Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Bangkok Bound: The Sights, Sounds, and Shopping (part2)
Whew! I feel like I have stepped off the plane and onto my desk with hardly enough time to catch my breath! I arrived from Hong Kong at midnight on Sunday, and Monday was back to work and all the little things that seem to build up at a frightful pace when you are on holiday. Hong Kong was wonderful – great food, but more importantly great company :) We had relatively little time, but we manage to squeeze in a lot of gems like here and here, and my first time ever here. But before moving on to Hong Kong (and hopefully an actual food post soon!), here is the last of my Bangkok adventure…
Ayutthaya & the Summer Palace
The once dazzling capital of old Siam, Ayutthaya was a force to be reckoned with, holding sway over the region. Courted by foreign powers, it was seemingly undefeatable. But, as fate loves to deal with “seemingly undefeatable” things, they were conquered by the Burmese army in 1767. The city was destroyed, the temples desecrated, and the multitude of Buddha statues decapitated. Now we are left with the melancholy ruins that are at once sad (it is never a happy thing to see religious artifacts, no matter what religion, so intentionally destroyed) and majestic. And if you find a quiet spot and look out on the green grass and old crumbling structures, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the great city that it once was. Ayutthaya is about 1 1/2 hours out of Bangkok and for this day trip we booked a tour which took us there via van and returned via river cruise. Before heading to the ruins, we stopped at the Bang Pa-In Palace, the royals’ summer resort. The vast grounds were perfectly manicured and the buildings were a curious combination of Western and Asian styles. There were obviously Thai structures around, but the main mansion, the one the royal family actually uses in the summer, is made in European style. There was also a residence that was completely Chinese, all its parts having been shipped from China. There were topiaries and lakes (with turtles!) and gazebos. A veritable royal playground…I would love to spend summers there racing golf carts and feeding the turtles. Hmmm…perhaps someday when C & I make some royal friends. Until then, we explored and took pictures, and hurried out towards the tempting smells of sidewalk grilling! :)
Jim Thompson’s House
I already mentioned Thompson, the restaurant at Jim Thompson’s House where we ate after a rigorous morning at Chatuchak Market. As mentioned, this well loved (as far as I know) American settled in Bangkok after World War II (when he was working with some sort of a precursor to the CIA, and he was stationed in Thailand), finding New York City a tad to tame for his taste (imagine that). He built for himself a fabulous teak house (he used to be an architect, back during his “tame” days) by the river. He took parts of old abandoned Thai houses and assembled them into a gorgeous example of Thai architecture…with his own little twists. As we toured through the house, my bare feet cool on the wooden floors, I imagined what it must have been like back in its heyday – Jim entertaining scads of glitzy and interesting characters in the spacious living area, replete with Asian art and facing a lively river, his jungle-like garden shading the house in its exotic embrace. It’s that sort of a place…a place that encourages these lost-glamour type of fantasies. Or maybe I just have a wild imagination. Anyways, don’t think old Jim was just another ennui-filled expat. A lover of Thai culture and arts, much of the credit for today’s worldwide popularity of Thai silk lies with him. He sent samples of the beautiful material to the top fashion houses in Europe, creating quite a stir. To this day Thai silk remains very popular. The Jim Thompson House is located at the end of a soi (lane) near the MBK area. A lovely pocket of peace in an otherwise busy part of town packed with malls. Jim Thompson House: 9am-4:30pm. Soi Kasem San 2, off Thanon Rama 1. Tel – 02 6123601. Skytrain – National Stadium.
My First Thai Massage
If you are looking for a massage recommendation, you are better of looking here. We went to a random massage place near our hotel that C picked because of proximity. We had finished another day of being up and about, and I was lying in bed snoozing, when C said he would just go down to buy some water at a 7/11. Hah. He came back proudly announcing that he had found a place where we could have a massage. I was still toying with the idea of a Thai massage. You see, despite great massage places being all over my city, at excellent prices, I am not really a fanatic. Don’t get me wrong, I love the pampered feeling I get from a massage, but I need to have them very, very gentle. No deep-tissue action. No vehement cracking and pressing. But I was in Thailand and I really wanted to see what it was all about. So off we went to C’s little discovery for our massages. The girl who did my massage was charming and talkative. She chatted throughout the massage, which may seem counter-productive, but I enjoyed her Thai chattering (that I didn’t understand). Her voice was musical and her expressions so vivid, and they thankfully kept me distracted from the cracking. In Thai massage your whole body is stretched and cracked. The stretching I loved! She uses her body as a kind of counter-weight to stretch yours, resulting in the both of you in all sorts of weird positions. I don’t think I have ever stretched as much as I did then, and it felt fabulous! The cracking, now that’s a different story. I’m sure this part also affords great relief for some, but I think I was just too nervous that whatever part of my body she cracked would, um, really crack (as in break off). When she cracked my neck, so help me, I felt like I was in a Steven Segal movie! Of course, everything turned out well and she waved me off, still chatting with me in Thai, while I smiled and nodded and tried to pick up context clues. As I walked back to the hotel with C, I realized that my body did feel rejuvenated…it felt as if someone had oiled my joints, and now they were swinging smoothly in their sockets. My first Thai massage...aaah, another milestone in my list of simple pleasures :)
The most common question we get when back from Bangkok is, “What did you buy?” Or “Where did you shop?” This may seem a bit of a sacrilege to a place with mind-blowing cuisine and awe-inspiring sights, but in truth, it’s not (although it certainly isn't the only thing this city has to offer...or even the best it has to offer...my money is still on the food). Why? Because if they didn’t want us to gush about the shopping, then they wouldn’t have made it so dang fabulous, or so darn tempting…or so beguilingly affordable! Everything from teak furniture to high-end fashion to 150-bhat market finds. No matter what kind of shopping you do, there is a place in Bangkok ready to take you to its bosom and gently separate you from your cash (or firmly implant themselves onto your credit). I have only 3 words for you: Don’t fight it.
I will make this quick, and hopefully painless, so that you culture-vultures out there don’t weep from my cheapy shopping tales. Here goes: Chatuchak Market – I enjoyed Chatuchak more than I though I would. It was also less harassing then I was expecting. I think this is because I was warned about its mad crush of humanity more than once. We only saw a smidgen but surprisingly I got most of my lode from here. Cotton strapless tops in tropical prints, beach-y dresses, Christmas lights, shorts and vintage tees for C, spice mixes, tank tops, cute bags. Was in during the morning, out by lunch. Take the Skytrain stop Mo Chit. Suan Lum Night Bazaar – If you don’t have the time or patience for Chatuchak madness, Suan Lum is a good alternative. Much smaller, but also a lot calmer, you can still find goodies here. I got cute tank tops, silk bags, nice tees for me and C and friends, loads of earrings. There is a hawkers market where you can eat. MRT stop Lumphini. Those Bangkok Malls – I realized that, when away from home, I tend to gravitate more towards markets and little streets than these huge temples to commerce (probably because we have enough back here). We did hit MBK and Siam Paragon but honestly couldn’t get inspired. Maybe we were tired? Or broke? Siam Square – The little sois across from the Siam malls are filled with treasure waiting to be discovered. My favorite discovery being Mola (thank you Luxe Guides!), a tiny stationary store on Soi 11 – adorable notepads and I even found a Moomin date book!
There you have it! Bangkok...a beautiful whirlwind for the senses…I’m glad I let it take me for a spin :)