picture pages lots of fun with picture pages
New Year's Eve--four days left in Krung Thep so down to last boxes for checking. I'm a fight fan so I knew I wanted to take in a Muay Thai event. Three options in Bangkok:
- Rajadamnern Stadium. Home of the biggest shows, and the biggest prices to boot: 1500 baht and up. Too paeng for this farang.
- Lumpinee. Most tickets are similarly priced as above. Also I'd heard some (possibly unfair) criticism of the venue so didn't give it much of a second thought. Especially when there's:
- Channel 7. Live televised shows every Sunday afternoon. And the price? Free.
And everything I'd read was that this was real Bangkok, a real local experience. So I get to rub shoulders with those I've lived among for the last nine months and...
Well, it's about the fights--and they were exciting for sure. Sample:
Two young men giving their all to take care of their families and put on a show. How can you not smile?
Important to note, however, that gambling is NOT allowed, as all these signs attest:
And Thais are a rules-following sort, so...
And we saw a title change hands. At least, the back of it:
After this the plan was a quiet, introvert-friendly New Year's celebration: order a pizza, drink cocktails, watch the fireworks.
But dating a Thai isn't always simple. Because she has family, and they have get-togethers for holidays, and they invite you. And you can't say no, because that would be rude (and even though you are rude, you don't want them to know that).
So before long I'm sitting in the soi, struggling to communicate my appreciation for gracious hospitality. "Dii!" Smile. "Chai." Smile. "Aroi mak!" Smile. "Khap khun khrap." Smile.
And how gracious is that hospitality? Check the prawns:
Long before I'm saying "Im lau im mak!" I realize this is what I most wanted. In my last days here, one more real Krung Thep experience. Because while weather, topography, architecture, and attractions all contribute to a given location, I've found it's always the people that truly make a place. And in a city full of kindness, the family I spent New Year's evening with was among the most. Still, I wanted to show my appreciation beyond poorly articulated Thai and crooked smiling. Thankfully, I get that chance after I push away from the dinner table, full and happy, while others in the family have yet to be fed themselves:
And I still got my fireworks:
Sawasdee bpii-mai! Happy 2561!
The "Crap, We Gotta Get As Many Sights Within One Day's Driving Distance Of Bangkok In As Possible Before I Leave" tour continues, this time heading back to Ayutthaya Province for Wat Niwet Thammaprawet Ratchaworawihan (pronounced just like it looks, obv), Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, and the abandoned second capital of Ayutthaya:
Wat Niwet Thammaprawet Ratchaworawihan
King Chulalongkorn, aka Rama V, was a modernizer. He admired the west and wanted to bring western ideals to Thailand. In 1876, he commissioned this temple and complex, and it is most reflective of his desire. It's also the only wat I've visited that we accessed by cable car.
Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
King Chulalongkorn's western vision carried through his restoration of Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. As we walked paths winding along gardens and Euro-styled buildings, we also saw soldiers standing guard. A discussion began on "how bored would we be doing that job?" since no threats seemed apparent. Soon after a young rifle-wielding solider approached and insisted that we follow.
I wasn't going to argue.
He showed us a cool site to take pics we'd missed, and engaged my party in a long discussion (all in Thai, of course, so I just stood and smiled). He was so nice he also took a picture with me.
As we walked on we saw him chase down another group. And we guessed that, yes, being a guard was boring, so you become a guide to pass the time. And a guide with a gun? So much better.
Next to the ruins of Siam's second capital city, Ayutthaya. I've been here before, though there were parts I missed. Why? A discussion among my friends describes it well:
"He didn't go to Wat Yai?"
"No, it wasn't walking distance from his hotel and the tuk-tuk drivers were pissing him off."
I get cranky--but it's nice to have friends who know this and love me anyway.
Ayutthaya's royal palace built in 1448(!), each of the three large stupas holds ashes of a prior king.
An active temple on Ayutthaya's grounds, this temple has an eclectic look--and puppies.
So I subtitled this the corrective experience, because, as cranky as the prior visit here made me, this one was lovely. It makes a real difference when you can travel with your friends and aren't dependent upon money-hungry touts for your human interactions.
That brings some bitterness to the sweet, knowing I'll be largely on my own soon. I'll miss my Thai peeps dearly. Yes, I'll carry them in my heart and memories, but that just isn't the same.
That's just a rationalization.**
**Thanks for ending on that high note, Jamie. Ever thought of writing greeting cards?
It’s easy to become cynical about where you live, whether you were born there or just moved four months ago. Even in Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, a place I never imagined taking for granted. Yet here I am, thinking:
‘Sure they’ve got cheap and tasty street food everywhere. But remember the bahn mi in Saigon? The most ama-aazing sandwich ever--and less than a dollar!’
‘Big deal, another gilded wat. Remember the temples in Laos? So much darker, with all those violent murals!’
‘Yeah, a moto almost ran me down on the sidewalk. But in Cambodia, everyone drove the wrong way. Death lurked around every turn!’
Yep, boring old Bangkok. But there’s still much The City of Angels had yet to reveal to these farang eyes, and I got to see a few this week. Now you do, too.
BANGKOK BOAT TOUR
When traveling, if you’re open to it, you intersect with people who will pop in your life again. Such was the case with my sacred tattoo tour guide. Long story short, he needed guests willing to be photographed to come on one of his newest tours. And I’m an attention whore so was happy to help out. In exchange, I got to see a different side of sights I had seen, and new ones I hadn’t.
Bangkok by boat is especially fascinating--it’s called the Venice of the East for a reason.
How did dilapidated passenger jets end up in a field not very close to either of the city’s airports? Seems no one knows. But if you’re willing to pay the homeless guy 200 baht you can climb around in the old planes yourself. Don’t expect hand rails or safety cordons, however.
I get it. You're at a special place, and you want to share your excitement with the world/get lots of facebook and Instagram dap. So you know it's not enough to just take a picture of the site--how will people know you were really there? They might accuse you of stealing from shutterstock. I'm sure you're not just a narcissistic millennial with low self-esteem.
There are two problems, though:
- When you make it about yourself, you miss the whole point of the experience. Are you even enjoying--do you even recognize--what a special moment you are partaking in? This is a treasure--a world wonder! And
- You're in my way, pissing me off.
But after a while, you inspire as much wonder in me at this sacred station in the Kingdom of Wonder.
And I wonder if you wondered what I was taking pictures of.
Last weekend, following the recommendation of Evo from the Bangkok Podcast, I visited Bang Krachao. It's a massive park within Bangkok's borders also known as the Green Lung, since it may be the only place you can go to breathe. Or it may be the city's only oxygen source left. Or it's kinda shaped like lungs--opinions vary, as they so often do here.
I'm not so foolish as to think I've seen all BKK has to offer--not even close--but even so, this was a surprise.
The area in and around also has a weekend floating market and other fun discoveries you can really only see by renting a bike.
And speaking of renting that bike, they have bike paths. But not like the ones back home.
It might not be clear just how tight this path is--two bicycles could pass each other but handlebars would be scraping railings. That is, where there are railings--and they disappear at points with no warning, where a shear drop-off awaits.
Fortunately, when I got astride a family and rode a bit too close to them and to avoid them overcompensated there was a railing waiting to catch me. That was a comfort. Less comfortable was the slow-motion crash and the bicycle kicking back into my exposed shin, but hey, what's a little hematoma?
Later in the week I took a bus 120 kilometers (75 miles) west to Kanchanaburi Province, an almost entirely rural, farming area of Thailand, as different of a world from Bangkok as one could imagine.
To see this beauty, however, you have to board the Terror Train.
Terror Train is not the official name, just one I found appropriate--because over the Wampo Viaduct the drop-off is...significant
But there's more than fear and beauty in this place. This is the Burma Railway--aka the Death Railway built by Japanese-captured POWs in WWII. To stand on the trestles, to touch the steel laid by tens of thousands of Allied soldiers--men working against their will to benefit the enemy. To think of the 12,000 of them who died--along with a 100,000 or more Asian laborers--it staggers the imagination.
After, we visited one the museums containing many artifacts. This was the most shocking of all:
Why these bones aren't interred somewhere, I do not know. Given DNA testing today, I would figure they could be returned to their families. This left far more questions for me than answers--is it a cultural thing? Do "authorities" just not know this is here? Are these "just" Asian laborers, and thus somehow "less important"?
Kind of a dark way to end the post, I know. So here's the pretty sunset we saw before leaving.
I know what you want.
And you've been waiting so patiently...
So now it's time for me to give it to you...
That's right, baby. Food porn, SE Asia style.
And the money shot--because only an ice cream chain originating in San Francisco but now significantly more popular in Thailand than in The States could come up with this:
I left Saigon yesterday, though I don't expect it will leave me anytime soon. I still have much to say about it (including a nominee for The Most Embarrassing Moment of My Life in the Non-sex Category), but here are some final shots. Because, as my mother said when she first looked at my blog, "nice pics!" (never mind that I'm a writer, here to write).
So you gotta give the people what they want.
From 1350 to 1767, Ayutthaya served as Siam's capital. Then it was sacked by the Burmese, its buildings were stripped of gold by the kilos, and its people were enslaved. When the kingdom rose again it did so in Rattankosin (now Bangkok).
At least, that's my understanding as a farang-come-lately and history geek with a touch of ADHD, so I could be off on some details. But I do know I rode a minibus an hour today to visit the ruins at Ayutthaya. Here are some pics and notes.