Not a Cock & Bull Story: This Bangkok!

Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in Travel Tales | 4 comments

Not a Cock & Bull Story: This Bangkok!

A place is often what you make out of it.

It’s strange that when I was choosing a destination to break-away from the monotony of sound and being busy all the time, I chose Bangkok. I chose Bangkok, even when I knew that tranquility is probably not what Bangkok is famous for- rest of Thailand, perhaps,yes..but not Bangkok.
Thailand- it’s well known for drawing in tourists, backpackers and sight-seers from all over the globe. There are bustling city streets, swanky upscale restaurants and popular amusement parks for families. But there is another side to Bangkok – a more personal side, a relaxed and quaint side that I believed was there to be discovered. And Bangkok with all its glitz and glamour didn’t scare me, when all I wanted from my vacation was time to unwind and serenade myself.I didn’t want to really party in Bangkok, neither spend time in the shopping malls. I wanted to discover the streets, eat the most peculiar foods the backstreets have to offer, see if massages, really have a ‘happy-ending’, is there really a mall that sells prostitution with every ascending floor displaying steeper prices on skin. I wanted to photograph the old women selling hot food in khloes on the Chao Phray, I wanted to capture a moment a couple would share while the sun would set against the Wat Arun, wanted to freeze in my frame the frenzy and pandemonium at the Chatuchang Flea market,blink a wink at the lady in red-hot pants at the Pat Pong Night bazaar, stare through a glass pane in a cafe, watch the monks walk by…
That’s what I had in mind.
And that’s what I ended up doing.

Bangkok’s aroma is a pungent blend of incense, exhaust, and rain on hot bitumen, with a hint of stir-fried chilly and flowers strung for Buddhist worship. Add sights and sounds and Thailand’s capital can overload your senses. But open your eyes, ears and olfactory and you discover there’s more to the city than sex, shopping, temples and traffic.

Not an overtly religious person, I wasn’t very keen on doing the rounds of the magnificent temples Bangkok has to offer the tourist. But maybe…just one. I would have chosen the Wat Arun, (the Temple of Dawn) that rises magnificently across the river-had it not been for a Kings’ Procession that decided to wade through the upstream waters clothed in pink,green and royal blue satins.It is about noon in Bangkok- but when you look around everyone on the street, and around the river had stopped moving, the horns had stopped blaring, and even the most manic drivers had stopped trying to fit ten cars into the space of one: the national anthem was being played, and in this country where the King is revered almost to the point of deification, everyone stops and stands to attention when his signature tune is played. It’s just one amazing memory that I brought back with me.Anyway, I stayed back on this side of the river, and chose instead to visit the Reclining Buddha-The Wat Pho.It’s the largest temple in the city and is famous for its 46 metre long Buddha, adorned in rich orange-yellow gold. The Buddha’s feet alone stand at three metres in length and are decorated with mother-of-pearl. Talk about expensive shoes! Mr. Reclined Buddha was remarkable, yes-but not awe striking! Sorry, takes a little more to serenade me,I suppose!The Royal Palace was closed, due to a ceremony..(possibly the same ceremony that drove the swan-tailed boats into the river, and stopped the plying of ferry-boats across for visitors to the Wat Arun)..and I wasn’t too disappointed.
I jumped across the road to a local Au Bon Pain. A perfect little coffee shop, facing the Palace gates, with a glass pane overlooking a park. Without any haste I made myself comfortable on a two-seater table, along the glass pane. A late-afternoon hibiscus tea, and a crostini while I watched people. A child nagging his mother for an ice-cream, a monk helping the blind man cross the road, a tourist bargaining with the tuk-tuk. What a splendid way to spend time!
Energized(rightfully what my hibiscus tea claimed to do!) I couldn’t resist stepping into the park. Almost at a reflex, my feet wanted to flirt with the green lush grass. I took my sandals off and pranced, like a gleeful child! Halfway into the park, I turned around to be absolutely mesmerized by the rain-soaked twilight horizon, making the golden rooftops of the palace glitter like a molten galaxy, and the grass below turning a neon green in the receding dusk-light. That has been my favourite contrasting palate of colours, for the longest time. The dark grey, the neon green and the golden interspersed highlights. Its intoxicating, simply that.

The first evening was planned at the most known people watching haven Bangkok has to offer. One Thai writer apparently described this one-kilometer-long road as “a short road that has the longest dream in the world”. The street certainly attracts some bizarre characters the world over, and is definitely one of Bangkok’s most vibrant streets. I would say, any visit to Bangkok is incomplete without a glimpse of Khao San. And when you are there at Khao San Road -the only thing you should ideally be indulging in is ‘people watching’!
There aren’t many places in the world where I’d happily sit, at two o’clock in the morning, on a dirty curb, watching urban nightlife take its course. One such place is Thailand’s Khao San Road.For over 20 years this has been the base camp of choice for backpackers all over the world exploring Thailand and Southeast Asia. It’s just a little wonder that everything backpackers could ever need or want can be found here: budget guesthouses and cheap hotels, Internet cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, market stalls, massage parlours, travel agents, clubs, bars, photo and bookshops, tailors, laundry, chemists, tattoo shops and much, much more. All brought off with the spirit of an never-ending party and vibe cosmopolitan atmosphere that makes people happy and brings smiles.
I sat on the curb-for a few stolen seconds. A curb-side view is very different from a view at 5ft 3inches! It gives you a child’s view..which is the best way to see the world!
My point here isn’t that raucous Khao San, that dense jungle of backpackers and locals, is the epitome of ideal travel. Rather it is that its really here, in this chaotic, amazing mess, there exists a curb upon which one can rest a tired back, and by sitting on it we not only become still but are given the stature of a child. And these two things—stillness and child-likeness—are often key ingredients to wonder!Being pensive is one of my favourite past-times. And while at that I have realized,that sometimes unconventional things tranquilize me.

Being surrounded by people.

Eavesdropping.

Satiating my foodie soul.

Haggling/Bargaining.

Grand opulent Hotels

Train rides.

Photography.

Massages.

Not everything in that order.

So far in Bangkok, most of these had been taken care of, if you have read the narration above.

Few more needed to be completed.

A day at the Chatuchak Market!Much has been said and told about this. Yes, all of it is true. But it wasn’t spectacular..because I am a Calcutta girl. And in Calcutta, every market is a Chatuchak! But yes, if there was anything that was bringing smile after arched smile on my face, it was the ability to shoot candid with my camera and the pleasure of bargaining for goods starting and winning it at 1/4th its cost! I have to agree, it is irresistible not to shop here!

Bangkok is impossible to explain.
It’s huge, very diverse and full of contradictions.
It can be culturally conservative, yet folks are so open minded, accommodating and always smiling.
I experienced an amazing, diverse nightlife, with some great underground clubs, hidden bars, and scenes that really push the envelope.

At the same time, it did give me the ‘loneliness’ I was looking for. Its hard to explain how-but it did. The highlight of Bangkok is the city itself, the people are friendly, super trendy, open minded, polite (actually exemplary), and will bring you into it’s fascinating and amazing underworld and corners if you are up to it, learn some Thai and show that you are not just the usual “firang”.

But of course, the last and final highlight is – FOOD! Hawker food is everywhere. You can’t walk more than 10 paces without passing a stall of either fresh fruit, cooked chicken, noodle stalls, etc.
Visit here, to visit where I visited food in Bangkok.

More pictures from this trip @ My Facebook Album

 

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4 Comments

  1. Hey,

    Very well written. Loved reading this. Hope you and Raj are doing well.

    Asanka

  2. A beautiful read , so engrossing . Pictures are so real , so candid .

    Eagerly waiting for more articles 🙂

  3. Thank you Sritama.
    Hopefully I will be able to provide more to chew one!Keep coming back…

  4. Hey Asanka! Thanks a lot. How have you guys been? I see your little girl has turned into a fine lady already!How they grow so fast…is not funny at all!Hugs to Ashani. Will soon have a post on Sri Lanka, and how we met you guys at the stadium in Colombo! Watch this space 🙂

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