Lost in the Venice of the East: Discovering Kindness in the Heart of Bangkok

Among travelers, Bangkok is typically their entrance into Southeast Asia. Most are jet lagged and thrown into a new and strange world, and if they’re like me, grumpy.  A lot of travelers, that I’ve spoken with were not impressed with the capital of Thailand. After spending a few days in Bangkok, seeing all of the hot tourist spots: the grand palace, different temples and a maybe a good market or two, some travelers come to an agreement on their judgment of the city. Stating that it’s too unclean, the streets were too busy, or that the many of the locals that they came in contact with attempted to scam them. While some of these ideals may hold true to the parts of the Old City in Bangkok and the downtown tourist area, it is not a fair representation of the rest of the city. While my travels throughout Southeast Asia took me continually back into Bangkok, I was determined to find the culture of laid-back smiling faces that were told throughout various internet blog sites.

While on a day layover, my friend Nick and I decided to travel to the outskirts of the city to the Rot Fai Train Market. For a couple of well-versed travelers, this didn’t seem like such adventure, it was just a hop on a subway and then a bus to our destination. We both agreed that any form of taxi service wasn’t the best choice because the price would ultimately be too high, and it was rush hour. I punched in all of the numbers of subway lines and buses before I left, so getting lost wasn’t an option. Though, what I failed to realize was that my phone, which had a knack for rapidly depleting its battery, was now at 10%. Why I didn’t just write the directions down on paper still mystifies me to this day, but we were already on our first subway out of the town. Making our transfers lines, we were halfway there with  no problem and luckily my phone was still carrying a decent charge. My outlook changed as all of a sudden the battery dropped to 1% and slowly the hope of getting to the market faded away.

It was around 7 P.M when the subway pulled into our stop, the doors opened and we entered into the unknown. Now there were two options that laid before us; 1. Walk to the other side of the station, and take the next train back into Bangkok or 2. venture forth into an area unexplored without a destination. Decidedly, we pressed onwards thinking that through sheer determination we would find a way to our destination. Looking completely and utterly lost we soon were approached by a taxi driver who knew where the Train Market was, but he quoted quite a hefty price.

Soon out of the corner of my eye I saw a smiling woman walking towards me, carrying her grocery shopping. Seeing the puzzled looks on our faces, she calmly said, “Are you lost?” Not knowing if she was an angel or just a friendly face, I told that we were looking for the Rot Fai Train Market. As Thai wasn’t our first, or even second language, I made a poor attempt to correctly pronounce the official name of the Train Market. In turn she gave an equally puzzled look.   “Hold on one minute,” she said as she walked off to talk to a taxi driver, no doubt to reassure herself with our destination.

After conversing with the taxi driver she knew where she needed to take us. We quickly followed her out of the dimly lit side street where the subway station was located. Our new local guide pressed on determined to find us the right bus. Still holding her full bags of groceries, we approached the bus stop together. She sat patiently with us speaking on various subjects in perfect English. Twenty minutes went by and she still seemed unworried to when the bus would arrive. Eventually, after multiple casual chats about our travels throughout Southeast Asia, a bus drove down the road. She pointed out that this would the bus that would take us to the night market, we said our goodbyes and she told us the bus number that would take us back to the subway station. She then stopped the bus before it entered into its stop and spoke to the bus driver, told both him and some of the passengers where our destination was. Looking back once more she smiled and pointed at the bus as it came to a halt before and waved one final goodbye.

I was still in awe of what just happened as we took our seats on the bus. A Thai woman who out of the kindness of her heart decided, that she would help two clueless travelers  continue on their path. Taking our seats on the bus I sat there dumbfounded as this woman instantly restored my faith in humanity.

I questioned which stop we were to get off, it must have shown on my face because I looked around and saw most people nodding their heads. A harsh pull of the rope created a little ding and the bus came slowly to a halt. Walking to the entrance of the market,  the light from the restaurants and bar marquees spilled over into a dimly lit walkway, eerily reminding me of a scene from Bladerunner. Soon we came upon a beautifully lit glowing sign cutting through the darkness, finally we reached the entrance to the market.

        Almost instantly we were sidetracked, quickly detouring to get a bite to eat right outside the market. Since arriving in Southeast Asia, I acquired a knack for spending a lot of money in market places,  just on food stalls alone. After scarfing down a delicious meal of Pad Thai, we ventured into a maze of multicolored tents. While still technically an open air market, the Roi Fat Market was built in an old train yard, buildings surrounded it on all sides. The market was filled with ever curio imaginable, vendors sold a wide variety of items ranging from wacky t-shirts, pairs of wireless headphones, and the cutest little puppies and kittens ever. Neon lights shined from the buildings outside of the tent area, illuminating classic Cadillac’s that were on display, all the while speakers chirped out Postmodern Jukebox’s cover of Creep by Radiohead. This place was seriously vintage.

By now I was quite accustomed to the Bangkok open air market, an area filled with people, a lot of knock offs, and some really tasty food. However, The Rot Fai Train Market distinguished itself from all other markets in Southeast Asia, it was entirely populated by locals, Nick and myself were the only two tourists in the vicinity. Everything was extremely relaxed, the pathways were not particularly crammed with tourists, and most vendors were enjoying the company of customers rather than forcing a sale on them.

The trek through the market felt unending as we made our way through the last row of stalls. Sadly, we soon came to the end of the main market area, a small part of me secretly wanted to begin again; walk back through and re-experience the entire magic of the market once again. Quickly my interest of the market was stripped away from me by an unearthly force. A wall of smells hit me square in the face. Possibly by fate, we arrived in the food section of the market.

Spices of unknown origin assaulted my nostrils from every angle, fires from nearby woks quickly heated the night air. Long tables filled with Thai teenagers stretched far to the end of covered food market. My stomach instantly forgot the huge bowl of Pad Thai I ate only an hour beforehand. Like a man possessed, I began chowing down on any and every deep fried delicacy. Thirty minutes went by of non-stop eating. I rolled out of the food market, bloated, about two pants sizes wider, but extremely satisfied.

The night came to a close and we decided to walk back to some of our favorite shops. Just to take one last look at a couple of t-shirts I really wanted. Walking back down through the dimly lit arcade, all I wanted to do was come back to this market the next evening and do it all over again. Unfortunately, I was leaving the next night to go to Koh Tao, but I did think about missing  my train. (Yes it was that awesome). Making our way to the bus station, we would once again wait for the 25 numbered bus to begin our long march back into the city, or was it 15…

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