Bangkok – In this city that has the lingering smell of incense and curry, you can get lost and find yourself ecstatic in the chaos. This is what many travelers say about Thailand’s capital.
I first wandered into Bangkok more than 25 years ago on a study tour as a perk of a journalism award, which also took me to Chang Rai, Chang Mai and Ayutthaya. I have kept coming back ever since. I stayed longer for nearly four years when I had the opportunity to work in an overseas job.
As an expat, I was even more amazed to see the city up close. I immediately felt at home because it has the same vibe and mess of a teeming metropolis as Manila does. I took comfort not just with its familiar traffic jumble but with its promise of dazzling surprises on any given day.
This was the time I came to believe in what people say when you’re in a setting that’s different from the place you call home—you have the freedom to be who you are and who you want to be.
I had those moments. At work, fierce and power-dressed, I would be chauffeured in a diplomatic car to go to events, meetings and appointments. After work and on weekends and holidays, I walked the city in flip-flops, jeans, a shirt and hat; ate som tam and pad thai from sidewalk food stalls and rummaged through the night markets.
I blend with the city’s mixed crowd of people speaking different languages apart from Thai, which I haven’t mastered despite a few years of managing to say the basic but important words to get me to where I’m going or to achieve the right food order in a restaurant.
Living in this city, I enjoyed going to the old and new movie houses to forget about work. I loved standing up when the royal anthem was played in respect to the king prior to the film screening.
Experiencing royalty was a unique encounter. Back home, those with wealth and power think they’re royalty, but in Bangkok, the much-revered but departed monarch was my king.
I loved the splendid spirit houses along the roads that shelter the statues of Buddha and people’s offerings of flowers and food. I made my own offerings and said my prayers in honor of Buddhism and its teachings of nirvana for people who are good and kind. I’m now as used to its gold and emerald Buddhist temples as I am with Catholic churches.
I didn’t mind getting sprinkled with water during the festive New Year celebration of Songkran while watching people float flower boats along the Chao Phraya River and release paper balloons during the Loi Krathong.
I spent my birthday three months ago in this city of angels. I noticed many changes not because it is also recovering from the pandemic like the rest of the world, but because it is Southeast Asia’s melting pot. To me, changes and all, Bangkok will always be interesting.
Diana G. Mendoza is a longtime journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to email@example.com.