Random notes on Bangkok

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I know not everyone is a fan of Bangkok. It has a bit of a reputation for being filthy, overcrowded and a bit sleazy, with neighborhoods dedicated to strip clubs and worse. There’s no question it is massive, and there’s plenty that I didn’t see (which may contribute to my high opinion), but I really enjoyed the city.

All together we ended up spending a large chunk of time there. We used it more for down time and transit, so I actually have very few photos from the weeks there (Bangkok was our first stop after Myanmar and my camera was so worn out after the three plus weeks there that I think it needed a break more than I did! 😉 ).

I’ll write more about our first visit to the city another time, but here are some more mental snapshots from the long weekend I had there on my own before coming to Laos, plus some of the few photos I did take.

Little things I want to remember:

The street musician with the tattooed face, pilot-style hat (close to the scalp, with ear flaps) and sunglasses who played beautiful music on a bamboo flute and looked more like a fantastical anime character than something of this world.

The wonderful taxi cabs – spotless little Toyotas in different colors with all the subtlety of a child’s first set of markers. Besides the most common sun-flower yellow topped, light forest green bottomed cars, there were plenty of smurf blue, cherry red, grape purple, frog green, juicy orange, cotton candy pink or, my favorite, super shiny iridescent hot pink cabs roaming the streets.

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Catching a cab in my favorite hot pink from the airport

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Labels on the cab window – including no drinking, no smoking and, in between those, no DURIAN

A street vendor in a massive bamboo hat pushing a cart with a bell tinkling from the corner, from which he sold mini balls of ice cream loaded with toppings and served on what distinctly resembled (but I hope was not!) hot dog buns. He was pretty popular so those must have been some really tasty buns…

Three well-fed rats who seemed to have won the rubbish jack pot because they were out in the light of day (usually we’ve only seen them after dark) happily weaving in and out of a card board box that must have been filled with a rubbish version of ambrosia.

One brave, or foolishly un-self-conscious, woman in a skin-tight, leopard print jumpsuit. Thai women have a knack at pulling off quirky fashion but even they have their limits…

The physical enjoyment of warming up in the extreme heat of the sunny afternoon reflecting up from the pavement after too much time in an overly air-conditioned store or restaurant – and the deliciousness of being engulfed in frosty cool inside air after a bit too much time out doors.

The amazing monitor lizards living in Lumphini park

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iPhone photo, not the best quality, but this monitor lizard is still impressive at somewhere between 4 and 5 feet long!

Yoga notes

I found a yoga studio in the city that I really like. It’s called Yoga Elements and it’s a well run studio with teachers who really know their stuff.

The studio is fancier/more western than most of the ones I’ve been to so far on the trip. It’s on the 23rd floor of a corporate high rise, just down the street from the Chidlom Sky Train station, and has two large studios with floor to ceiling windows and some pretty great views of the city. The reception area is tastefully decorated and has new-age music playing. The studio provides mats and towels and complimentary tea, all of which are constantly refreshed by a sweet little Thai grandma who weaves between the students in the reception area in black-stockinged feet. All very professional.

Which is why I had to giggle when we were in the middle of a very-zen breathing exercise and a little gecko started chirping from some hidden corner on the ceiling. How he managed to find his way up tot he 23rd floor is beyond me, but he was a great reminder that despite how western the studio and even Bangkok sometimes felt to me, I am definitely in southeast Asia!

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Snapshots: Backwards from Bangkok

I’ve decided to do my Thailand notes in reverse order, which means I get to start with today. Tonight I fly to a new country, Laos, to meet Roman, but I’ve already had a few lovely hours up and about in Bangkok, taking a morning constitutional before breakfast. Jet lag got me up early and as soon as it was light enough, I walked from my hotel to Lumphini Park for some easy jogging. I found the place packed with people and activity, even before 7am. Here are some snapshots.
Walking to the park in the early morning, the streets between Chidlom and Lumphini were still peaceful, although not quite abandoned. I shared smiles with vendors opening up their street stalls for the day, construction workers heading to a job and even one barefooted, mustard-colored robed monk with his begging bowl. I enjoyed the smell of a big bamboo basket of jasmine rice being steamed on a concrete brazier filled with glowing coals and set on the sidewalk. I admired the pluck of a ballsy street tom-cat begging at a food cart, and getting rewarded with some scraps of meat. Even shortly after the sun had risen, the air was lush and moist. Some blocks were filled with the smell of flowers drifting from small courtyards – if I’d closed my eyes I could have imagined I’d been transported to the inside of a tropical green house instead of walking along a big city street lined with sky scrapers.
By the time I reached the park it was already filled with thousands of people. Many of them were there for a spot of exercise before the day got too hot.
Older women with perfect, shiny red talons, faces full of make up and bouffant hair sprayed to within an inch of its life gracefully moved through Tai Chi sequences.
Wiry Thai men without an ounce of body fat sweat as they jogged along the broad pathways.
Grown children took their elderly parents out for some fresh air, slowly pushing a wheel chair or patiently keeping pace with the shuffle of swollen, aged feet.
Various big groups of people followed the aerobics moves of a perky instructor talking into a microphone.
There was an elegant martial arts practice or two, complete with long wooden staffs.
Bunches of women practiced traditional dances, their red and white paper fans glowing as they caught the occasional ray of sun that filtered through the trees and filling the air with a sound like one hundred clapping hands as they open and shut.
Yoga mats were spread on blankets spread on the grass, being pushed into the earth by folks grounding through their downward facing dog poses.
Some did work outs using the park’s simple machines while others used the benches, fences, piers or grass as their equipment for stretching and strength training.
Other people were there for less ambitious reasons. Old biddies sat at tables in the shade for an outdoor breakfast, pouring each other steaming cups of tea from metal thermoses and doling out plates of food as they gossiped together. Some people napped on park benches or watched all the passing activity. Elderly men perused newspapers. As I left the park, I could see some folks were also there for their morning shopping.
Outside the park, a temporary market had been set up. A few beggars with missing or withered limbs supplicated to shoppers in the space between the park gates and the tightly packed stalls. Clothes, food, accessories and a whole host of other things were on offer. Mystery meat, fruit and other foods abounded, some definitely looking more appetizing than others even when I had not a clue what they were. I caught whiffs of durian, spring onions, fried eggs. The huge chunks of massive grouper, stacks of rubber-banded blue and grey crabs and buckets of light peach shrimp were so fresh that there was no smell at all by those stands. A bit early in the day for me for all that food, but it was still wonderfully interesting to see.
The park itself was much more verdant and lush than the last time I was there, overflowing with orchids and other flowers, palms bearing berries, massive trees crowned in thick, deep green canopies. I was happy to see the amazing, huge monitor lizards again, sunning their long bodies (some of them are over 5 feet!) or swimming lazily through the park’s ponds. Sparrows and mynah birds flitted about and bathed in large puddles left behind by the heavy night rains that had trespassed into my dreaming.
Other bits and pieces I want to remember:
Fresh garlands of flowers on top of dried out blooms and weather-faded ribbons looped around sacred trees and small shrines.
The stubs of hundreds used incense sticks jammed into the knot of a tree.
The bloody chops of chicken I passed at a street stall on my way into the park that had been fried into golden brown bits of breakfast by the time I started to head back to the hotel.
The beautiful brown-shelled snails making their home on the wall of a construction site.
The sweet little black cats that live outside my hotel that were snoozing under the potted plants on the stairs as I left for the park.
How willingly and happily most of the people smiled back at me when I smiled first.