Sunday, July 10, 2011

The month away (part 2)

I used to make annual or at least bi-annual pilgrimages to Bangkok (the last trip being more than four years ago when the greatly-convenient airport-express train service was still non-existent) because of how much I love that place. The oh-so-delicious street food, the very cheap and good massages as well the chance to buy to my heart's delight tons of unique clothes that sell in Sydney (imported from Thailand) at a 600% mark-up. Although it is summer clothing and I cannot wear it now, come summer at the end of this year I will have a rocking new wardrobe.

I wanted this trip to be totally free-and-easy with a planned-but-not-strict itinerary (the only requirement was to have a different kind of massage every day). I wanted to do absolutely nothing that stresses me. Of course there were elements that did not work that way namely the reverse-racism at the gay saunas (hot Thais going straight for the below-average Caucasians just because they were so rare and totally ignoring and rejecting the hottest Asians around like me), the humidly-scorching weather (which gave me heat rashes at places where more post-shoot Photoshop would be required, not to mention the much-worse itch and irritation) and a bout of stomach upset at the end of the trip (which I never had in my previous visits even with the street food and tap water). But all in all, it was a greatly-satisfying 8-day stay and I hope the pictures can convey some of the reasons why I keep going back to this wonderful city.

The Land of Smiles

This shot was taken on board the Chao Phraya River Express. I don’t know whether you would call this a slum area but the living condition in some of these places did look rather squalid from the outside.

The markets at Chinatown. It sounded interesting when I researched the place online but when I got there, it wasn’t really so but still it was one of the less touristy places in Bangkok where I could get a slice of the more authentic Thai way of living.

My first shopping stop was Khaosan Road. Though not as cheap as the claustrophobic Chatuchak Weekend Market (another must-visit pit-stop), it does sell some things that you don’t get there. It was a hellishly-hot day and in case you need to know, I wasn’t the only topless one there (but certainly one of the better bodies around, hehe).

What do you think the first icon meant? No rams or some kind of imaginary creature on board the cab? And look at the third one–surely it must have happened so many times that a rule must be set to curb that. Well, Thais are ultimately still conservatives who "tolerate" liberal tourist-behaviour because not only are they a friendly people, they are also acutely-aware of the importance of tourist dollars.

“Miss Puke”? Can’t this massage parlour get a better name? Or is “puke” Thai for “pretty” or something? I don’t think so.

One of the Thai-est places I visited was the Taling Chan Floating Market as I purposely avoided the larger and shamelessly more touristy Damnoen Saduak. On the right you can see this strange fruit on sale that I cannot identify (some kind of apple-plum cross-breed?).

Food cooked right in front of you on boats–it is something everyone should experience. I was there early in the morning when it was not as crowded but people started pouring in from 11am onwards.

Here was where I had my sumptuous lunch at Taling Chan. I placed my bag on the visibly dry floor only to discover that it got soaked as the wave beneath the “floor” pushed water up the cracks between the metal plates. Well, it is a floating market after all.

A very common sight in Bangkok is monks and of course you will see signs like this on public transport. One other thing that I rediscovered during this trip was the fact that a song celebrating the king is always played before the start of a show in the cinema (I wonder if this happens in plays and musicals as well) and everyone must stand up. The king is an extremely well-liked and -respected figure in the country (and lèse majesté immediately springs into mind).

This messy wire phenomenon is something I consistently see in developing countries. I am surprised they don’t cause any electrical or signalling problems. But who am I to say anything bad about this when Bangkok is getting better and faster broadband than in Sydney!

It was another hot and humid night in Bangkok at 33ºC or so and I was street-dining, something I love to death. Sitting in front of me was this woman wearing three layers in this deadly heat (T-shirt, polo shirt, long-sleeved denim jacket). Three?! Was she crazy or what? This never fails to amaze me.

The most touristy thing I did in this trip was to drop by the Grand Palace, which surprisingly was my first time ever. As palaces go, everything had to be over-the-top. From a distance, I thought the gold walls were indeed made of gold but on closer inspection, I realised I was really silly to think that in the first place.

There is this Buddha statue where visitors pay a fee to stick a small piece of gold foil on it most likely to receive blessing or good fortune in return. There was a lot of loose foils that fell onto the ground–pity I couldn’t amass more…

Another avenue people had to seek blessing–dipping a lotus bud in a large vat of water and then then placing it on the head. I thought it was an interesting sight.

There was very strict uniform-policing at the palace where a guard very alertly barked at dress code-violators as they entered the grounds. I knew this beforehand but still wore forbidden clothes friendlier to the unholy weather and only later put on more conservative clothing which was available for hire at the entrance. I thought the sign was really effective in communicating its intended message.

R.I.P. slippers (15/06/2007 – 10/05/2011). We had some really comfortable times but I finally had to let you go because you got too old and I got a new sexier pair. I will miss you dearly and you will always be fondly remembered…

The video below was taken on board a tuk tuk at night when traffic laws could be bent a bit more than usual. I have ridden on tuk tuks before but never at night so this was a new experience. With the wind in my hair in the relentless summer heat, it certainly was the perfect way to end the night.

I barely missed Songkran because of work commitments, which was something I really wanted to do (next trip perhaps) but judging from what others told me, I think the constantly-getting-wet-without-people-leaving-you-alone-even-for-a-single-minute feature of the festival would get a little tiring a little too quickly. But hey, that would give me the perfect reason to be in nothing more than a tiny pair of hot shorts everywhere I go–that would certainly add a cherry to any cake of a trip.

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