09 January 2009

Dreaming of Bangkok

Whenever it gets really cold, my mind wanders to past travels to warm locales. I grew up in Hawaii so vacations do not usually consist of beach destinations , I am just as happy to be n an urban location in the heat. On my travels to Asia, I usually use one city as a start and stop point, and Bangkok is usually the home base for Asia when on my way to Laos, Cambodia,  Indonesia , etc. 

Bangkok had been swimming through my head recently, memories of trips there are fighting for time in my daydreams.

1. The modes of transport in Bangkok never fail to enchant me. The Skytrain is a modern air conditioned oasis of cool in a steamy hot city. I could actually ride around on it for about an hour just to feel cool. It is also incredibly easy to navigate as a foreigner, regardless of language spoken.

2. Tuk-tuks are the other end of the transport spectrum. No seat belt, no safety, fumes from the vehicles in front of you and behind you belch at you the entire time. The driver will have some flowers hanging in his vehicle or some Buddha statue. You feel as if you are taking your life in your hands and getting financially ripped off in the process of the ride, yet that is somehow part of the fun.

3. Street food... The fruit stands that will cut and bag ( or place on a stick) mango, pineapple or various other fruit make my mouth water. The stands owners look like they are performing magic tricks with their knives. This is the healthiest 'fast food' you will ever encounter. The other street food is the hot variety, usually made on a hibachi plopped right on the sidewalk with the car fumes used as an additional ingredient. If it is a more 'upscale' sidewalk cafe , it will be served on plates and glasses washed in a tin drum or plastic tub right at your feet.

4. The weekend market. There is no better entertainment that exists, anywhere. (If there is ,please tell me about it)!! A skytrain ride to a humongous property which has no rhyme or reason, it is worth the trip even if you do not plan to buy anything. You will see everything from cute clothing, mobile phones, puppies and live Scorpions for sale there. The scarier animals are usually kept in plastic containers open on a table. Just looking in them is to participate in a travellers version of Fear Factor. The stalls are cheek to jowl , with no personal space for vendor or shopper. In spite of this, tempers do not flare, even in the searing heat.

5. The water taxis. Hop on and see how the locals travel. For a ride that costs pennies, you will see the riverfront of Thailand, get around avoiding the chronic gridlock, and see locals going to school and work. Standing next to you will be Thai schoolgirls, ladies coming from their shopping with baskets full of food, businessmen and tourists. The shoreline is a curious mix of upscale hotels, wats ( temples) and dilapidated apartments with laundry hanging inches above the water.

6.The wats. A shoes off experience. You will marvel at the beauty of the buildings, the calm of the monks and the many cats that wander the premises, all rubbing against your legs hoping for a bit of food or affection. The last time I was in Bangkok they were filming a Bollywood movie scene at a temple, song and dance routine was being rehearsed.

7. The wat massage. At one of the wats (Wat Po?) you can get a massage for just a few dollars. It is not the plush surroundings you normally get a massage in, you will be in a fenced in area on one of about 20 mattresses lying on the floor right next to each other. There will be no common language so the masseuse will resort to tapping, poking and just manipulating you. Thai massage is like a workout on a Pilates reformer , but the masseur is the reformer. Your body will be poked and pulled in ways that it has never done before. A tip, do NOT wear jeans, wear loose trousers . Your body will thank you the next day.

8. The people. The calm accepting and friendly nature of the people is amazing . I exclude one street vendor from this praise, and she knows who she is (old woman I will get you back) . Everyone else in Thailand reminds me not to loose my cool so quickly, and not to sweat the small stuff.

Other things like the flower market, Jim Thompson's house and the many tailors and massage parlors ( for your FEET people, not that kind of massage!) fight for my attention in my travel daydreams. Now to find the time for the actual trip...

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