2007- Entry 2: Bangkok Daze

I sometimes can’t believe that I have been here for a week already. Don’t ask me where the time goes, but go it does! The weather is stiflingly hot– in the 90’s. The rain is more unpredictable than in past years. It rains in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. Thais say the rains are coming early this year. The whole world is out of whack it seems. One nice little touch this year. As you enter the subway stations, there is a smiling person standing there to check your bags. (Thailand has its terrorists/ freedom fighters, and there is a concern about their attacking the subway stations.) If it is raining hard, you are also given a long, thin plastic bag to put your umbrella in. Leave it to the Thais for attention to little details like that. Guess they want to prevent water being dripped all over their new underground! Let’s see what it is like in about 20 years!
 
I was glad that I had the home numbers of a few of my friends here. Almost everyone has a different mobile number. They change them as quickly as that. But the word got out and I no sooner had my mobile set up than I was getting calls.  Met Apichat and company and we went to a new restaurant on the Chao Phaya River. Leave it to Pichai, who knows Bangkok like the back of his hand, and drives crazily enough through the tight back lanes to make even a NY taxi driver swear! We had a great dinner while watching the touristy dinner cruisers and  small ferry boats that ply the river picking up passengers at the pier just below. Sunset on the river! Then the dark, heavy clouds rolled in menacingly like an approaching tower of ash from a volcano. The wind picked up and the little boats began to bob up and down wildly in the river. It wasn’t long before the rains fell in a torrent completely soaking everything and everyone in its path. That didn’t stop us from enjoying the wonderful meal of crispy fish, pineapple friend rice, vegetables in oyster sauce, and hot spice soup. Not to mention the always interesting conversation.
 
The next day I headed out to one of my favorite Bangkok spots, the weekend market at Chatuchak. Believe me when I tell you that everything is sold here! I got there early before the crowds but was not looking to buy anything in particular. I just wanted to roam with my camera. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that this place is meant for video not still pictures. A man dressed in a long robe and cap entertained the crowds preparing iced coffee by pouring it from one container to another as he spun like a whirling dervish! The liquid arched in the air from one cup to the other and not a drop was spilled! Then there was the man selling “magical” cards that spin and return to you like a boomerang. It was marvelously entertaining in its lameness. After three hours, the crowd got thicker and the weather hotter. So had a quick lunch and headed out.
 
I forgot to notify my credit card company that I would be traveling in SE Asia, so all my ongoing reservations made from here were rejected! Fortunately, I was able to get it all straightened out, but had to redo all the reservations. The dollar is even less to the baht this year. It went from a high two years ago of 40 to the dollar to 33 this year. Not good. The strong baht is hurting business here. (And cutting into my spending power, too!)
 
The other day, I took off from the hotel to wander. I had no idea that I would end up six hours later still walking the streets of old Bangkok! My goal was my favorite little Chinatown haunt, the Old Siam shopping center, which is an old building in the European Colonial style. It is uniquely Thai but more and more Westerners are discovering its charm. I especially enjoy the desserts court. It seems like you can find every imaginable Thai dessert here. I loaded up on sticky rice with coconut and banana and a small bag of “gnome krok,” like a coconut custard baked in a pan with small round cups. I left there and headed for the back lanes of the Pahurat Market. But the heat and crowds had me at the point of exhaustion within a half hour. It is so easy to get lost in this part of Bangkok. The street signs, if they exist, are generally turned in he wrong direction so you are really not sure which street is which even when you have a sign! Somehow, as if there was some strange GPS system in my head, I arrived at the Rachawong Pier, where I caught a ferry boat down river to the old Oriental Hotel. Many famous writers, like Somerset Maughn and Joseph Conrad wrote here. They have modernized it somewhat which took away something of its mystery, but it still caters to the well-heeled traveler. This whole area by the river is filled with European colonial architecture. I hope it can be preserved. I then wandered up Sathorn Road and eventually back to the hotel. I treated my self to a foot massage—– perfect!
 
Yesterday it was lunch with a friend, Breeya and her daughter who speaks English like a native. She goes to the International School. Then it was off to Wat PraKao, with its revered reclining Buddha. There weren’t a lot of people here, but the scam artists were out in force. I can now spot them from a kilometer away— I just wave them off before they can even get in my space. It’s like I say, when you are there if a stranger approaches you to talk, the bigger his/her smile the more cautious you should be! However, once in the temple grounds you are left free and serene. I love wandering the grounds here with the majestic stupas and old Chinese figurines. They have been doing a lot a renovations and it looks terrific. On a hot day it is heavenly to sit on the benches under the shade trees near the trickling water fountain and let your mind go free. Couldn’t spend too much time there as I had to meet a friend for dinner, so I boarded the old #47 bus and headed back. These buses have been running since I was here in the 70’s! They are really cool though. However, by the time you get to your destination you have breathed in so much pollution, you need to clear your lungs in airconditioning, ANYWHERE!
 
Well, tonight I am off to Chieng Mai to visit friends and then Samrueng and Gitsana in Lampang. I hope to make a short stop in Nan for a day or two to get out to visit  the old refugee camp sites in Maejarim and Nam Yao before returning here to get on to Laos and Vietnam…….
 
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