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Monday, January 30, 2006

MAYBE, it was just Bangkok...

Everyone warned me about Bangkok… (except Sarah, yes…)

“Get in, get out.”
“I guess you have to SAY you’ve been to Bangkok, but it sucks.”
“It’s a dirty, gross city. Stay overnight. You’ll hate it.”

In my opinion, they were all wrong. I loved Bangkok. From the minute I landed to the minute I left, I just felt the energy of the city and knew it was going to be a place that worked for me. I actually will get back there a few more times, once before the Thai islands, and then, I fly home from Bangkok. I couldn’t be happier it worked out that way.

Why, you ask? Well, let me tell ya a few things….

Now MAYBE I was just a little tired at the end of Vietnam, you know, working off like one lung and all… MAYBE it was that in 15 degree winds blowing off Momma China in Sapa, I was stuck in a hotel room with no heat for two days and a refilled thermos (yes, a bring- your-coffee-to-work-THERMOS) of hot water to make tea, or MAYBE I’ve decided that my max in ONE country is two weeks. Whatever it is, when I got to Thailand, I felt whole again. Just invigorated and refreshed.

Now, MAYBE part of it could’ve been that my intro to Thailand started off a little more “right” at the Banyan Tree Resort/Spa that I booked on AmEx points to reward myself for successfully ‘fighting the bronchitis.’ MAYBE it was my suite on the 47th floor overlooking the whole city, or possibly, the state-of-the-art gym and spa on the 21st floor WAITING for me to indulge in them. I can’t say that didn’t HELP the situation, but…more than the temporary luxury, I really fell for the people (so sweet and good humored – everyone just laughs at themselves, aiming to please but not killing themselves over being unable) and the culture. From the stewardesses on the Air Asia flights to the taxi drivers, to the street vendors, to the shop owners, all the Thai people are just adorable. Adorable is the right word because they’re tiny and cute and loving. Adorable people, the Thais. And they all evoke this Buddhist, live and let live, aura about them. Very laid back, happy, relaxed people, just loving up the Buddha. Love them.

Then, you knew I was going here, the FOOD.
Ok, I have NO idea what rock I’ve been living under never having been exposed to Thai food. I’m sure at points, because I merely didn’t KNOW what it was all about, I asserted to a good many of you WHY I didn’t like Thai food, assorted made up reasons, all convincing, blah blah blah... (Translation: because I didn’t know it…) Well, while I was happy under my Thai-food-less rock, I’m MUCH happier under my new I eat Thai food rock. OH MY, Pad Thai, spicy beef salad, squid prepared any way, the curries – oh the curries, the soups, the prawns. Coconut, peanut, and cilantro everywhere. And….the chilis. Hollow your head out, burn your stomach apart, chilis. I literally cry through every meal, begging for more spice. I love it. The food is cheap as hell ($.50 from the street vendors, which is the BEST food in Bangkok, bar none), and delicious as anything you’ve ever tasted. I’m hooked.

Then, as previously mentioned, the Thai massage. A most sensual, relaxing, mind-blowing experience. I’ve been in Thailand for 5 days at this point and have already had three massages. Tonight’s was 3 hours with a scrub and a body wrap. I can’t get enough. They’re SOOO good. And, again, cheap. You can get them for as little as $3/hour or as much as $80/hour. It’s wonderful. Because I’m so stressed and all…right. Cherilyn, you would LIVE for them.

Anyway…Bangkok. On first look, a very modern city filled with tall glass and chrome buildings. Thriving Western business logos litter the bill boards, the busy streets are filled with taxis and tourists and tuk tuks by day, and the bustle of the night bazaars selling every knock-off of every item from DVDs to Dior bags to diamonds begs travelers to buy buy buy after the sun goes down! “Pretty lady, you buy now, I give you good price. How much you want to pay?” Looking past the sellers world of Bangkok, you see a city of sex filled with a bit of trash, and a lot of sleaze – the red light district of Patpong where clubs like “Super Pussy” hold court. Ladies holding poles and step-touching to the beat in bikini bottoms and pasties on the stages. More than anything, looking bored as hell. You can catch the women powdering their faces with white face make up to make themselves appear more fair skinned, catering to the Western consumers that raucously loiter in the doorways. You can overhear the haggled deals for “anything goes” being transacted in the glow of the fluorescent lights of the bars. And, it makes your skin crawl. BUT, if you get past all of that (which, by the way, makes for GREAT people watching), Bangkok is also a city of history and Buddhist piety, the Wats of Bangkok rising up against the skyline, mixing old with new, modernity with the culture of an ancient civilization. The result is, as far as I was concerned, a fantastic city with a mix of Thai cultures and traditions, all easy to embrace and interesting to be a part of.

The Wats along the river, which are best viewed by boatride, stopping along the way to walk each wat, are phenomenal. As I made my way through them, I couldn’t help but sing the soundtrack to Aladdin in my head. It’s all like a magical Disney movie. The temples, the colors, the jewels and golds of the architecture, the buddhas, people praying on site, the surrounding grounds, it’s all astounding. Pictures cannot convey these places with accuracy, you have to see them, be inside of them, to get the sense of importance, the sense of worship that the Thai people place above all else. Magnificent. I found myself just wandering around Bangkok for two days, in a dumb stupor, inhaling sights and sounds (and pad thai) at a furious rate. It’s no wonder Thailand claims many off the Khao San Road backpacker circuit (a street that is a literal jungle of people under 30, getting dreadlocks, eating street food, walking barefoot and chatting it up with other travelers, buying cheap wears from the boutiques that front the hundreds of hostels that line the street). There’s a reason Thailand is able to mesmerize people. It mesmerized me, for sure.

And that’s only after two nights in Bangkok…I cannot wait to come back. I feel like I just scratched the surface.

More soon from Chiang Mai...


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