Bangkok: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and Buses)
Bangkok is a city of juxtapositions. One where a new above-ground subway weaves through ancient temples. One where someone without shoes still carries a smartphone. One where a knockoff Beats Pill is sold in a stall adjacent to another selling a real one (knockoff for 1/15 of the price). And one where, somehow, that subway ride costs almost $2 but a bus ticket costs only a quarter.
So I decided to take a bus - not only for the monetary, but also for the cultural value. Very few foreigners and even fewer tourists (I saw none) take the bus. Historically (or, at least, in my travel experience), the bus is for locals in every city. With tons of bus lines and plenty of routes, it usually proves hard to navigate. But I was on a mission to escape the tourists traps and live like a local. Plus I fancy myself good at navigation, with a killer sense of direction. So I researched the bus route that would take me from the old part of town (Banglamphu) to the new (Siam), I took screenshots of Google Maps on my phone, and set out to conquer the Bangkok bus system.
I'll blame it on poor signage and lack of a proper map, but I soon got a little lost just walking to the bus stop. Luckily old town Bangkok street corners have elementary maps - I was quickly able to locate the plaza where I'd catch my bus. Lo and behold - there it was! The 47 bus speeding my way. I frantically surveyed the area for the bus stop sign. Seeing none, I sprinted like a maniac after this bus. The driver finally got the picture and let me on.
Ecstatic. I took a window seat near the front so I could take in all the sights and smells. Sit back, relax, I made it. I was the only Westerner on this bus.
Not even a mile in, we start driving up to the Grand Palace. Whew - glad I hit that crack of dawn yesterday because the throngs of people at 10am (already!) are overwhelming. I'm jarred out of my thoughts when the bus driver started yelling something (I can only assume he was asking where I was going?), to which I replied "MBK" (the "mall" full of artisan stalls). He continued yelling something else, and by his arm motions I realized he was telling me to get off that bus. I barely managed a "thank you" before hopping off.
But Google Maps told me to take the 47 bus. WTF, Google Maps? Just like that, my little triumph came crashing down. Dejected, I hailed a cab.
The cab drives right past the plaza where I caught the bus, and it all finally clicks. I'd taken the bus in the wrong direction. Dejection was replaced with humility. This is why I love traveling.
Since I'm traveling alone, the little triumphs are actually really big. I don't have companionship or banter to overlook them. I'm forced to consider, analyze, and harp on the 3 minute triumph-dejection-humility coaster. It's a good thing. It stretches me, pushes me to continue to learn, surprise myself, remain open-minded. And it reminds me not to take a bus without a bus map ever again.
Later that day, I spent some time in a local bookstore. I found this.
Some more on Bangkok sites, sounds, smells, and #eeeeeats soon.