At the end of October 2010, I went to Thailand to visit with my dad. Going to Thailand is an every-few-years or so ritual for me as it holds some significance as one of my childhood homes (Chiang Mai Thailand in 1988-89), and as my father's home over the past 15 years or so.
Each time I arrive in Bangkok, I am hit with the smell of southeast Asia shortly after stepping off the plane. It's a scent that's hard to explain, but it's some delicate combination of jasmine, wetland swamp water, motorcycle exhaust, spicy cooking, sewage and a hint of incense all steeped in the humid atmosphere that is Bangkok. It's become very familiar over the years, and so for me it's pretty soothing.
Bangkok is such a dichotomy in many ways. Old world temples and traditional Thai architecture sit side by side with glassy new structures, linked together with messes of black and multi-colored electrical wires that stretch down every street. Over the years Bangkok has become a pinnacle of modernism, with skyscrapers popping up like mushrooms, fancy glittering malls, gorgeous interiors decked out in all the most fashionable colors, textures and accessories; your pupils practically dialate to take it all in. To say that you can get anything here is an understatement. From Dior, the passport of the Asian youth elite, to locally made designer creations, to any knock-off cell phone case you could possibly imagine, this city can offer it.... however, finding a specific thing can be a major challenge. Aside from the staggering amounts of purchasing available, the city life is as active and never-sleeping as NYC, only with more nooks and crannies to peer into; like the network of city canals which were at one point the only way to get goods around the city, or the back alleys filled with a litany of small shops of every sort and specialty. You're never bored in Bangkok.
As is my tradition when visiting Thailand, I made an appointment to go to one of the internationally renowned hospitals in Bangkok for my semi-yearly physical and checkup. The staff and nurses are always extremely helpful, the waiting rooms pleasant, the wait times predictably short, the doctors professional and the actual checkup - as good as I always thought I deserved. Oh, I have health insurance in the United States, but fighting them to justify getting all of the tests and checks that I can get here for a few hundred dollars would be like pulling teeth.
Shortly after my medical holiday, my father and I took off south out of Bangkok to a rural area called Samut Songkran, famously known for it's floating market. We stayed at a small inn called The Boathous where the rooms are arranged inside actual antique rice barges, propped up on land and surrounded by lush tropical foliage. The small restaurant overlooking the canal has menus all in Thai, so my dad and I had to guess (or get by on his very basic Thai) to order food. It's all great - but the most important phrase to learn in Thai is "Mai phet", or "Not spicy". What comes out is usually still a little spicy, whch is good.
We hired a guide to take us down the intricate network of canals (or "Klongs" in Thai) on the two days we stayed at the Boathouse. The water was at an extremely high watermark from several floods that hit the area that month, so the longtail boat had to squeek under a few of the bridges along the way.
We walked around the crowded sweaty markets, filled with tons of foodstuffs, flowers, fruit, clothing, hats, t-shirts, souvenirs, velvet paintings, bags, knockoffs, shoes, and so much more.
I was amazed at the strength of these ladies, rowing along in the hot sun on precariously loaded boats. They weaved in and out of other boat traffic adeptly, though I'm sure it's not as easy as it looks.
And of course, all the things on display for purchase:
After leaving Samut Songkran, we went to Hua Hin, a beach town on the eastern coast which is well known as a retirement spot for many sorts of European and western seniors. We ate decedantly, italian mushroom soup, imported danish cheese and rye bread, thai fried rice with lime squeezed over it, chicken and cashews... I had foot massages, back massages, so many massages I started to feel guilty. Oh, ok not really.
When we returned to Bangkok, I joined my dad and my stepmother to the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, a very exclusive spot taking no new members for the forseeable future. At the end of every October they host an Oktoberfest, complete with authentic sausages and kraut, mashed potatoes and beer. You get a mug at the door are are expected to use it. There were sausage eating contests, and log sawing contests which were both hilarious...
All in all, it was a great trip. Can't wait to visit again someday.