Celebrating 30 Years In Thailand
It’s amazing to think that my first visit to Thailand was 30 years ago. Some people reading this have not even lived that long. Oh boy, how time flies!
It was way back in May 1988 when I first travelled to Thailand to live on Sityodtong Thai Boxing Camp. This Thai Boxing Trip was sponsored by an Electrical Engineering Company (Steemson & Walden Ltd) from my hometown. I was featured by local radio and television companies based in the Midlands, England.
Situated near Pattaya, Sityodtong is the home of many great World Champions such as the legendary Samart Payakaroon. Most farangs stay at Thai Boxing Camps for a few weeks, I stayed over 4 months. I was besotted with Thailand.
*This article is my first encounter with Bangkok during a scorching hot season*
My first impression of Bangkok was one of absolute bewilderment. Taking in this city of contrasts was proving to be very challenging. My initial reaction was to feel numb from head to foot from culture shock.
Bangkok is only one city, but it has one million confusions!
My senses were paralyzed from the very first moment I met Bangkok face to face; the tremendous noise, dreadful air pollution, appalling traffic, horrendous heat and utter chaos. Bangkok was certainly living up to its reputation of having the world’s worst traffic congestion and lowest oxygen count. If Bangkok was anything to go by, Thailand and I had certainly not fallen in love at first sight.
I began to wonder which one of Bangkok’s lethal attributes would kill me first — the deadly drivers, the kamikaze motorcyclists, the polluted air, the lack of oxygen… or would I just simply perish from the unrelenting heat?
The Thais call their capital Krungthep, which means ‘City Of Angels.’ I can assure you, I could not find anything remotely angelic about this catastrophic city on my first introduction.
I was full of great expectations moments earlier on the plane, anticipating the pleasures of being seduced by Siam, but I landed with a resounding bump and was only bemused by Bangkok. I stepped out of the luxurious air-conditioned Don Muang airport and was tenaciously greeted by the savage furnace-like heat of Bangkok.
I gasped for air as the stifling atmosphere pinned itself to the back of my throat. My initial thoughts turned to those of shock and I thought, I’m insane for coming here? Yes, I reflected. What on earth have I done? Never before had I suffered the full effects of culture shock, but Bangkok was initiating me to it with the subtlety of a heavy whack on the head.
My friend, who came to meet me at Don Muang International Airport, read the expression on my face and uttered in a quiet voice, ‘It’s a scorching hot season, even the Thais are complaining about the heat this year.’ In a state of confusion I thought, how could anybody stand this heat?
We loaded my luggage into the boot and got into my friend’s car. I sighed with relief, while I had a shelter away from the searing heat. I was still numb as we began to crawl along the roads, clawing for every few inches we could seize. It seemed to me that whilst on Bangkok roads, you are either riding on the wings of death or trapped like insects in a glass jar — there is no happy medium. Waves of cool air soothed my weary body; I momentarily closed my eyes as the air-conditioner hummed its tune.
It is estimated that anywhere up to 10 million people reside in Bangkok alone, and several million vehicles cram the main roads into gridlock. I was pondering the fact that it is not surprising Bangkok’s roads have such a notorious reputation. Whilst I continued to struggle to come to terms with Bangkok’s roads, an entire family of four passed by us. They were all crammed onto one tiny motorbike. Was I delirious?
This massive, sprawling metropolis was not my idea of a tropical paradise. At best, it was Central London at the worst peak of rush hour multiplied several folds. Even more disturbing — what about the road users? My Lord! I was looking on in horror as vehicles of all kinds played dodge ‘ems with each other. Streams of traffic were travelling at high speed bumper-to-bumper, crisscrossing in and out of any lane they cared to choose. Just then, a motorcyclist passed in front of the rows of traffic diagonally. Unbelievably, some of the traffic was quite evidently not even going in the same direction. It’s mindboggling to see them appear so blasÃ© about it.
Suddenly, we broke away from the traffic jam, because an open stretch of the road appeared. The speed of the other vehicles put my head into a permanent spin. Young motorcyclists were weaving in and out of the paths of cars, buses and lorries, all with the daring of motorbike boy racers. Furthermore, I was horrified to notice that nobody was wearing a crash helmet. I was in a world of my own being entertained by this strange spectator sport. I concluded that this was certainly not for the uninitiated. I continued to be astonished by the way these daredevil motorbike riders negotiated intricate swerves and lane changes, all at death-defying high speeds.
Finally, we escaped the congested traffic of Bangkok and were on the way to Naklua, which is located near Pattaya. A new adventure was about to unfold and little did I know how much it would change my life.