I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for a year and a half back when I was 12 years old. My dad was a US diplomat and had been assigned the economics counselor at the US Embassy there. I was 12 and I was leaving my home of five years: Canberra, Australia. My early onset teenage angst was starting to annoy the heck out of my mom, and my brother was going through some health issues. Australia had finally become a place all of us could call home and we absolutely adored it. In the summer of 2004, all of it was ripped away from my family in order to embark on a new journey.
Sukhumvit from up high (source: at-bangkok.com)
We landed in Bangkok at 2am in the morning dazed and confused. We arrived at the fanciest apartment you had ever seen, with wooden columns, etched glass panels, and a dining room table for 14. Us three kids each had our own massive bedroom with a built in bed frame, fit for a king or queen. We had a maid, a cook, and a driver. My middle brother and I went to an international school, which is really only where the rich and/or international kids went. My family was already well-off, but in Thailand we were wealthy beyond compare. And with that, I can honestly say, my family was absolutely miserable.
My neighbourhood of Sukhumvit (source: Urban Capture)
The Bad Times…
Poverty. Everywhere you look is a plethora of impoverished people begging on the streets. My dad made the example of giving one 10 baht coin (~25 US cents) to someone everyday. I mean, the poverty was astounding. You would see young mothers with only one arm holding their infant child. It was heartbreaking, and seeing that everyday really makes you sad about the world.
The Smell. Bangkok really was the smelliest place I’ve ever been too. There are canals which run through the city, and that just intensified the existing situation. The water, plus all the garbage on the streets, makes everything pretty awful. As a 12 year old, I hated it.
Weather. It is so hot and humid here. People in Thailand joke that there are two seasons: the hot/dry season, and the hot/wet season. That could not be more accurate. During the rainy season the place is a complete mess. I remember my bus attempting to drive through high water on the streets. The draining system, in Bangkok at least, is atrocious and so the wet season turns into the flood season.
Intense flooding in Bangkok (source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
Prostitution. Now, I try to be as sex positive as I can be, but just imagine a 12 year old being exposed to alleyways filled with prostitutes and old, white men. I have memories of being horrified at what I saw and I was frightened. I lived just one street over from Nana Plaza, the red light district of Bangkok (also rumored to be the largest sex complex in the world). If I saw that today, I would probably just look the other way and say whatever, it’s your life. But I just wonder whether those women and men chose their profession, or were they forced into it. It’s hard to say.
Traffic. I swear one time it took my mom an hour to go down three blocks. The traffic is horrendous. This may not seem like such a big deal as a tourist, but as someone living and breathing this kind of crap it is such a pain.
…And The Good Times
My Building. My family and I lived on Sukhumvit Soi 3 in a beautiful apartment building. We were on the 34th floor, so we had some pretty amazing views of the city. The coolest part was during storms. Because the apartment was up so high, I felt like I was actually in the storm.
Food. Yes, you were probably expecting it, but the food is absolutely delicious. Seriously, it’s hard to get bad food in Thailand and I was happy to eat Thai dishes everyday. Some of my favorite foods stem from my time there, including Phanaeng curry, sticky rice and mango, green mango with fish sauce, and Thai soups.
Holidays. I remember there being so many days off school because of all the various festivals and holidays celebrated in Thailand. Bangkok became quite the spectacle.
Temples. These beautiful golden buildings were stunning. A picture sums it all up better than I ever could.
Markets. You can definitely get the most out of your money in Thailand. There are numerous markets from which to choose from, and all of them have special things to offer. From various ingredients to accessories, jewelry, and wood carvings, Thailand has it all up for grabs. Even the touristy markets are a good deal compared to any Western country. My favorite thing I ever bought was a carved soap, which I cherished until I accidentally chipped off one of the petals. Curses!
Thai soaps carved into flowers (source: Johnny Vagabond)
Parks. The scenery in northern Thailand is absolutely breathtaking. I was able to take several trips up north, and it was a fun time. Northern Thailand is very fitness oriented and so there are loads of activities to get your heart pumping.
I’ve thought back to those times, and in each instance I try and figure out why I hated Bangkok and Thailand so much. My boyfriend and I now talk about taking a two week vacation to Thailand sometime in the future, and I’m both scared and intrigued. I think there is some serious healing to go through, but I think I can learn to love Thailand. Part of this post being about the good memories I have of Thailand made me realize that the country deserves a second chance. I’m excited to visit Bangkok again, and I’m even more excited to explore Northern Thailand!