« Made it to Bangkok! | Main | Seeing the devastation for the first time »

March 15, 2005

Monday in BKK

We got an early start, which turned out to be brilliant because of the humidity. Noon-4pm is pretty brutal, bright sun + high humidity. You get used to being wet and sticky all day long.

After schlepping the tent all the way here (and whining about it ever since), I wonder how excited I'm going to be sleeping in it without "air-con"!

Our room at Suk 11 (700bht or $17.50/nite dbl) included a light continental breakfast of croissant, yummy banana muffins, melon and pineapple slices, and other sweet breads. Bottled water is 5bht (10c) extra, and COLD. There are seats outside on a small veranda, with a fountain. THey play movies out there in the evenings on a medium-sized TV with a DVD player.

Suk11 itself is like a secret hideaway, back in an alley off Soi11 in the Sukhumvit area. The inside is decorated as though each room were a separate bungalow at night, with dark lighting, paper lanterns, and boardwalks lined with mirrors to give a feel of being on the water. In the common area (reception), the walls are floor-to-ceiling graffiti messages from people across the world who have enjoyed their stay there. The words crawl up the stariwell and sprawl into a common lounge on the 3rd floor, where they are extending into the hallway toward the Buddha shrine and loaner bookshelf.

So, altogether a bit of Shangri-La, particularly since the rooms feature "air-con," proving essential to a decent night's sleep.

To read more about Monday's wanderings, including the Royal Barge Museum, Red Lobster-flavored chips, and pancake popsicles, please click continue below.

***But much to see in the great beyond. We began at Wat Pho, the world's largest reclining Buddha. Women are required to wear sleeves and no sandals — though everyone is required to remove his shoes before going inside the temple. Guards will remind you before entering if you are dressed improperly.

Wat Pho is about 4 stories tall, and so large you hardly can fit any part of him into a picture. He is entirely gold. Gold leafed, I should say. I paid 20bht to take a cup of coins and drop them one by one into a series of monks' bowls, each one making a tinking clink as it went in. I believe you make good thoughts and wishes as you go along, and the ritual brings luck, or prosperity. I thought it was worth a shot. A few bins got more than one coin as I went along, and when I got to the last bin, my cup was empty! The prayer was incomplete! I could never leave Thailand this way. The smallest coin I had was 10 bht, so I exchanged it for one more "penny" for the last bin.

Then, the infamous Wat Pho Massage School for one hour traditional Thai Massage. With herbs: lemon grass, keffir lime, casumunar and camphor. Thai massage goes deep into the tissue with a lot of strength. Parts of it are not relaxing. But by the end of the hour you feel light, lemony and cooled. And they send you off with cold tea. All for $10. I can not recommend this experience more highly. Everyone who goes through bangkok should try this.

Shilpa and I split up, and I took a ferry across the river to find a Buddha-making factory. I was the only tourist on the ferry and walking in the markets. I somehow ended up at the wrong landing (turns out each ferry is marked as to where it's going, huh), but no matter. It wasn't far on the map to walk back. After a snack of Lay's chips (written in Thai—other flavors available were Nori Seaweed and Red Lobster), I found a sign pointing out the Royal Barge Museum nearby.

I turned off the main road expecting to find the museum within a block. I ended up winding through a narrow quarter mile neighborhood of wall to wall rooms opening one wall to the open air on the boardwalk. Each room was a family's house, with a kitchen in one corner, a small TV in another, and sometimes a mattress bed somewhere in the middle. Many had the family business inside as well — a restaurant, a place where you can buy drinks/snacks, a hair salon. Being a weekday, I didn't see any other tourists, but there were easily 10 places to stop and get a snack. Some homes had newspaper boxes, some had chickens, some had CDs hanging as mobiles. There were a lot of stray dogs, and an occasional motor bike to share the boardwalk with.

The museum itself was a bit of a disappointment after all I had seen along the way. The Royal Barges were interesting and beautiful (they had about 8 of them), gildged. Some were damaged in WWII bombing while in slips.

On my walk back along the boardwalk, I stopped at one home to buy a refrigerated bottle of water (10bht), and the woman who sold it to me interrupted herself singing a traditional Thai song on the radio to toast me with her own drink. We clinked plastic containers and I set out again.

Near the main road, school was letting out and parents were picking up their kids on motor scooters. Vendors lined the road to the school, and the kids crowded around the man making hot pancake popsicles in the shape of elephants, rabbits, stars and dogs. 5bht each, they looked yummy.

Heading now toward the Buddha place, I realized that it was only on the map that "some objects may appear closer," and with some help found a bus. Another man gave me some more directions after I got off the bus, he seemed American but a local. I pretty much stuck out as a tourist, and a lost one at that. (I thought I was fine, but he did save me a good 30 mins since I was a block shy of where I thought I was.) It turned out his wife had been principal at the school near the Buddha place - only she said it was long gone. I went by the temple there anyway, and that school was letting out, too. Passing another pancake vendor, a small scout in uniform caught my eye and gave me a proper 3-finger salute, which I returned to his delight.

I was more careful about the ferry back across the river, asking directions and reading the sign on the side of the boat this time. Taking the bus through rush hour traffic took three times' longer than our morning ride, and in spite of the ticket-taker's calls that I was getting off long before my stop, I bailed to jump on the Sky Train metro, and finished my journey to the hotel within 20 minutes.

We hit the Night Market, which was smaller and less exciting than the weekend market. I still found a few things, and we both were relieved to be out in slightly cooler weather (unbearably hot, compared to Nuclear).

Tomorrow — Phuket.

Posted by sedda at March 15, 2005 09:52 AM