February 16, 2015
Stop number two on the HeddLynnston Southeast Asia Travelganza was Bangkok. Bangkok, like Hanoi, is another very crowded city but the similarities end there. It’s much farther south on the coast of Thailand, so it’s very humid and very hot. Bangkok might be the coolest big city I’ve seen traveling the world thus far but I definitely don’t think I’d want to live there. Everything is extremely crowded but very cheap; there are tons of people, street markets, stores, restaurants, bars, and massage parlors everywhere. Our favorite activity in Bangkok was definitely the $5/hour foot massages. My calves feel extremely relaxed.
The Thai Royal Family
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and home to the main palace for the Thai Royal family. The king of Thailand is the richest monarch in the world with a net worth of about $30 billion. It makes Great Britain’s royal fortune of $450 million (as of 2010) look like chump change. There are also pictures of the King everywhere in Thailand, which I find amusing because he kind of looks like the Thai version of my Dad in the 70s. Or maybe everyone just looked the same in the 70s, I dunno. John and I went to a movie recently and at the beginning of the film everyone stood while they played the “King’s Song” and showed video of the King doing his Kingly duties. It was great.
The food in Thailand is actually pretty similar to the Thai food you can get in San Francisco. There's pad thai (also called fried noodles Thai style), pad see ew, and fish that still have their faces. The street food was really cheap and really delicious, about 50 baht ($1.75 per plate). In Thailand they love sugar and almost every dish or drink has a generous portion of sugar added. I, personally, loved it but it was a change from Vietnamese food which has very little or no sugar added.
Bangkok is also the sex industry capital of the world, a fact that really freaked me out most of the time that we were there. Our first night we went exploring for food and happened upon a street called “Soi Cowboy.” It’s a very famous street full of bars and clubs; women in underwear stand outside these clubs beckoning men inside and it was immediately clear that this street is part of Bangkok’s sex industry. There’s actually a documentary on Soi Cowboy on Netflix for anyone interested. What made all of us really uncomfortable was that many of the young girls on Soi Cowboy had braces, which in America is associated with the ages of around 13-16. I really hope that braces are an older thing in Thailand.
Public Transit Tour
Our exploration of the city ended up being an exploration of the public transit system. We took a taxi to the main river that runs through Bangkok, got on a boat taxi to cross the river, walked through an extremely crowded market following the river down until we reached the Temple of Dawn. For all monuments and temples in Bangkok people must have their shoulders and knees covered so Laura and I kept having to rent scarves and cover ups.
After the Temple of Dawn we got on another boat taxi to go farther down the river. We were packed into the crowded boat trying to avoid getting sprayed by extremely polluted river water whenever we passed other boats. Finally, after exploring that portion of the city we took the MTR back to our apartment. The MTR in Bangkok is excellent; it’s an above-ground train that’s super fast and air-conditioned. My biggest piece of advice for women visiting Bangkok is to wear sports bras because even just standing outside makes you sweat.
Jim Thompson and the Silk Industry
On our final day in the city Laura and I visited the house of Jim Thompson. Jim Thompson was an American ex-pat who revived the silk trade industry in Thailand after WWII. He went to Princeton and studied architecture before the war, and when WWII started he joined up and was likely a spy for the CIA positioned in East Asia. He fell in love with the region and after the war ended chose to stay in Thailand rather than return home. He revived the silk trade industry in the area and made a handsome fortune. He then built a house in Bangkok by combining together 6 original Thai houses and the resulting mansion is a tribute to the local architecture and customs as well as an impressive showcase of his own architectural skills. The house is now a museum that showcases his impressive art collection and architectural prowess. You can read more about Jim Thompson here.