-the-wall jazz bar, quaint coffee shops and a phenomenal warehouse filled with vintage cameras and lenses sold by the kilo.

When I needed to choose a place to eat, I looked for the place that seemed more popular with the locals. I chose what to eat or drink by asking the people seated at a table next to me or by simply pointing at a menu that was written entirely in Thai and agreeing to whatever the person taking the order said to me. I am happy to report that I don’t know what I ate or drank, but it was (nearly) all absolutely delicious. The rich flavours of the broth and the eclectic mix of flavours in every dish made questions about the type of meat being consumed quite trivial. The only pro tip that I can give is that if you’re drinking a matcha beverage, opting for the low-sugar variant is the bold choice. And yes, I could have used a translation app to make life easier, but where’s the fun in that?

The hit-to-miss ratio of this approach would have been staggeringly poor in any other city, but Bangkok, as I discovered, is truly a city geared for this kind of adventure. By giving up the predictability of planned exploration, I was able to stumble across the vibrance of the city in its most authentic form. This was a trip that easily found its place among my all-time favourite travel experiences.

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