Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bangkok. Take Two

It's not even Thanksgiving, but it's Christmas season in Bangkok.

Traffic is Bangkok is like traffic in Manhattan.  

This is my second time in Bangkok for a visa run.  The first was primarily spent either in a hospital bed with my leg elevated or in a hotel bed with my leg elevated.  At least the hotel had mega English cable channels on TV.  On the other hand, the hospital provided 24 hour service for anything I needed from food to bed baths and bed pans.   

This time, I was looking forward to the shopping and dining I missed the first try.  I’ve been to Bangkok twice before these visa runs and know it has a lot to offer.  I was a bit dismayed when I came down with a cold a few days before leaving for Bangkok and then a knuckle on my hand became very swollen and painful.  Damn, is there a Bangkok curse?

I arrived Thursday evening and had a terrific dinner at a Mexican restaurant with one of the guys I teach with.  Food, tequila and conversation were good.  Plus, no talk of work/Mandalay. 

Friday I visited the hospital twice and in between got a two hour massage and ordered some custom silk blouses.  Coming home at six pm from the hospital proved frustrating.  A cab came when called but then demanded double the fare.  Wrong.  Or, perhaps not.  It was Friday night in Bangkok and traffic was gridlocked.  I then waited almost an hour for another taxi. 
I got great care at a good price from compassionate people at Camillian hospital.  But I hope I never go there again.

I saw this sign while sitting in traffic on my way home.  What kind of business has the slogan "If you can do it, you will see the difference!"  A tailor.

I stepped back inside to wait and avoid the mosquitoes, where I ran into an employee who’d been especially helpful during my stay previously.  She not only remembered my name but also the part of town where I’d stayed.  I showed her my appointment slip for the following day and she looked concerned.  I hadn’t really paid attention but she’d noticed that the appointment wasn’t for Saturday, it was for Sunday.

She went to check it out while I kept watch for the taxi.  As luck would have it, the taxi pulled up immediately after she walked off.  I asked him to wait and went running after her.  All this in sign language, of course.  I caught up to her, got a new appointment slip with the correct date and ran back, only to see the taxi taking off.  Damn, he’d seemed to understand and agree.
In front of the hospital.  These guys were great.
I enlisted the help of the orderlies who’d helped me call a taxi so many times.  They ran after the guy, yelling in Thai.    He stopped.  Big sigh of relief.  Then he backed up and parked.  And got out of the car.  The orderlies and I were looking at each other in confusion.  As the driver ran past us I heard an orderly translate one word:  toilet. 

Good thing he used the facilities because once we agreed that I’d pay the meter rate and headed into traffic, it was slow going.  I don’t know why I always forget that traffic on Sukhumvit (and everywhere else in the city) is gridlock on a Friday night.  And Saturday, Sunday, etc.

We got stuck in a real snarl near the Emporium mall.  Ho, ho, ho, all the Thai Buddhists were Christmas shopping.  Towering Christmas trees in front of malls, Christmas carols blaring (in English) and ads for “holiday” specials.   Because of the number of cars trying to exit the mall, traffic was not moving.  At all.  We sat for over 30 minutes when traffic started crawling again. 

Finally, he made a bold move around a bus, raced through an almost red light and there was space ahead.  He floored it and we simultaneously started yelling with excitement.  We made eye contact and laughed out loud.  It was one of those moments I call pearls – a moment of perfect joy.  He didn’t speak English, I don’t speak Thai, I was at least 30 years older and none of that mattered.  We were sharing a small but excellent moment.

On Saturday, instead of heading to Chatuchuk market, as planned, I was headed back to the hospital.  After a blood test, the doctor was concerned that I had a bacterial infection in the bone in my hand.  Or, possibly lupus.  I figured spending a few hours waiting with the dozens of other people to see a doctor were worth it to see a specialist.

It took all morning but I got great news.  Just the gouty arthritis I’ve had before.  It hadn’t bothered me in years but had flared up when I was in the hospital.  A reaction to the trauma of the infection according to the doctor.  i was given drugs and was on my way.  Let the vacation begin.

I had a fitting for my blouses on Saturday afternoon, spent some time on the internet and then met more co-workers for dinner.  At the same Mexican restaurant.  It was a fun evening with lots of laughs, although we had to consciously keep moving the conversation away from work.

Sunday morning I planned to leave really early for the Chatuchuck market, which opens at 6:00 a.m.  My body disagreed and I didn’t get up until 7:00 a.m.  After a quick shower and easy Skytrain ride, I arrived at the market around 8:15.  Good thing I didn’t get there earlier, since many of the vendors were just opening for business.

I spent about four hours at the market.  It’s big, but not as huge as I’d expected.  Most stalls are under roof and it’s a maze to get through.  Both junk and treasures, depending upon your perspective. 

It’s the kind of market I love to explore.   I know many people think it’s intimidating to travel alone, but this market is an example of why I love it.  I went at my own pace, stopping at what interested me and passing by things that didn’t.  I can’t imagine doing a market like this as part of a tour.  I had a small bottle of orange juice which I saw being squeezed.  I passed by all the food stalls, reluctantly.  I was more focused on shopping than eating.
It was early when I got to the market and the crowds hadn't arrived.  They were in full force by the time I left.

Hungry for a little Turkish food?  Bangkok (and the market) has it all.

And lots of tempting beverages.

Maua ili i le marketi!  Looks just like the fans I used everyday in Samoa.  One was my first purchase of the day.  $1 USD.

Tired of the market?  Grab some food from one of the dozens of food vendors on the street and rent a mat from a guy so you can enjoy a picnic in Chatuchuk Park, next to the market.

Have you ever shopped so much that you couldn’t remember every thing you bought?  That was my day.  It was fun to unload my backpack and rediscover my treasures.  A wallet.  Two muscle shirts for new grandsons of friends.  Bath salt scrub stuff to make my showers in Mandalay luxurious.  A blouse.  Two pairs of sandals.  Three DVDs which I'm sure are not black market.  Two silk pillow coverings for a friend who visited Thailand with me in 2003.  A silk hanging for my apartment in Mandalay.  A hand made paper hanging for my apartment.  Vegetable seeds and a jigsaw puzzle for my kids.  Cool hair clips for my assistant teachers.

All that loot for less than $100.  My kind of shopping.  Even after realizing that I got ripped off on the shoes.  If I’d bought the exact same thing on the street outside the market, I would have saved about ½.  But then again, I only paid $12, so was able to get over it quickly.

By the time I got back to my hotel I was sweaty, tired and getting hungry.  But happy.  After a bit of a rest and checking the internet, I headed out to find a late lunch.  I headed toward a nearby Chinese restaurant where I’d seen duck hanging out front.

There were few other customers there at 2:30 p.m. and I was offered a large table.  I relaxed and ordered honey roasted duck, stir fried morning glory with oyster sauce and rice.  And a Singha beer.  They didn’t blink that a woman alone was ordering a beer and brought it immediately, icy cold with a frosted mug.  Moments later the food began to arrive.  It was really good and I ate more than I should have.  All of that deliciousness was less than $15, USD.

With a full belly and a bit of a buzz (it was a large beer), I headed to the massage place near my hotel.  I left my shoes outside and settled in for two hours of bliss.  One hour of foot/leg massage, followed by an hour of Thai massage.  The Thai massage was a bit different than usual, with less stretching and pulling and more pressing and rubbing.  She found the knots in my shoulders and worked on those before taking care of the rest of me.  Here's a travel tip.  Do NOT wear a new pair of sandals to get a massage, after having a large beer.  I left my shoes outside, with all the others.  Between my relaxed state and the new shoes, took me a minute to find them.

I was planning to meet my school friends for a movie and dinner but the massage went a bit longer than scheduled (and I was not about to complain), so headed to a nearby food court.  I was still full from the large lunch so snagged a fresh cheese naan and mango and sticky rice for my dinner. 

It’s been a splendid vacation so far.  I’ve been able to Skype with a couple of friends, IM with others and just enjoy a change of scene.  I’ve got two more days before I leave.  I’m planning grocery shopping since I want to bring back “basics” like pickle relish, tortilla chips, refried beans and green chiles.  I also want to hit an area where I hear I can buy the kind of jewelry that will make my assistant teachers very happy.  There will be at least two more massages.  I plan to get a haircut.  I plan to eat Thai food.  And, I’ll be planning my visa run for January.  I’m thinking Kuala Lumpur this time, although staying in Bangkok would work, too.

I love, love, love living only two hours from Bangkok.

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