Well, we’re well into this 8-week adventure, and safe to say, it’s been nothing short of one. I’ve been fortunate to visit a couple of other towns/islands, but the majority of my time has been spent in the capital of Thailand, Bangkok.
There is truly so much to talk about when it comes to this experience, but what I find myself considering often are the similarities and differences between Bangkok and (Auckland) New Zealand. Besides the obvious things like the lower cost of living and better food, let’s walk through a couple of basics together.
Traffic in both Auckland and Bangkok can be rough at peak times. It isn’t ideal to get around by car if you have somewhere to be, because chances are, you’ll spend hours in the car before you reach your destination. Unlike Auckland, however, Bangkok has an extensive and reliable public transport network that operates until late, primarily comprised of the Bangkok Mass Transit (BTS) Skytrain and Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) underground system. These systems together make public transport accessible to everyone. You can switch from one system to the other at certain stations, which are outlined clearly on the map. Both Auckland and Bangkok Transit systems utilise their version of a trip card; however, in Bangkok, you can also purchase single trip passes if you don’t have this and earn rewards for using the system. While the cost of public transport in Bangkok is not low (it’s comparable to Auckland prices), I’d think it to be of value to an everyday student or worker, considering it’s safe, efficient, and always on time. A commute is often how a day begins, so it’s important to think about how you’ll get around when you’re in a new country.
In New Zealand, gratuities are not expected (though some restaurants have started asking now..), and thank goodness for that, considering how expensive everything is, to begin with.
Similarly, in Thailand, tipping is also not customary; however, I’ve observed that Non-Thais sometimes go to tip service providers. Perhaps it comes from a place of charity or maybe even convenience (one may not want to carry around coins). Some say it can promote an expectation that burdens locals who cannot afford to tip like this. Furthermore, if tipping at a hospitality establishment (which likely already has a mandatory 10% service fee), the tip may go straight to ownership or a communal jar. In my opinion, verbally expressing your gratitude for great service with a smile is a way to make sure your thanks go to the intended recipient
Pollution in Bangkok is an issue. Living in New Zealand, I’ve certainly taken our clean air for granted in the past. To put it in perspective, the Air Quality Index (AQI) gives Auckland a numerical value of around 35 as of January 31. In Queenstown, it’s 10. At this level, air pollution poses very little to no risk. Comparatively, Bangkok is sitting around 177 or, in (big, red) words, unhealthy. At this level, pollution can cause health effects on anyone, even those who don’t belong to sensitive groups. Pollution isn’t this high all year round; however, in January, it’s elevated due to crop burning in the north. As such, it’s best to be mindful of time spent outdoors and exposure to the air. And, importantly, not to take it for granted when we’re back in NZ.
NZ is a bit of a 9-5 country. Malls usually close at 5 or 7 pm, and even getting groceries after 10 pm is difficult. Cue Bangkok! Not just its nightlife but also its commercial operating hours. I haven’t yet found a 7-Eleven that isn’t open 24 hours, and commercial places usually close at 10 pm, restaurants/bars even later – safe to say there is no shortage of night-time activities/food/entertainment here.
These points have only scratched the surface of what I’ve found in my time here so far, but they are probably some that stand out the most. Making the most of the fantastic public transport and night-time accessibility has made my experience a lot of fun while living with the air conditions makes me appreciate New Zealand. Neither of these places is better than the other, but living here has certainly widened my worldview and taught me invaluable lessons.
Back to work now – I’m sure there will be another instalment in the near future!