Whoa, I’d kinda gotten used to life in Myanmar. The one hour plane ride was like traveling in a time machine. I was back to the world of modern conveniences, freedom of speech and an escape from tyranny. There’s electricity 24/7 (the assholes only give the citizens power for 3-4 hours in the evening), people dress how they want, even exposing their shoulders, gasp, (almost all men and women wear the traditional longyi (skirt)), and I can actually use the internet and my cell phone (I looked at getting a cell phone and it would of cost $2000)!!!! A whole bag of mixed emotions landed right at my feet. I loved Myanmar and its people (assholes exempt), but was actually happy to be back in Bangkok. I spent the first couple days getting things organized for my dad’s arrival and reveling in all things modern.
A day sooner than expected, whew, good thing that got clarified, I was off to the airport to meet my pa, and boy was I excited. It’d been 4 months since I’d seen anybody from home, and there’s nothing more likely to bring on a case of homesickness than waiting to see your dad. I wish mom had come along, but one parent will do. I still think she should meet me in Vietnam, land of custom made, incredible silk clothing and beautiful, almost antiques.
As usual, it took what seemed like eternity for him to clear customs and retrieve his bag. They always seem to bunch the flights together. Either there’s no line, or 3 planes worth. Finally he made it through, and we were off like speeding bullets, literally. There’s not much traffic at 2 am and the taxi driver was taking full advantage of it. Apparently the speed limits are meant to be doubled, if at all possible.
I was taking dad to Khao San Road, heart of backpacker madness. He was booked into a stylin hotel on one side of the road, while I remained in my regular rat trap on the other. What a difference. I think it’s fairly safe to assume we’ll be hangin in dad’s room and not mine. I’d checked into the room early in the day, and had been taking advantage of the luxury ever since. TV, AC, and my own private hot shower. Did I mention the swimming pool? It’s sure gonna be hard to readjust after he leaves, and I’m dreading it already.
It was probably 2 am by the time we arrived at the hotel, but dad’s internal ticker was askew, and I was wide awake, so we did the logical thing. Ran to the local 7-11, grabbed a bottle, and gossiped. It was awesome. Catching up on all the news, face to face, and still not having to wear a parka! Within an hour or so we were both a bit tipsy, and the 30 hour trip was kickin in, so we called it a night and made no plans for the morning.
I managed to make the free buffet breakfast, but dad? He slept until 1:30 in the afternoon, and would still take another day or two to adjust. Crossing the international dateline really throws ya oughta whack. We decided to take it easy that day and adjust to the heat gradually. He was actually quite lucky. It had been cloudy for the last couple of days, and the clouds were stickin around. After a leisurely breakfast we wandered around and attempted to make a plan. That lasted for a couple of minutes, it’s a bit overwhelming trying to fit so much into 18 days. The possibilities are endless, time and energy are not. It was a question of whether he wanted to see everything, and need a holiday to recover from his holiday, or just kick back, relax, and enjoy it. In the end we went for plan B, but it took a few days to come to that conclusion, so I’m getting ahead of myself.
Day 2 started out a bit earlier, actually making it for breakfast and out of the hotel well before mid-afternoon, but we had no overambitious plans yet. There was a photo exhibition happening in a business tower that I wanted to check out. The tower turned out to be full of news agencies, with the photos being displayed in the journalists club (bar) on the top floor, so we had a drink and gained a bit of un-biased insight regarding the demonstrations that had occurred in Myanmar in the fall. It was as close as dad was going to get to my favorite country and a glimpse into the crap that still manages to occur in this “civilized” world.
For lunch we checked out the modern side of Bangkok. This is a city of a thousand faces, and we were about to see the cosmetically altered one. Glitz and glam is the name of the game on this street lined with overpriced shopping malls and plastic surgeons offices. In the basement of one of the most zealous malls is the best food court I’ve ever seen. It’s big enough to get lost in (we did), and contains enough incredibly delicious international and local cuisine to make a person burst (we almost did). Filled to the brim and feeling a bit sedated, the blissful A/C had a strong grip on us.
Eventually we broke free and hired a tuk-tuk to take us back to the hotel, making a few stops along the way. We managed to hook up with the laziest driver ever, and he fired us as passengers at the first stop, claiming that tuk-tuk drivers don’t make stops. What a line of crap. I’d never heard of such a thing and wouldn’t give him a penny for his piss poor service. Every driver I’ve met will make as many stops as you want, as long as you’re footin the bill. I guess he missed that day in tuk-tuk training. I think he was worried about the breeze messing his hair, because he kept checking it every 30 seconds.
He had dropped us at a beautifully green but odd hill, topped with a pagoda. Still slightly bloated, and sweltering in the heat, we didn’t make it to the top, but looped around the base of it, bewildered by what it was all about, and enjoying how fresh the air seemed compared to the rest of the city. After consulting the map, I realized we were quite close to home so we decided to hoof it, stopping at the only steel castle in the world (their claim, not mine) along the way.
You really can’t visit Thailand without experiencing a Thai massage, and that was on the agenda for the evening. It costs a whole $6 for an hours worth of abuse (as some describe it), so we signed up at what looked like a worthy shop and stretched out on neighboring mats. This was gonna be interesting, and I hoped the little lady took it easy on dad, which is not always the case. I’d have to say they didn’t really put their hearts into it, being much more concerned with the gossip than the odd positions they were putting us in. As there’s a massage shop on every corner, maybe we’ll have better luck next time. We still managed to leave feeling better than when we’d entered though, and dad thought she’d done some good, working out some of the kinks from the long flight, and he slept solidly that night.
Today was the day for shopping. Dad had decided he wanted a tailor made suit, so off we went. There’s at least a gazillion tailors in this city, and I’ve never bought a suit before, or had anything custom made, so it was a bit of a daunting task. We decided on a shop and started the process. It took a while to choose the style, and then forever to choose the fabric. Once the tough stuff was done, the tailors measured him up in a millisecond, and we were on our way. He had to go back the next morning for a fitting, and then the suit would be delivered to the hotel that evening.
With that out of the way it was time to see some more of the city. Located close to the tailors was a compound containing a palace, a mansion occasionally used by the royal family, and numerous outbuildings packed full with national treasures. Had I known it was going to be such a frustrating place, we probably wouldn’t have bothered. I’ve never visited a place with so many restrictions and rules, most of which seemed quite absurd.
First of all, for every little building you wanted to enter they’d make you lock up your purse. Whoever heard of not being able to bring in your purse? Especially into a room full of grandfather clocks. Did they honestly think I was going to fit a huge clock into my purse? One of the most interesting collections was thankfully not as finicky. It was 2 buildings housing various wagons and carriages used by royalty over the years. Some of them were incredibly elaborate and lavish, too bad we couldn’t really understand how they operated. A few were along the traditional stage coach lines, but others??? I wish they’d had photos or paintings of them in action, instead of the written descriptions that made it all the more confusing.
We wandered the grounds for a bit and then headed over to the largest teak building in the world. It was huge and beautiful, but once again, I had to lock up my purse, and no photos were allowed. We also had to rent clothes to cover exposed skin and take the guided tour. The rules in this place are like being in a prison. It took quite a while to get through the building, and we probably only covered half of it. They sure like to show of their wealth of extravagances, explaining all the gifts from other countries and the dollar value of everything. Lotsa dollars in that building.
We returned the clothes and then headed over to the palace When we got there we realized that we needed those clothes, and there was no way to get in without them, besides walking all the way back to the previous building, and it was a fair jaunt. Enough hassle already. We gave up before all the frustrations drove me around the bend, and headed back to the hotel. It was time to calm my frazzled nerves, and regroup before the nights festivities.
Muay Thai Kickboxing!! It was said to be one of the better nights for fights, and we both wanted to see what all the hype was about. We arrived around 7:30 and got our ringside seats, which weren’t exactly ringside, but on the floor. The biggest disappointment of the evening was when I realized that they only sold beer, no whiskey! I couldn’t even go out onto the street to buy some and sneak it in, because they search your bags at the door. I’d really been planning on getting a buzz on, maybe then I’d enjoy watching two people beat the crap out of each other.
The night started off with the younger boys, and worked its way up to the headliner. Each fight begins with a traditional ceremony, and you could see that some of them weren’t really into it, while others took it seriously, stretching and warming up their bodies, while preparing their minds at the same time.
As the skill levels increased, it got more and more exciting, and dad was proving to be pretty good at predicting who was going to be the winner. The match before the big one started off differently then the rest. The fighters were dressed more traditionally than most, and the ceremonial warm-up was much more elaborate. Then, oddly, an announcer came out and started introducing a bunch of other fighters, bringing them into the ring, and taking photos. Eventually we realized they were advertising for a big fight night scheduled to happen at the end of the month. How strange, let the fighters do a big warm up, get themselves all psyched up, and then make them stand around for ten minutes. It didn’t make much sense to me, but I’m fairly used to not understanding what’s going on, so we just sat through it. This one was going to be a dousey. There was way more action and fancy moves, and the fighters would actually climb up onto each other, workin each other over, knee to head and chest. This is what I’d come to see. I didn’t need whiskey to get into this match, and then things started looking a little fishy. It was starting to look like a well orchestrated WWE wrestling match. Then we realized it was. It turned out to be a rehearsed demonstration match, no wonder they could pull of such moves. I’d actually bought into it, cheering and standing up for a better view. Silly tourists. Sucka’s!! Upon realization, Dad and I sat there laughing at it all, feeling a bit bashful, but still enjoying the show.
Finally it was time for the big match, and then it was over. It was the only fight all night to end with a knock-out. The loser was carried off in a stretcher while the champ did his little victory dance, and then went off for pictures. Anybody with ringside seats could get their picture taken with him, and most of them did. The line was out the door and around the corner. Good thing they’d given him a “podium” to stand on, because he was tiny. It would have looked pretty funny to have the champ standing there, barely reaching someone’s shoulders.
The complimentary, riverside buffet breakfasts at dad’s hotel are they perfect way to casually start a day. They have a great selection, and even brown bread! A real rarity in these parts of the world. White wonder bread seems to be the staple, and it’s horrible. This morning we’d decided to try a river canal boat to Jim Thompson’s house, check out the largest and coolest aquarium in Southeast Asia, and see the night market on Silom Road.
The canal boat ride was an experience all in itself. I don’t think the Thai kids even had enough leg room, and watching dad try to squash himself in was pretty damn funny. He ended up bent at all angles, with his knees pressed against the same bench he was sitting on, and no room to spare. Even the locals got a chuckle. You can’t beat it though. Traffic in Bangkok is atrocious at the best of times, but the boats don’t have to worry about it, they rip along at a zippy pace, making frequent stops, just like a regular public bus. The canal is lined with colorful shabby houses and warehouses. No matter how poor they looked, the front railing was lined with beautiful flowers, creating a visually and photographically pleasing effect. To bad we were going to fast to catch any of it, and they kept pulling up the tarps lining the sides to keep out the, oh so nasty water. At first I wanted the tarps down so I could take in the view, and then I got splashed in the face. After which I was content to peak through the gaps. Before we knew it we’d arrived at our pier, and set out in search of the house. I was beginning to think that someone had pointed us in the wrong direction for shits and giggles, and then, there it was, a little oasis tucked into the backstreets of the business district.
Jim Thompson was an American who basically, single-handedly revived the silk weaving industry in Thailand. He vanished in 1967 in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, and it remains a mystery to this day as to what happened to him. He left behind quite a legacy, and one stylin pad. It’s not huge, but well laid out, tastefully decorated, and made me just a bit green with envy. The two outbuildings for staff have been turned into art exhibits, and his house itself contains some amazing pieces that he’d collected over the years. If I was to live somewhere tropical, my house could look exactly like that, except on the ocean, instead of along a putrid canal, which must have been much nicer in his days. Dad and I enjoyed a ridiculously expensive cup of coffee and water, while I daydreamed about one day living in such a place. We speculated about building me a huge atrium, full of trees and plants, birds and reptiles, in the end I decided it would be cheaper and easier to just go tropical. Then I could probably even afford to pay people to take care of it for me! Oh the dreams.
The aquarium was only a couple of blocks away, so we started walking. Mr. Tuk-Tuk came along and offered us a ride for the absurdly low price of 10 baht. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I said no stops, and his face fell. They have a reputation of taking you for a ride, stopping at somebody’s shop that pays huge commissions, and keeping you there until you buy something. No thanks, I’d rather walk. We ducked into the first mall along the strip, and took the air conditioned pedways for the rest of the way. Three malls and hundreds of stores later, we’d arrived, just in time to be told that the aquarium was closing in 10 minutes. Just my luck. The two days that the aquarium closes early in months, and I choose one of them, now we will have to return for a third time.
But, that left us lots of time to take in the park and night market. Lumphini Park is a huge green area in the middle of the city, and it’s easy to forget about the surrounding madness once inside. We arrived around sunset and it was full of people getting their daily exercise. There was at least 3 huge groups of people participating in free aerobics classes, families playing badminton and various other sports, and runners everywhere. It made me wonder if I’d ever seen free aerobics in Canada? Such a simple and cheap method of getting people active, even though the most activity Dad and I did was sitting on the park benches enjoying the fiasco.
Just outside the park and across the road is Silom Street, and equally happening area of the city, but on a slightly less healthy scale. It’s one of the most hoppin and promiscuous night spots in Bangkok, with all your filthy desires being fulfilled, and more. Dad and I decided to play it extremely cautious and stick to the souvenir stalls on the streets. If I would have walked into one of those bars, displaying what they display, with my dad, I don’t know who would have died of embarrassment first. I certainly would have been blushing for a week. Bangkok can be absolutely raunchy, and it’s a side we left undiscovered. We sidestepped the lady boys street and ping pong shows (use your imagination) and lost ourselves in the market. That was overwhelming enough. We picked up a few things for Hunter and Ainsley and then headed back to the relative sanity of our hotel.
Boats, boats and more boats. We seen them all, and rode in most of them today, having bought a day pass for the river ferry system, and making it our mission to see as many of the river side sites as possible. As usual, we got a bit distracted and took a slight detour, but the river is definitely one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to see Bangkok.
First we crossed the river and walked to the Royal Barges National Museum. That, right there, was my worst decision of the day. Why walk in such heat when I have no idea where we’re going? Because I’m cheap, and stubborn. Just as I was about to give up and spare poor dad, we found our way, with the help of a local guy who’d obviously seen the likes of us, sweating tourists, with confused expressions on their faces, about ready to melt into a puddle. He was more than willing to walk us the rest of the way, for a small tip, of course. Which was well worth it, because the maze he lead us through was unmappable, and I do believe it was the only way, besides direct tourist boat, which I’d been to cheap to hire. Poor unsuspecting dad. I’d lead him on a wild goose chase, and he didn’t look very excited about repeating it to get out of here.
Hot and exhausted, we plonked ourselves down on the benches, as close as possible to the fans, and watched the video explaining the history of the royal barges, and the royal procession. It would take up to 25 barges to get the King down the river, must of cost a fortune, and took forever. No wonder they only do it for extremely special occasions anymore. The last time the barges left the museum was 2 years ago, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the king taking the throne. They say the current king once traveled the river, solo, because he wanted to experience real life, and meet the real citizens of Thailand. He is incredibly highly respected and worshipped, and to be able to go on such a journey is a sign of that respect. No one would dream of harming him, and everyone dreads the day when the crown is passed down to his only son, who is not nearly so respected, or even liked. The locals speak of him with disdain, even though they try to hide it.
Each barge is an invaluable masterpiece, long, slender and decorated to the hilt. The larger boats would require 50 oarsmen plus at least 10 other crew, and that’s just one boat. One is said to be the largest dugout boat in the world, but dad and I inspected it carefully, and decided that it was in fact made up of many pieces of wood, not one intact tree. Bangkok seems to love to claim the “biggest” or “only” or “largest” this or that in the world. This claim, I would have to say, is a farce, unless they have a completely different idea of what a dugout is than us.
Good thing there’s always a local hanging around looking to make a quick buck. Just as we were preparing to leave, a guide came up and offered us a 2 hour boat trip through the canals, dropping us off wherever we chose. It was the perfect escape. Not only did we get to skip the labyrinth, but dad got his first long tail boat ride. We cruised the canals, getting hit up by every “floating market” along the way, and seeing yet another side of Bangkok. Tourists are pretty scarce over here, and we were eagerly greeted by most locals. We zipped past a group of boys happily bathing and playing in the canal. Not a chance. I cringed if I got splashed, and there’s no way you’d catch me even dipping a toe in voluntarily, but they seemed oblivious to the floating filth, and quite content.
Our private tour ended at Wat Arun, a massive temple on the river. It doesn’t look like much from afar, but as we got closer, it started to sparkle. The entire structure is covered with multicolored fragments of Chinese porcelain, which give it a glorious, abstract appeal. As usual, we were struck by the grandeur, and couldn’t help but compare it to what we could possibly see at home. No comparison really.
A short skip across the river landed us at the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, two of Bangkok’s most visited attractions, and with good reason. The day had slipped us by faster than expected though, and we really didn’t have enough time to appreciate it, so we elected to spend the rest of the day on the river. Our day pass didn’t include as far as I wanted to go, but we went for it anyway, ready to play stupid if we got busted.
First we pushed it to the south, and then we turned around and pushed it as far north as we dared. I think we could have made it farther, but daylight was running out, and I didn’t want to get stuck in unmapped territory, hours away from the hotel. It was that time of day when traffic would have been at its worst, and the river was the only sensible way to go. Before heading back we hit land for a half an hour or so and looked about, giving a bit of cash to the fattest beggar I’ve ever seen, which she immediately went and spent on food, and picking up some beverages for the evening cruise. We poured out “beverages” into inconspicuous 7-11 cups and jumped aboard, hoping we’d make it back before the drinks worked their way through. No bathroom breaks for tourists on this cruise.
The pier is only a block from the hotel, so stopped in, got rearranged, and another drink, and went out in search of another delicious diner. Dad had mentioned that he needed some nail clippers. Why clip your own, when you can pay somebody $5 for a manicure and pedicure? It was dad’s first pampering, and something about seeing him sitting there, with a lady primping and pruning him sent me into giggles. I tried to take a photo, but as I was getting a treatment also, I couldn’t really do the moment any justice.
Finally, today was the day to see the Palace, Wat Pho, and the aquarium, the last on our list. We had to, because we’d booked plane tickets for the next day. It actually worked out good that we’d left the palace until last, because everything else pales in comparison. When we arrived I found out just how strict the dress code is. I’d been hoping to drape a scarf over my shoulders, but apparently that’s not enough. I had to “rent” a shirt from the office, and it was still damp with sweat from the previous user. Disgusting. Eventually we made it through all the rigamoral and entered the grounds. Immediately overwhelmed, we realized that we should of hired a guide. The place is huge and hard to comprehend. Once inside the grounds, it’s a lot harder to find a guide though. I went off to the bathroom, and by the time I returned, dad had spotted a lady that spoke loudly and clearly, but she already had two customers. We asked if we could join in, and I resisted the urge to haggle over the price. Wouldn’t ya know it? The other couple was from Edmonton, and had just arrived the night before. The husband looked like he wanted to go back to sleep, but the wife was gung-ho. So was our guide, she was an energetic, bossy little thing that kept us on our toes and paying attention. She was full of history and amusing tid-bits, and worth every penny. At the end of our tour we got our photo taken with her and she was tickled. People must not request it very often, cause she sure was surprised. How could you not want a picture of her? She was so cute, all decked out in her Buddhist Bling, and silver rings.
About ready to drop from the heat and our tireless superguide, we retreated to a restaurant for lunch and to recharge our batteries before Wat Pho, Buddhist mecca.
A couple of beers later, and somehow we’d lost all desire to see more temples. It was time for some A/C. One bouncy bus ride, and a short walk later found us back at Paragon shopping center. Home to great food, blissful A/C, and one helluva aquarium.
I don’t usually support taking any sort of creature from the wild and putting it in an enclosure, but this was a rare opportunity for dad to see what we get to see scuba diving, without having to get his head wet. It was a lot better than expected, with huge beautiful tanks and plenty of room for the fish to move. There was both fresh and saltwater fish, and enough weird facts to make me read almost every sign in the place. We spent almost 4 hours wandering around, watching the various feedings and a short 4-D movie. It was one of those theaters where the chairs move around and spray mist at you, and it caught us completely off guard. We both jumped a mile and then cracked up, feeling like a couple of kids at an amusement park. The largest tank holds three different types of sharks, numerous rays, and other creatures. A huge plexiglass tunnel passes through the middle of it, and it was almost like being under the water. As close as dad’ll ever get, and maybe it helped him understand our scuba addictions, a bit. Hunter would have loved it, his eyes would have been as big as saucers, and it might have been a task keeping him from jumping out of the glass bottom boat, even though the ragged toothed sharks passing underneath might have helped.
It was our last night in Bangkok and we decided to celebrate. We had a few primer drinks in the hotel, and then wandered out for dinner and a bottle. Sangsom is the local firewater, and for how cheap it is, it sure is smooth. By the end of it, we were pretty well juiced, and not quite ready to retire, so we hit the streets.
It is now time to explain the frog ladies. There is a roving gang of women, dressed in imitation hill tribe clothing and selling cheap souvenirs. They pace the streets, working those wooden frogs that croak when you run a stick along their backs, trying to hawk their goods. They are absolutely relentless, and by the end of a week you cringe at the sound. They give frogs a bad name, but some of them are fun and good-hearted, if you have the patience. I’ve always wondered how they eek out a living, and why they come back every five minutes, even though you’d said no, again and again. I now understand. They’re simply waiting until you get drunk enough and give in. It worked with us, and I assume we’re not the only folks heading home with a completely absurd hat shoved into their bag, wondering and laughing every time they see it. The photo of the frog lady, and dad wearing her hat was well worth the 3 dollars we paid for the hat. Dad tried to give it to Hunter when he got home. He took one look at it and said “I Hate It!” The boys got good taste, and not afraid to express it. Dad was still laughing about it when he told me a week later.