Bangkok grew up along the Mae Nam Chao Phraya river. For hundreds of years, the river has provided all that was required for locals to live and allowed the original settlement to prosper.
Canals or khlongs, both natural and manmade, penetrate throughout the city and contribute significantly to the cityscape and the inhabitants’ lifestyle. Consequently, Bangkok is known as the “Venice of the East”. Even after the development of modern-day roads, Bangkokians continue to travel by its waterways and often meet and shop in the floating markets – a truly unique way of life. Equally unique are the hotels; an upscale stay with impeccable city views is, for instance, the Shangri-la.
An Organized Chaos – Floating with All Senses
The canals are infectiously chaotic, filled with hundreds of boats. Boats of tourists getting a glimpse of the authentic Thailand and how produce has been traded for centuries. Small boats paddled by a serene, orange-robed Buddhist monk, collecting alms for his temple. Boats piled high with local produce of all kinds and a plethora of other Thai products. Boats paddled by mature Thai ladies out doing their daily shopping. Most noteworthy, there are surprisingly few collisions, traffic jams, or arguments as boats of all types thread their way past each other. It’s an almost overwhelming sensory experience.
Furthermore, there is the cacophony of sound. The rumble of diesel motors powering many of the long narrow boats known as “long tails,” the splash of water against boat hulls and pilings of buildings that line the narrow canals, and the voices! Colorfully clad vendors call from boats and shops along the banks; ladies chatting to each other as they work, nodding and laughing, no doubt catching up on the latest news; people haggling over prices and bargaining.
And the smells! Drift by the spice merchant and catch the individual scents of some of the herbs used in Thai cuisine. Those are onions and chilies, kaffir lime and lemongrass, cumin and coriander, cinnamon and curry. Hence, the smell of cooking is in the air.What will you have? The choices are many and varied – spicy chicken or pork satay grilled on red hot charcoal, perfect pad thai, mango sticky rice, Kanom Krok (grilled coconut-rice hot cakes), coconut dumplings. The salt-crusted grilled fish with lemongrass wins, washed down with fresh coconut juice.
Bangkok – Where Smiles and Carefreeness Are Home
Thailand is “the Land of Smiles,” and this is truly evident as you cruise the canals. Everywhere, there are smiles. Then you remember – most Thais are Buddhist, and so Buddhist teachings and philosophy play a big part in Thai culture and behavior. Great emphasis is placed on outward forms of courtesy. Being self-effacing, modest and not embarrassing or intruding on others is an essential part of Thai culture.
Bangkok, though, is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. – Bernard Kalb
In such a non-confrontational society, any attempt to criticize others publicly amounts to an unpardonable loss of face. Fitting in and collective harmony are highly valued. Suddenly, the lack of hostility on the chaotic and packed canals makes sense.
“Mai pen rai” – A Non-Conftrontive Attitude
As yet another serene older lady paddles by amid the hustle and bustle, noise and seeming confusion, the words of a Thai friend come back to you: “Mai pen rai”, which means “never mind, it doesn’t matter”. It is a common expression in Thailand, describing the country’s unofficial philosophy. A passive attitude towards problems and a readiness to shrug off difficulties. This is capturing locals’ knack for keeping cool in taxing or annoying situations. In the grand scheme of things, why stress about trifling matters? You determine you will bring this attitude home with you.
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. – Lao Tzu