Bangkok Before India, Bangkok After India

October 24th, 2008. Categories / Bangkok, Thailand

Before I get chronological, I’m excited to say that we got to see the King of Thailand today at a public ceremony! Details at the end of the post.

India is the all-beef patty to what I affectionately call a “Bangkok Sandwich.” The recipe is simple: take one destination and fly to it from Bangkok. Fly back.

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Departing Chiang Mai via train.
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Arriving in Bangkok.

Before our flight to India, we had a pleasant day wandering around Bangkok’s Siam Square and Pratunam by our guesthouse. It’s a weird area: mega malls, trains in the sky, subways, horrible traffic, towering buildings, and ramshackle and dense neighborhoods along Saem Saeb canal. The weather was hot, but we saw a lot and took breaks inside cooled malls and coffee shops.

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Walkway along the edge of Saem Saeb canal. Smelly water but great ambience.

Saem Saeb Canal is a great break from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding area. It feels like old Bangkok with its narrow footpaths, wooden buildings, smells of smoke and grilling food. There are pedestrian bridges and walkways along the canal. A water taxi plies up and down, sending waves lapping into the walls. The neighborhoods off the canal are dark and densely built of whatever materials were around. It’s the stuff of a post apocalyptic future. People hang out in the narrow walkways, eating at restaurants that are basically someone’s kitchen. Cats and dogs wander around and sleep everywhere. Water drips from the rooftops and leaky pipes. Some of the walkways leading between homes are only as wide as a person. It was fun to explore. We ate lunch alongside the canal at a casual place with a makeshift kitchen built on boards over the water. There was a large lizard in a cage that looked very sick. He seemed to be missing his lips, and he smiled at us through his Joker mouth. It was a dreary place, but the food was standard.

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A main walkway through a canal neighborhood.
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Garlands hanging on a gate.
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Chicken on a bike.
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A disturbed iguana.
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Canal walkway.
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Water taxi.
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Rooster.

On the edge of canal town, we came to garbage land. Under the highway was a land of true shanty homes, a parking spot for garbage trucks, and people who literally lived in garbage. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the closest to destitution I’ve seen in Thailand, and it was pretty sad.

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Garbage Land.
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One man’s trash is another man’s home.
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Abandoned gas pumps.
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Broken glass embedded in the top of a wall near our guesthouse. This is a cheap and common security measure in Thailand.
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Soccer goalie blocking a shot in a student match at National Stadium.
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Razed.
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The weird abandoned atrium of a theater in Siam Square. This theater predates all the new mall theaters by decades.
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Two ugly dogs resting on two ugly chairs in the guesthouse lobby. They belonged to the manager.

We got back to Bangkok on Tuesday night. The scary cab ride from the airport reinforced we weren’t in India anymore. This town was glowing with neon and wealth. Shiny cars, glittering buildings, colored lights and vibrant enormous billboards. I felt like I was barreling through the future. I was glad to be there.

We booked a room near Hualamphong Train Station at a nice, Thai-Chinese run place. We are in a nice AC room on the 7th floor for 650Bht($18.5) a night. We had hoped to stay for one night, but all train tickets to Chiang Mai were booked until Friday. Even then, they just had seats on a day train. Oh well, a few days in Bangkok is never a bad thing.

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View from our hotel balcony at night.
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View during the day. Beautiful, dense Chinatown.
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Boiled chicken with ginger sauce.

On Wednesday, we took the subway in search of a nearby snake farm. I had wanted to watch them milk venom. But it took some time to find the place and by then they had already been milked. Admission had increased too. The information in our guidebook was out of date. At the snake farm was an intelligent and docile bird that searched for food between people’s toes.

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Lake in Lumphini Park.

We spent most of the afternoon at Lumphini Park. It’s large, well maintained, and home to numerous large, lake dwelling, monitor lizards. I was surprised to see these beasts stalking pigeons and frogs.

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One of the Lumphini monsters.
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Another ventures onto land to hunt pigeons.

J. and I played cards until it started pouring rain. We ran for cover with the rest of the park under a tarp that was strung between trees. The storm was harsh: lots of nearby thunder and lightning and pounding rain.

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People trying to eat lunch and avoid the rain blowing under the main tarp.

The sky cleared and it was beautiful again. Bangkok has some amazing skies.
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Clear skies again.

In the evening, we saw City of Ember. My friend Chris worked on this movie. He cautioned that the studio made some dumb changes at the end, but I thought the whole thing was pretty good. Not perfect, but definitely a smart and visually interesting film. See it and let everyone know how much you like it’s visual development.

One Thursday, we took the subway all the way to the China consulate only to find it closed. We came back, caught a river taxi, got some jackfruit and iced coffees, and walked to Royal Plaza in Dusit to watch the honoring of King Chulalongkorn Day. This national holiday on October 23rd commemorates the death of King Rama V.

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Truck buried in auto parts near the river taxi pier.
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Grand road leading to the palace.
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Policeman guarding the displays honoring the old king.
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King Rama V.
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Devotional fruit.

We saw people lining up as if for a parade. It seemed like something big was going to happen. In this case, it meant the King was coming to pay his respects. We waited for two hours and watched the crowd. The energy in the air was palpable as his motorcade pulled up. When the King finally arrived, some secret service type cards gestured for us to put our cameras away.

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People and flags.
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The King is riding in the backseat.

We only caught a glimpse. He was there for what seemed like less than a minute before his car pulled away again. I wondered what it would be like to be a man who presence is so valued. All of that pomp and ceremony lasted but a minute but took so much effort to prepare. What runs through the minds of all the police and guards and officials that wait for hours for such a short moment. What runs through the head of the King as he sees his adoring crowds and all the special actions taken just for him? Was he sitting and reading at his palace before being summoned? What did he go back to do?

I love the Thai King. I realized this while I was standing amongst the others that love him. It will be sad when he dies.

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Guards.
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Guards.
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After the King left, the barricades came down and the place returned to the crowd.
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It’s not a party in Thailand without corn.

On our walk to find dinner, we passed through a massive street closure for the political protesters belonging to the PAD group. A large area seemed to be under temporary habitation by them. We walked down the streets and all over were the yellow colored products of propaganda: t-shirts, posters, books, videos. Hundreds of supporters were cooking each other meals and hanging out. Speakers blared some speech. Military dressed youth were running through some kind of drill. It was a creepy, cult-like atmosphere.

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Hydration.
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The tires of democracy.

I can’t say I understand the politics here, but the PAD seem just as crazy and crooked as the politicians they seem to hate. It seems like no side will be a winner in this battle.

For dinner, we got some old Thai favorites and ate them at a table literally on a street. I am glad to be back. As much as a liked India, I always felt on guard and uncomfortable there (except in Leh).

Thailand is just so much better for my idea of a good time: sitting outside and watching people, eating fresh cheap food, plenty of fruit, and drinking iced coffee and tea.

8 Comments


http://www.fvap.gov/

what is the name and contact for this place. It looks like a good base of operations to go wandering.

“We booked a room near Hualamphong Train Station at a nice, Thai-Chinese run place. We are in a nice AC room on the 7th floor for 650Bht($18.5) a night.”

Nik:

Hey Stephen,

I can’t remember the name of the hotel, but it’s mentioned in Lonely Planet. It’s located on the street along the canal road that parallels the train station, about 5 minutes walk way. You can see the station from the front door.

J:

The name of the hotel was Krung Kasem Srikung Hotel. And if you stay there, ask for a room on the upper floors so that you will have a view of the city from your balcony.

Eek, the detail on those jackfruits are amazing. Are you sure you don’t want to let me borrow your camera? -X

Ya the Thai people are seriously serious about their King. One day we were in Bangkok it was just as big of deal when his daughter drove through town.

LINKBACK:
Frank Miller:

Hi Nik,
Just want to drop a note saying I really like your writing about Thailand (particularly) and your images. I especially like the combination of respect, compassion, enthusiasm and creativity the blog radiates. (loved your account of the King’s visit to the Rama V memorial – “…what will he return to….?” )I’m a tea & coffee writer[Fresh Cup magazine, tea&coffeeAsia), living in Chiangmai (Suan Pailom, Changkhien) between the Doi Suthep waterfalls and Jet Yod. I use a D80/18-200, which I love, but you seem to get better detail and greater contrast (color pop) out of the ’40. Maybe the lens? Judging from the LK images, you have a nice wide angle. Or maybe it’s just skill….naw! You set your own exposure or let the “man” do it? On another totally different tack: I saw (elsewhere) your comment on the banh mi sandwich (“beachside banh mi bicycle cart “): “..if only these sandwiches would catch on in Thailand.” Exactly! My partner and I are seriously fantasising opening a banh mi business in CM (cart franchise?). We’ve found a great baguette and great meats. The veggies here are brilliant. Why do you suppose the banh mi has not yet caught on here? Would it?
Frank (tealover)

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