I heard a lot about the infamous Bangkok traffic before we went. And indeed, it is like its own character in the story of our trip. Tuk tuks hurtling down the impossibly congested streets compete with careening motorbikes carrying entire families complete with the dog as well as bright pink taxis, private cars, buses belching black exhaust, street vendors trundling along with their food carts, and of course, millions of people.
For the first five days I wouldn’t cross the street until a local went first. I’d cling to their shadow, marveling at how they simply put their palm towards traffic to part the oncoming sea. After building my street-crossing confidence in Chiang Mai, I tried the palm trick myself when we returned to Bangkok, and was thrilled to find it worked.
One night we were meant to go out for a dinner cruise with our friend Mai, who sent her driver from a spot across town an hour before he was to pick us up at our hotel. We languished in our lobby for an hour waiting and finally went back to our room. An hour and a half later he arrived. He explained that in the two and a half hours it took to travel the few kilometers he didn’t move an inch for one hour.We walked to dinner that night.
On our final night we planned to have drinks at the Vertigo Moon bar atop the Banyan Tree in one part of the city and dinner at a traditional Thai restaurant just a couple kilometers and across the river an hour after drinks. Ha. We got into the the taxi, pulled into traffic. And stopped. That glittering string of headlights we’d admired as part of the metropolis from the 59th floor rooftop bar was sitting stock still. We moved about half a block in five minutes. The entrance to the expressway we needed was at a standstill. “Bad, bad traffic jam,” said the driver, shaking his head. “Very bad.” It was clear we weren’t going to make it to the restaurant in an hour, or probably even in three.
So we did what any traveler to Bangkok has to be willing to do. We cast aside our plans, got out of the taxi (watch for motorbikes! says the driver), and walked back to the Banyan Tree, where, as if by fate, their Japanese restaurant was having an unlimited sushi special. Bangkok always finds a way to redeem itself.