a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bangkok, Thailand

My first trip to Asia was to Thailand in 2004. It was a life changing and wonderful experience. I spent nearly a month visiting three different cities and at the end of the study tour I didn't want to leave. I wanted to live in Thailand. So this November when Stephen and I had a chance to fly to Bangkok to meet our friend Beth, I was really looking forward to returning to the country where I first fell in love with Asia.
It's been 9 years since I was last in Thailand and according to Lonely Planet, Bangkok has "gone under the knife" a lot in that time. The cosmetic surgery metaphor is a curious one to me, but as we were mainly there on holiday I didn't dig too deeply into it. But it's probably safe to say that although there are high-end air-conditioned shopping malls, gourmet markets, and 40 Starbucks locations, plenty of people are still very poor and struggle just to live day-to-day let alone access good education and quality healthcare.
We arrived in the early evening at the new Bangkok airport. As we made our way through passport control and customs, I noticed two pretty awesome things. One was that luggage carts were parked neatly all in a row just behind the blue and red line at the baggage claim carousel. How smart is that?! And how considerate! Not only are the carts free (no rental fee required) but they are so conveniently situated for you.
The next cool thing was the moving ramp. Instead of an escalator, which requires a bit of skill to navigate with luggage, there was a flat moving surface to transport us from one floor to the next. Brilliant!

We discovered that taxi rides in Bangkok are about the same price as tuk-tuks rides Phnom Penh, but the taxis we rode in were almost brand new and nicely air conditioned. Taxi drivers in Bangkok drive much faster than taxi drivers in Phnom Penh do though. :)
Our hotel was not far from the airport and had a very tropical ambiance. The pool was crystal clear and the water was almost cold. I don't know how they managed to keep the pool such a cool temperature when the air temperature is 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) nearly all the time, but I was very happy they did. It felt great!
Before Beth arrived, Stephen and I had a couple of days to explore the city. We took the new airport link to downtown and caught the skytrain to the new Siam Paragon shopping center. In the basement of the Siam Paragon there are tons of awesome restaurants and a Gourmet Market. On the top floor there is a cineplex and an imax and in between lots of high end shops. All massively air conditioned and wonderfully cool.
The Gourmet Market reminded me of the markets we saw in Japan, and in fact carried a lot of Japanese imports. Stephen and I had fun just walking around and looking. Simple pleasures.
 On a different day we took the skytrain again and then walked to a giant public park. The sidewalks outside the park were full of street food vendors along with their plastic chairs and tables. We often had to walk in the street as there was no more room on the sidewalks. Inside the park we were met almost immediately by giant lizards! And they were everywhere! Stephen looked it up later and they are called "water monitors".
We were in the park around noon and everything was pretty quiet; the park workers were napping and few people were around.
We did see a few runners and bikers but I honestly don't know how they could exercise in that heat. I was sitting in the shade and the sweat was pouring down my face! Not exactly the park experience I was hoping for. Ha! Still it was peaceful, a little oasis in the city. Maybe the early morning would be better. :)
 On Saturday Beth joined us and we all did some sightseeing. First, we hopped on the Chao Phraya Express Boat to the Wat Pho stop.
Wat Pho has an enormous reclining Buddha and a number of stupa (structures containing ashes of the deceased).
The feet of the reclining Buddha are ornately decorated with mother of pearl inlay. I thought it was curious though because it's very bad form for people to show the bottoms of their feet. When Buddhists (or anyone for that matter) pray to the Buddha they sit on the floor with the bottoms of their feet pointing away from the Buddha.
After Wat Pho we walked around the outside of the Royal Palace but didn't go in, stopped at a restaurant and had some Thai food including Thai iced tea, walked some more, and then caught a tuk-tuk back to Siam Paragon to get some cold bubble tea. Riding in a tuk-tuk in Thailand is not quite the pleasure it is in Cambodia. The air quality in Bangkok is quite a bit worse that Phnom Penh. After all, Bangkok has 14 million people and Phnom Penh has only 2.2 million. The tuk-tuks in Bangkok are faster with more powerful motors but their design is not as comfortable as Phnom Penh tuk-tuks that have more seating and space for your legs.

The air conditioning of the Siam Paragon was a welcome reprieve. Bangkok is a hot hot city. By the afternoon my clothes were completely soaked through! With all that sweating I lose a lot of electrolytes so I started chugging Gatorade. Otherwise I start to get twitching in my legs. The challenges I face adjusting to the climate of Southeast Asia make me wonder about the native born Southeast Asians. Do they also suffer from  low electrolytes? Does the food they cook and eat replenish them? They don't sweat as much as visitors to their climate do, but they do sweat. I'm sure I'll never know from personal experience, I think that even if I lived in Southeast Asia for 20 years I would still not fully adapt to the climate!
It certainly was fun visiting Bangkok again. It was almost nothing like I remember. I hardly noticed any strong smells when before they almost knocked me over. The sights were now familiar and not at all shocking. The people were friendly, as I remembered them to be. And surprisingly I remembered the two phrases I learned before: sah wat dee kaw (hello) and krop khun kaw (thank you). The "kaw" at the end of those phrases is what I use because I'm female. Stephen would replace the "kaw" at the end with "krop" because he is male. It took a little to remember to speak in the appropriate language; I would sometimes forget and speak in Khmer instead. Then when we returned to Phnom Penh, I accidentally greeted our guard in Thai!

I'm looking forward to another trip to Thailand, maybe this time to an island like Ko Samui!

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