Saturday, February 26, 2011

Feb 8: Bangkok

I’ve decided to be very diligent about keeping this travel journal. I have some vague, incomplete memories of places I’ve visited so this time I’m going to nail it!

The first two days were spent getting here. Ian and I had middle seats three rows apart but immediately a young Chinese man offered us his aisle seat so we could be together. A good omen? We’re going to be together a lot over the next few weeks.

I watched Never Let Me Go. Very bleak. I’ll read the book now. I started it a while ago but no joy. Commoditization of humans. It wasn’t clear to me from the film how they became so passive and docile. I’m curious about it now.

Our delayed luggage was supposed to be delivered to our guesthouse at 3 a.m. I didn’t really believe it. No luggage, but Nick at the guesthouse was on top of it.

We left to get our Myanmar visas. The skytrain is great, jammed with young people going to work – everyone texting, talking on mobiles, listening to ipods. I was surprised the streets were still so jammed with cars and motorcycles but I guess at $1-2 per ride it’s cheaper to take motorcycle taxis.

BKK is unrecognizable to me. Travelling on the skytrain creates a distance from what’s going on below. The track is about 8 stories above street level. The train is air conditioned with a disembodied sweet female voice announcing the stations in Thai and English.

There are small advertising screens throughout the cars playing ads for lots of stuff. The train speeds along between towers of glass and chrome and concrete – shopping complexes, offices, apartments.

We got to the embassy early. There was a short line outside the door. We decided to look for some breakfast. We found a ‘restaurant’ – food cooked and served on the street and eaten inside at rickety plastic chairs and tables. How to know what to eat? Point. The woman said “125 or 230, chicken fish”. I’m not baht savvy so thought it was 125 baht ($4) but it was 1 item for 25 or 2 items for 30.

We had five hours before we could pick up the visas so headed to the river. It’s recognizable! Lots of hotel development on both shores but the river is the same – brown, churned up, full of boat traffic.

We disembarked on the far side after seeing an appealing coffee shop. We thought we could walk back to it. We ended up walking through a maze of narrow walkways barely wide enough for two abreast. We were in a neighbourhood going past people’s open houses (not the real estate kind) looking at daily life. After about 30 minutes of this odd tour we realized we weren’t getting any closer to coffee. It was in fact on the other side of a canal. We saw a ‘shop’ in the front room of a house – a cooler with beer – so we sat on stools in the shop and had a cold Singha and then retraced our steps back to the riverboat and went to pick up the visas.

A strange combination of commercial enterprise – a money-changer with fish tanks on the floor full of small fish with seats around the tanks. The idea is that you put your feet into the tank – with a group of friends I imagine – and let the fish chew on your feet to clean and revitalize them – your feet, not the fish!

Our guesthouse – Padi Madi – is about 10 feet off Sukhumvit Road, a roaring busy commercial place. The side street is called Sukhumvit Soi 53. It seems to be a bit of an upscale neighbourhood with several Japanese restaurants, a big new Italian restaurant, a cupcake shop and an English bookstore. A definite expat vibe to it. We had Ian’s 60th birthday dinner in a beautiful, modern, but soulless Indian restaurant. Day one in BKK over.

Day two in BKK started with breakfast in a coffee shop on Soi 53 run by a middle aged, white American man and his young Thai wife (you see a lot of that here. Our guesthouse is owned by a German/Thai couple. The former owners – a gay Irish/Thai couple moved to Boston). After bkft I decided to tackle my puffy, sore ankles with a Thai foot massage on Soi 53! Bliss.

We made our way, via the riverboat again, to Wat Po and the reclining Buddha. Swarming with other farangs but still peaceful and calming. Lots of maintenance and restoration going on. The roofs of some of the shrines and pagodas were blinding in the bright sun.

We went to the boat pier to catch the boat back to the skytrain. Part of the pier structure is a modest little restaurant right on the water looking across the river to Wat Arun - Temple of the Dawn. We watched the sun set behind Wat Arun.

It was an informal place – our server came to the table eating her own meal from a bowl with her fingers. She threw the menus on the table, gave us a menacing look and walked away. When she came back she was picking green veg from her well-spaced, buck teeth, She wasn’t pleased with what we ordered and pointed at the remaining food in her bowl. We figured we better not argue with her. We pointed to stuff on the menu with little expectation we’d get what we ordered.

When a table of locals were leaving Miss Hospitality went and got the tip jar and brought it to them with loud instructions – we assumed about what they should donate to the tip jar. As soon as they put something in it she opened the jar and pocketed the money. Subtle.


  1. My dear friend,
    congrats at having cracked another aspect of 21st century communication! Told ya - blogging is dead-easy and highly addictive. Your pictures are fantastic and bring back a rush of memories of my travels in SE Asia. Makes me wonder what I'm doing here in snowy Vancouver (yes, about 12 cm last night), instead of exploring the world... I look forward to following your adventures. Travel safely, keep your eyes and ears and nose open to the sights and sounds and scents of adventure, and know that you are missed back here at home. Hugs and love, Susanne

  2. Hey Katherine, I am sitting in Pearson Airport waiting to head back to Vancouver (taught a couple of workshops here). It is so fabulous to read your account and see the photos, and Ian's video. I am debating changing my flight and coming over to join you! :-)

    Looking forward to your next installment

  3. I'm so envious of all your experiences, but grateful that I have have them vicariously at least. Great pictures and videos too Ian - especially the editing!

    Lots of love,