There are times with all the packing and running around that a flicker of regret goes through my mind that I even planned this trip! Then the day comes and I can’t wait to get out and go!
I know so many people are skeptical when I say that the 22-hour trip to get here was a blur and seemed to go by very fast. The only suffering that I had to do was endure the food on JAL (Japanese Airline). It was probably the worst food I have ever eaten on a plane! I never even ate the meal from Tokyo to Bangkok— an alleged “hamburger” served over rice with a dollop of mashed potatoes and two string beans! At least there was ice cream for dessert! Otherwise, I must say, the attendants were friendly and attentive.
We landed in Bangkok at 11 pm local time. I was lucky to get to the immigration booths before the mass of people behind me! I was stamped through immediately and the luggage carousel started to whirl away with the heavy clunk of our bags. I realized that I have to do something to jazz up my luggage. They look just like everyone else’s! I kept looking at bags as they descended the conveyor belt only to discover that they weren’t mine. But pretty quickly in rapid succession my two pieces were spit out, and I grabbed them quickly and made my way downstairs to the public taxi stands. The blast of hot, sticky air, even at that time of night, was incredible. It has been about two or three years since I have come at this time of the year, so I have forgotten how stupifyingly hot it can be! Once you get your bearings, you realize there is a new system for the taxis now. You draw a number and go to that berth where your taxi awaits to rush you into the City of Angels. And rush we do! He is a fast and quiet driver! He has me at my hotel within 40 minutes.
It is about 1am by the time I am somewhat settled at the Hotel Paradiso on Soi 10 on Sukhumvit Road. Far from everything being closed, the nightlife is just getting cranked up! The clothing shops set up for the evening are slowly taken over by the late night food stands set up everywhere. The stalls are rolled out, and in no time folding tables and chairs await to give you the dining pleasure of your life. I chose a stand not far from the hotel that served up some wonderful noodles mixed with vegetables and shrimp. Delicious! I was then off to bed finally as I wanted to get an early start to the next day.
You might be interested to know that the Thais do not refer to the city as “Bangkok.” That is an old Chinese name for the trading settlement that was here prior. The city is actually called “Krungthep Mahanakorn,” (The Great City of Angels), or simply “Krungthep.” Bangkok is really a city that has two very contrasting personalities. Depending on where you stay, you can have two very different experiences of the city. One is sassy, flashy and loud, while the other quiet, classical, charming and elegant. The riverside is the location of all the old temples that are so famously displayed in everything you read on the country. The courtly buildings largely date back to the 1700’s to early 1900’s, after Bangkok became the new capital. The Mon people, who inhabited the area, still work and live by the river and it is a wonderful experience to take a water taxi as far up as you can go to see life on the Chao Phaya. The eastern part of the city is modern with every kind of shop where you can procure everything from Gucci to local herbal traditional medicine. This is the business center of the city. It has skytrains and subways, which are absent from the riverside area. I imagine this is partially because the high water table would not support a subway system, but it would also totally alter the skyline of the old city. However, there are plans to build a skytrain through the northern part of the old section. Here, you are limited to the ancient buses, taxis, tuk-tuks or your own two feet to get there and around. You can also take advantage of the water taxi boats that ply the few remaining functional canals that once gave the city its nickname, “The Venice of the East.” I usually elect to walk.
I feel that the slower you go, the more you encounter and the more people you can meet along the way. Every time I go there, it brings new areas to see, or you just might run into a festival or two. And there are always people there who want to say something to this “farang” (foreigner) who is obviously lost!
You can see in these photos the pretty stark difference in the two parts of the city.
I am woken on the first morning by the birds singing in Chuvit Park, next to the hotel. Not long after I hear the sound of the familiar old bicycle air horn and “Mai kwat! Mai kwaaaaaat! Khrap!!” from the broom and brush vendor pushing his cart along the side streets. I love seeing these tastes of the old life that surprisingly pop up here and there even in these most modern times. I stretched on the rock-hard bed I love so much, and yet again make a mental note that I need to look for a new mattress when I return to the States. Lying there, it takes a minute to reacquaint myself with the fact that I am actually in Bangkok. The sun is shining with promise, though I am aware that rain, in drizzles or buckets, is a daily feature of this time of the year. There is little time for revelry of this nature, however, as I am called to the list of mundane and less-than-exotic activities awaiting me this first day, like setting up my Thai-dedicated phone, always a fun experience!
My first real stop is at Wat Pathumwanaram, a temple you could easily pass on the busy street, but if you go behind it there is a meditation hall and a wonderful and quiet garden area right in the heart of Bangkok. It’s a nice place to begin the journey each time and think about with great anticipation all the adventures yet to come.
I have spend the first week here largely getting things settled from ongoing hotel reservations, calling and meeting friends, and somehow in the mix, find new areas of the city to explore. When I come back from Cambodia, I hope to make my way through an area north of here and finally visit the Thai Cultural Centre and the Siam Museum.
Tomorrow I am off to Cambodia to see the southern area of the country along the sea.