Hanging in Bangkok
Here I am, chilling (literally... the AC's pretty strong) in my hotel room in Bangkok. I'm staying in a pretty good hotel... in fact, probably one of the best in the place, and that alone is worth the trip. A week in luxurious executive class comfort? Thank you very much. Anyway, as much as I'd want to just vegetate in the room and surf on the complementary high-speed internet, I just had to go out. There were souvenirs to buy, things to see.
Day One had me going out and riding Bangkok's BTS, their equivalent to Manila's MRT. It works similarly, save here you buy tickets from vending machines with coins- the booths with tellers provide change for bills. The trains are well-maintained, cool and spacious... albeit smaller than the Edsa MRT. They're also apparently totally covered with advertising stickers, which makes sightseeing from the train impossible, weirdly enough.
A couple of stations' trip away from the hotel was Siam Square, Bangkok's central mall district, and it's BIG. I walked around for an hour or two, looking at the gorgeous setting, salivating at big-screen TVs and perusing some bookstores (including one that sold all Japanese/oriental books, manga and catalogs). Outside the big malls are countless flea markets, garment stores and shops revolving around the central malls. In a word- dizzying. It didn't help though that it was drizzling so I was walking around in my raincoat, stoically determined to experience the Bangkok night of a street pedestrian, even if it was through the rain. I ate some street food, went into a 7-11, walked through sidewalks and sidestreets and generally had an interesting watch of an altogether new but strangely familiar place.
Day Two had half of the day alloted for work, attending a meeting. Afterwards, I was free to go and I was determined to finish my souvenir-shopping to get it out of the way at least. I got a taxi which was driven by a young Thai driver named Tom, who thankfully had very good english. While I originally wanted to go to Wat Po and look at some temples, I eventually gave up since the traffic was pretty bad and the place was located on the other side of the city. I instead went off to a government-run facility (the name escapes me) where they produced Thailand's famous jewelry (along with other Thai souvenirs). Of course, I didn't exactly have countless dollars to spend on jade, rubies and sapphires, so I just slid over to the cultural goods shop and picked up some stuff for the folks back home.
Afterwards, Tom drove me over to MBK, a large market area where bargains could be had. I spent the next couple of hours walking around, wandering and buying a couple of gifts. On the sidewalk, I passed by video stalls and resisted the temptation to grab a couple of discs. Man, they have a LOT of malls here, albeit some are a lot less posh than others. The price though definitely goes down along with the ambience. Despite all that, I felt safe walking around among the Thai people... there was a nice air to everything, and it was nice to just be just another face in a place where Europeans, Americans, Indians and other Asians walked along as well in a pleasant, eclectic mix. I found myself admiring Bangkok for lots of stuff- the air was definitely cleaner (and not as much, if not at all of the stink you'd find in corners and alleys of Manila...) and sidewalks made for walking. Taxis as well seemed easier to get and plentiful, though I heard and read that even here there are unscrupulous cabbies. I haven't met one yet though.
Had dinner at a nice resto which served good Thai food... I was determined to do this since my first night's dinner was eaten at McDonald's. Don't scoff- I just wanted to see any differences from McDo at home. Not many, though incredibly enough they have a DOUBLE BIG MAC. Four freakin' patties. My. God.
After dinner, I walked back home and found myself inhaling a smell that reminded me of armpits times ten. I realized that walking ahead of me was a little elephant. A real, live pachyderm, on the street, walking along with it's owners/herders (who were vendors of some kind). I followed, just wanting to stare at the thing all the way. That moment I really regretted I left my camera in the hotel room. Well, at least the smell won't ever be forgotten.
And so, my second day in Bangkok passed. I finished my souvenir shopping and here I am. with the week still young. There's work to be done from here on in, but I think I'll still have chances to have more fun here in Bangkok. We'll see.