Tuesday, 29 March 2011

"Lots of walk and little sleep weekend"

Hurray! Thailand!

That's what Anja called our trek to Thailand. I think it's a pretty accurate statement.

Meet Anja. She's from Germany. They have to fight Thai warriors there on occasion.

We traipsed through the streets of Bangkok by foot, public bus, water taxi, sky train, subway, and normal taxi. Our encounter with one taxi driver was especially funny. He laughed after everything he said. This made it difficult to understand if he was asking a question or telling us about landmarks that we passed. Verily, a good-natured fellow. The only thing we didn't ride was a tuk-tuk. We tried, but the driver said our destination was too far away. How silly. If it were any closer we would have walked.

Hey, look. A tuk-tuk we didn't ride.

Hey, look. A water taxi we did ride.

Walking made us hungry, so it was a win-win situation. The street food was fabulous. Our first night in the city, we stumbled across a shish kabob stand outside our hostel and ate meatballs smothered in chili sauce for 0.33 USD. Yum. Fresh mangoes and pineapples were for sale everywhere you looked for about 0.50 - 0.65 USD (peeled and ready to savor on the spot). We tried mangosteens (the most delicious of all the tropical fruits according to the National Museum of Singapore), Thai apples, guavas, rambutans, and plum mangoes. We dined on noodle soup for almost every meal, but I loved it. The Thai cuisine has a perfect balance of chili and fresh herbs, occasionally enhanced with peanuts and coconut milk. Things taste fresh and sweet and spicy all at once. Plus, it really clears your sinuses if you have a cold.

Noodle soup. It has tasty unknown things in it.

To take break from all the eating, we visited the Grand Palace and some other temples on the first day. There were a lot of shiny and pointy things.

Golden and jade Buddhas abounded. We saw an especially large one lying down.

The large Buddha had large feet.

One of my favorite things were the murals along the inside of a temple's courtyard wall. They seemed to depict some really great stories. I mean, a man's tongue covers the city and keeps invaders at bay? How cool.

We decided to check out Chinatown, but kept getting lost along the way and some how ended up in Little India. This turned out well though because we got invited to a wedding and ate tasty Indian food at the reception. Unfortunately, they don't smash plates at Indian weddings, so that's still on my to-do list.

When we made it to Chinatown I spent most of my time and concentration trying not to get run over by motorcycles, men with loaded dollies, street food vendors relocating their carts, cars, and other people. It was pretty crowded.

I employed my finely tuned evasive skills to dodge and weave with the best of them.

We found respite in Lumpini park. It was a good place to rest our overstimulated senses and check out what the locals do for fun. About 100-200 of them were bouncing around in an outdoor aerobics class. I was tempted to join in, but my feet were tired. Some guys were playing a strange version of volleyball; they used everything but their hands (head, feet, knees, etc.)!

Everyone stood at attention with their arms at their sides when the park speakers played some music (the National Anthem?). This was a neat display of the respect and adoration the Thais have for their king. The large decorated portraits of him all over the city clued us in, too.

Since his face is on all their coins and bills, we had to be careful to handle the money gently. It made our buying transactions pretty polite.

*Hand a bill over gently.
*The shop owner holds out both hands to receive it and bows slightly.
*Bow slightly back and elevate my hands to accept my change.

I only noticed how different the attitude towards currency was when I was back in Singapore and the indestructible bills were tossed about with casual utilitarianism. Strange.

The next day, we attended a cooking class with a friendly, hand-waving, Thai woman. She used to sell food on the street all day to make about 7 USD, but is now doing quite well and about to publish her own cookbook. Thanks to the compassion and care of an Australian woman who moved to the slums of Bangkok and the organization she started (Helping Hands), some Thais are working their way up. It was a pretty fun morning, as we visited the market, cooked some food, and chatted with the other tourists.

Poo, our teacher. She sold aprons that said "I cooked with Poo and I liked it."

The rest of the day was spent at a giant market and a Thai show. I bought an elephant at the market and then introduced him to his homeland at the fake Thai village that was set up outside the theater. The show was quite spectacular. It advertised that its stage is in the Guinness Book of World Records. Probably because of its size, but it could be because it has been the location of the most deaths by harness-malfunctioning, you never know. Lots of dancing and theatrics were involved. My favorite parts were when an actor jumped into a river on the stage that that I hadn't noticed existed in the first two acts and when a dancer got stuck hanging upside down in her harness for a brief moment. Crazy stuff.

My elephant made friends with the gift shop elephants.

We couldn't go without visiting a floating market, so we did the touristy thing and set out for Damnoen Saduak (about 2 hours outside the city) on Monday morning. Instead of going with a tour group, we went by public bus. This was pretty cheap and worked out rather well. The bus lady who collected the fares on board told us "I take care of you." It was a nice change from the scary, airport shuttle bus lady (our first encounter with Thai people). She scowled at us and said something along the lines of: "Where do you want to go? Growl. Tell me now."

We went around the market by boat for 200 baht instead of the 800 baht they wanted to charge us. Being young and poor makes you more motivated to get a good deal. We were also able to wander away from the crowds down the "sidewalks" in front of normal people's houses. Some people had chickens in their yard! A great feat when most of your yard is river.

A floating market. Yum.

Back in Bangkok we checked out the cosmopolitan world of shopping malls and the Jim Thompson house (the epitome of quite luxury surrounded by noisy city). Then, it was off the airport and away to Singapore!

The city part of Bangkok.

I quite enjoyed my time in Thailand. We stayed at a clean, welcoming hostel with old teak floors and AC. The weather was cloudy and cool enough that local were wearing jackets (perfect!). And to top it all off, we never even got run over by a motor vehicle! With a cautious and easygoing travel companion to balance out my impulsive, trusting self, I couldn't have asked for a better trip.

1 comment:

  1. ..only the best kind of weekend!

    I especially love the parts about the cheap & good food (mm), the tongue painting, and getting invited to the wedding :P - you guys sure know how to have an adventure!