Monday, 3 August 2009

Asian Adventure 5 :: 31 Jul - 2 Aug '09 :: Bangkok, Thailand

Making use of the thoroughly amenable flight times and using up some Krisflyer Miles, we headed out for a weekend in Bangkok to meet up with friends at the end of their two week honeymoon traversing Thailand. A collection of impressions:

- People in Bangkok have a 'do it until you're told not to' attitude. All three lanes of the motorway entering the city were jam-packed on arrival at 8 pm on a Friday night, even the hard shoulder. Only when a police car attempts to cut through the traffic are people alerted to move off the hard shoulder, something which causes further gridlocked chaos. The long-awaited Skytrain extension which will connect the city with the airport will, no doubt, ease this arrival congestion.

- People in Bangkok are never more than 10 paces away from something edible. This is enabled via the inordinate variety of items categorised by locals as 'food'; items which would not necessarily be considered in the same light by other cultures - soft shell turtles, toads, grasshoppers, grubs and bugs. It's all about the dipping sauce. Clearly.

Deep fried soft shell turtle with chilli sauce, anyone?

For more mainstream eateries, we headed to Arun Residence for a delectable riverside Thai feast overlooking Wat Arun (how did they ascend and descend back in the day without the modern handrails?!); and Tapas Cafe for a delicious selection of Spanish morsels.

- Ping pong is not only a bat and ball sport. When I was last in Bangkok, eighteen years previous, Patpong was all about pole dancing. I recall as a wide-eyed eleven year old pretending to study the fake handbags furiously whilst occasionally glimpsing over my shoulder to spy the pole dancers through the red doors held ajar by heavily makeup clad 'mama-sans'. Now, the touts tend to be vertically challenged super-tanned slicked back geezers waving flyers in your face for 'Patpong Ping Pong' - a showcase of 'powerful pussies'. No miaowing allowed.

- The long boats on the Chao Phraya River are powered by suped-up old aircraft engines, which ensure a white knuckle waterborne ride. We heeded the advice of a fellow traveller and enjoyed the journey with our mouths firmly held shut to avoid ingesting any of the waterborne diseases lurking in the constant spray from the swell.

Pimp my power boat

- The thirty five acre plot that Chatuchak Market occupies offers upwards of 5,000 stalls, each of varying quality, along with a curious omnipresent mixed odour of drains, rotting fruit and delicious street food. It is a mecca for a range of individuals - from Western boutique owners who negotiate wholesale (read: dirtier than dirt-cheap) prices for original, often handmade, garments and also for those in the market for fashionably dressed baby rabbits:

"Excuse me, do you have any Burberry bunnies?"

- The Khao San Road has to be seen to be believed. Packed like sardines in a short street to the north west of the centre are scores of bars and clubs. The road glows with neon lighting and attracts mostly young international revellers there to drink and be/get drunk. It's no frills, plenty of spills, and no seeing and being seen. Despite this, we managed to locate a little piece of drunkard's paradise complete with a partially secluded beer garden and a two storey traditional Thai wooden house full of nooks, crannies and many of Bangkok's rich kids. (Hippie de Bar, 46 Khao San Road). It was a very welcome world away from the first bar that we tried at which the main formula was: lecherous lad + pretty Thai girl = "me love you long time"

Eighteen years ago, we journeyed around Bangkok mostly in vigourously haggled tuk-tuks. It was dirty, there were stray cats and dogs everywhere and there was a real danger of experiencing post-street food gastrointestinal disorders. Today, Bangkok is forging ahead with the sky train, swanky sky bars and saying "sawadee ka (/kup)" to the future. It's still chaotic, but it's an excellent place to enjoy some hedonistic havoc.

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