National Geographic : 1967 Jul
friend Prasit when I told him about it later. "I mean what's been happening here in Bangkok! Fifteen years ago you never saw a woman driving a car. And that crossing with all the traffic and the new buildings-10 years ago there was nothing there but mango orchards and betel nut trees, and rice fields and buffaloes." For that matter, where were the klongs of yesteryear, all those colorful canals, crisscrossing the city, that had made travel agents abroad burble about Bangkok as the Venice of the East? "We had a hundred of them," said Prasit. Clogged Canals Give Way to Clogged Streets Not all the canals were pure delight, to be sure; not every one could love a clogged klong. But now, when most of them had been filled, to widen roads or to make new ones, didn't everybody complain about the clogged roads? That very morning the city had opened an arching "fly over" for cars, to take the pressure off Pratunam junction, where an estimated 6,000 vehicles passed during rush hour. Nearby, in the 90-degree heat, workmen poured concrete for two footbridges for pedestrians. But who could keep up with all the new cars and motor cycles, or with all these people pouring into town from 70 Boat-choked klong in Thon Buri, Bangkok's sister city, brings a policeman to control traffic. He signals "stop" from a tour barge, parked while passengers shop. Once the Venice of the East, Bangkok converts many canals into streets for its ever-increasing hordes of automobiles. Water sprites living on the Chao Phraya River learn to swim as soon as they walk. Front-yard waters invite fam ily-style baths; porch holds freshly washed laundry. Roof top antenna brings in Bang kok's two television channels. visitors were the Americans provinces, not to mention all the foreigners? The capital of Thailand, halfway around the world from New York City, was now a favorite stop on globe-circling flights. More than 25 foreign airlines put down at Don Muang Air port, half an hour away by superhighway. "A year ago Bangkok had 2,500 hotel rooms up to inter national tourist standards, and by the end of the month we'll have 5,000," said Mr. Dharmnoon Prachuabmoh of the governmental Tour ist Organization of Thailand. "Perhaps we have built too many hotels. I've lost count of them all. We don't even try to count the night clubs." Most numerous among the on leave from Viet Nam. "More than 5,000 a month," said Mr. Dharmnoon. "But those figures, you know, are not available." He smiled. "Top secret!" Thai officials have a cheerful way with things widely known but never, never spelled out officially. Another such familiar top secret was the extent of the U. S. military effort to help Thailand fight the Red menace. In addition to all those Americans from South Viet Nam, here to enjoy a few days of relaxation, and scores of military advisers, some 8,000 U. S. servicemen were busy with the building of strategic roads and communications networks, and the maintenance of supply depots.