Reflections on Bangkok’s Compelling Traffic Gridlock. MBK Mall. Copyright © 2023 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Reflections on Bangkok’s Compelling Traffic Gridlock

Why do travellers find transportation so fascinating? After all, for holidaymakers a trip away is a temporary retreat from the rituals of work – the dreaded daily commute, the tiresome crowded train rides, the slow bus trips into the city from the suburbs. And for long-term travellers escaping the cubicles they so often complain about, surely traffic chaos must remind them of the very thing they’re running away from?

Yet Bangkok’s bumper-to-bumper traffic and the gridlock that – like clockwork – freezes time in the city every morning, late afternoon and early evening, seems to be an endlessly fascinating subject for foreign visitors to the city.

Every time we go to the BTS to take a Skytrain somewhere we’re guaranteed to find people snapping photos from the overpasses or elevated walkways of the traffic jams on the roads below.

Busy interchanges appear to have wide appeal, while traffic crawling at a snail’s pace is also popular, attracting amateur photographers who stop to set up tripods to capture the blur of lights and colours. But it’s traffic at a standstill that seems to be the most attention grabbing.

Elderly couples in Birkenstocks, crisp khaki culottes and semi-pro cameras, young Korean travellers with their lightweight luggage on wheels and latest iPhones, dreadlocked backpackers wearing Singha Beer t-shirts, baggy shorts, and miniature digital cameras, they’re all at it… snapping off photo after photo of traffic congestion.

What’s that about? Is it the spectacle? The countless cars, buses, motorbikes, and tuk tuks as far as the eyes can see? Is Bangkok’s gridlock so famous it’s now on guidebook top ten lists? Or is it all about the aesthetics and the play of colour and lights? Are we all artists at heart?

Or are these travellers reminded of the monotony of the routine that normally makes up their daily lives? Are they taking a moment to reflect upon the fact that they’re ‘away’ and to treasure their position as an observer and not a participant in this particular event? Could they simply be savouring the fact that they’ve temporarily escaped the mundane rituals of the everyday?

Or could they be looking at those commuters with some pangs of melancholia? Are they missing those rare opportunities that the commute provides to read a novel or newspaper, to listen to an e-book or a favourite CD?  Holidays, after all, are so busy. Are these travellers missing those moments before and after work when they can socialise with friends they only meet on the bus or train? Or perhaps they’re longing for those opportunities to gaze out the window and daydream – and dream of getting ‘away’?


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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

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