After spending a huge chunk of time (six weeks) in the north of Thailand, it was time to head back to Bangkok for two most exciting events, namely my birthday and my Dad's first visit on my trip around the world!
I took a train from Phitsanulok to Bangkok on 6 May, in which I was the only foreigner and the AC stopped working about an hour into the five hour journey. Thankfully the overhead fans were turned on at about hour three, but everyone was fairly uncomfortable, as the Thais seem to hate to sweat more than I do, and that's an astonishing feat. I attempted to get a taxi, but Bangkok is a unique capital city in that the taxi drivers truly have no idea where anything is, for the most part. There is no central authority of taxi cabs which assures that the drivers know the city, so getting to your destination and not speaking the language is always a tricky situation. I wanted to go to a soi (alley) with budget accomodation near Siam Center, so I tried Jim Thompson House to no avail, but after pronouncing Siam Center about eight different ways, the driver understood and we were on our way. I found only one room on the soi and dumped my stuff, sent my laundry out so that my dad wouldn't be completely horrified by the hemp clothing-ed daughter he found, and did some preemptive shopping at the malls so as to be prepared for nice hotel lobbies and respectable restaurants.
On Saturday, the 7th, I took the modern Skytrain with its stellar views of Bangkok to Mo Chit station, just across the way from Chatuchak Market, or a grand-scale flea market. Ohh so good. It was my fifth time, I think, to explore this maze of 18,000 vendors and food stalls, where one can bargain for cheap prices for clothing, antiques, furniture, stationary, souvenirs, and any time of pet you can imagine, including your very own squirrel. The market sets up around a ring road, but the vendors are housed in a huge, covered, steaming hot complex, locations techinically identified by a series of sections, sois and stall numbers, but if you see something you like you should buy it then because finding a stall again is like discovering the lost sock land. You wind your way through the narrow passageways, gawking at the wares to your sides and above your head, and try to minimize the amount of people you run into and to avoid tripping on the many hazards in your path - faulty concrete, drain pipes, puddles of muck, etc. It's great fun. I spent some baht, though I couldn't even tell you what I bought (it's that kind of shopping) and headed back to Siam Center. Stopped at Jim Thompson house on the way, the private residence of an American who single-handedly introduced Thai silk to the world and mysteriously disappeared in the Malaysian wilderness at age 61, to see his lush gardens and teak mansion. Nice surroundings but lame, required tour. I always prefer to explore on my own, even if it means not understanding exactly what I'm seeing.
And in a taxi I went to The Oriental, simply the best hotel in Bangkok. There are many five star offerings but this one has attitude. I, however, was just a dirty backpacker at this stage - hadn't washed my hair in 3 days, wearing fisherman pants and a sweaty Thai Coke tshirt, backpack and four plastic shopping bags full of crap, I did NOT belong in this beautiful lobby!! However, the staff took pity and conceded to checking me in, and I found myself in the middle of the most luxurious room I have ever seen! I literally screamed, well maybe just a yip of glee, and talked to myself about my good fortune. Unable to bring myself to leave such luxury, I flopped around on the cushiony bed and enjoyed the flushing toilet until leaving at 11pm to gather my Dad from the airport. Now, I have no idea why I am cursed to back airport luck, perhaps I prayed to the wrong Godess in India, but I never seem to be able to pick up people from the airport, primarily finding difficulty in gathering my parents from foreign airports. Somehow I missed my Dad as he exited, missed his phone call, and only had 60 baht ($1.50) to get back to the hotel. Oops. I promise, if you come to visit me, something equally as asinine will occur. End result: we met at the hotel, I was happier than happy to get to see my Dad, so svelte and handsome. Nothing like travelling alone and then seeing someone who knows you more than anyone else in the world, such a comfort in that.
For our first day in Bangkok, 8 May, on the Abercrombie and Kent schedule was a trip to Chatuchak Market and the Prasart Museum. I got Dad fired up about this flea market done right, and we had a blast, Dad finding many pairs of new shorts, all less than $10, I found a few bags (I've bought about 20 now) and Tukkie, our A&K tour guide, kept us upbeat with her knowledge and funny banter. Quick lunch with AC to recover from the icky sweaty thing and we drove out of town to the Prasart Museum, a private collection of Mr. Prasart, a real estate mogul, part of which is authentic Thai architecture and antiques, but most of which is Mr. Prasart's own designs - Fake history, as Dad says. The gardens were pleasant, beautiful temples, but all a little over-ruffled through the 1.5 hour tour. And the pressure to purchase a Mr. Prasart creation at the end of the tour, I had enough, we were ready to go. After an initial morning measurement-taking, we returned to World Group Tailors to have a fitting, suits for Dad and a skirt for me. After some encouragement, I decided to have two tops and some pants made as well. The tailoring services at this particular place were recommended to Dad by a few people, for their expertise and affordability. I certainly felt out of place but had a great time. The jetlag was hitting Dad hard so we enjoyed some posh room service and tried to watch The Incredibles before he couldn't physically keep his eyes open any longer.
And my big day - Monday 9 May, I'm 23! Twenty three. That is halfway to 46. But I shouldn't think of such things. Our day began with a pleasant, riverside breakfast buffet, followed by a boat trip on a rickety little thing to a temple on the other side. An auspicious thing to do on one's birthday is to make a generous offering to a monk, or to free caged birds. In this case, we were making an offering of a bucket full of toiletries, a stack of food for lunch and a bottle of water. We kneeled inside the temple in front of two monks, and bowed our heads in a wai as Tukkie repeated the words of the monk for us since we couldn't understand what was being said. We then made the offering, Dad into the monk's hands and me placing the offering on a piece of cloth, from which the monk took the items, as monks are strictly forbidden from having any physical contact with a woman. The monks responded with a somewhat sung chant and then we had a little conversation via translator Tukkie - the monk said I wai-ed like a Thai, he was so kind. Finished up with feeding the birds and fish by the wat, something reminiscent of Dad and I feeding potato chips to the pigeons outside Gorin's in Southside, and I was in great spirits on my day. Off we went to the Grand Palace, previously the King's residence, now a large scale tourist attraction, housing the most precious Buddha in the country, the Emerald Buddha. All of this I had seen with my mom before, but the murals were as fascinating to Dad as they'd been to us. From there it was off to the Sheraton's restaurant the Spice Market for a delicious array of Thai specialities. Some shopping for clothing and unique instruments later, we took a taxi back to gather our tailored items, which are oh so cool, and to prepare for dinner. I wore my new black pants and Asian-style top, Dad in a blazer and white pants, so sleek, and we walked around the corner to Sirocco's, the highest al fresco restaurant in the world. The 64th floor eatery boasts 360 degree views of Bangkok, a strong yet welcoming wind in the heat, an excitable jazz band and a circular bar with a piece of glass separating you from the bar and the huge drop to the pavement. It was a rush, an experience, and certainly a place I would hang out if anyone got some ingenuity and constructed such a thing in Birmingham. Perhaps the 64th floor is a little overambitious for our little city, but I dig the concept. Great conversation with my Dad with the best view in the city, I was happy to be 23.
Our last day in Thailand, we got a bit lazy, not surprising for anyone who knows Dad and me. We were meant to go to Wat Pho (which I'd already seen) and a fruit market, but instead we cancelled all that and Dad sat by the pool while I got a facial, the best pedicure ever (you have no idea how gross my feet were) and the highest quality $40 haircut in existence. Finally, the horrid wedge-haircut-trimmed-by-yours-truly is gone, replaced by a respectable coiffure. Quick packing and a shuttle to the airport, we bid farewell to Tukkie and, with trepidation boarded our propellar plane to fly to Siem Reap, Dad's last stop on his whirlwind tour and me moving onto a new country I'd already heard heaps about from fellow travelers - I know I'll love Cambodia.