Thailand | “The Biggest of All the Bangs” — Bangkok

Having just finished Richard Haliburton’s account of his adventures through this great city, our arrival here is fitting. We rather stubbornly refused to reboard the train, especially after having been told it is one third of the time and price to take the bus (though we did have a bit of an adventure trying to find the right one in the first place), and so entered Bangkok as splendidly as Manila: in a total and utter state of confusion, not knowing north from south. The sun gave us little help, though did glow an eerie, polluted red as if seen from another planet. Saved by an eager taxi driver, we landed in our guest house, the Sri Ayutthaya, startled and immensely thrilled by its solemn and elegant wood floors and walls, plentiful furniture, and immaculate rooms.

Bangkok, on the other hand, is not so fortunate in the cleanliness department. After resting the previous evening, we made our way to the Grand Palace, where we got caught in the endless (and steaming) current of tourists. Not since seeing the Vatican have we been ushered so, restricted by orderly paths and arrows, smushed in between thousands of fellow onlookers. On hindsight, the experience was probably not worth the 700 baht and stress of the matter. Though the palace does boast its fair share of color and grandeur, the heavy restorations are clear, and much of its charm has been replaced by notable but clearly modern ornateness. The emerald buddha, while pretty, is not anything memorable. Alas, the venture to the Grand Palace is kind of an obligitory event, much like seeing Big Ben if one is in London. In any case, we nearly drowned in the heat, finding solace in a local dive that served delicious pat thai after wandering down long streets that seemed to sell strictly Buddha figurines of all shapes, colors, and sizes. After eating, I happened to spot a barber shop; lucky for Joshua, who has been groaning about his hair since before our departure. He eagerly plunged into the barber chair, and, adorned with yellow, earnest as can be, met the scissors and razor with glee. Twenty minutes later (and $2 lighter), he emerged with the biggest of smiles, head practically naked. He still claims to be 20 degrees cooler with this new crop.

Somehow, we found the strength for the Chatuchak Market, which involved a tuk-tuk and metro ride. Unfortunately, we left rather unimpressed with the large maze of rubbishy products at overpriced tourist prices. Luckily, we got to take the skytrain for much of the return route, giving us a wonderful panorama of the sizeable city, modern high rises and sad shacks included. Bangkok is not like anything I could have, or did, imagine. In fact, it is difficult to describe the numerous sensations here, many neither good nor bad. Certainly, we are surprised by the urban sprawl, much of which places the poverty in direct view. This is not the modern city of fancy skyscrapers that many envision. Undeniably, the not-so-secret trade is surprisingly up front, with madames marching this way and that, and meeting points that could not exactly be described as subtle. Where there is an opportunity, there waits a customer, ready and willing to encourage this elaborate system.

In the evening, we decided to explore the more urban areas, as our hotel is nestled in the northern region, and thus ended up at a restaurant that I had stumbled upon in several blogs and even an airline magazine. The place is hilariously raunchy, but does spread a meaningful message: family planning. The founder and creative mind behind the scenes used to claim the title of Thailand’s Minister of Health, and has gained quite the reputation for his advocacy. After exploring the dangling icicle lights, fantastic trees, and various activities, a fine Thai meal awaits you. We even splurged and got peanut chicken appetizers with wine and mojitos before our mains. After having eating so much we could eat no more, we ventured down the block to an expat bar known as Cheap Charlies, which is really just a bar in an alley (not inside anything, just spilling into the alley). In preparation for our early departure the next morning, we said our farewells to Bangkok at a reasonable hour, again surprised by her many facets.

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