Last week was a bit different from all the others, as we were joined by our long-time friends, Holly and Dan, from Washington State. Bill and I basically morphed into tourists for awhile and had fun seeing some Bangkok sights with fresh eyes. More importantly though, we spent lots of time just enjoying each others’ company over excellent food and cold beer. We were also treated to some wonderful Washington State wines, a delicacy here due to the high cost of mostly imported wines! Because this was my first attempt at playing Bangkok tourist guide, not all of our adventures were successful, but none of them were dull.
We were quite fortunate to find an Airbnb in our apartment complex, just four floors below, which made all the difference in the world. This convenience allowed them to get a good sense of our life in the Ari neighborhood. We would meet in the lobby, travel by Skytrain to explore the city, and then return to our apartments for a much-needed shower before dining at every one of our favorite restaurants within walking distance. The only downside to the week, and one that not even the most experienced travel agent could control, was the relentless heat. Having left temperatures 20° cooler than the ones here in Bangkok, Holly and Dan managed remarkably well (and didn’t complain nearly as much as I did when the rivulets of sweat streamed down our necks, our backs, and…you get the picture). They powered on with the help of Thai tea frappes or chilled Singhas. Kudos to them!
In an attempt to ease the adjustment to the heat and the time change after the lo-o-ong flight, we took it easy on the first day. After a quick trip to the grocery store for some basics – coffee, milk, a $10 box of Cheerios (and a quick review of baht-to-dollar rate) – we were soon on our way to Bill’s favorite tailor, Mrs. King. Bill was getting a final fit on a sporty sportscoat, my linen suit was all ready, Holly had something silky in mind, and dashing Dan could not defy the determined Mrs. King (nor the deathly scorn of Holly)! He graciously subjected himself to a fitting for a couple of shirts. I had relented a couple of weeks earlier to the pressure of my sister and sister-in-law, and I have to admit that hearing my measurements called out in a language I couldn’t understand was a delightful experience! I highly recommend it! By the end of the week, we were all quite pleased with our one-and-only “wears.”
Of course, it goes without saying that we had to subject them to the craziness of the Chatuchak Weekend Market (see previous Market Mania Blog). The hunt was on for gifts for their four grandchildren. Although I was quite impressed with Holly’s quick decisions on purchases (I tend to hem and haw and end up empty handed), her bartering skills needed improvement. At any rate, she and the vendors were quite happy. Bill managed to pick up yet another good-size piece of metal ‘artwork’ from Fuji Joe (his third), which always adds a bit of bubble wrap drama in the airport. We eventually succumbed to the bargain buys, the filling lunch, and the everpresent heat, and taxied back to our apartments for well-earned naps!
Then we had a big-time tourist day. We all dressed in yellow, which is a common practice of showing respect to the king, especially on Mondays, and boy did we turn heads and elicit smiles as we headed to the old part of Bangkok to visit the Royal Grand Palace. The palace is indeed both royal and grand! It had just undergone a refurbishment in preparation for the new king’s coronation at the beginning of May. And although Bill and I have been a few times before, I have to say that the whole grounds seemed to sparkle and shine more than ever. It is difficult to describe the fairy tale-like quality of the palace. Although European palaces are impressive-looking feats of architecture from the outside, I think the furnishings and the artwork on the inside are what make them so beautiful. The palace in Bangkok, on the other hand, is glorious on the outside as well, with its buildings and chedis painstakingly decorated with small mirrors, gold gilding, and different colored stones.
Upon arrival, Holly and I were sent to buy additional coverings because our clothing didn’t meet necessary requirements for entering the palace grounds. (There was a time when shawls, which were returned at the exit, were provided for covering arms and/or legs, but I assume the large crowd numbers became too difficult to supply.) So, after complaining just a little (ha!), we made our way through the gate. We opted for a tour in order to get the most out of our time, but it was often difficult to hear. We did manage to see the miniature model of Angkor Wat, the highly revered Emerald Buddha, and several interesting statues. By the time we completed the tour, we were surrounded by hundreds of tourists all vying to find the right spot to take that picture-perfect palace photo. After a quick side trip to the queen’s Museum of Textiles, which housed beautiful displays of various weavings, we retreated from the royal grounds.
Just around the corner, Wat Po is home to one of the largest reclining Buddhas in Thailand, measuring 150 feet long from head to toe and 50 feet tall. This beautiful statue depicts Buddha before his entry into Nirvana. The soles of the humongous feet are adorned with flowers, animals, and other symbols that are inlaid with mother of pearl. Despite its size, this particular Buddha gives me a sense of calm every time I walk into its temple. It’s as if Buddha is smiling down on everyone and emanating a feeling of peace. The entire Wat Po complex is rather relaxing. I remember sitting under one of the trees almost 30 years ago and watching schoolchildren run around, giggle, and give me curious looks…one of my first memories of this special place. Wat Po is also home to the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is still taught and practiced at the temple, adding to the relaxing atmosphere.
A quick boat ride across the river takes us to Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn (although I think it’s prettiest as the sun is setting)! This temple, which was built before Bangkok was the capital, has a 70- to 80-foot spire decorated with millions of shards and small plates of porcelain that were used as ballast on ships coming to Thailand from China. The workers must have been incredibly devoted and patient to create such an amazing work of art. Holly and I enjoyed walking around the base of the spire looking at all the designs, while Bill and Dan ventured up the small steep stairs to get a better view of the river.
For another adventure, we decided to visit the Museum of Royal Barges, a place I had never been before. So, we hopped on the Chao Praya River Express Boat (the express part really just means that you better get on the boat extra fast because it does not dock for long). It makes several stops along the river, but is one of the best ways to travel to the older parts of Bangkok. Upon reaching our destination pier, we walked and walked down skinny alleyways that led to the royal barges. (It actually took us longer to get there than to view all the fancy barges!) Apparently, some of the boats will be used for the Royal Barge Procession later this year; what a regal sight to behold!
Other outings included a quick stop at the Jim Thompson House, to take a peek at the beautiful silk scarves, purses, and clothing. Some demonstrations showed the unraveling and spinning of the silk cocoons. And we got an eyeful and a noseful of the flower market one afternoon, but opted against returning at 3:00 in the morning when there supposedly is a bevy of activity, with flowers coming in and going out in huge baskets. Orchids, marigolds, and jasmine, oh, my!
In addition to sightseeing, we were eager to share our favorite local restaurants with Holly and Dan, who are both excellent cooks and are already planning a Thai menu for their Dinner Club. They liked the salted fish as well as the energetic atmosphere of Laoh Laoh so much that we had to return to it a few days later!! The second time we went, we met the winning Iron Chef Thailand from 2014! And Baan Pueng Chom served a mouthwatering tamarind-based soup with chunks of omelet in it. I thought Dan was going to use a straw to get the last drops of the delicious liquid out of the bowl! Needless to say, our guests thoroughly enjoyed the whole Thai dining experience. And to think their doctor had recommended they take Pepto Bismol after every meal (ew!)…well, that didn’t happen! We did introduce them to street food in a mall setting so they could be comfortable savoring the really local flavors, although Bill and I are hard pressed to walk down our street without grabbing something to nibble on from a food cart. We have yet to experience any digestive issues, knock on wood!
I did take them to a couple of non-neighborhood places for lunch, however. A little explanation was needed before we entered Cabbages and Condoms! (Yep, you read that right!) My daughter introduced me to this restaurant a few years ago. According to its website, the restaurant “was conceptualized in part to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association.” Basically, money from each meal is used to support community programs that focus not only on health, but also on the environment, sustainable farming, and the importance of clean water. The food is quite tasty, but the decorations are the biggest draw. As you walk in, you are greeted by life-sized models adorned in, what else?, condoms! They are hysterical! Even the overhead lights are covered in whimsical condom designs. And all around the restaurants are some witty words regarding the whole overall theme; there’s even a gift shop with interesting souvenirs that can be purchased for a good cause! Definitely something to Google for a giggle.
The night before Holly and Dan continued their travels to Cambodia and Hong Kong, we had one more delicious Thai meal to celebrate our fun week together. Because they live across the States, we don’t see them as often as we’d like, so their journey to visit us in Bangkok was a special and much appreciated treat. As usual after we reunite, we have new stories to reminisce about and inside jokes to cherish! I’m looking forward to our next rendezvous (whenever and wherever)!