Thursday, October 30, 2008

One Night (and Day) in Bangkok

Actually it was two nights if you count the brief bit of night I used when I arrived around 11 pm on Wednesday. The Tokyo-Bangkok flight on ANA made me love the Japanese and their overly polite and kind ways even more. The young flight attendants with their well coiffed hair, simple make up and stylish uniforms (loved the poofy bows worn at the side of their necks) were a refreshing change from the dumpy, schlumpy flight attendants on American. I slept most of the way, beign whacked on the head by a big bout of jet lag. I was exhausted when I got to Bangkok but somehow the bright lights and the excitement of being in a new place woke me up. By the time I got to my glamorous hotel in Chinatown, The Shanghai Mansion I was hungry again so I walked around the hood, finally planting myself at an outdoor cafĂ©, ordering some calamari in hot sauce and a big Singha beer. I watched the street scene before me, taking in all the people walking by or eating at the next tables. A guy on an elephant came by and tried to get me to pay to feed the baby pachyderm sugar cane from a bag but I didn’t want to. The elephant banged his trunk on a nearby table and snorted a high pitched snort at me. Sassy thing he was.
My room at the Shanghai Mansion is so retro Chinese, evoking the 1930’s China. A nice online gamble that paid out—thanks The lighting, the colours, the little features of the furniture and the bed are all up my alley. Maybe I’ll turn my bedroom back home into a tiny resemblance of room 411.
The strange thing about jet lag is you don’t know when it’s going to hit you. You can try and adapt to the time wherever you are, which usually works for me but then there comes that moment when you just can’t keep your eyes open and sleep forces you down for a nap. Well luckily, I had a regular sleep and woke up around 7 as I usually do. I have one day in Bangkok and so much to see so I didn’t want to spend the day lolling in bed. After hitting the breakfast buffet, I made my trek up to the Ko Ratanakosin area of town. This area is where all the must see sites are: the Reclining Buddah, The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddah. After 24 hours on planes, the last thing I wanted to do was get in a tuk tuk or cab so I walked, a mere 30 mins or so. What better way to see this bustling city of who knows how many million. It was a hot humid day so by the time I got there my shirt was soaking, much to the amusement of the locals staring at me.
The three must-sees didn’t fail me. After seeing the gigantic reclining Buddah I was ready to convert to Buddhism. This enormous, happily reclining deity all aglow in warm gold leaf was so peaceful. I felt a sense of inner peace as I walked around the length of Buddah (my second reclining one I’ve seen). A little more pleasant than a dead man on a cross and threats of going to hell if you don’t obey. Being in Thailand for my first time, I had to snap away at almost everything I saw. The stupas, temples, pillars, mirror and gold encrusted doorways, big pots with lotus flowers blooming, and fancy facades. Within the Reclining Buddah complex (that’s Wat Pho to the locals) is the Wat Pho Thai Massage School so I just had to stop in for the first of 3 massages I got that day. Let me tell you if ever I needed a reason to move to Thailand it would be so I could afford to get massages everyday. Man is my body out of whack! But little by little the young guy smoothed out the knots in my calves, feet and shoulders. After an hour I wanted more and it was not hard to sell me on an hour long foot massage. Hell I could have stayed there all day throwing money at them but there were more sites to see. I considered taking a tuk tuk after the foot massage so as not to ruin the fine work done on my feet, but the urge to walk was there. Plus the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddah were a stone’s throw. After waiting out a passing torrential rain, I made my way into the Palace grounds. Being a big “King and I” fan this was like mecca and I found myself humming some of the tunes. I so wanted to do “Shall We Dance” across the Throne Room floor but refrained. I’m sure I would have been thrown out of the place (plus it’s probably been done before). What can I say about the Grand Palace? Although you can’t go inside the buildings, it’s still very impressive.
Seeing the Emerald Buddah for Buddhists is like visiting the Vatican for Catholics. This small figure way on high of a structure of gold has had a bumpy history of being stolen, reclaimed, hidden away by the Burmese but is now solidly resting at home in Bangkok. Once again I was blown away by the sumptuousness of the buildings, ornate decorations and just being in this fabulous setting. Oh how lucky that Misses Anna was to be running around these lavish digs. But I don’t envy here in those giant hoop skirts in such humidity.
Walking around a new city is something I just love. While I have a plan and a map to guide me, I love the spontaneousness of stopping at a food stand for something to eat or going down a bustling alleyway of shops to see what everyone is selling. If I don’t see everything I plant o see? Well, that’s OK because I saw something else. After all the Buddahs, I decided to have a ride on the river. Stopping for some delicious street fair (with a plea to Buddah and others not to get stomach problems from it) along the way and doing some more people watching. I love how in this town locals and foreigners mix so well together. We’re not all packed on a bus and taken from site to site, eating only in uber clean places but we’re sharing a meal with them at little metal tables with plastic stools and jamming on to crowded water ferries instead of paying more for a private boat. So down the Chao Phraya I went with all the other tourists, monks and locals going about their usual business.
My next must-see was the Golden Buddah, the largest solid gold Buddah in existence. Jumping off the boat down river, I navigated the tiny market alleyways toward the Golden Buddah. Within that alleyway, I think I found the source for the knock offs one can find on Canal Street back home. Besides that there were some cool things being sold like Halloween stuff but I resisted and kept on moving. I needed to fulfill my spiritual enlightenment and not get carried away in the realm of mass materialism. I did succumb to a package of cashews which I chewed along the way to the temple. The Golden Buddah did not disappoint at all. Pretty darn fabulous to see a 30 m high solid gold Buddah. I didn’t take of my shoes and go inside (I was still wet from the big rain) but I stood and admired from the doorway amid the incense and lotus flower offerings.
After so many Buddahs, I needed a nap so I went back to my Shanghai bed for some sleep. No sooner had I gotten into bed than a great big thunder and lightning storm hit—more reason to stay in bed. The jet lag hit hard and I was out for quite some time. I did rally around 9pm and pulled myself out of bed to go have some dinner and see more things. My friend Marshall told me I should go to Khao San—a pedestrian street with lots of good restaurants and where there’s a lot going on. So I grabbed a tuk tuk and sped up there. The driver wanted to take me to Pot Pom (the sex quarter) but I wasn’t in the mood for that (yet) so off we went to Khao San. No sooner had I reached Khao San that I wanted to get the hell out. Khao San is a quaint little street that some giant frat party invaded. Not my style so I high tailed it down an alleyway to find a quieter more authentic place to eat, drink a beer and watch the world go by. I must saw one thing though, Khao San had a huge collection of great t-shirts. Many I’ve seen in NYC but there’s some cool designs on Khao San. Whether my designer friends are stealing from the Thais or vice versa will have to remain a mystery.
Post dinner I was feeling more awake so I decided to see the sex quarter just for shits and giggles. Pretty crazy place will girls, guys and trannies trying to lure you into their bar for all sorts of shows. I preferred to wander and take it all in rather than jump into the loud foray inside. Once again, not my style. I did stop however for another massage along the way, since I was feeling the one earlier wearing off. Plus my feet, calves and shoulder sneeded more kneading. Sam Chai, my masseuse, went to work and two hours later I left for my hotel feeling like a hundred bucks.
So there it is, one night (and day) in Bangkok, where the world is your oyster, clam, squid, chicken, pig, duck—whatever you want it to be. Cambodia here I come!