I’m finally getting down to recap our big holiday for the year. One post at a time, its going to be a while before I recreate everything that we experienced and sort through the hundreds of pictures and share them here. Some of them are camera clicks, and a lot of others are iPhone clicks taken without much thought. So bear with me please, this series has the potential to be very long and tiresome. Here goes.
We arrived in big, bold, bright Bangkok just after noon. Looking out from the airplane window, I saw a jigsaw of straight lines, almost a grid of perfection, with perfectly swirly flyovers elegantly circling at intersections, miniscule cars silently meandering along. The big city awaited us below, and the village bumpkin in me was all agog.
While we had carefully planned our arrival, timing it just before lunch and feeling chuffed about having one more Thai meal opportunity, I was starving by the time we got off the plane. What we hadn’t accounted for was a two-hour procedure (thanks to long queues at the visa-on-arrival section) at immigration and passport control. So there I was, standing amidst an ocean of South-East-Asian faces, feeling seriously out of place with my over-sized, large eyes, thinking “I have never seen so many (pardon my political incorrectness, but there’s not other way to put what I was thinking) chinki people in a single place, in my life before!” Welcome to Thailand, I told myself. Stifling another loud growl in my tummy and holding down the uncontrollable urge to cut ahead of the queue and get out of the airport already!
Big city lights, skyscrapers that stretch awkwardly high, neon coloured taxis, and what feels like a mini city for an airport. That was my first impression of Bangkok. Stepping out from the chilly insides of the Suvarnabhoomi Airport, into the city, waves of moist heat beat my face, and we look around bemused, wondering where we could find a cab. The signs all pointed us in one direction, but all we could see were a string of wildly coloured, hippie looking Corollas. Not what I had in mind when I think: taxi.
It turned out those were indeed the cabs. Neat rows of happy, bold, in your face colours. And pretty soon I realised it was not only the taxis. The people, the street carts, the cafes, the neon signs, the high fashion. Everything in Bangkok comes in vibrant, neat little packages, high saturation tones, and almost geometric perfection.
In no time at all; even before I could marvel at all the typical things us Indians notice first when in another country, like the efficiency, the spotless roads, the clearly marked out street signs, the cops and their uniforms; we were racing down an expressway, alongside the sky-train that zipped by, some distance away. We were headed to Sukhumvit — down town Bangkok, as we later discovered. Immediately I was taken in by the squeaky clean roads and pavements. Everything was just so damned neat, it was hard to believe. Every now and then, amidst the concrete and glass, a glimmer of bling of a temple roof-top would peek through. Here and there, at street corners, storefronts, roundabouts, I noticed giant framed pictures of the King and Queen, garlanded — obviously much revered. We wound our way to Soi 11, where the husbands cousin was waiting to welcome us and whisk us away for our very first meal in Thailand. Our very first taste of what was later going to be a staple, regular-feature at pretty much every meal: Pad Thai and Singha beer. With an order of Tom Yum Goong, which left us so stuffed and satisfied we had no room for the rice that came along with it. And what a welcome it was.
There’s quite nothing like knowing a local to get the inside scoop on how to navigate a city, where to eat the most authentic Thai fare, what places not to miss, and what places to skip altogether. Deepak and Vaanhi, the husbands cousin and his wife, who live in Bangkok, were such a big help. Showing us how simple it was to use the sky-train and having quickly picked up on how we weren’t in the least bit interested in shopping, told us to skip the quintessential Bangkok mall ratting entirely, recommending the Chatuchak Market as the perfect place to spend Sunday, seeing as how the husband and I are both photography-trigger happy. But I wasn’t satisfied with that. Even though I’m not much of a shopper anymore, especially not the mall-ratting kind, I still wanted to experience that side of Bangkok.
So for nothing else but to tick off at least one must-do on the typical Bangkok holidayers list, we found ourselves in a train, and three stations later, getting off a station platform, right into the famous MBK Mall. From what I had heard, paradise for shoppers, with an unusual and moderately priced collection of everything from shoes to clothes, curios, electronics and pirated DVDs.
Suddenly, everywhere we looked, we saw familiar faces. It felt like every Indian on holiday in Bangkok was in there, living the retail therapy dream. Furiously consuming the piles of clothes, shoes and bags on display. Malls make me giddy, even in India. And being in MBK was like multiplying that effect by a 1000. It also didn’t help that I didn’t find anything particularly out of the ordinary or nothing we don’t see enough of in India. Also, I didn’t find the prices really throwaway. Also, having firmly decided to travel light, I had packed all that we needed into two small strolleys and I intended to come back with just that and nothing more. So we didn’t shop. Yes, we didn’t buy anything in a mall in Bangkok. And in no time at all, found ourselves lost in the ocean of people, desperately trying to back track our way to the train station and get the hell out quickly! Only to find that it had rained while we were inside. And suddenly Bangkok was gleaming in the afterglow of its famous cloudbursts.
Back on Soi 11, waiting for Deepu and Pinkie to finish up for the day, the husband and I took a stroll around to catch the sights. Little Volkswagen bars opened up along side the pavements, stir fry aromas from the push carts filled the air and the night lights began to twinkle.
Bangkok was really a city with two faces. One with its fast paced high life, with the sky-train weaving through the jungle of skyscrapers, the malls and neon signs, the suits and boots, the gadgets and technology; and the other face closer to earth, here, on the street. What really struck me was how perfectly comfortable the city seemed with one foot in the urban crawl and another firmly stuck in his history, culture and heritage, traditional flavours and everything that brings it to life.
The next day we were off to explore the Chatuchak Market and feast our eyes, which I thought would be the highlight of being in Bangkok. But little did I know, that the best was yet to come.