I’m finding myself whizzing down an empty freeway at 120km/h by a driver in full uniform – inclusive of hat – at the wheel of his “limousine”. It’s actually a pristine, clean Mercedes Benz circa 2007, but I don’t want to be the passenger to disappoint him. Even so, it’s a stark contrast from Bangkok as I remember it.
Somehow this time visiting, I’ve ended up on an all-expenses paid business trip, which back in 2008 when I first visited Bangkok as a tourist, is a far cry from what I expected my future to look like.
Back then I was a fresh faced 26 year old landing for her first time in South East Asia, setting off on a one way ticket to explore the World. I remember that first night clearly; closing out the evening of a full day exploring with sore eyes- a sensation I didn’t know existed, and a direct reaction from a day spent glancing around so many new and interesting sights.
Row upon row of shed like structures made with make shift iron roofs and poor quality wooden walls. Blankets on the floor beneath stock of poor quality t-shirts’ with slogans designed to be funny to foreigners; “same same but different” a regular feature, but more destined to describe our view, rather than an anecdotal tag line.
I remember feeling suddenly more clean and youthful than I’d noticed before, against the local people living in those sheds, spending their days aiming to earn a living by selling one person more of the same item than they would realistically need. Their unclean clothing, thin soled shoes and messy hair were the tell-tale signs their net worth was lower than mine.
Tuk-Tuks would cruise by with other tourists piled in the back, cameras around their necks as they jostle through the filthy market streets, looking to create memories worthy of sharing with their loved ones back home. From time to time an empty Tuk-Tuk -whose driver has a more sinister look about him- might pull up beside us presenting a brochure boasting an assortment of pin pong leisure activities that might appeal.
Rats and rodents darting beneath the shacks looking for scraps of food that might otherwise serve as a hungry local families evening meal. And the toilets; Oh how I remember them like they were yesterday. Hoping to have enough change in my purse to duck into a private space that would shield the hole in the ground from passers-by, and might exceed its predecessor in the “World’s filthiest toilet” stakes. All this came before my momentary lapse of concentration saw me consume a watermelon juice with ice that resulted in being hurled over a toilet bowl for the following 48 hours, hoping death might graciously swallow me up before the next rush of horrendous vomiting.
So imagine my surprise some nine years later when I find myself being hand delivered by a limousine driver to one of the city’s finest hotels, which is tucked neatly into the cities cosmopolitan CBD of which, before now, I didn’t know existed.
Outside my window rides an impeccable blue and white sky train who is dwarfed by a backdrop of clean skyscrapers that would give Martin Place architectures a run for their money. Not a crumpled chip wrapper or cigarette packet littering the street, nor an upturned palm begging for change, or a motor cyclist cutting dangerously in front of a multitude of motor vehicles fighting for space.
Well tailored suits worn by freshly groomed gentlemen wearing shined shoes as they walk purposefully to their enviable office. Photographers capturing models and actors as they pose on the famous bridge that connects buildings above an orderly commuter road. BTS Sky Trains deliver a uniformed public to their chosen destination with clean, barren carriages and respectfully minimal noise. A city known for it’s seedy underbelly instead seems replaced with its modern sibling.
Once offering glimpses of concern for security or fear for safety instead I find my emotions replaced with contemplation at what a future living in Bangkok might look like; Waking up in a modern, furnished condominium, complete with pool and gym, at a price that compared to home in Sydney is enough to consider a new future.
As I fall once again, into the backseat of a limousine disguised as a 10 year old Mercedes that is someone’s’ pride and joy, and whiz past Tuk-Tuks delivering tourists to a seedy underbelly on a deserted freeway taking me to board a premium economy flight back toward Martin Place, I silently wonder. Without a chip packet to be seen, nor a slogan t-shirt for sale, or a rodent in my path, will the real Bangkok please stand up.