On our first walk through the suffocatingly humid streets of Bangkok we crossed paths with a street dog laying in the shade of a stairwell next to the freeway. So concerned was I for the well being of this creature that I stood over him for a long moment, monitoring his breathing for signs of sickness or injury. After a short time the beast stirred, agitated by my attention, gave an audible sigh and then, with all effort of a horse shoeing flies from its hide with its tail, flicked his eyes to look up at me.
This dog was fine. In fact, the longer I looked at him, I realized– he was thriving. He was the size of a fat pig and master of this shady corner. He didn’t need my pity or care. He was a hardy resident of Bangkok: he had no fear.
Of course, now we have come to know this as a common occurrence. Street dogs (and cats), numbering in the hundreds, roam the crowded city streets day and night with little thought for the chaos of the city swirling around them. Much like all Bangkok citizens, they simply don’t have time for uncertainty.
I’ve heard Bangkok described as the city where the old meets the new. The truth is: there is no uniform way to describe Bangkok. Every ally holds some new, strange and unpredictable thing. The only thing you can know for sure is– you’re already late.
I’ve listened to podcast hosts urge that, “It’s crowded. It’s smelly. It’s hectic!” and well traveled friends express that “once you get to know it, you love it.” Now, at the end of our first stay, I can say that all observations are true.There is no room for hesitation when roaming the (sometimes trash lined) streets of Bangkok; Everyone here knows where they are going and they go without hesitation. When ordering food at a street stall, half the time, you could never be sure what you ordered because the whole thing happens so fast! No one in Bangkok delicately holds your hand and walks you through the menu during the middle of the dinner rush. They have mouths to feed!
But once Bangkok accepts you into her mayhem, you can see her true value. She is not beautiful because she has pristine waterways (she doesn’t) or modern architecture (almost none), her beauty lies in the well oiled chaos of ancient markets; in new adventures down every side street; in nimble inhabitants navigating the labyrinth of roaring lights and sound with the skill of a carnival ringleader, fearlessly walking among tigers.
Bangkok IS smelly and Bangkok IS crowded. But therein lies the true unmatchable beauty of this city: the tuk-tuk scammers, the busy woman at the food stall furiously frying fish, the monk in the Seven Eleven purchasing Oreos; every sidewalk alive, and fascinating and foreign. Every individual waiting to offer up an unedited snapshot into their lives.
It was upon seeing many of these sites during my whirlwind fortnight adventure in this incredible city, that my mind would always wander back to the image of that undaunted, prosperous canine on my first day. If New York is a Big Apple then Bangkok is a Cunning Streetdog. Independent and indomitable. Fearless and hardy. Sure-footed and good natured. It is master of it’s own chaos. And it is thriving.