Heigh ho, the panzers of progress continue to spearhead the guggernaught of global capitalism in its merciless drive across the steppes of sentimental memory. I’m already nostalgic for the lost Taiwan of my arrival, and I’ve only been here six years.
If anything, the effect is greater for a place that one doesn’t really know very well, and only visits at long intervals. So with Bangkok
I only really know the area around the old Hua Lumphong main railway station (so this post might more accurately be entitled “How Humped is Hua Lumphong”), Chinatown, and along the river, and I’ve only been there three times at 5 year intervals. In particular, I have no knowledge of the “classic” backpacker area of Ko San Rd, which I’ve avoided
The first (1999) time was quite pleasant. Though there were a lot of people sleeping rough in and around the railway station, they didn’t seem too wretched. There was a Tourist Information desk in the station with good free info and leaflets, including a good Thai phrasebook, and there were student volunteers with badges to help out foreigners. Lots of cheap, comfortable (mostly Chinese) hotels and guest houses in the area, and the river ferries provided a cheap and unpolluted traffic-avoiding means of transport. I remember a free open-air filmshow by the klong which had a festive atmosphere.
Second time (2005) I arrived late, and hardly recognised the place, guts ripped out for motorway flyovers and the MRT (which is exactly the same as Kaoshiungs except, strangely, there’s much less English signage). Couldn’t find anywhere affordable to stay and slept in the street, to be woken, politely, by a cop at 5am. Still a lot of people sleeping rough in the station but there seemed a more desparate vibe there and I didn’t feel comfortable joining them. Ferries apparently much diminished, presumably because of the MRT.
Just back from third trip (2010) The local accomodation situation has recovered, but there is now a FAKE Tourist Information desk in the station that gives mis-information, denying the existence of public transport and attempting to steer you to high-priced travel agents. The student volunteers are replaced by various touts, and the rough-sleepers now look pretty wretched. Fings aint wot they used terbe.
It didn’t ruin my trip, and there were still shining examples of Thai kindness (I was befriended by a Thai couple invited to stay for a few days on thier raft house on the Kwai, and lent a kayak) but I find the changes in Bangkok a bit depressing.
I wonder what people who know the place well think?