The world adventure begins - reeling in Bangkok!
Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
54Trip End Jun 15, 2007
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We step off the plane at beautiful, new, ultra-techy Suvarnabhumi International Airport and the sticky air engulfs us as we walk the causeway into the terminal. Surprisingly, the touts at the airport doors are fairly relaxed and we have no problem getting past them to the metered taxi stand. Though everyone back home it tucked away quietly in bed, it's mid-day here and we're determined to adjust quickly to the time change. After a quick stop at our hostel, Big John's, a sparse but decent place way out on Sukhumvit near the Thong Lo BTS stop, we are off to explore the city.
We hop on the easy-to-navigate Sky Train and arrive at our first stop - Bangkok Gay Pride! With our tired eyes blurry and bloodshot from the long plane ride, it is otherworldly to watch a volleyball tournament, attempt to comprehend all the pamphlets written in Thai, and listen to the highly animated Thai announcers. We last for about an hour here before we have to get on our feet again or risk falling asleep.
A nice stroll takes us through Lumpini Park past a Muscle Beach-style outdoor gym, a man-made lake, and a huge crowd of people doing aerobics, directed by a woman on a stage calling out the beat (5, 6, 7, 8!) and yelling instructions ("C'mon, Ladies, LIFT those legs?!?") all in Thai.
By 9 p.m. we can barely keep our eyelids open and we crash until late on Sunday morning. A breakfast of pancakes and syrup gives us the energy to visit the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market. We are surrounded by complete mania, something like a cross between Indiana Jones and the funny dive bar in the Star Wars movie - teeny stalls packed into swelteringly hot corridors, American pop music blaring on teeny boomboxes, racks of clothes, trinkets, and household goods hanging everywhere, pens filled with puppies for sale, row upon row of Buddha statues, food stalls piled high with cooked meats, fresh fruits, pans of curries, fried squid, and a million foods and smells I don't recognize. There's almost nothing familiar here and it's so huge and crowded and noisy that I find myself frequently checking out then relaxing and coming back to being right here. We escape the heat and noise for a bit by ducking into an air conditioned restaurant for lunch where we chow down some curry and roasted duck and sip coke served in icy cold bottles through a straw. The taste of something familiar is liquid sanity for my overworked brain. Todd returns a bit from that spaced-out mental place he goes sometimes when there's just too much to take in. Toward the end of the day, I bargain hard for a nice looking short-sleeved white cotton shirt priced at 290 Baht (about $7-8 USD). Since haggling is the name of the game here, she quickly drops the price, and in my newbie ignorance I offer 150. She thinks I'm crazy. For some reason, I decide that by walking away she'll come down more, but instead she lets me leave empty-handed. Not at all the outcome I was hoping for, but at least I know now about what a shirt will cost me at the market!
Today we visited Jim Thompson's House, one of the spots on the Bangkok tourist circuit. Mr. Thompson, an expat American, fell in love with the Thai people and culture during a tour of duty here, eventually returned and built a large teak wood home and single-handedly revived the art of Thai silk production and weaving. Every inch of his wooden-walled home is filled with handsome Thai paintings, hand-carved furnishings, blue and white Chinese porcelain, and wood and stone Buddha statues. In 1967, he mysteriously disappeared while walking the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, leaving behind his legacy of silk production to the Thai people.
Our fear of the unknown is finally overtaken by curiosity and we decide that it's time to jump headfirst into real Thai culture, so for lunch we squeamishly sit down at an open air restaurant just down the street from our hostel. We're the only farangs here (the Thai word for foreigners) and there's not a word of English anywhere in sight. We don't have the slightest idea how or what to order, but a daring waitress comes over and tries her English on us. "Pork?" she asks. "Yes!" we exclaim thankfully. "Soup?" she asks. "Yes!" we say with a smile. Then she's off to the front where they slice some pork off a chunk of meat hanging from a hook in the sunny front window, throw some noodles into a pot of boiling water, add a few green vegetables and some broth (fish, I think) and in minutes she's back with our lunch. It's delicious, though I wonder how the system will do on meat that has literally been hanging around. Only time will tell.
One other funny tidbit. We stop by the Erawan Shrine, a complex dedicated to Bramha, the Hindu god of creation. The shrine was originally built to ward off bad luck during construction of the hotel next door. The shrine was interesting, but the people we met here were hilarious. First, a well-dressed Thai man who works at the police hospital across the street strikes up a conversation with us about where we're from, where we're going, where we're staying, and how long we're visiting Thailand. He then proceeds to tell us all about where we could go to get gems and jewels (a common scam in Bangkok), but he also tells us all about the paperwork they're required to display to certify the authenticity. Next we're talking about Thai silk and he's writing down an address for what we think is a wholesale silk dealer. After he leaves us, we're halfway down the street when another well-dressed man stops us to talk for several minutes. He's shocked to hear that we're Buddhists. Somehow our communication gets confused - he's trying to get us a tuktuk to the TAT office to make reservations for Chiang Mai, a city we won't be visiting for weeks! When we tell him that we'd prefer to just visit the shrine across the street, he throws his hands in the air, walks off hurriedly, and says we're a waste of his time! I'm starting to get the sense that everyone here wants two things. One is to practice their English. Two, to somehow be helpful, even if their being "helpful" isn't really what you want!
We decide to check out the "silk wholesaler" that had been recommended to us and before we can walk another half block, a woman behind us starts up another conversation with us. This is hysterical! She tells us that she's taking English lessons from an American (only "he's black", she says, "and he's funny"...). When we tell her we're heading to Brioni Bangkok Fashion House, her eyes get big and she purrs with a big "oooh!" and she gestures excitedly at her clothing and says "best place!" and gives us a big thumbs up. Within seconds, she's pushed us aboard a tuktuk - a motorized scooter - and is giving instructions to the driver who screams off down the road and dumps us off in front of Brioni, which turns out to be a very expensive looking tailor. Somehow we're drawn in and a suave character dressed in a dashing suit whisks us up the red carpeted stairs, plops us down on a sofa in front of fashion catalogs, and starts launching into his spiel. "What kind of suit you wanting? You no want to carry around? Is no problem. We can ship to your country. We keep your measurements for five years so you can re-order anytime and we ship to you!" I've heard Bangkok is a fantastic place to have custom-tailored clothing made - he's offering a suit for around $100 USD, a good price - but we've just arrived in Asia and I'm not ready to spend the cash on something I won't need for awhile. Somehow we peel ourselves away from the couch, escaping his glare by asking for a card and telling him that we'll be back.
We have lots more planned for our time here, but it's hard to believe how much has already happened in two days. I'm excited and apprehensive to see what the days ahead will bring?
Missing you all, sending lots of love, and wishing you were here to experience this with us!