Monday, February 20, 2006

The Wonders of Siam

This is a long overdue post on our trip to Bangkok, Thailand. Back in February of 2006, Melanie and I took a nice extended weekend trip down to visit Bangkok, as well as visit Melanie's friend from Germany, Crissi. Crissi was working on her apprenticeship at Daimler Chrysler, and managed to get a 3 month assignment in Bangkok (how cool is that?), and offered to play guide.

Thailand seems like the sort of place that would always be fun, but the weather is only pleasant in December and January – mainly due to the intense heat and humidity. The food is spectacular, as are the tourist sights and sounds. Check out the palaces and temples. Enjoy the markets and nightclubs. Revel in the food.

This picture was taken during dinner our first night there. On the way to the restaurant, we were treated to tantalizing glimpses into what lay ahead - fascinating fruits and vegetables, hip local dance clubs, dwarf elephants walking down the street with their handler selling sugar cane to feed it, etc. Dinner was fantastic!!

Over the course of 3 days and 3 nights, we were able to take in many of the major sights and sounds of this very bustling city. We visited Wat Phra Kaew, the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and a ton of other amazing places. Pictured to the left is (I believe) one of the many beautiful areas within the Grand Palace.

Thailand is a predominately Buddhist country, so seeing monks walking around in their robes was a highly regular occurrence. I imagine that it would be fairly easy to become a Buddhist here in much the same way that it would be easy to be a Roman Catholic in Rome. There are just endless temples to learn and worship at, and plenty of opportunities to seek guidance.

I’ve included a few pix here that we took back in February (even then it was >90ºF and >90% RH). We happened to be there during the Bangkok international film festival, so we bumped into one celebrity at dinner. We also took a walk through Patpong (crazier than you can imagine – check out the neon sign) and the Chatuchuk market (also nutty, but more family oriented), but my favorite moments were checking out the architecture and historical areas.

One bit of commentary was the preponderance of old white guys and young Thais (female, shemale, and male) walking hand-on-posterior. It was somewhat unsettling to see how completely public the sex-tourism trade is here. I don't know why, but my prudish American brain would have thought that they would try to at least keep it slightly under wraps.

But enough about the parts that make middle America cringe - on to the touristy stuff!!!

This picture was taken at the site of the largest reclining buddha in Thailand. He's located in a large enclosed space with relatively small doors, which is a good sign that they had to build the buddha first and construct the (amazing) building around him after the buddha was done.

Imperial Palace

Did I mention that it was really hot?

Imperial Palace with Melanie (L) , Fred (C), and Crissi (R)
Nice picture of all three of us together. While I do have faith in humanity, my tourist instincts tell me that handing over your nice new digital camera to a complete stranger is a risky business. Ordinarily, my rule of thumb is that the person that we ask to take our picture has to fit either be small enough to take in a fight or slow enough to outrun. Given the intense heat, I figured it was best to find people fitting both descriptions...ergo so few group pictures.

Klang Ride in the Canals
This part was a lot of fun. For the price of a super-sized value meal, we were able to commission a one hour gondola (AKA Klang) ride through the city. Some of this took us down the major river that runs through the city - Chao Phraya - this was cool, but it did feel pretty darn touristy. To me, it was the rest of the ride that will leave the more lasting impression - the driver took us through a bunch of the backwater (literally) residential neighborhoods, where we were able to get a much better glimpse of how the locals live and play. We saw various configurations of houses on the water, restaurants on the water, kids playing in the water, giant lizards stalking the kids playing in the water, temples by the water, etc. Overall, in my mind, one of the highlights of the entire trip.

Klang Engine - 4 banger on a stick
All of the klangs are thus impelled...fascinating and terrifying at the same time. These things practically flew down the canals at breakneck speeds. If you're ever looking for a quick cure for diarrhea brought on by dining at one of the roadside food stands, then look no further.

Chatuchak Market and Lunch

This place was pretty phenomenal. The Chatuchak market is an enormous quasi-outdoor marketplace where various local vendors peddle their wares out of small- to medium-sized stalls. They sell everything from souvenirs to handicrafts to artwork to food to animals (conveniently located near the food area), etc., etc... We did not have nearly enough time to look around, but we did greatly enjoy what little time we did have.

Celebrity Sighting 1 - Rufus Sewell
We bumped into my boy Ruf (as I like to call him) as we were leaving a fantastic seafood restaurant that my colleague Choong took us to for dinner. I had just watched Dark City a few weeks prior to this trip, so I was able to remember his name. Although Melanie and Crissi were a bit hesitant, I convinced them that it would be okay to go up and say hello. Ruf was actually quite pleasant and jocular - when I asked, "Pardon me, but are you Rufus Sewell?", he responded, "Yes I am! And I'm glad you didn't say 'aren't you that guy from Gladiator'". We chatted for a few moments, I had to challenge him to swords for putting the moves on Melanie, and we ended up compromising by snapping a few photos. Good times were had by all.

Celebrity Sighting 2 - Jacques Chirac
Through some fortunate coincidence, Jacques Chirac (Pres. of France) happened to be in town visiting the leaders of Thailand at the same time that we were visiting, and we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Presidential greeting that he received as his cavalcade drove in from the Parliamentary building. They even gave us little French and Thai flags to wave as they passed by the horseys...

Random Sign in a Restaurant
As near as I can tell, this is a sign for people too drunk to drive home. Either that, or given it's location on the outbound side of the door, it is some sort of commentary on the way you'll feel in a few hours...

No comments: