Here is an on-the-go scribble on Bangkok. I have to admit that the city has a way of growing on you. i enjoy it a lot more with each visit. Singapore, one of my favourite haunts, serves up everything exact and precise. You feel safe, almost inoculated. Bangkok, like a well-fed Sardarji,loves to flaunt its underbelly. It thrives on its eclectic mix, the good with the garish, the Egyptian cotton-lined to the remotely dangerous, the lemongrass scented to the Bird’s Eye implanted, the straight with the tut, the ladyboys, the straight cross-dressers, and the much simpler to understand, regular homosexuals. If you wish to enjoy Bangkok, you have to learn to let your sensibilities be a bit more fluid, more accommodating, for Bangkok will push them to the limits, from food to design to orientation, and in the end, it is how you bounce back, more learned or more disgusted, that will shape the experience to come.
In many ways, it is very similar to India: the crowds and the chaos, the deals and the steals, the quotidian spiciness of life and food ( and the mixed quality of wines, if I may meekly add), all makes for a quirky mix.
In no particular order, here is what all I got upto and a live posting on them, now compiled for your tasteful annoyance…
Sampan elephant n’ crocodile park. Lovely space for a day out with kids. Watch croc-trainers do some pretty scary stuff. And then an elephant show, with a magic show as a lead in. The Elephant show is cute, at best, but enjoy the magic show for its very 80s appeal as also the silent yet smart camaraderie between magician and assistant.
That said, here’s a factoid: they have almost 10,000 crocs, some almost five metres long, and some odd ones with natural deformities. Enjoy the gruesome feeding view as you walk around this park which is laid out like a visitation gallery. Definitely get a picture holding the tiger’s tail.
Saffron: Restaurant at Banyan Tree. The Samui version is more experimental while the one in Bangkok is more classic. Nevertheless, lovely food. Thai reinterpreted. Classy. Stylish. Super. Impressive rice array. Gently spicy.
Thai wine; growing interest. I wish I had tried some but most hotels seem to shun it to the point of downright anti-patronage. Bangkok doesn’t even have it in shelves. (Actually, i got some; cost a bomb though. We shall taste and post shortly on Wi-Not)
Traffic is cramped. Orderly but packed. People brekkie in their cars en route to work. but the general prevailing quiet on the roads lends a sense of order and serenity, even as the kerosene fumes from the tuktuk smother you to a slow sufficing death. That is, after the driver has already tried to cripple you financially; they are more expensive than an airconditioned tax and, barring the novelty of hopping into one for just one time, it holds no charm. The motorcycle taxi is quicker, but even more expensive, but at least you get to hold your very own personal sweaty Thai-boy as he zips in and out of what can be only be described as one huge parking lot on the roads.
Patpong: Dodgy quarters, hawking everything, from roadside clothes to sex toys, not necessarily in that order. Late night. Silom area. Add Khao San to that list of touristic spots to avoid. Horrible wifebeater clad Caucasians, out for some ‘boom-boom’, roadside massages that could leave you limping for life, and sleaze to cater to all sizes, tastes, and perversions. The shows, again nothing to be watched twice, could put you off all things sensual for decades to come. Imagine telling the doctor that you contracted an STD by being pricked by a needle, or coming in contact with a ping-pong ball, both or either hurled at you as a perfectly aimed projectile through a launcher that you never thought was capable of such mighty forces of ejection and Olympian distance – the female reproductive organ.
Bobae: aka bobby. Wholesale market. Till mid day. Comes back late evening on days. Chatuchat was the other name. Too massive to fathom if you out to buy one lousy fake Polo tshirt. But this is how the locals do it. MBK is a good mall in Siam area but this is well better stocked.
Teak wood mansion: From cheap deals and cheaper thrills to pretty wooden palace in Golden Teak. Photography not allowed. The different coloured rooms show just how too much money and too too much idle time can make one eccentric.
Marble palace: adjoining Italian renaissance style building. Pretty with it’s silk display and the royal goldseats: intricate ass-holders really. Laborious “bling-bling” birthday gifts to royalty. Lovely museums of contemporary art. This is Thai depictions, renaissance style.
Thai silk. Different patterns and weaves. The Royal Peacock logo (gold-silver-blue) are quality markers with gold being the highest. A green Peacock implies silk blends.
Thai culture 101: Pointing with the whole hand is advisable, especially if gesturing towards an idol, or something holy. Avoid fingers, it is rude. They are one of the most polite people in the world, except those peddling shows in the roadside and the tuktuk
drivers – they are horrible Gremlins of a species – and it is not uncommon to have someone bow with hands clasped together to thank you for your kindness or similar. And, they are always smiling. Till you make an offer too low for that one lousy Tshirt. Then they will even criticise you for being Indian who, by habit, haggle too much. Don’t let the tactic get you down: you know you want it and you want it cheap.
Food in Thailand is cheap; everyone eats well. Fried may be present but a lot of healthy options too. Balanced between the veg n the non veg. Insects are healthy. They made me feel like losing weight by throwing up. Some were tasty crispy crunchy though.
Restaurant Methavalai Sorndaeng: Great food. Well priced. Try the chrysanthemum cold juice. Ask for sugar if needed. But carry ear plugs, unless you like sad Thai love songs to accompany your meals, especially by women dressed as if it were the 1960s and they were a sofa.
Loha prasat: 1820 construction. Iron-topped temple. Indian one destroyed; i was surprised to told it even existed. This stays. Doesn’t rust. Or wait, does. But slow.
Rattanakosin. Longer name though. Involving Indra and Vishnu.
Lame ass museum rattanakosin exhibition hall is worth missing. The show, while pretty good is not poignantly planned enough. And unless you speak Thai, you will feel a bit left out. There is potential but for now, there is much else.
Bayouk sky. Buffet restaurant on the 76th floor. Great food. Freshly cooked and replenished. A bit stale in its setting and rather old school but the view of the city is unmatched. Crowded and rushed (especially the sea food section), and justifiably so, but the curries are great too. Efficient even if a tad noisy; but definitely yummy.
Lebua: This is a good place to enjoy the best of Bangkok. Classical quarter at Mezzaluna, jazz at Sirocco (and the adjoining Skybar), and the lovely cocktails at Distil, you will not run short of options. Second highest viewpoint. This place needs an entry unto itself. will follow shortly.
Silom Bodyworks. Right outside the Lebua, great massages, but not for the weaklings. The girls will smile sweetly and thank you profusely even as they pound your pounds of flesh like the farm’s least favourite bovine member. Other parlour nearby are good too.
The Wats: Temples dedicated to Budhha are big here. from pure gold to reclining, seated meditating or subduing Mara (the demon), there are many. Do the holy nine set if you want to be blessed with luck. At Wat Pho, the massage school is famous and always packed.
Dress codes are relaxed. But if you plan to be visiting a proper bar, avoid shorts, sleeveless, and open-toe slip-ons. Also avoid tattered or torn jeans, no matter the designer – they are a no-go. Shoes are a must. Sporty headgear is also clearly and firmly discouraged. I think it’s not much to ask for given the general ambience they wish to create and maintain here. If you want something less finicky, aim less posh.
Gaggan Anand has a lovely restaurant serving some very innovative Indian. Do try if you can. Here’s the link to my take on Gaggan.
In the end, Bangkok can be very enjoyable. Don’t let the sleaze interrupt the real fun even though it is hard to avoid; even the airport seems to somehow suggest it, with black stretched fabric resembling women’s lingerie…
Oh, one last thing. don’t bother learning up the full name of Bangkok. If you must sound like someone who has been there, just remember Krungthep Mahanakorn, and also know that the slang for Sawasdee (pronounced swaa-deeeeee, Thai for Hello) is Wade (pronounced, waa-dey). Do all this, and then, remember to buy and bring back a 32″ LCD TV (preferably Sony although the more open-minded may flirt with Samsung too). Now you have truly mastered Bangkok.