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traveling

BangkokDecember 31, 2005 - January 3, 2006

Bangkok

After a failed attempt to get a reasonably-priced booking for Boracay to ring-in the New Year with Mimsy, Bangkok seemed an exciting alternative. Except for Muay Thai, durian and 'The King and I', I didn't know shit about Bangkok - but I was always curious. The Toronto Burners take it as their favorite haunt - there's got to be something about Bangkok.

We got a packaged 3 nights/4 days tour at the posh-but-spotty Amari Hotel. It is centrally located at the Pratunam area with convenient access to the 2 lines of the MBS skytrain. It seemed to be one of the sanitized areas of Bangkok with amenities such as cinemas, bookshops and shopping malls.

King
Not having been colonized by an external power, the Thais are a proud race with a deep sense of country and genuine love for their king. They speak of him in the highest regard and bestow upon him a god-like reverence. His pictures adorn the cityscape like a national flag. He reciprocates that affection by giving back as well. He has as much as 3,000 on-going projects for the benefit of his subjects. When I asked the tour guide if their king participates in government, she gave a quick and firm answer: "No. He is bigger than government".

street foodStreet Food
Two things to describe street food here: ridiculously cheap and incredibly delicious. As a bang-for-the-buck guy in search of kick-ass food, I was in food-heaven. Think Dracula getting a job in a blood bank. For this reason alone, I could live in Thailand.

Steet pad-thai sold for Baht 10! They peddled coconut in a shell where you straw the juice out. The juice was thick, rich and sweet (almost resembling makapuno...but not quite), unlike the watery coconut juice available in Manila. Again, that was a refreshing surprise. There was so much street food to eat but my tummy was only so big...sigh!

spirit houseSpirit House
The Thais believe that when you build into a land, you displace the spirits residing in that land. As an appeasement, they built a little house (spirit house) outside their house for the spirit to live in. The bigger the building (like a department store), the bigger and lavish the spirit house. They adorn the spirit house with flowers, water and toys. If this is not done, the spirit will haunt the house and cause discomfort for the residents.

This strikes a note because I have a dear friend in Manila who complains that he shares his house with a mischievous spirit. It hides things from him, creates excessive noise (like banging of plates), and turns on appliances at will. I thought he was a perfect candidate for a spirit house. We searched for a spirit house to buy and that was my present to him. I'll ask him in the intermediate future if it worked.

Muay Thai
Having done Muay Thai for a short stint in Toronto, I penciled the event as a must-see in Bangkok. We took a cab to the Rachadamnoen Stadium for the Baht 300 ticket. We were informed that that price range was only available to Thais. Foreigners had to start at the Baht 1000 seats. It was discriminatory. We left in disappointment. That is perhaps the only down-side to this near-perfect holiday.

However, before leaving, I purchased a dvd with 2 fighters on the cover. I couldn't read the Thai writings but I assumed it was a Muay Thai competition. I viewed it later, to find out it was an advanced instructional video on pure technique. Knowing already a few fundamentals of Muay Thai, that dvd is golden.

Golden BuddhaGolden Buddha
As part of a city-tour, we were taken to the Wat Traimit, a temple located in Chinatown that houses the spectacular 3 metre, 5.5 ton solid gold buddha. It was discovered in one of the remote provinces as another cement buddha laced with gold plating. When accidentally dropped from a crane, the cement cracked, revealing the golden image underneath.

Being the new year, a lot of locals and tourists came to pray for good luck, prosperity and health. Incense and the lotus flower were available for offering. Donation is key to the temple's care and maintenance.

A Casual Observation
Bangkok is home to a large group of Malays, Chinese, Indians and Muslims. It's not perfect at the seams but they seem to get along quite well. I'm reminded of a vendor in Marseilles (France) who told me,"...we got all kinds here from North Africa and what-have-you....but we get along just fine".

Despite traffic congestion, I didn't see a motorist who counter-flowed or double-laned to jump the line. Thus there was no need to close major intersections in favor of U-turns. Except for one incident, traffic was orderly. Even so, the tour guide was quick to telephone the police station to inform them that traffic was going haywire at that specific intersection...and that they should send a cop.

I could casually stroll the sidewalk of main streets without putting my hanky up my nose since there were no smoke-belching vehicles. That alone is speaks volumes. I still wonder why Manila doesn't seem to regard smoke-belching pollution as a public issue. Worse, nobody is crying foul. There seems to be a resignation that nothing will be done about it or no one will do anything about it.

Hmmm....there's much we can learn from these guys.

Chatuchak Weekend MarketChatuchak Weekend Market
I'm no shopper but Chatuchak was a different thing. It was a sprawling outdoor shopping space with 15,000 stalls selling everything from clothes to exotic food to a packed 200,000 shoppers. It was amusing to lose oneself to the many myriad passages that lead to more passages. You just didn't know what new thing you'll come across. It was easy to get overwhelmed given the infinite choices available. Fisherman's pants are particularly cheap and popular - Baht 130 each when you buy 3 (about 170 pesos).

It's conveniently located in front of the Mo Chit station, using the BTS Sky Train. Devote at least a full day...better if you can make it a couple. Be prepared to haggle specially if you have 'tourist' tattooed to your forehead. It's definitely one of the must-experience when in Bangkok.

thai massageTraditional Thai Massage
I've heard a lot about Thai massage. It seemed exotic and radically different from the better known Swedish massage or the Japanese Shiatsu. Our tour guide recommended Body Relax Massage. It's Baht 400 for 2 hours inclusive of hotel pick-up. The masseuses knew what they were doing...and that's terribly important given the nature of Thai massage. It involves doing a pose and being pulled or twisted. This creates a bone-cracking sound that feels as good as it sounds scary. Doing this on a bad angle can be injurious. However, when done right, it feels like coming out of a yoga session.

Whatever you do, don't get the in-room Thai massage at the Amari Hotel. You'd been warned.

Ending Thoughts
Making a general statement about Bangkok given my 4-day stay is analogous to a blind man touching an elephant's trunk and saying it's shaped like a snake. One thing I'm sure about is that Bangkok is not boring. It may be hot, humid and congested but it's also intense and overwhelming with an infinite number of choices to do, see or buy - definitely a must-destination for any traveller.

Aside from being along the tourist belt of Southeast Asia, the Thais also take care of their tourists...and it is evident by the number of tourists it has. They provide unsolicited assistance without extending their palms for money. The message they seem to give is,"We appreciate your visit and we hope you'll come back".

4 days isn't much time to see all of Bangkok, let alone visit other parts of Thailand - but it was enough of a teaser to come back for more.

--- TheLoneRider


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Adventure Hostel Bangkok

Adventure Hostel Bangkok

Location: 1541 Phahonyothin Rd., Payathai, Bangkok, Thailand
Tel: 062 527 2581
Hours: open 24 hours
Features: central location by the N7 Saphan Khwai BTS train station, clean aircon rooms, fast and reliable internet, staff who will go the extra distance for you, reasonable rate
Nawa Sheeva Hotel Chiangmai

Nawa Sheeva Hotel Chiangmai

Location: 184/2 Ratchapakhinai Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200 Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel: 061.272.8008 / 053.326.583
Features: salt-water swimming pool, expansive space, big luxurious rooms, great hotel cafe using top-of-the-line espresso brewer
Nawa Saraan Hotel Chiangmai

Nawa Saraan Hotel Chiangmai

Location: 37/1 Singharat Lane 2, T.Sriphum, Muang Chiangmai, 50200 Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel:
Features: upscale container-themed, luxury appointments, central location

Bangkok Cost Index, (US$1 = Baht 32 = Php 44)

  • Bht 60 sm, 90 big one mug draft beer
  • Bht 13 1.5 liter drinking water
  • Bht 220 one hour massage
  • Bht 60-80 muesli breakfast
  • Bht 25-30 coffee
  • Bht 30-50 pad thai
  • Bht 170 cheap dorm lodging
  • Bht 350 Adventure Hostel lodging
  • Bht 20-30/load laundry, coin operated machine
  • Bht 7 bus ride

How to Get around Bangkok

  1. You can get around Bangkok using the trains, buses, tuk-tuks or the boat. Here is the transport map to give you a heads-up.

Bangkok Blogs by TheLoneRider

Reader Comments:

Paul's GOL
(09 Mar 2006) I love reading your homepage - I just found it. thanks a lot! I went to Bangkok for the New Year and spent a lot of time just doing city walks and riding the ferry up and down the river - it was such a chilled out place in spite of everything you hear to the contrary. I definitely wanna go back and meet all the cool Thai people i met on the Khao San road...




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TheLoneRider