Detour – Thailand 05

I had great plans for a wonderful blog on Thailand, when I discovered I was to go earlier this year. It has been ages since I visited there: I was nine the last time I was in Bangkok, and I was fifteen the last time I was in Hat Yai. I hadn’t been to anywhere else in Thailand, and this trip included Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.   

The idea of the trip, however, was vastly different from the actual experience. The trip was very rushed: we zoomed from B to Chiang Rai, took a van from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, then took the van back to Chiang Rai again, and flew down to Bangkok again, all within the space of four days. The last few quiet days in Bangkok were spent mostly catching up with friends and relatives. So I did not really get much of an opportunity to view majestic sweeping Siamese temples, or go chugging down the river, or visit pin pong shows, unfortunately.

So a full-fledged blow-by-blow might have to wait until I get to go again on my own, with my own itinary. But here are my observations and thoughts on my recent holiday in Thailand:   

The Bangkok International Airport reminds me a little of our Subang Jaya airport (now unfortunately demolished), although perhaps a little bit better maintained. I was actually surprised how orderly things are, definitely not as much of a mess when I was nine (yes, I do remember!). We passed through Customs and Immigration with no problem (part of me still has a cold-sweat kind of fear, after my ordeal at Dover, which is another story entirely). Huge signs warn visitors that insulting the Customs officer is an offence punishable by law. Interesting.

Queues and Traffic: Queues in Bangkok are generally fast-moving and courteous. The ones who mess up queues tend to be white people, who apparently have this thing called “white power” in Thailand. More on that privately, if you like.

Traffic was great as well. I recall when I was nine sitting in the taxi with my parents for close to three hours in traffic moving forward and inch every 20 minutes or so in Bangkok. I remember I was sticky, irritable and my eyes were watering from the dust. I was pleasantly surprised at the swift smooth flowing traffic on the motorway, which allowed us a speedy journey to Sukhumvit, on which our hotel was situated.

After paying the two separate tolls, we got into the kind of Bangkok traffic I recalled so fondly. However, motorists were just so courteous and considerate, especially compared to Malaysian drivers. There were no motorists forcing themselves into other lanes. There was no horning at all. When someone wanted to change lanes, they politely signalled, and the motorist in the other lane would politely wait. A friend later told me that there were even special rules for giving way: flash your headlights once to say “I’m coming and you better not get in my way” and flash twice to say “Oh, do go ahead, I’ll slow down for you”. Amazing. Malaysia might have the worst motorists in the region after all. Perhaps that’s something to put in the Malaysia Book of Records…

Food Stalls:   

I found food stalls a bit odd in Bangkok. They tend to be mobile, so if you find a good noodle stall at, say, 9pm, it might not be there at 11pm on another day, or even there at all during the daytime. However, when they do move, it’s usually nearby. I found the eating culture there different from Malaysia and Singapore, where we tend to be eating at all times, and food is always available, practically at every corner of every street. Sukhumvit, apparently one of the busiest streets in Bangkok, had pockets of eating places after midnight, but nothing compared to say, Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur. Adjacent ‘soi’s (or lanes) didn’t bear much fruit when I went out exploring one early morning. I might add that food at these stalls apparently have a three-price tier: white-man’s price; non white-man foreigner price; and local price.

Elephants on Bangkok’s Streets:

This had to be one of the most charming things I came across while in Bangkok. On the very day of my arrival, I was just so excited that I was in a new city in a country I hadn’t been to for awhile, that I went out on the streets looking for Thai adventures to be had. I was so busy looking about the street, I nearly bumped into a baby elephant sauntering by. My cousin, who has spent a large portion of his life in Thailand, said that elephants are brought out at night, sometimes for carriage, sometimes as tourist rides, although most times it was illegal. Later on during the trip, I saw many elephants along Sukhumvit, although none were infants. Apparently, as time goes on, more and more elephants end up out of jobs. However, as the recent tsunami disaster has shown, elephants are very intelligent and handy animals to have around.   

Sukhumvit:

Yes, there’s nothing really like the streets of Bangkok. There are shrines at every corner, there are stalls selling all manner of things. There were t-shirts, paperweights, souvenirs, sandals, shoes, candles, lamps, teak ware, stuff made from rattan, makeshift tattoo parlours, CDs, VCDs, DVDs, and old men asking me if I were interested in body-to-body massages, ping-pong shows, karaoke etc. It was a lot to take in for the first few minutes. Along the streets were mostly tailors, like this trendy “Versaces”. The streets were generally much cleaner than I remembered them to be, apparently part of the city’s clean-up bid since 1997. And I didn’t see a single rat on the street, but who’s to know. 

Stray Dogs:   

These seem to live in the lap of luxury in Thailand. Most of them seem well-fed, most of them are actually fed by stalls or shops, few of them are mangy, and most of them had all their hair. Some of them, I have to admit, limped, or had crooked ears. But what I do know was very different about Thai stray dogs, compared to Malaysian ones, was that none of them had an air of fear about them, none of them avoided humans, unlike here in Malaysia. Stray dogs in Thailand look like they have a good deal. Alternatively, Thailand has better animal rights education than Malaysia.

Other observations:

I love the stuff they sell on the streets. I had the impression that there was nothing I wanted or needed or intended to buy in Thailand, but I brought back a fair amount of clothes, as well as some lamps for my new flat. Things in Chiang Mai are obviously cheaper, and also of greater variety. Unfortunately, I did not make it to Chatuchak Market, although I did make it to the Mah Bu Kong (?) or the MBK Centre, which was fairly interesting. I need more time to explore next time around.

The Sky Train was really convenient, with stops close to each other, and about eight exits/entrances into each station, making things really easy for commuters. Putra LRT (and more so the monorail!) could take a lesson from the Bangkok Sky Train. Multi-level highways: like nothing I’ve seen before, winding to the left, winding to the right, just incredible.

I was amazed at how much of the Hindu culture has seeped into Thai culture. This is a nation largely comprising of Buddhists, yet their temples, shrines and buildings are decorated with creatures as spooky as these:

The food was delicious, and any other thing I might want to write on it will do it no justice.
Well… that’s about it then. Actually, there’s probably a lot more. Thailand is such a colourful country, and a whole essay can go into one’s experience just walking down a single street. But there was so much going on when I went, and we were constantly rushing around, and then later on, recuperating from rushing around. I hope to get back to Thailand at some point soon.

Decorative Yet Scary Monster Chicken on Bangkok’s Road Dividers

 

 

 

Canal in Chiang Mai

 


Hot Springs At A Rest Stop Between Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai

Posh Restaurant Cum Art Gallery In Bangkok

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