Nothing beats Bangkok!

Trip Start Aug 21, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

We just learned what is meant by "monsoon rain"; luckily we were under cover (barely) at our favorite Changhole. Actually it rains every day here. The downpours come fast and heavy but last for only about 15 minutes. Tonight's was more sudden, heavier, and lasted quite a bit longer. It was fun watching all the people and tuk-tuks getting caught in the rain.

We will leave Bangkok tomorrow but we have enjoyed ourselves in this massive city. It is extremely hot from the humidity, the air is stagnant from all the vehicle fumes, and it often smells of naam pla (fish sauce), but Bangkok definitely manages to exude a good amount of charm. We are staying in Banglampoo, an area of the city known for being the largest backpacker ghetto in the world, as well as the "old city." To give you an idea of the contrasts of Bangkok - in the center of Banglampoo lies a Buddhist wat (temple) and monastery, hidden within weathered gray concrete walls. Surrounding the walls is the heart of the ghetto - internet cafes, guesthouses, mobile booze vans, stationary Changholes, vendors selling everything from 50 cent flip-flops to dried and pressed squid, hair-braiding stations, pirated CD shops. Dreadlocked travelers mingle with golden-robed monks as flatulent tuk-tuks weave amoung the people. Snoop Dogg blares from storefronts.

In a way the city is very comforting, because there are so many white faces, the modern amenities, and the tourist industry in general that caters to our wants and needs. But the other part of Bangkok is completely exotic and ancient-feeling. One of the first sites we went to was the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the sometimes residence of the Thai king and royal family. Absolutely amazing Buddhist architecture, gold-plated and bejeweled structures. The emerald buddha is a revered figure in Bangkok - there were many people praying to him. It is actually made of jade and was discovered in 1434 in northern Thailand when lightning struck the tip of a temple, revealing the long lost Buddha. Very extravagant. We also went to Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), the oldest temple in Bangkok, which also contains a massage school and at one time, Bangkok's oldest university.

One interesting detour we took in Bangkok was to the Museum of Forensic Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, something we had heard about but could never really imagine. This museum showcases the mummified bodies of famous murderers and rapists, aborted fetuses in jars, car accident mangled limbs (for real!), horrendous photos of suicides, car accidents, bullet hole ridden skulls, Molotov cocktail victims, cancerous lungs and alcoholic livers, so on and so forth. You might not believe it, but this stuff was real, held for eternity in jars and glass blocks of formaldehyde. It was really cool! No really, we were pretty nauseous by the end of it (they have a lot of stuff) but we were glad we went and we saw some stuff we would probably (hopefully) never see otherwise. It definitely made us view life in another light. After the museum, we opted for some more wholesome activity and went to see the Vivanmek Palace, the largest teak building in the world. Made entirely of teak, and held together entirely by wooden pegs. Not a single nail. Beautiful building that was at one time the residence of King Rama V, in the early 1900s.

Overall, our favorite part of Bangkok had to be getting 2 hour long traditional Thai massages. We were expecting a typical back rub, but for $4 an hour we got the experience of a lifetime. Imagine a little Thai woman climbing all over you, using her knees, hands, elbows, head and feet to engage your entire body in a form of passive yoga. For 2 hours they stretched, rubbed, pulled, twisted and beat our every limb from foot to head, even at one point levitating us with their feet. Intense. After this we were in the mood for more luxury, so we treated ourselves to a fancy meal (well, everyone else was fancy, we were in Thai fisherman pants, sandals, and T-shirts) at a great "art" restaurant called Eat Me. We feasted on things like pinot noir braised chicken, goat cheese lasagne and of course, martinis, all at about a third of what it would cost in the states. Oh yeah, and by the way, you can get excellent Thai food, curries and such, from street stalls for less than $1, the famous Thai dish pad thai for 25 cents or half of the best pineapple you've ever had in your life ready to eat in a bag for a quarter (10 Baht) ! You all must come here! It's truly excellent!

Today we began taking our malaria pills, for tomorrow we leave for another world - Cambodia.
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