Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Birthday in Bangkok

Bangkok is now my favorite place I've been to in Asia. The people, the pace, the culture, it was absolutely dazzling and such a new experience! Jeff laughed at me a lot because he says that normally I'm pretty sophisticated, but in Bangkok it seemed I was all naivete.

We arrived on Friday night at the lovely Sofitel Silom with enough time to go out for dinner at the nearby Patpong night market. Our concierge gave us such a stern warning to avoid tuk-tuk drivers (auto rickshaws) and be on guard for touts, that I was a little worried. We hadn't realized this night market was also a red-light district full of local entertainment and DWGs (dirty white guys) checking it out. But, Jeff and I did just fine and had amazingly fresh seafood at a wok-slinger's cafe set up in an alley. And, as enlightening as the list of sex shows sounded, we did not stop in.

On Saturday, we had a jam-packed day that I will never forget. First, we went to see Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Grand Palace. This was our first exposure to Wat architecture and royal living and, oh my goodness, was it spectacular! Literally a feast for the eyes with gold everywhere, beautiful slender finials gracing tower tops, and colorful tiles, mosaics and murals decorating every possible surface.

From there, we strolled around the surrounding neighborhood, looking at the herbal medicine shops and checking out the statues and amulets spread on blankets over the sidewalk. Finally we decided to have some lunch, so we picked out a little cafe tucked inside a labryinth of shop stalls that overlooked the river next to a pier. The Bangkok River is a real transportation hub for the city, with ferries and longtail boats taking people up, down and across the river.

After lunch, we made our way to Wat Pho, where the enormous Reclining Buddha lounges about. When I say enormous, I don't mean merely big, I mean gargantuan. The surrounding grounds and temple buildings reflect the peace and serenity of this Buddha and were really lovely to walk around.

Which was how we found the Thai Massage School inside the grounds. This is not your typical spa/salon, but a working massage school that offers temple visitors amazingly cheap and awesome body and foot massages. Jeff and I decided to hand ourselves over to these professional masseuses, who led us into an open air room filled with platform beds. After our session where our masseuses used their hands, arms, feet, legs and knees to reach every possible kink, I can honestly say forget Swedish, goodbye deep tissue, I am now a convert to Thai massage.

Riding this wave of bliss, Jeff and I returned to our hotel. To our surprise and delight, the hotel had noticed on my passport that it was my birthday and delivered a little cake up to our room! The Sofitel is now officially my favorite hotel.

After a little more rest, we got ourselves together and went to this fantastic Thai restaurant someone had recommended to Jeff. I knew I liked Thai food before I went to this restaurant, but after eating here and trying so many new and inventive dishes, I love it. Jeff had also whispered to the host that it was my birthday and dessert was brought out to me with every waiter in the house yelling the happy birthday song. I think I must have been stunned because for once I didn't want to crawl under the table when everyone turned and started singing, I merely turned beet red.

Since the night was still young, I wanted to check out the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, which a friend had recommended to me. Must have been too pooped to shop, because we went home emptyhanded, but determined to return the next day.

Sunday was pretty uneventful, just a bunch of window shopping. Monday before we had to go to the airport, we had time to take a longtail boat ride through the maze of canals that worm through the city. While it was certainly not a glamorous view of Bangkok, it gave us a glimpse of life along the river.

I can't wait for my next trip to Bangkok!