1st Day in Bangkok
January 9, 2013, Wednesday
We lost a day getting here so it is already Wednesday.
Interesting beds. We have 2 twins. The sheets are over a thin sheet of plastic. Do you think it's to prevent bed bugs?
At least they provide a bottle of water apiece. And we have a nice big refrigerator / freezer (relatively speaking) to keep the water cold.
Breakfast is included and it wasn't bad. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, cereal and breads for those needing familiar food but lots of Thai choices. Two noodle dishes with soy and/or hot sauce, lots of fruit with a side of a crystallized hot spice combo, congee, sticky rice, multiple drink choices including a Thai herb drink that was pretty good if a little sweet.
We were out and about before 9. That would be 8 p.m. back home. Not too bad considering our travel yesterday and lack of sleep. It was a good thing too since it was already 83 degrees and humid outside. Unfortunately the hotel doesn't provide any maps so that was a bit of a problem. i did remember to ask for hotel business cards so we could get back. Unfortunately we had to remember to ask for the cards because they were not visable. it is important to always carry a card from the hotel because most people here do not speak English and it could be difficult to make our way back without a card to show to people, especially the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers.
Bangkok is located on the banks of the ChaoPhraya river. It has an elaborate network of canals known as Klongs that gave Bangkok the nickname "Venice of the East" when most of the transportation here was by boat. Unfortunately today nearly all of the klongs have been filled in and made into streets. The klongs that still do exist are mostly polluted even though people live right next to them and many markets operate right along the banks.
The population of Bangkok is over 12 million. It has been the Thai capitol for more than 200 years. It is a city that combines old with new, temples with street life. The full ceremonial name of Bangkok is: Krung-dēvamahānagara amararatanakosindra mahindrāyudhyā mahātilakabhava navaratanarājadhānī purīramya uttamarājanivēsana mahāsthāna amaravimāna avatārasthitya shakrasdattiya vishnukarmaprasiddhi. This translates to "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma". The full name of the city is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's longest place name.
Our hotel is right by Chinatown so we decided to do a walkabout. This district has been a center of Chinese settlement since 1782. Our hotel didn't have any maps (!#?!) so that hampered us a bit but we muddled our way around. Bangkok is a big, loud, dirty, congested, busy, busy place. There is color and movement everywhere. There is a cacophony of sounds, sights and smells everywhere. Quite overwhelming. The traffic doesn't follow any rules. There are cars, buses, vans, tuk tuks and motorcycles everywhere. The motorcycles in particular do whatever they want. They routinely drive on the wrong side of the street and the sidewalks, cross red lights, cut in front of other vehicles or ride next to them where there isn't any space. To cross the street is to literally risk your life.
The streets all seem to have a theme. Entire blocks all selling the same things. Each neighborhood is defined by a trade. We were on an automotive street, a packaging street, a jewelry street, a temple supply street, a flower market (orchids 30 baht for a large bouquet, roses 20 baht for a couple dozen), a hair products street, home wares, paper goods .... And then there are carts with food everywhere. Lots of fruit stalls, vegetable stalls and lots of frying food. Seems dangerous to me with all of the crowds but it's everywhere! On the sidewalks and in the streets. I don't know how anyone makes a living selling food. There is competition everywhere and it is so cheap. I had a chicken curry pocket and 3 spring rolls (very good) for 30 baht! That's $1. And it was a lot of food. I also tried what I think was Durian- a large baggie full of cut up fruit for 20 baht! It wasn't bad.
Chinatown is composed of a network of narrow alleys fanning out from major arteries. There is something to see or eat or smell everywhere. Almost too much stimulation. Especially trying not to get run over. Definately over stimulated.
We wandered near " the shrine of the Golden Buddha image" so we decided to pay him a visit. There is a nice little museum there as well that tells a little of the history of the Chinese in Thailand and Chinatown in Bangkok. The Golden Buddha Image is made from 5.5 tons of gold and is over 3 meters tall. This made him the Guiness Book of world records "sacred object with the highest intrinsic value" in 1991. He is over 700 years old. At some point the Buddha was covered in plaster to conceal him from enemies invading Thailand. The temple he was in became deserted and when he was being moved in 1955 some of the plaster broke and it was discovered that he was made of pure gold!
After walking for several hours in the heat, humidity and crowds we decided to take a tuk tuk back to the hotel. Tuk tuks are little 3 wheeled vehicles with a motorcycle engine. They are very loud (I think that's how they got their name because it sounds like tuk-tuk-tuk but Jeff doesn't agree). It is very stinky to ride in one in Bangkok because you are right in the middle of all of the traffic in an open sided low vehicle. It also does not seem very safe but then nothing does in the streets of Bangkok. We paid 150 baht to get back to the hotel from the flower market. Negotiations started at 200. The ride took about 1/2 hour because of all of the traffic and construction. I inhaled lots of pollution especially every time I thought we might collide with something. He was a very good driver but there were too many rapidly moving obstacles along the way.
We stopped at an Internet cafe. No wi-fi but Internet is 10 baht/15 minutes. We found out that our bike trip was cancelled (they forgot they had booked a private tour) and the trip I wanted to Ayuttayah is sold out. I'm very unhappy about both. And I can't get to my blog site with my iPad without wi-fi so we can only hope that I can copy these entries from Evernote to put on the blog.
Now I must confess. We came back to the hotel and had a nice nap. No suprise to anyone that knows me well! We got up, showered and walked our way to the Sky Bar on the 64th floor of the State Building. We missed sunset and to be honest I could have missed the whole deal, even if it is supposedly the highest outdoor bar in the world. Almost 1700 baht for 2 drinks and a bottle of still water with a mandatory 10% tip. Nice view of the city and river but still "sky high" pricing. 56X the cost of my lunch! We almost didn't get in because we were wearing Keenes. And if we had brought backpacks that would have been a deal breaker. Very pretentious and costly.
We walked back to the hotel. It was still incredibly hot and humid. Lots of people out and about. There are blankets spread in the middle of the sidewalk on busy thoroughfares with families eating. Lots of food stalls still cooking and serving. Then we encountered a free performance on an outdoor stage with very elaborate costumes and music. Very nice but I can't imagine how hot the performers must have been.
When I got back to the hotel I realized that my legs are sun-burned even though I used 50 sunscreen. Remember that episode of Mash where Hotlips gets "prickly heat"? I kind of feel like that.
Bangkok Centre Hotel +66(0) 22384980