Thursday, July 19, 2007

Photo Essay: Bangkok

Everyone told us Bangkok would be beautiful. Modern. Developed. Great for shopping. The roads would be great. The airport would be fantastic. We rolled our eyes and said, Yeah, yeah, yeah. The image of Bangkok as a third-world city would not be dislodged from our heads.

Until we came out of the walkway leading from our plane and stepped into the airport. With wide eyes, gaping mouths and short breaths, we took it all in. The cleanliness. The modernity. The space. The airiness. The convenience. The air of prosperity. The efficiency at the immigration counter. The orderly baggage claim area. We landed on a Saturday, perhaps it was just the weekend lull. But still.

A ride into the city did nothing to dispel any of these initial reactions. The roads were great. The buildings were well-maintained. The glass facades of the offices and malls shone with brilliance. It was like driving in some European city.

There was, however, plenty of evidence that we were, in fact, in Thailand.

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Right around the corner from our hotel, street vendors sell tender coconuts. The green outer layer is shaved off and the unopened coconuts are stored in an ice box of sorts.

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I thought that Pushkar was the only place in the whole world with a Brahma temple. Not so, as we found out in Bangkok. This shrine to Brahma is apparently very popular with anyone who has a favor to ask of God. The shrine occupies the corner of a busy intersection, right next to the Grand Hyatt Erawan. The story behind the location of the temple is that the hotel's renovation was not going very well and it was suggested to the management that they build a shrine to Brahma next to the hotel. The shrine was duly built and legend has it that the construction of the temple proceeded smoothly from that point on. And if you did not know, Erawan is Brahma's elephant.

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Flowers for sale next to the Brahma shrine. These shops also had incense sticks. If you duly noted the Subway sign, we did too and promptly headed there for lunch.

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I love markets. The most enjoyable part of a trip for me is to stroll through the market in any new city. I love the hustle and bustle, looking at the wares for sale, the color, the people, the haggling, the sameness of the foods that we all eat, and the differences. And it also makes me feel, for half an hour at least, like a local.

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The Night Market is one of Bangkok's great attractions (please to banish all naughty thoughts from thy head), an open-air shopping mecca for tourists and locals alike. The market is definitely worth a visit. The prices are very reasonable and you may make a great find for your home or your closet in its maze-like corridors.

After dinner on the first day of our Bangkok stay, we flagged down a tuk-tuk and scrambled in. After the unavoidable haggling over the rate, the driver wiggled in his seat, settled himself in and tore through the Bangkok night. Tuk-tuk is a misnomer. The name apparently originated in the sound of the engines of the the original vehicles. The one we rode in and the other ones we saw on the streets were souped up versions (with myriad multi-colored flashing lights) and sounded more like planes taking off. Big N loved it, of course, and little N, safely ensconced in her father's arms was bewildered by the noise at first and then settled back to enjoy the ride.

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The next morning, we hired a local guide for a half-day tour of the important sights. Our first stop was the Reclining Buddha temple.

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The Emerald Buddha temple adjacent to the Royal Palace was a sight to see. The sprawling temple complex houses many shrines with intricate design.

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Lastly, Thai food was all that it is chalked up to be. We were big fans of Thai food, but as with Chinese food (which adapts to each country it is found in) we were afraid that we would be disappointed by the real deal. Happily, the Erawan Tea Room at the Grand Hyatt dispelled our apprehensions. The food was excellent.

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One last thing. All of the display of prosperity that is evident to a visitor's eyes has come at a price. Our guide told us that beyond the few square kilometers of Bangkok city proper, poverty is all too prevalent in the rest of the country. We were surprised by what appeared to be the non-existence of slums or shanties in Bangkok, but we soon realized that that was only an illusion as we drove from the Grand Palace back to our hotel. Very close to the King's official residence, rows and rows of slum dwellings became visible.

Similarly, the construction of magnificent Suvarnabhoomi International Airport was beset by allegations of corruption on the part of the government resulting in a coup in September 2006 during which the Royal Thai Army overthrew the then Prime Minister. When we visited Bangkok in April 2007, the coup was still in place.

There are reports of unrest and violence on and off in Thailand (there was a bomb blast in Bangkok this past New Year's Eve), mostly confined to the southern areas, so it's worthwhile checking the latest reports as you plan your trip.

8 comments:

mumbaigirl said...

There are Brahma temples in Indonesia too...was astonished to see them.

Charu said...

we went to Bangkok after a week at Ko Samui - so we found it unable to enjoy steel and concrete as much... and we were there just for a couple of days, so didn't really get to see much local color and life - I did miss the floating market - want to go there on my next trip to Bangkok (whenever that is)... and I love the second shot of the reclining Buddha..

enfoured said...

used to travel quite a bit to south east asia on work. bangkok was in terrible shape then as the metro was still being constructed and the traffic jams were legendary. the baht was at 54 to the $ while the rupee was still at 36, so had a ball shopping!

the pix bring back lots of fun memories!

Sujatha said...

MG, I wonder why people said the one in Pushkar was the only one.

Charu, yes, next time around, floating market. We missed it too. And thank you for saying you like the photo. That's high praise! You know I love anything you shoot - they are always so lovely.

Enfoured, yes, shopping is good, but it was depressing to see that the Baht was doing better than the ruppee. :(

Nandan Jha said...

good info and pretty good pics, normal and natural :)

I reached here somehow and read this travel post. I have a travel experience logger at www.ghumakkar.com and trying to bring together serious ghhumakkars of the world. Drop by and if the posts interests you then why not write at ghumakkar as well.

all the best
jha

Sujatha said...

Nandan, thanks for your comment and the invite. I'll check out the link, but will not be able to contribute at this time, unfortunately.

Moon said...

I am an Indian staying in Bangkok. Though I agree with some of the points that you have put forth as a tourist, I disagree with one vehemently.
Bomb blasts that happen here are confined to the south.
I was present here during the 31at night blasts. There were over 10 blasts all over the city which created panic but not meant to harm anyone. Whoever was hurt was due to over curiosity or stampede. We still managed to have gala celebrations. This country of smiles lives for tourists and make sure no harm come to them.

Bangkok Hotels, Thailand said...

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