Bangkok, the old and the new

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December 12th 2006
Published: December 12th 2006
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Life in the Air Canada loungeLife in the Air Canada loungeLife in the Air Canada lounge

Enroute to Bangkok via Beijing with our yum yum chips and ubiquitious coca cola
There was long day written all over Dec 10th when we left for YVR and got ready to hop our first, mere 11 1/2 hour flight to Beijing. Ah, Air Canada, not our favourite airline for many reasons and the main one of that day being leaving late for our very tight connection in Beijing to Bangkok. But all was saved as we were met right off the plane in Beijing with a sign and our boarding passes. The next 6 hours were a blur as we tried to stay awake in the lounge and then gave in for the flight to Bangkok. Woke up to the sound of the captain announcing our descent into the new airport, now the largest in South East Asia. As we taxied up to the terminal it seemed absolutely massive, but oh, so efficient.

After getting through customs/immigration in less than 5 minutes flat, went the carousel where our bags were already waiting, strolled by the ATM where we grabbed some Thai Baht (local currency) and we were on our way down to the taxi stand. Now Bangkok is known for its congested highways, but at 11pm we made tracks and were across town in the backpacker mecca of Khao San Road by 11:45pm where our brand new room and nice comfy bed awaited us!

Had a fitful sleep as the time difference, sleep deprivation and oppressive heat took their toll so instead of fighting it at 6:30am when I woke up and was restless, got up to watch the world out our window on the Chao Praya River, heart of Bangkok. Now there is one thing that I forgot to mention about our lovely little room, yes, there is hot water and it was quiet and the people kind, but it is a brand new building smack between UNICEF and UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (where I want to work someday, but will avoid trolling on this trip). Brand new? Yes, so brand new, that only the rooms are done so we have the makings of a swimming pool, but no water, no restaurant, no front door, you get the picture. Our mornings are spent greeting the workmen with "Sawadeet kaa" (hello) as they scury to get out of our way. but it's great in only the way that it can be for a backpacker!

Started off our day with the
All that glitters is goldAll that glitters is goldAll that glitters is gold

The Wat Prah in Bangkok in all its glory
stereotypical backpacker breakfast of banana pancakes, fruit, yoghurt and museli and of course, cappacino while Kurt indulged with real bacon and eggs! Yes, so much better than any of our airplane meals of yesterday. Full up we were ready to take on Bangkok so headed to the river to take the water taxi downstream. First stop, the Grand Palace and its Wat.

Now there's nothing like having the chance to see something so marvelous and truly great twice in your life, especially when it's been 15 years since you've done so. The Wat and Grand Palace complex are truly deserving of their "grand" name with gold as far as the eye can see and crusted jewels everywhere else. Throw in with that sculpted trees, a little incense, devote praying, lotus flowers, and crowds of tourists, local and foreign and you have a feast for the senses.

For the King's birthday, there is a special celebration at this time so the locals were all wearing yellow shirts that said, "Long Live the King" and it was a marketing bonaza as the entrepreneurial types had yellow jumpers for babies, 4 kids of yellow t-shirts, books, bracelets, umbrellas - satin or plain. You name it, they had it. Street stalls covered the narrow sidewalks and tourists ran to grab up their own personal tribute to the longest reigning king ever!

After overdosing on glitter and gold, we took a break by walking in the blistering sun to yet another Wat, Wat Po. Equally impressive although smaller in size and not over run by tourists, we paid our mandatory admission fee (Thais enter for free), and headed straight to the building which houses the reclining buddha. And no wonder, he's sitting, all the gold must be weighing him down! At close to 8 stories high, he is a wonder to see lying semi prone, his feet exposed on one end with designs etched in mother of pearl. And then on the other side, we collected some good karma for us, by giving a donation and getting a tin cup full of tiny coins to place in the alms bowls for the monks which lined the long hallway. The sound of the clink, clink filled up the space and was a reminder that even in this modern city, things still go on as they have for centuries.

And speaking of that, while we wandered through the temples, songbirds filled the air with music filtering the noise of the city with its traffic of tuk tuks, motorbikes, buses, and cars. And after all this temple hopping it was time for a wander through the amulet market with its small narrow mazelike alleys. Monks strolled by in their brilliant orange looking and shopping when the mood struck adding to the mystery of all the various protectors.

Lunch beckoned and we choose a tiny hole in the wall restaurant, a favourite among local university students and loaded up on Thai curry, yes, the real thing where afterwards my lips were still tingling for hours! Yum! Another ride up the river and we were back in Bangalampu Area with its rabbit warren streets, guesthouses, foreigner backpackers wandering the streets, hanging out drinking beer, and every travellers service known to man. And over on Khao San Road, heart of the backpacker area and known to all, change had transformed the travellers scene that I would hardly have recognized it if I hadn't seen the sign on the street. It is so crowded now that the street has been virtually closed and made into a pedestrian mall with people and backpacks filling up its every inch with stands fighting for space, spilling out into the street in a riot of knock off merchandize. Even Starbucks has arrived!

And in its own way, as long as you're in the mood, it's kinda fun, to people watch while you sit with a cold drink on one of its many patios, and when you not, you wander one street away to the Wat and you walk through its quiet and calm and remember that Bangkok has many sides to it and you'll never really know it at all. But for now, your belly full and the first day done, you are grateful to have sat in its cafes and started the transition to the traveller life because it's been a soft, soft landing. And tomorrow you head for Myanmar of which you know little and where you know life will not be as easy as the life of a backpacker in Bangkok, but you're ready for it.

Stay tuned, if we can access any email at all (fingers crossed), to experience Myanmar with us. First stop, Yangon (Rangoon), the capital city.

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