The one thing that gives us great comfort about coming back to Bangkok is that we have been here several times before and there is always comfort with a familiar place. Our last trip here was the day of the earthquake and tsunami - Dec 26, 2004. Although the recent news of the change in government in Thailand gave us pause, we knew that things on the street for the average Thai were mostly unchanged and that we would not be in any danger as foreign tourists.
On the plane we learned that they have built a new airport. We hadn't a clue where it was in relation to the old one, so right away things were not as familiar as we thought they would be. Still, that is the challenge of world travel and we were ready for it. The airport was supposed to open in November but the Prime Minister suddenly declared that it should open early - whether it was ready or not. For the most part the structure was done, but much of the inside still looked like a construction zone and it had none of the warmth we were accustomed to seeing upon arrival. Where were all the lovely orchids?
Things went smoothly through immigration and we proceeded to the baggage claim area - dreading what we would find when Anil's bag arrived. My bag came down the chute quite quickly, but instead of Anil's coming shortly behind, there were tons of other bags of all shapes and sizes, but no bag dripping red liquid. I really began to worry that it was held up somewhere deep in the bowels of the airport - being studied carefully to determine what it contained. Suddenly, Anil shouted that he could see his case coming - he recognized the wheels sticking up in the air.
We grabbed it off the conveyor belt and opened it as quickly as we could - ready for whatever it held. To our surprise and delight - all the contents were dry - and in their original colours!! The dusty wine bottle was snuggled safely in the middle of the case, intact and happy. I had been threatening Anil for some time that I would teach him to pack him suitcase more efficiently - now he has the last laugh on me. I choose to put it all down to the lucky 1 MOP coin.
We arrived at the Lamphu House at 1:30 am - the receptionist was waiting with the key for our room and gave us a lovely Thai smile. We slept like logs on the comfortable bed and awoke before dawn to the sound of the famous rooster (they have even written about him in the Lonely Planet), crowing from the Wat next door. Some things in Bangkok can be counted on for sure.
We slept late once the rooster stopped crowing, and then headed out to find the "soup lady", one of our usual first stops in Bangkok. Much to our dismay, the corner where she fed the hungry locals was now a construction site of its own. I stopped into the bakery nearby and learned that she had moved down the street. After a bowl of her wonderful noodles in the dark, rich broth, we were revived and ready to take on the day.
We headed to the internet cafe to write the update about Hong Kong and Macau and found many changes there as well. They have all new computers, flat screen monitors and now a coin operated system for paying for the internet time. A ten baht coin gives you 15 minutes of computer time - they even have headphones for using Skpye. It's wonderful to be able to sit in air-conditioned comfort while the monsoon-like rain pours outside and write to all those at home following our journey. The next stop was Nancy's for our first Thai massage (in Thailand) of 2006. There will be many more - if not today - then in the days to come. Staggered next door for a bowl of Tom Yum soup - Yum! Yum! We were reminded of our past trips here with the Group of Seven in 2003 and then again with Anil's brother Ajay and his wife Neeta, in 2004. They all raved about the food at the Wild Orchid.
While we ate I noticed a strange coincidence. The fellow at the next table eating lunch with a Thai woman had an uncanny resemblance to Darek Kominek, once of my co-workers at Matrikon who has just recently married a Thai woman. In fact, we just managed to find some time to look at his wedding photos on my last afternoon of work. They were beautiful photos and I wish them all happiness in the world. The massage and the Tom Yum soup worked their magic - we headed back to our hotel for an afternoon nap - didn't wake up until 8:00 p.m. If I thought that my first Thai massage of 2006 was great - it couldn't compare to the second one I had later that evening. Am I being too greedy for words?
Editor's Note: The answer is YES!
David and Jeong Ae arrived around 12:30 a.m. our second night here. We were so excited to see them. We had been waiting in the street in front of the hotel - all the shops and bars were closing so people must have wondered why we were hanging around so late. We went to the only open bar and had some large Singha beers to celebrate our reunion. We talked about the fact that we had each been here several times in the past so there was no need to visit all the historical monuments on the tourist trail, instead we could spend our time in a more relaxed way, eating and having massages. Before long the jet lag set in and we shuffled off to bed.
The next morning it was off to Prakorb's for breakfast - it is one of the few places that made brewed coffee (long before Starbuck's arrived on Khao San road). Fresh fruit plates with yogurt (pineapple, papaya, banana and watermelon) and warm croissants sure hit the spot. The owner was a bit alarmed to see me walk in with an Asian woman. The day before I had been there with Anil. When I introduced Jeong Ae as my sister-in-law, he took no time to tell me he was relieved. After breakfast, David went off on his own to visit the silver shops that he has done business with, as long ago as 22 years. He has not been in Bangkok for the past 10 years and was astounded at all the changes that have taken place. He was so excited that we didn't have the heart to encourage him to turn off his business brain and hang out with us.
David and Jeone Ae were craving Tom Yum soup so we headed back to the Wild Orchid and Anil and I took great pleasure in watching their faces when they tasted the first spoonful. The Wild Orchid has a lovely koi pond at the edge of the restaurant and we spent a few moments to watch the fish in the different levels of the pond - very calming - encourages good digestion. Next it was off for Thai massages for all. David and Jeong Ae had never tried Thai massage before - something that I could hardly fathom. We all arrived at the massage salon and luckily Eipun was free to give me a second massage. She (he?)is so very strong and seems to add in some extra stretches to the usual routine ones. I was relieved to find that I didn't hear any verbal groans and gasps from the Lalondes - something that is sure to be heard from Anil during a Thai massage. As you can see from the photos, Jeong Ae was an instant convert. She found the massage really invigorating and enjoyed the full stretches she submitted to. Tomorrow we will surely have to have a Thai foot massage - an intensive combination of reflexology and massage that energizes even the most tired feet and legs.
As we went for an evening stroll down Khao Son road, we were amazed to see that the gas station that had earlier been a hive of automotive activity had been temporairly been converted to an outdoor bar. The gas pumps had been hidden by potted palms and twinkle lights were artfully draped to create a more pleasing atmosphere. To top it all off, a spa had been set up along the edge of the parking lot, with massage tables, facial steamers and therapists all ready to attend to customers. They even had three young women lying on some of the tables draped in towels and cucumber masks. This appeared to give the impression that some women were only too happy to have their facials done in such a public place. Too strange for words. The following morning, as we passed on our way to breakfast, the chairs and tables were all folded up and were ready to be carted off - the gas station was almost ready to resume business.
After breakfast we headed out to see the Chao Praya river at almost flood level. It had been raining off and on - when it was on - it was more like a deluge. The papers were full of warnings about flooding in the outlying areas but we were not prepared for the sight that beheld us once we boarded the water taxi. The water had risen at least a couple of feet since our arrival in Bangkok and was about as high as it can be without flooding most buildings along the banks. Indeed, many of the ancient wooden buildings, barely supported by wooden pilings, were inundated. All along the river, sand bags were stacked in low-lying areas and people were stationed all along the banks as lookouts. It appeared that they could call in reinforcements at a moments notice, if more sand bags were needed.
At the water taxi stop opposite Wat Arun (many of our fellow travellers will remember this place where we like to stop for drinks and watch the sun set behind Wat Arun) the entire dock was under water. The foreign tourists that had just disembarked were carrying each other piggyback through the shin deep water. Anil was so very happy that we weren't getting off there! I was even more happy, because it probably would have ended up, me carrying him...
Jeong Ae was really enjoying the water taxi ride. When the Lalondes have been in Bangkok in the past, they are on business, so they move around the city in taxis. She was the one that noticed there were foot rests on the chairs - business class comfort for the working class. Just as we landed at the Banglamphu water taxi station the skies opened up again and there was another torrential downpour. I ducked into the internet cafe to work on this update and the other three went across to the Wild Orchid to quench their thirst. In the evening Jeong Ae and I went for a one and a half hour Thai massage. Tonight, our last night in Bangkok, we will go for the two hour massage; she's hooked, just like me.
Tomorrow morning we are off to Cambodia - a country that all of us have been dreaming about for years - but none of us have been to before. New country, new language, new currency, new customs but most of all, new adventures. Angkor Wat awaits us.