Tuesday, February 27, 2007

One Week In Bangkok

Day 2: Testing the Waters

Monday: I woke up at 5 am, so I went up to the Executive Lounge for green tea, to watch the sun greet the day, and catch a quick glimpse of the Oscars on TV. (With the time
difference between LA and Bangkok, they were being shown live). Around 7, Jason got up and we managed to get in an hour at the hotel gym.

Today's Thai breakfast soup featured squid and shrimp in a broth with rice. I added the usual - onions, garlic, turmeric, chili powder. Yum! I also had half a plate of ‘English breakfast’ items: fried tomatoes, mushrooms and sausage, then threw in a couple of pieces of octopus sushi and smoked salmon, for good measure. (It is too hot to eat midday, so breakfast holds us until dinner.)

At 10 am, we took the free hotel ferry to the Sathorn Pier (a connecting point for Bangkok’s ferry boats and sky tram). There, we bought a day pass for the “tourist boat” for 100 baht ($3) which travels up and down the down the Chao Phraya River. We chugged up to Pier 8, where we hopped off to visit Wat Pho and marveled at the magnificent reclining Buddha. I had no idea how gigantic it is!! It runs the whole length of the building – guessing here but maybe 100 feet long? And, laying sideways, it is as high as the roof - maybe 30 feet? Just incredible!

Then, we walked along an enormous walled compound searching for the entrance to the Grand Palace and its adjoining Wat Phra Kaeo (or Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The palace is incredible. Every centimeter of the many buildings that make up the compound is decorated with gold, mosaic, statues and there are all sorts of varying Buddhas, everywhere.

The Emerald Buddha sits in a small showcase in an upper level of a museum next to the palace, and dressed in garments made of pure gold. It has three
outfits for three seasons. Winter, Summer and in-between.

It is absolutely obligatory to wear long pants and sleeves while visiting the palace, and many temples, which we had no problem with, understanding it is customary to show respect in this way. However, at 95 degrees Fahrenheit and full humidity…
the heat was stifling! I bought a yellow cap at the palace gift shop, to help shield the sun and get my hair off my neck. The cap has red Thai writing on it, and a heart. Cheesy? Yes, but more practical than the many parasols for sale.

Around 1:00, we wandered down to Pier 9. Jason had work to do and headed back to the hotel. I opted to plug on to Pier 13, Phra Arhit, and hit the famed Khao San Road, or “backpacker ghetto."

At first glance, the peaceful little walk-street lined with 20-something, dreadlocked and tattooed travelers, sipping tea and chatting with one another reminded me of Christiania, a bohemian neighborhood in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, once I turned the corner, into bustling motorbikes, tuk-tuks, car exhaust, people and overflowing shops in every direction, it became its own thing. Wow - what a lot going on!

Browsing the stalls, I found that most of the clothes were either too bright or too tight for me, but I bought a pretty silk purse for about $5. I looked into getting my whole head braided with lots of different color threads - looked really cute on the girl getting it done - but I know Jason would have a cow because of his conference this week. He already told me that he’d prefer I get anything outlandish done after the conference is over. Whatever. I obliged him, for now...

After wandering around for an hour, I was ready for my new daily ritual and got an hour Thai massage and pedicure. The both together were less than $9. To top it off, I got myself a lychee and strawberry yogurt smoothie. (75 cents)

I don't know if it was the heat or my new $2 flip-flops but wandering through a narrow shopping alley, I tripped and fell flat. (Not very Muse-like). One Thai lady remarked (with a big smile), "It is because you are more fat that you not hurt." Ouch. THAT hurt. But, they just say what they think. Yesterday, the lady giving me a foot massage rubbed my hands a bit, and kindly pointed out how lucky I am to have such small hands with my big body. (Man, with compliments like these, who needs insults?)

I did impress some local people with my new yellow hat, though. One merchant informed me that bright yellow is the King's favorite color, and that on Mondays everyone wears yellow, in his honor. (I had noticed a whole lot of Thai people wearing a specific kind of yellow shirt but had wrongly assumed it was some kind of work uniform). I also learned that the writing on the hat means something like "I (heart) the king."

He asked me if I also loved President Bush, which made me laugh like a banchee. He also told me that he thought Bill Clinton's wife would be good next time because she does not like violence but he wasn't sure if she knew anything about business.

By 4:30, I was ready to leave the bohemian back packers and head back to the lap of luxury (ie: newly remodeled Hilton). I managed to get my apparently whale-sized body back on the boat (without sinking it) and embarked on the long journey back to the hotel. It is not far, mind you, just a tedious trek when traveling on “Thai time.” The filthy water of the Chao Phraya sprayed on my face as the boat sped along the river, and I regretted not getting any shots or Malaria pills before coming on this trip.

Upon return to our room, I had a lovely cool bath, with the jacuzzi jets on. Then made it to the free happy hour, upstairs. Woo-hoo! A Campari and soda, and all was right with the world. I even caught a few post-Oscar highlights on the TV, in the lounge. (This is probably the first year I haven’t watched them, in decades!)

Jason had a business dinner, and I was quite tired after all the sightseeing, so I decided to have a bite at the hotel’s outdoor restaurant, on the edge of the riverbank. I ate a wonderfully spicy green curry with beef, sipped a glass of Australian white wine and indulged myself with coconut ice cream for dessert. Breathing a peaceful and contented sigh, listening to the "lap, lap" of the river and feeling the warm breeze, I thought that if I wrote the day out as a movie script, this would be the perfect Hollywood ending.

Traveler Tip: Keep in mind that Thai women are tiny. It is only normal to feel huge next to them... (repeat three times to self, if necessary)


DC Celine said...

Their honesty is making me just LOL.

Joy Kennelly said...

You are the coolest and I think you're perfect just the size you are!:)

I am loving your stories. Thanks for making Thailand come alive. I've never been and would love to go one day.

Hope you're feeling better now!:)