Author: Elizabeth Melanie B-I
Date of Trip: November 2009
Experiencing Bangkok, the City of Angels
Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 9:47pm
Starting to describe a place always poses a challenge, simply because its hard to temper one’s superlatives or expletives and still stay true to the experience. How one appreciates or despises a place, is after all, dependent on the traveler or tourist, as the case may be.
Be that as it may, I will attempt to take you on this journey with me and hope that you will see and feel the place through my eyes and my words.
Bangkok, Thailand; the city of angels: World Congress of Pediatric Dermatology 2009. I was given but a few days to explore as most of my time was taken up by lectures and discussions. Exactly 2 days, counting after convention hours. The challenge was, how to make the most of the trip, despite the limited time, a shoestring budget, and no travelling companion. A determined traveler will make mincemeat of the obstacles and have a blast anyways. And, determined I was!
The moment we planed into the Suvarnabhumi Airport, I was struck by the multitude of lights. Lights everywhere, shiny and bright. One can literally feel the pulse of the city as it teemed with activity, despite the lateness of the hour. Bangkok impressed me as a city of excess , sometimes to the point of gaudiness. Too many lights, too many temples, overdecorated edifices and an overload of sights and sounds. Even their words have more letters than are actually needed! Case in point , SUVARNABHUMI AIRPORT: pronounced as SWAR- NA- POOM. Reminiscent of French influence perhaps? All these quite easy to overlook, knowing instinctively, that almost everything was designed to titillate and delight the senses, for maximum impact.
First off, i got all the maps and brochures I could lay my hands on at the airport, mass transit and Bangkok sky train routes, places of interest, and of course, places to eat. Bangkok is, after all, a foodie’s paradise! The variety of food that can be had at a reasonable price is astounding!
I planned my days carefully, knowing I had no room for many mistakes. Too little time, too little money, so many places to see, a long list of things to do.
The convention, of course, had to take precedence. I quickly got that out of the way. Absorbed as much info as I could. Got my certificate and I was all set!
One thing to note: The best way to start a journey, in any place, is to get into the good graces of a few locals. Strike up a conversation with people you encounter in your hotel, in the restaurants in the parks, in the streets ( with the necessary caution, of course). In Thailand, this takes no effort at all. Thais are gracious, warm people, with ready smiles and gentle manners. Kai, the waitress in the hotel restaurant where i took my breakfast every day, equipped me with a few useful phrases like ‘kapkum ka’, meaning thank you, coming from a female, and ‘kapkum krap’ if uttered by a male. I used this phrase at every opportunity. The smiles I got in return were well worth the effort. I also got friendly with the hotel desk clerk and she very graciously allowed me to check in early at 6 am and check out late at 3 pm on the last day . From the locals I also got an insiders view of the prevailing national emotion.
The Thais love their King, Bhumibol Adulyadej quite passionately. The 81 y/o US born monarch can do no wrong. He is revered and every Thai I encountered echoed this sentiment.
There is also a growing fear in their hearts for the future, according to Rose, my tourist guide. The political unrest of the past months and the prevailing global crisis has made life difficult. The influx of tourists has declined considerably and a day’s work for a tourist guide will only yield a measly 100 baht! In a few months time, she will go back to the farm and plow the fields instead. The king’s present poor health has added to the people’s apprehension.
Armed with some useful phrases, and knowing how to pronounce words in order to be understood by the locals, I was faced with the harder task of deciding which places to go to and which ones to skip, with just 2 days to spare. I made my short list and stuck to it.
Let me now attempt to describe each one and dwell a little on each one’s merit, and demerit, as I saw it.
Of course I just had to have my fill of local fare first. Sharon, my former clinic secretary (bless her heart) brought me to a food court filled with street food!!! A gastronomic delight! The SAM TAP or green papaya salad was an exotic and spicy starter. Never mind that we repeatedly said ‘mai pet’ or not spicy to the man preparing it, mine was doused with chili anyway. It had shredded green papaya, preserved crablets, shrimp, nuts, chili, tomatoes. Quite yummy, despite the heat!
When in Bangkok, haggle, haggle, haggle! I did quite a lot of that and got very good prices for my purchases. By the way, the prices for almost anything in Thailand is different for tourists and locals. They charge much higher if you are a tourist or non Thai. I’d say a very good practice since Thailand thrives on tourism and visitors expect to spend. Maybe we should take this cue?