On its surface Bangkok is a city that is defined by its roads and food. In Bangkok it is either rush hour or rushier hour, either breakfast time, lunch time, dinner time or supper time.
Everywhere you go food exists, in restaurants, bars, malls. The city is paved with food stalls. Eating is so intertwined with life that it’s hard to tell when one meal ends and the next begins. Life is like one long feast to Thais, all they seem to do is smile and eat. Smile and eat. And take taxis.
In New York you are never more than a foot away from a rat at any time. In Bangkok the same can be said for taxis, they shuffle along the streets in the dark, stalking the back streets and alleys. Searching for that next fare, which is never far away.
At 5 in the morning we hail a taxi to take us to the airport. Even at this time in the morning, in the so called “cool season”, the air is thick and sweaty. Getting into a taxi we’re hit by a wave of ice cold air. In a city this hot, air conditioning is a welcome relief – at first.
Slowly the cold seeps into your pores, becoming a hindrance to comfort. You cross your arms tightly and start to dream of the warm outside air – which will again only give momentary relief – until it to penetrates your skin.
With taxis never more than seconds away, it’s no surprise the city is in a constant state of gridlock. Car horns toot, motorcycles weave dangerously through the tight spaces between vehicles. Silent commuters squeezed onto tight buses stare helplessly out on the streets. Tuk tuks whizz hastily around corners threatening to run over pedestrians.The traffic is infinite, no beginning, no end.
Like most quickly developing countries, Thailand has failed to keep up with its own growth. Foreign investment brought a boom of business into the country and with investment came a burgeoning middle class and money – what better way to spend it than with even more development.
All that devlopment happened upwards. Skyscrapers. Massive malls. Giant apartment blocks. The roads were left forgotten. Bangkok is a victim of its own prosperity, growing too large too quickly. The roads can’t keep up.
What a strange feeling it is to go along unknown roads at night. Sitting in a taxi. Street lights flashing by in a blur. Every difference to your home is noted with wonder.
Gas stations, supermarkets, hospitals, homes.
The places look familiar – like home – but really you know nothing about them. As you’re guided toward your destination you realize that at that moment you are actually lost. The only thing you know is what city you’re in.
Wherever you are in the world, your life is governed by one rule. Money can buy you whatever you desire. Never is this more apparent than in Bangkok where everything is for sale. Food. Love. Sex. Violence. Happiness.
Yes, happiness. I despise whoever coined that sickening, oft quoted phrase “Money can’t buy you happiness.” Clearly this was a person who never took joy in a 12 course meal. Somebody who never – on a whim – decided to have an oily orgy with two Thai prostitutes.
It was probably someone with perfect health that never had to pay a doctor. Money can’t buy you happiness directly. You can’t pay for a happiness tree or anything. However money can buy you food, clothes and everything else you need to live a comfortable life. Without money you would be unhappy.
For the majority of us living in the West. We work tirelessly for our comfortable lives, to buy cars, houses. We make do with our little money and survive. In Bangkok this little money is transformed into a vast fortune. You feel like a rich king. You can buy anything you desire. For a price.
Naturally – as is in our nature – the majority of us turn to lust. Sex is so easy to come by in Bangkok that the money slides quickly from the grasp of even the most dignified of men in return for cheap meaningless thrills. Slender strippers. Messy massages. Shallow sex.
It is all shallow. Every temptation. Every exquisite meal. Every dazzling summer dress. Every soft silky ice cream. Every relaxing massage.
It all costs so little that you think nothing of buying it. The more you buy, the more you hunger. You’re overcome with greed.
Even the strongest of men will find their moral compass suddenly spinning. In a city where everything wrong you’ve ever wanted to do is suddenly right and cheap could you resist?
One taste is enough to see you spiraling into greed. You eat everything you want to eat. Drink everything you want to drink. Taste everything you want to taste. All it costs is money. Money that now seems so insignificant in comparison to all you’ve ever wanted. Deep down though you start to sell a little of yourself. Your soul.
Bangkok is a capitalist utopia. Built on the idea that fulfillment comes from buying things. Everything is there to be bought and all you need is money and the will to believe that you need it or deserve it.
Our taxi arrives at the airport. We give a small tip. It’s the decent thing to do. The driver is grateful and smiles happily. We board our plane.
When you leave Bangkok, it will be with an empty wallet. The strongest emotions you will feel are guilt and shame. You ate too much. Lusted too heavily. Became fatter. Lazier.
You lost your way somewhere between the cheap massages and the even cheaper ice cream. You tell yourself that you will never be so uncivilized again. Hell, it wasn’t you that was uncivilized anyway – it was the Thais. It’s a lie but it makes you feel better.
As the plane takes off and the airport lights fade away your feelings of guilt do too. Those days of gluttony are already long ago memories. Soon you’ll feel no shame. After all you were on holiday, it was only right to let loose.
You will go back to your life. Become civilized again. Wife. Kids. Car. Office.
You will make budgets. Spend carefully. Wisely. In control.
Now you’re no longer in Bangkok. The price of luxury is too high. You’re a nobody. You’re the one driving the taxi.
You’re no longer a king.
Photo is Bangkok by Wakx