M.A. Van Wey Travel & Photo

Steamy Bangkok Days
November 23, 2009, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Travel Abroad | Tags: , , , , ,

We arrived in Bangkok around the second of November, but not without some serious difficulties. To keep a long and dreadfully complicated story short, we had troubles getting tickets together to Thailand from Seoul, and even after we had our tickets we had more trouble. I was temporarily detained by customs officials in China as I made my connection to Thailand, putting my passport (and my background) through the wringer. When I landed there in Gwangzhou, I thought we were descending into a dense bank of fog. Alas, it was pollution, some of the worst I’ve seen in my life. I was glad they didn’t detain me too long and sent me on my way to the gate (with an escort). Jennifer’s flight the next day was delayed and eventually cancelled due to a blizzard in Beijing, so she had the pleasure of spending the night at the airport with 150 other stranded travelers while the airline officials kept them in the dark. But eventually we made it to Thailand.

Bangkok Skyling from Lumphini Park

We spent about a week in Bangkok, or Bangers, or BKK …whatever you want to call it. The city is really nothing like any place I’ve been before. The air is buzzing with energy and commotion (or maybe that’s the sound of the tuk-tuk’s blasting through the streets); you can feel the chaos and commerce of its people settling on your skin as you walk through the humid, sticky air (or maybe that’s the pollution). It’s hard to love it or hate it, or maybe it’s easy to do both. The city stretches over a large area of land mostly on the east side of the Chao Phraya River, with no definitive center or end. There are old historical districts and even older ones, districts with sky scrapers, a massive and sprawling Chinatown, temple districts, canal districts, trendy ones, sketchy ones, and everything in between. A subway, a sky train, a network of buses, taxis, motorcycle taxis, and tuk-tuks connect the endless neighborhoods of this schizophrenic city. We preferred the subway and taxis for most of our stay; the tuk-tuk drivers love to rip off tourists that haven’t hardened their haggling skills yet, and the motorcycle taxis are fun but also require a heavy handed method of bargaining.

The heat and humidity took a while to get used to here. It seems that the value of a room in a hotel or guest house is determined by its cooling capacity. Rooms without a fan are practically given away, but most rooms have at least a fan to push around that evil, hot air. Those with air-conditioning are quite a bit more expensive. The shock of leaving one of those air-conditioned rooms into the hot Thai air wasn’t worth it, so we’ve saved a few baht by staying in the fan rooms. We started our tour of Bangkok exploring the temples and palaces in the old town. A dense cluster of incredibly ornate Buddhist “wats”, royal imperial buildings and structures, and statues of Buddha’s, kings, Bodhisatvas, demons, and Thai figures sits in the older part of Bangkok near the Chao Phraya. Wat Pho, one of the biggest Buddhist temples in Bangkok, also holds one of the largest Buddha figures. A massive brick-mason Buddha painted gold lays in a reclined position over 20 meters long, the pose being Buddha’s last before entering Nirvana. On the bottom of his feet are intricate mother-of-pearl inlayed patterns depicting various holy figures and symbols.
Next to Wat Pho is the sprawling Royal Palace, 100 acres of more ornate temples and buildings built so dense they’re practically on top of each other. Another important Buddha figure sits in a temple here, the jade Buddha. It has an incredible history, being moved around Thailand and Southeast Asia for the last 700 years or more, but a quick search on Wikipedia will explain more of its impressive story.

The Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho

Temples of the Royal Palace

Day after day we cruised around the city exploring temples and sites, getting to them by tuk-tuk, taxi, foot, and river boat. Eventually though, we were templed out. To mix things up, we spent a night in one of the many red-light districts of Bangkok, Nana Plaza on Sukhumvit Road. Instead of watching monks and admiring Thai Buddhist architecture, we sat at a bar watching the human Discovery Channel unfold in front of us. We staked out a perfect spot at an alley side bar, ordered some Leo beer, and entertained ourselves by staring shamelessly at the sex trade foreplay: sixty year old European men buying and charming twenty year old Thai girls, boy-girls sashaying around the street showing off their estrogen-charged bodies, and everything in between. We met a couple Finish guys equally as intrigued by the meat market and spent the night into the wee hours drinking Thai whisky with them. One of the highlights of the night was a kebab from a neighboring street at about 1am, the best kebab I’ve ever had in my life. While we only spent one night on Sukhumvit Road, it was an incredibly interesting and eclectic place. The sex trade and ping-pong shows centered around Nana Plaza, but the street covered much more territory. There was a North-African/Middle-Eastern quarter where we got the kebab, where street cafes spilled onto the street serving sweet mint tea and hookahs but no alcohol. Other neighboring alleys catered to other desires, the boy-girls and their admirers. It seemed that Sukhumvit was a little microcosm of greater Bangkok with all its diversity and weirdness compressed into a 2 kilometer stretch of road.

The sights and smells and sounds and overwhelming intensity of Bangkok eventually drove us to leave. Our plans were as fluid as the bottled water we guzzled by the gallon every day; we formed and changed them continuously without ever rushing or pressing ourselves to move too fast. However, we were ready to escape the pace of the big city so we bought ourselves train tickets to the former capital city of Ayutthaya, about 2 hours north of Bangkok. Here, the crumbling ruins of 700 years of Thai royalty and temples were interspersed among the still vibrant and active city. It was an incredible few days we spent here, and many more paragraphs of blogging…


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