Flower of Cities Alle (as Dunbar described London in the fifteenth century) is Krung Thep. This is one of the biggest cities in the world (8,000,000) has the tallest hotel in the world, is (after Jakarta) probably the cheapest major city in the world, has, by far, the raciest night life in the world, the most beautiful women, the best climate, the highest, most audacious Sky Train, the cheapest and best street food in the world. And as if this were not enough it has street vendors much too cool and polite to shout 'hey mister, you wanna buy, you wanna buy Rolex?' It is a city, perhaps not for long, where a taxi driver can look puzzled at the 10% extra you have given him and tries to return it. Is this some fiction? Is this Quintzoy or Persepolis of Samarkand? Is it a fiction of Calvino or Borge? No. I was there last month and it is, of course, Bangkok.
So why the pretentiousness of my choice of name? Well, I love the name Krung Thep and it is the sole name used by its eight million inhabitants. So that is good enough for me.
The airport bus swishes eerily into a city known to be the most traffic-congested in the world. It turns out to be a holiday, indeed a holiday period, Songkran. The whole of this visit was to a mere ghost of the city, (as I found on my second visit). I get out at Silom, a stop I have chosen more or less at random as my downtown destination, stepping from the chill of the bus into the heat and dazzle of the street at the foot of a massive flyover.
Above me rears a vast condominium, a dizzying stack of neo-baroque balustraded balconies, from the first to the fiftieth storey; an opiate vision the stranger for the fact that it is unfinished. The bulk of the edifice gleams within a chaotic chrysalis of bamboo scaffolding and swathes of green netting wafting like giant sails in the hot breeze, caressing its marmoral flanks. I plod in the direction of what I hope will become my hotel, chosen from a street map. Fifteen minutes later I am installed in the Niagara Hotel where everything just about works: the air con noisy, the TV crackly; but it is all there.