Being a Tourist in Bangkok
Had a chance to be a tourist today. It's great to be a tourist in your own city. When I lived in London, I used to love it when friends from up north came down to visit for the weekend. It was my chance to go to all the places too cheesey to admit to 'cool' London friends that I really liked.
I used to make plans to go to Covent Garden, walk across Tower Bridge, go shopping in Camden Market, buy posh looking bread from the food hall at Harrods, hire rowing boats in Hyde Park, see the dinosaur skeletons at the Natural History Museum, see Big Ben... places you take for granted, or places that are so cliched, or sad and tacky that you normally only go to them once.
My mum and dad slept in late, so I met them around 10.30. We took the boat up the river to the 'Temple of the Dawn,' Wat Arun. My dad wasn't too keen on the idea of wandering around the temple, he's not really into 'temples,' but, once we'd got off the boat and walked into the courtyard, he was suitably impressed.
My dad and I climbed the steps and took in the view of the Bangkok skyline. Afterwards we crossed the river, had a quick nose at the stalls areound the boat pier and then went to another temple - Wat Pho.
What Pho is famous for 2 things. Firstly, its reclining Buddha image, and secondly its massage school, one of the best in the country. It's normally a must on every sightseeing tour of Bangkok. I like the temple, and the buddha image, though having seen it a few times already, usually prefer to hang out in the garden, looking at the water fountains and bonsai trees instead. As soon as you walk past the whitewashed walls, and into the temple compound, it's as if you've entered another world. It's quiet and peaceful. No one shouts or rushes around. It makes a great contrast to the busy streetside markets around Tha Pra Jan, Ta Tien and Ta Chang, the 3 boat piers nearest the temple.
Sure, the buddha image is very impressive. It's huge and very, very long but, the best thing about it isn't it's size or it's position. It's the back of it's feet. Last time I went in to see it, I spent 10 minutes or so staring at the engravings on the soles of it's feet. They're beautiful.
We wandered around the temple grounds for a while, then headed to meet my friend T at the Old Siam, an old style shopping mall. For anyone that knows Sheffield, its a bit like Orchard Square, Thai style.
T sells plastic flowers there. I love visting her stall. Whenever I feel down, seeing T's smile, staring at the flowers, and looking at the pottery animals and vases that she sells always cheers me up. T wasn't there when we arrived. She's been sick for a while now. She's had a poorly stomach for over a year, and occasionally is too ill to go to work.
We went for a wander around the market hall instead. I love walking around the food hall in the old siam. It's always very bright and colourful, and each stall has its own distinct smell. Chilli from the yam stall in the corner, ginger from the Issan sausage place, but usually sugar from the deserts.
We watched a woman make 'kanom Foi Tong,' patiently swirling her spoon around a oversized wok, fishing out ribbons of deep fried palm sugar, and delicately laying them out to try. We saw a young girl roll spring rolls, and people making marzipan fruits before going back to take another look at T's stall.
Mum liked the flowers. I made a mental not to try and take her to the big flower market (Pak Klong Talaad) before they go home next week. When T finally turned up, my parents enjoyed talking to her too. We ate lunch in Black Canyon. Because of her stomsch problems, T can't eat spicy food anymore; My mum can't eat Thai stuff (not just Thai food, she can't eat anything with any kind of flavour to it) so, it was perfect.
Afterwards we caught a cab to Siam, and went round Jim Thompson's House. The cab got stuck in traffic, giving my parents a chance to gawk at the streetlife. My dad commented about how hectic the city seems. I think he understands why I love it here so much, as he often commented that 'you're gonna find it really hard to adjust when you get back home'
I know!!! I've gotten too used to 24-7 food, feeling like I can see and do anything I want, be anywhere I want. Staring at all manner of strange things (people walking down the street in their pajamas, people ferrying calor gas bottles around on the back of motorbikes)
Back in the suburbs of Sheffield, when everything shuts at night, and, once people get home from work, the streets are lifeless and empty, that freedom will all go.
They thought Jim Thompson's house was impressive. It's not really one house. It's 5 (if I remember rightly - I didn't take the tour this time..) all imported from the countryside and placed by the Klong San Saeb canal in central Bangkok. Dad got bored of the tour though. My parent's find it hard to understand Thai accents, especially those of tour guides, who often have to memorise a huge peice of text and, when they tell the tourists about it make it sound like they have. There's no intonation, no pauses. Its like one long complicated sentence spewed out at speed. It's as if they are frightened that, if they take their time, they will forget what comes next. They walked through the rest of the house on their own.
I thought they'd like the garden, but they weren't too keen. I promised, no more temples, no more museuems, no more Thai houses. We took the boat back to Banglampoo. They both liked the Klong San Saeb boat, though my mum seemed a bit nervy stepping down into it.
The Klong San Saeb is Bangkok's lifeline. It stretches from Banglampoo to the suburbs in Banggapi. It's dirty smelly but, for many Bangkokian's a quicker, healthier and more convenient communte than an hour and a half on a non-air con bus. Its cheaper too. The boats whizz along the canal. Helemetted crews stand on the sides, collecting fares, issuing tickets, and wrapping ropes around bollards, each time the boat stops at a pier. The canal was dug over a hundred years ago. Boats and people were smaller then. There are many low bridges. Whenever the boat reaches one, The driver or boat crews can pull metail cables to lower the roof. Everyone ducks, the tarpaulin comes down, and the boat squeezes its way under the bridge.
There's a lot (for a foreigner) to look at. Occasionally , old wooden Thai style houses peek up from behind the row ow slums. There's brightly painted houses, people cooking frying food, for themsleves or to sell, people pegging up laundry children playing on bikes or with their friends.
Unofrtuinately most of the view is hidden. Thai commuters fearing both black skin and the rancid canal water prefer to pull up plastic sheeting. For most of the ride a blue and white striped piece of plastic, and a few grotty run down boat peirs is all there is to see.
Once we reached Wat Sakhet we took a Tuk Tuk back to the boat pier. My dad's been dying to go in a tuk-tuk ever since he arrived here. He's always saying "why don't we get a tuk tuk?" But, for long distances a taxis normally more convenient and usually cheaper too. We got a 40 baht fare to Banglampoo (for any Thai people reading this who wonder just how much foreigners get charged when they ask the price - my dad was told 100baht from Wat Sakhet to Banglampoo boat pier when he first asked) and clambered in.
My dad loved it. He was laughing as it accererated and pulled out, and straight across 2 lanes of traffic. My mum looked terrified. She held on to the metal bar on the roof as tightly as she could. I was sat next to her and could feel the tension in her body. "Take deep breaths" my dad told her. We'd just cut across 2 lanes of traffic and were now parked behind a non air con bus, spewing out black fumes. On second thought, don't he added.
We got to Banglampoo pier, paid the driver and took the boat downriver. I jumped off at Pinklao, and they went back to their hotel to relax for a bit. I think they're tired. They want to sightsee but its a long flight from home. 15 hours, if you count changing planes in Abu Dhabi. And, much as they would hate me to say it "they're getting on a bit..."
I went back home and watched one of the DVD's they'd brought over. About a Boy. A great movie. I miss good English movies. There aren;t that many out here. The ones that there are usually stereotypical romances, Notting Hill, Love Actually, The Holiday... etc.
We went to Khao San that evening for food, and onto the gas station for a cheap beer. I didn't drink. What surprised me was how, even with my dad necking a big bottle of Singha I wasn't even slightly tempted by the idea of beer. Sitting in the gas station, watching my dad belt out the words to desperado, I reflected on the day. It had been really good.
I hadn't argued with my mum once. She's chilled out a lot. She seemed much more relaxed by the idea of being in Bangkok, and unlike last time didn't complain once about the noise, the pollution, or ask, 'how on earth can you live here ?'
It was great to take my parents around the city. I haven't been a tourist in Bangkok for a while. I'd forgot how much I enjoyed it. I can't wait to do it again, next Sunday.
|Create Date : 27 กันยายน 2550
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