PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Thailand That I Love – part 4 – Two Nights in Bangkok

I started writing this post months ago, then dusted it off right after getting back from three weeks in London that was supposed to be one week. Now, before I get to our London trip, I feel the need to finish off my posts on Thailand, given that we returned from there way back at the end of January!
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not blogging as regularly as I’d like. It’s just hard to justify the time when I could be spending it writing actual comics or working on my novel. However, though I may be slow, I remain commited to recording our time in this crazy Foreign Service life. I suppose it says something about how much we’re travelling that I can’t keep up with recording all our trips. Since this January trip to Thailand, we’ve been to London, Bukhara, and Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, I still haven’t written about our trips to Vienna and Prague back in December.
On the one hand, it’s exciting that this new phase in our life means we get to take lots of opportunity for travel. On the other hand, it’s an indicator of just how stir crazy we’re getting in Tashkent. There are some things we’re really enjoying about Uzbekistan, such as the people in the embassy community, shopping for fresh food at the bazaar, and the bread from our neighborhood backyard bakery.
However, life outside our lovely home is usually inconvenient at best, frustrating at the worst. There are social and political challenges to living in a police state where you are clearly different from everyone else on the street. We’re isolated physically from family and friends back in the states and our home Internet has a tendency to go down frequently. We’re isolated socially because it’s tough to make friends outside of the small embassy community. We’ve mostly given up on eating out because neither we nor any of our friends have found any restaurants so good that we end up craving more. I could name off the top of my head a dozen restaurants I’d love to visit again in the states or in other countries. Though I keep trying, the food and ambience in restaurants here just isn’t good enough to leave me dying for more.
We’re travelling a lot, but it’s expensive and difficult to get out of the country. If you think U.S. airlines and airports are a hassle, try flying Uzbekistan Airways out of Tashkent airport. Maybe I’ll get into these challenges more in a future post. For now, let’s just say that right now we’re in one of the valleys of enjoying our post and it’s nice to get out and see the world… or even to remember having done so six months ago!
How’s that for a transition?
Overall, Bangkok is not a place we’re looking forward to visiting again. It was nice to see it once, but it’s too big, crowded and dirty for our tastes. Next time we visit Thailand (there will almost certainly be a next time), Bangkok will just be the city we fly into before jumping on another plane or into a car so that we can head to our real destination.
However, that didn’t stop us from having some wonderful experiences while we were there. Our first day, we headed straight to the famous Chatuchak Market for some shopping. We entered through a labyrinth of shops in a huge indoor space. Each shop is just a stall, many separated only by cloth, but the partitions reach high enough to make you feel boxed in as you try to get through the crowds, occassionally stopping to check out something interesting. It’s a huge space that, as far as I could tell, covers several city blocks. Just about everything you could imagine is for sale there, from the mundanity of clothing to the unusual, such as pets.
When we finally reached the open air part of the market (I’m sure there are different entrances that go straight there), we found a delight of various foods available in addition to the shopping stalls. Below are pics of, on the left, a woman making coconut ice cream served inside the coconut shells. On the right are grilled squids.
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Thought we didn’t buy a lot, Lisa did get a couple of cute blouses from this stall on the left. After a satisfying Thai seafood lunch, we also fell victim to the delicious smell of fried chicken breast at one of the stalls.
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Later, we decided to take a break and have a few drinks when we saw this cute little bar stall complete with a DJ. It’s tough to tell from the photo on the right, but the DJ’s turntable stand is actually made from discarded weapons crates, each one idicating what kinds of guns or grenades the box used to contain. It’s nice to see them turned from objects of violence to providing the pleasure of music. Our stay in the bar was perfectly timed, just before the afternoon rainstorm.
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After a night in our hotel, we hopped on a boat the next day that took us and a hundred other passengers down the river. When we exited, we headed past one of the many shrines where religious leaders chanted prayers.
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After passing the lovely shrine, we did our best to find the right bus to take us to a mall where we could buy Lisa a new cell phone to replace the one she lost at the beginning of our trip. Thirty minutes later, overcome by crowds, traffic, and our inability to find the correct mode of transportation, we decided to give it up and buy a new phone in Tashkent. Instead, we hopped on a private longtail boat for a tour of Bangkok’s canals. As we went along the length of the river, we spotted our first dragon! Okay, really it’s a big lizard, but you can mostly see it camoflaged to the right along the canal’s concrete wall. Over the course of the tour we saw two more, some of them just wandering through folks’ backyards! I imagined how our dogs would react to such an invasion in our own backyard, leaving me wondering who would win in that fight. Hopefully we’ll never know.
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One of the most interesting things about the canals is the variety of dwellings jutting out over the water. Some are dilapidated and run down, others are quite fancy with their own backyards.
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Some folks took advantage of their decks for diving and swimming, though I imagine the dirty water isn’t without its health risks. It was also fun to see people getting around on their own boats, or out cleaning them like a 1950s man washing his car in the driveway of his suburban home.
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Several yards came complete with their own personal shrines. This family has a large yard and a lovely one on display for anyone on the channel to see.
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Our tour also took us to one of Bangkok’s floating markets: a series of boats along a floating pier, selling delicious foods of all kinds.
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We were so stuffed at this point that we didn’t eat much at the floating market. However, we did stop for some of the sweet pastries at the stall pictured in the middle here. Yum!! Also, we saw a big temple from the boat as we headed back home. Anyone who can identify it gets extra points! (No, of course I’m not turning it into a contest because I can’t remember which temple it is. That’s a ridiculous suggestion!)
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And when we finally returned from our visit to a tropical paradise, what did we find waiting for us in our yard?
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Yeah, that probably would’ve had more impact if I’d actually posted this back in the winter when it really happened…

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