Monday, February 26, 2007

One Week In Bangkok

Day One: A Gentle Landing

Saturday Night / Sunday: For me, the trip over to Thailand was one of those Machievallian “ends justify the means” experiences. Two very long economy class flights: nearly 12 hours from LAX to Tokyo, a couple of hours layover, then a 7-hour flight to Bangkok. I dreaded them, all week.

The long one, on American Airlines, was fair, at best. Crappy three-year old
in-flight movies and a noisy man, reeking of B.O., sat in front of me. His seat, pushed all the way back, left no room for my laptop, hence no working (which I had planned on…) Additionally, most US carriers charge for alcoholic beverages on international flights. Boo, Hiss.

However, I enjoyed transit in Tokyo’s airport. I bought wasabi-covered peas, a bottled lychee beverage and some bean-paste cakes, in duty free. The airport itself has all sorts of fun comforts and conveniences: electrical massage chairs, long lounge chairs for naps and computer desks with lamps.

I got a super seat on the Japan Air Lines flight (heaps of leg room and a whole row to myself). The flight attendants were smiling, courteous, attentive and friendly. I sampled two kinds of (free) sake. One was called Kiku-Masaune, a dry, floral tasting rice wine made with miya mizu mineral water, and the other was Hakatsuru, which seemed to have slightly higher alcohol content, and hints of green tea flavor. Both were served with little plastic sake glasses - very cool!

I arrived in Bangkok at midnight, Saturday night and Jason was waiting for me at the airport with a big bouquet of flowers (another reminder of why I married this guy). We got into the Mercedes limo and whisked away to the newly remodeled Millenium Hilton. Our room is on the 25th floor, overlooking an incredible view of the river and the city. The bed is big and fluffy and there is a beautiful carved wood panel on the wall. The marble bathroom has a big bath with hot tub jets, and a separate giant shower. Unbelievably, Jason’s conference rate is under $200 per night!

A luscious breakfast is included, and served on the 31st floor, overlooking the river and city, too. I tried a traditional breakfast soup; basically a chicken porridge to which I added chili, garlic, chopped green onion, tumeric and ginger. I also had octopus sushi, shrimp and smoked fish. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! We drank coffee and mango juice.

Next, a little sightseeing! We took a taxi across town ($5) to the Weekend Market. It was too overwhelming to fully take in: over 1500 stalls crammed with clothes, art, buddhas, bags, hair decorations, cooked food and exotic fruit. The horrible part, though, was a section selling puppies. Barely off the mothers’ teats, the tiny dogs were perched on crates, or in small cages, and some lay listless and panting from the heat. I wished I could take home a few. Their sad cries pulled at my heart.

Next, were cages packed with little squirrels with string tied around their necks. The lady in charge had one on her lap. Suddenly, I saw it slip off, and grasp for her skirt, while dangling by its throat. I fought back tears at the knowledge that there is just nothing to do about these animals' situation. So very upsetting.

That's when I'd had enough of the market. We snaked our way through a lost maze of stalls with varying sights, smells and wares, of all kinds. I bought some little fried donut thingies covered in sesame seeds, to taste. (Not worth the calories. Chucked them in the trash.) Finally back on the street - drenched with sweat - and decided to try some of the famous street vendor food. For 30 cents, I got some sort of pork-on-a-stick. (Also quite yucky. Jason wouldn't even try it!)

Upon arrival back at the hotel, armed police looked under the taxi with mirrors, due to terror threats against western hang-outs in Thailand, recently. Soldiers saluted us as we drove in. Odd.

The second half of our day included a water taxi ride up the river. We got off at a shopping area and went into Robinson's, a big department store. In the bottom of it was a grocery store, and in a corner of that was a tiny spa. Jason got a one-hour Thai massage and I had one-hour foot and shoulder rub - both for under $12, including tip!

I finally got some tasty food from the vendors. A stick of 5 shu-mai (little pork pot-sticker type dumpings) cost 75 cents and a skewer of squid, flame-broiled right there on the cart, was about 30 cents. Both super yummy.

We woke up from an afternoon nap in time for Happy Hour in the Executive Lounge and enjoyed free appetizers and cocktails (I had Pernod and Jason had his own creation, which he calls the Nelsen Negroni: Campari, Gin and Grapefruit Juice). We marveled at the nighttime view of the city from the 31st floor.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant recommended by the Concierge. She told us
that President Bush had eaten there, as well as other dignitaries. (No idea if its true, and I didn’t really care where Bush has eaten, anyway…) Still, it was beautiful and we sat outside, overlooking the river. However, the downside is that it was a bit of a tourist trap and cost $50 (with drinks and tip) which is a lot in Thailand, and, frankly, we've had better Thai food in the states.

After dinner, we hit the lounge, back at the Hilton, for live jazz and a cocktail. It is on the very top of the hotel, in a round, glass room, appropriately called 360 Degrees. Again, not surprisingly, we got tourist rip-off prices. My Thai Martini (thai whiskey, cocnut milk and ginger, ganished with lemon grass - fantastic) was $12, and Jason's calvados was $8. Still, we will go back. And, I can’t wait to explore the city, tomorrow!

Traveler Tip: Though the street vendor food is highly praised, keep in mind that it may not always be your "cup of tea." However, it is cheap, so give it a try.


David Isaak said...

I love Bangkok, and I love the Thais in general.

Hope you hit some of the weird markets, like the cramped up, labyrinthine clothing bazaars.

Some of the mosquitoes are malarial--but I'm sure you can solve that problem by making sure to select a few tonic-water based drinks!

Dr. Bamboo said...

What a great trip so far! I've never been anywhere in Asia, but I'd like to make it someday.

Looking forward to the next installment!

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