The Capital City Smackdown: BKK vs. DC (Part 1)

Are you ready to ruuuuuuuumble?

No? Maybe? How about read about a theoretical rumble between two capital cities I’ve lived in? Which just means I’m going to tell you my opinion about both of them?

Yes? Okay, then!

Our Contenders

Bangkok, Thailand

Stats

City Population: 9,100,000

Metro Population: 11,971,000

Major Airports: 2

Stray Dogs: 17,000,000

Average Weather: Cannot be recorded as thermometers consistently melt during the hot season.

Strengths: Food, Cost of Living, Cheap Massages

Weaknesses: Sewage System, Heat, Dating Scene (yeah, yeah, pipe down, expat gentlemen in Thailand; clearly that does not apply to you. Get your own blog.)

Washington, D.C. 

Stats

City Population: 601,783

Metro Population: 5,580,000

Major Airports: 3

Stray Republicans: Unfortunately, they roam the streets and you are not allowed to round them up and do mean things to them. BUT you are allowed to lure them into secluded places with the promise of proof that Obama faked his birth certificate and then make fun of them, hopefully until they cry.

Average Degree Level: PhD in economics AND business AND twelve dead languages. And a master’s in literature. And law.

Strengths: Museums, Working Sewage System, Trader Joe’s

Weaknesses: People Kinda Stuffy Sometimes, Taxis, Has Seasons

Smackdown Time!

Round 1

Food

Bangkok: 2   DC: 1

DC is a strong contender here, as it has some of my favorite restaurants anywhere in the world: Jaleo, Zaytinya, and Oyamel for international tapas; Dona Azucena for pupusas; Pizza Movers for, um, pizza; Hank’s Oyster Bar for—yeah, oysters; Lebanese Taverna for…okay, you get the drift.

But Bangkok…come on, Bangkok kicks DC’s ass in the food department. BKK is lacking in Mexican, Ethiopian, and good pizza, but everything else has clearly been training hard on steroids to get TOTALLY DELICIOUS. Plus, the fact that you can get a fab meal for a single dollar in Bangkok puts it well over the winning edge.

Still, DC is a world-class dining city, so it gets a nod here.

Get in my face, food!

Round 2

Friends

Bangkok: 1   DC: 1

People! If you meet the right ones, they make your life better. If you meet the wrong ones, they bring drama (‘I’d like to talk about the state of our friendship.’) and misery (‘Yeah…I’m dumping you.’) to your life. I’ve met the right ones in both cities, thank god. Okay, fine, I’ve met the wrong ones, too, but I’ve stuck with the right ones, and that’s what matters. Both Bangkok and DC attract interesting, intelligent, and super fantastic people who want to be friends with me.

TIE!

I can haz friends.

Round 3

Customer Service

Bangkok: 0    DC: 0

You know what, BKK and DC? CUSTOMER SERVICE FAIL! Both of you!

Ever been to a CVS in the DC area? Ever been to a mall in Thailand? No? Let me recreate some scenes for you.

Scene 1–Washington, DC Area CVS

  • Me: Hi, where can I find band-aids?
  • CVS Employee: *rolls eyes, points to an aisle over that way*

Scene 2–Bangkok Area Mall

  • Me, in Thai: Oh, um, excuse me…
  • Thai Mall Employee: *zzzzzzzzzzzzz* (Yes, that is the sound of somebody sleeping.)

Round 4

Taxi Drivers

Bangkok: 0 DC: 0

Jackassery abounds in both cities. Nobody wins!

In fact, we all lose.

Except for the taxi drivers.

Jerks.

Round 5

Taxi Rides

Bangkok: 1 DC: 0

Okay, a really expensive ride in a taxi in Bangkok is, like, $10. A really cheap ride for a taxi in DC is, like, $15. Screw that. Taxis in Bangkok FTW!

I felt like I needed a picture here.

Round 6

Traffic

Bangkok: 0 DC: 1

Bangkok gets 0 points because there is ALWAYS a traffic jam in the city. ALWAYS. I got caught in a traffic jam at 2:30 in the morning a couple of weeks ago (and now my mother is going to ask me what I was doing out at 2:30 in the morning–I was helping the orphans, Mom. Helping the orphans!). The DC area has terrible gridlock during rush hour, but it is entirely possible to get across the city at other times with absolutely no trouble. DC wins.

Round 7

Public transportation

Bangkok: 1 DC: 0

The Metro in DC is severely limited in how often it runs and where it goes. The escalators and elevators are constantly out of order and the trains themselves break down constantly. The Metro buses stop literally every block and are either very late or very early. There are some commuter trains that run limited hours during the week. Aaaaaand…those are your options for public transportation.

Bangkok has the BTS (above-ground Sky Train), the MRT (subway), the Airport Link, buses (free, not free, air-conditioned, not air-conditioned), and canal taxi boats. I feel like I’m missing something. The canal boats were a recent revelation for me—I can get halfway across town for 9 baht (30 cents) and no traffic? Sign me up—I do not even care about the disgusting canal water splashing everywhere. Also, people complain about the BTS breaking down here, but believe me, it is nothing compared to Metro breakdowns.

I do have a fond spot for the DC Metro, though, and I’m not sure why. Still, for sheer quantity of public transportation choices, BKK is the clear frontrunner.

BTS platform. I wish this picture had been staged, but it's actually just me being naturally ridiculous.

Score So Far

Bangkok: 5  Washington, D.C.: 2

It’s still anybody’s game, people!  I am going to say, though, tomorrow (or whenever I get around to it) I’m going to tackle the Dating Scene and the Sewage System, so things might not fare quite as well for Bangkok in the future…

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22 Comments

Filed under Living Abroad, Thailand

22 responses to “The Capital City Smackdown: BKK vs. DC (Part 1)

  1. ahahahahaha

    I was talking to my business partner about the dog situation here. Makes me laugh. When my sister showed, her natural inclination is to pet the animals. Mine is to yell at her about diseases. The original odd couple!

    The same can be said about Melbourne (where im from), although, theres 3-4 million people in our city and our taxi drivers are selective about the people that use their services. Helps to have boobs apparently.

    -Rick

  2. The sewage system? Oh dear. Haha. My hometown would win against any town/city it came up against for that one.

    My friend went and lived in India for 2 years and she mentioned something about the stray dogs there too. She ended up having a fight with her boyfriend one night, got out of his car and started walking home. She soon had to run back into his car though because all the stray dogs decided to pounce on her at once (She had a subway sandwich in her hand :P ) .

    • My friend Sarah (who hopefully will write something about this soon) has insane problems with the dogs in the small Thai town she’s living in. They literally chase her when she’s on her bike. Scary!

  3. Looooove the idea about a city smackdown and am looking forward to reading more! I’m surprised BKK won in the food department. Never been there, but was really impressed with DC food a few years ago- so many choices. Or maybe I just felt that way because I moved to West Texas from Germany seven years ago and still can’t believe how few mom and pop restaurants they have here and how little good international food there is… Entirely possible! Are there many international restaurants in BKK?

    • Yeah, the food in DC is great, but honestly, the food in BKK kicks its ass. In my opinion, though–and I’m sure people will tell me I’m wrong–I think that DC has easier access to very good international food. BKK has international restaurants, but…I don’t know. They often don’t impress me, I guess.

  4. Jess

    When you visit me, we’ll have to add SF to your list of cities for smackdown foodery. I have been embarrassingly lax in trying new places, though, so it would be for both of us :)

  5. Jonathan

    When I lived in NYC, I always said we kicked DC’s ass because the business of government was too dominant in DC to ever escape and that that business takes itself too seriously to ever allow fun to really and routinely get out of hand — in DC, well, in almost all US capitals, สนุก is tamped down because the fundamentally somber presence of government makes it feel like Dad is *always* home. New York gave the world John Stewart; DC gave the world Mark Russell (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of5sLO9rVLs), and to me at least those accurately embody their respective city’s capacity for hilarity and boundaries of propriety (similarly, there’s a good reason people head to New Orleans and not Baton Rouge for Mardi Gras).

    But somehow, despite being the national seat of government, BKK more readily invites comparisons to New York than to DC; it’s managed to completely avoid being draped in DC’s lead X-ray apron of political culture and the folks who conduct Thailand’s political business are socially blessedly invisible (whether some visibility might not make for better governance is a separate issue). After seven years here, I have only the vaguest notion where or what Government House is; I had to dig on the internet to find the name of the Thai equivalent of the White House. Not once have I had an evening ruined by having to feign awe that someone is a lobbyist or interest in their pet piece of legislation. And while I won’t go into some uninteresting comparison between the BKK and DC “party scenes,” the terms of that comparison do bolster my claim: BKK is world famous for ปล่อยให้เวลาที่ดีม้วน* pretty much all the time and, while no doubt the good times that DC rolls can be stoutly defended, they require defending precisely because they must overcome a presumption of stifling dullness.

    Why this is the case, I can’t say and it’s probably advisable to avoid too much speculation. I do like to think that the stink and anarchy of Bangkok inoculate the place against government’s reflexive self-importance; even wearing a 20,000 baht crepe silk tie and with an appointment with the Privy Council, there’s a limit to how Master of the Universe you can feel when bombarded with this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RxyXxJkqJ0) by a cab’s on-board karaoke system or while shrouded in the unholy stink of a squid jerky cart. The salutary leveling effect of life’s little pungencies.

    And so…

    Avoiding Being The National Version of Albany: Bangkok 12, DC 0.

    * This may be Google Translate’s worst effort yet.

    • I think you’re right that, as you said, BKK more readily invites comparison to NYC. BUT I haven’t lived in NYC, so I can only do the DC/BKK comparison. In truth, DC is a strange little microcosm in American society because it does involve so much around politics and many of the self-important people who live and breathe lobbying, laws, whatever. I also have a fondness for the city and I really do miss having political knowledge so easily accessible. But, yeah, DC is a tiny, almost tidy little place when compared to BKK, which is a crazy sprawling chaotic mess (and which is also part of why I love it).

      By the way, if you can afford a 20,000 baht tie are you going to be taking taxis or walking around much on the streets to be bombarded with the things that make Bangkok so…Bangkok? My guess is that if you’re in a high level government position, no matter what country you’re in, you’re kind of out of the loop as far as what “regular” people do on a day-to-day basis. For some reason, I get the feeling that there’s even more of a divide in Thailand than in, say, the US, because the gap between the super poor and the super rich is so large. That doesn’t come from any facts, though.

  6. Funny stuff again! But mostly posting just to say I’m posting this from Maasai Mara!!! Technology rules, um, and opposite of that drools. Peung says hi!

  7. middleagedmuaythai

    Hi Megan, I can’t fault your scores so far. I think the public transport system is fairly good in central Bangkok, but it is a bit limited out here in the suburbs. We couldn’t really survive without a car here in Minburi.

    • Yeah, it’s true for most urban/rural areas, I think. But as far as cities go, BKK has a…well, it has infrastructure, which sometimes works!

  8. Washington DC has the BEST museums! I’ve only ever been there for work, and could only sight-see on weekends or holidays [or “sickdays”!], but I could spend days & days browsing the various Smithsonians [Air & Space was a favorite], plus the National Gallery of Art & Natural History…I’ve even been to the Postal Museum (my uncle was in the Postal Service).
    Bangkok’s museums [like the National Museum near the Grand Palace] are [to me] poorly organized; old stuff with hardly any explanation, like they couldn’t hire a proper curator for the exhibits. I’ve seen the royal carriages, and “umbrella” collection, [again, collections of stuff without much explanation] but not the royal barges. Now, it’s been years since I’ve gone through these, and they might have changed over time, but I doubt they’re on a par with Washington DC.

    • DC really does have the BEST museums, and the national museums are all free. It’s a great place. I don’t love the Air and Space, but I adore the Botanical Gardens and the American Art/Portrait Gallery. Absolutely fantastic.

  9. Lol. Very entertaining, Megan. So sad seeing all the wrenched, mangy dogs wandering the streets here (and getting hit by cars). I’ve never been to DC but I imagine the Republican issue is equally distressing (have they considered neutering?).

    No Mexican in BKK? Try Charley Brown’s in the Sukhumvit area. Beautifully done.

    • I think they considered neutering, but the bill was shut down by Congress. :(

      I haven’t been to Charley Brown’s yet. I’ll try it out at some point. Some people say La Monita is the best. It’s pretty good, but…

  10. Ahhh, DC restaurants — miss them! Along with my friends… and my dating life (okay, so I never really had much of a dating life in DC when I lived there … but I’m sure if I went back now I would be totally hot stuff. At least in my mind)

    • I didn’t have a crazy dating life, either, but at least I had SOMETHING.

      Yes, we should go on a visit together and be hot stuff TOGETHER. SWEET.

  11. Public transportation: You mentioned feeling like you were missing something – songtaews, chai mai? Motorcy taxis? Sanook maaaaaaaaaaakkkkkk.

    Girl, I love your blog.

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