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Southeast Asia's Busiest CapitalJanuary 6-13 & 15-17
Remember the futuristic, run-down Los Angeles in the movie Bladerunner? Well, Bangkok, below the glimmering modern skyscrapers, down the back alleys and away from the golden palaces and five-star hotels, is something like that. Taking a walk down these backstreets, you can feel the city's energy. You might pass a cluster of crowded, steaming food stalls erected under cheap plastic tarps and corrugated metal roofs while watching a dog duck down an alley while the cackling laughter of old men sipping Thai whiskey can be heard from the entrance of an anonymous concrete box that doubles as the neighborhood cafe. All this in the space of a couple seconds. Bangkok is a feast for the senses. It is at once a modern city on the move and an old Asian capital, full of the sights, sounds, and smells of Southeast Asia. Truly one of the world's most exciting cities.
Buying fruit on Khao San Rd.
Believe what you will about Bangkok...we've heard it all, and we still like the place. Most tourists fly through Thailand's capital city, spending only a single night before moving on to the country's southern island destinations. That's really too bad. Beneath the traffic (which, admittedly, is terrible) and the resultant pollution, Bangkok is a great city. It's the best place in Southeast Asia for the long-term traveler to "get things done"...here, you can get visas for neighboring countries like Vietnam and Burma, you can stock up on clothing and just about anything else you need to buy, and you can enjoy some of the region's best restaurants and nicest hotels. All at very reasonable prices by Western standards.
" Life is short, live it up. "
- Nikita Kruschev
Okay, so it's a good place to get things done. But what else does Bangkok have going for it? Well, as Southeast Asia's biggest and busiest city, Bangkok has everything to offer that any other major world capital does...great sights, great food, great lodging options. And despite the fact that the city is very congested, Bangkokians (is that even a word?) remain true to their national spirit -- friendly, helpful, and full of sanuk (the love of life). After our journey through the sometimes touristy and crowded, sometimes remote and relaxed southern islands, we were ready for some big city action. In that department, Bangkok delivers.
Kinarees and Demons at Wat Pra Keo
We shopped for new clothes to replace the ones that we had gotten so very sick of the past few months (this is a ritual we usually reserve for big cities, where the choices are greater). We ate at lots of international restaurants (even got our Mexican food fix, although it still wasn't as good as it is at home in California). We cruised on river taxis, on noisy tuk-tuks, and on the brand new super-convenient Bangkok Transit System skytrain. For one brief week, we became temporary residents of the Krung Thep ("the City of Angels," its actual Thai name). And we loved every minute of it.
Gold figures at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha
To really get a feel for the vibe of the city, we decided to rent an apartment for the week. We found a nice serviced apartment in highrise building in a great location, down by the Chao Phraya river near the Shangri-La hotel, for the bargain price of about 35 bucks a night. After so many weeks of living out of hotel rooms, it was really great to have a place that we could call "our own" for a while. Eating out in restaurants and relying on CNN and BBC News for one's only source of entertainment gets very old after a while (and believe us, CNN and BBC are everywhere). With an apartment, we were able to fix up our own meals and even rent new-release movies at the local video store. A welcome break from the repetitious hotel room grind.
Stoic Guard at the Grand Palace
The beautiful rooftops at Wat Pra Keo
Since we had been to Bangkok before, we really just took things at a nice slow pace this time. Yes, we went to the Grand Palace and Wat Pra Keo, we saw the Erawan Shrine and some of the other tourist sights. Bangkok is actually loaded with great sightseeing opportunities -- there are many wats (temples), museums, and ethnic neighborhoods (Chinatown and Indiatown) that one can burn a lot of time visiting. But for the most part, we just lived life as pretend locals that week in Krung Thep. It was great fun.
The Grand Palace
Jen has an uncle who lives in the beach city of Pattaya, about 1.5 hours south of Bangkok, on the Gulf of Siam. Since we were in Bangkok, we decided it would be nice to go see some relatives (a first since we met Jen's long-lost relatives in Greece). So, we hopped on a bus to Pattaya and spent a couple of days with Jen's Uncle Dick and Aunt Vivian. They have a great place overlooking the beach south of Pattaya, away from the busy city center. It was nice to relax in a place where we could spread out and not worry about locking up all our belongings every time we went outside! We pretty much hung out with Uncle Dick and Vivian for our two days in Pattaya. They showed us around a bit and we enjoyed some nice meals out on the town (there are a lot of restaurant options in Pattaya). Then, it was back to Bangkok where we spent two more days before flying on to Siem Reap, Cambodia...where our adventure in Indochina began...
Jen with Uncle Dick and Vivian
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