Friday, October 21, 2005

My twisted Bangkok adventure

I just wanted to share my Bangkok adventure. I arrived in Asia’s City of Angels on 30 September at around 6:30 pm (7:30 pm Manila time) via Thai Airways. Flight service was okay but there was no personal in-flight movie for economy class passengers! Singapore Airlines service staff was more efficient and had more entertainment options (sumasayaw na flight attendants? Not.). Meanwhile, the Bangkok International Airport is not unlike NAIA. It’s old. During my stay in Bangkok, Mr. Thaksin had a media stunt promoting the new airport which will be operational early next year. Oh by the way, when I went home last Sunday night I noticed some letters of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport don’t have lights. Paging PTA and DOT. You don’t want the tourists to interpret that as a portent of things to expect in our 7,107 islands. If we want to WoW the tourists we should impress them upon arrival right?

On our way to Trang Hotel (It was a story by itself. Horrendous. Ghastly hotel service) I noticed that you could not see much of Bangkok if you're using the elevated highway because the view was blocked by walls! Hmm. I immediately recalled Imelda's way of eliminating eyesores in the 70’s di ba? And I was right! The walls did not cover the whole stretch of the highway eh and somehow if you have a keen eye you’d see the urban poor areas, the old and dilapidated buildings behind the walls. Anyway, a big part of my Bangkok adventure happened during the last two days of my stay.

Traditional Thai Houses

First stop is the house of Jim Thompson, an American architect who volunteered for service in the US Army during World War II and decided later to stay and live in Thailand. Enamored with Thai culture, he dismantled old houses from rural Thai and reconstructed them in a compound in Bangkok and on 1959 he moved in. In 1967, Mr. Thompson disappeared while on a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. The house is now administered by a foundation named after him.

To get there Corinna Lopa and I rode the BTS, Bangkok’s version of MRT. Boy, it was gleaming! And there were no hawkers outside the station and no huge billboards of scantily clads starlets that will derail and spoil the ride. We bought tickets using the vending machine. There were a few people on the train because it was after 10 am.

According to the Thai guide, the houses represented the best in traditional Thai architecture. The teak houses were elevated a full story above ground to avoid flooding during the monsoon season. If you’ve seen Bagong Buwan, these Thai houses look like the Muslim home of the Sultan character played by Ronnie Lazaro. They have high ceilings for good ventilation. It was cool and airy inside.

Most of the furnishings inside are Chinese-influenced especially the jars, vases and bowls. The Thais have a long history of interaction with the Chinese. That’s what I’ve learned when I visited the Thai National Museum. One interesting item in the bedroom of Mr. Jim Thompson is a porcelain orinola. The guide said it was a child’s orinola. However, Thompson is childless and lived alone. My over-imaginative brain started working. Why is there a child’s orinola inside the master’s bedroom? But I kept my mouth shut lest I be dragged away outside the compound.

Jim Thompson’s house is just a hundred meters away from MBK, Siam Center and Central World, three of the most popular shopping malls in Bangkok. Siam Center is near Chulalongkorn University and is teeming with students and fashionistas. Siam Square which is just outside the Center is Bangkok’s answer to the Shinjuku district of Japan. And you’ll be amazed that outside every mall there are Buddhist altars. Even along the sidewalks!

The National Museum: Violence as a showcase of one’s culture

Thailand is a Buddhist society and Buddhism is known for its adherence to a peaceful way of life. Ironically, the impression that you will get when you visit the Thailand’s National Museum, especially the main gallery, is that Thai history is all about wars and conquests. There was even this account in one of the exhibits that goes something like “Cannons are one of the most important contributions of the westerners to Thai society…” What the f@345!

I also noticed that most of the clay figures depicting different periods of Thai history are men. Where are the Gabriela Silangs and Tandang Soras? I think Melody, Paula and Hazel will agree with me that this is not acceptable. Ngapala, Christianity first landed on Thailand in 1511. That’s a full decade ahead of the Philippines. La lang.

I still recommend a visit to the museum if you want to get away from the usual tourist trail. The buildings are impressive especially the carvings on the doors and roofs. The National Museum also has its share of local visitors, mostly art students who visit the various temples and old buildings all over Bangkok to sketch.

Sanam Luang and Wat Po

Across the National Museum is Sanam Luang or the Grand Park or the Royal Field. If you like pigeons, there are hundreds and hundreds of them at the park. Some enterprising Thais are selling plastic sachets of corn bits so you can feed the pigeons till kingdom come and pretend that you’re in a piazza somewhere in Italy or a square in Paris or Rome. Just don’t bring out your coat and your stylish shawls because it is hot and humid.

A few blocks away, about 200 meters are the Grand Palace (home of the Royal Family) and Wat Po, the home of the reclining Buddha. I wasn’t able to visit the Grand Palace because the admission price is 200 baht. Heck, I can buy a decent shirt and a bowl of hot and spicy tom yung goom for that. May sukli pa.

Unlike in the other temples and the National Museum, cameras are allowed inside Wat Po. Shoes, however, are a no-no. The reclining Buddha is mind-boggling. It’s big and beautiful. The compound is dotted with smaller wats or temples and you’ll find numerous Buddhas in different poses.

Pra Chan and Chao Praya River: Savor the smells of old Bangkok

By this time, Corinna and the rest of the SEACA family is now back home and I’m all alone in my quest to find the true Bangkok. Fortunately, just a stone’s throw away from the National Museum is Tha Pra Chan, one of the oldest communities in Bangkok. According to a marker leading to the ferry station in the Chao Praya River, Tha Pra Chan was used to be the palace of Prince Prachak Sillapakhom.

Tha Pra Chan now is a small street near the Grand Palace and the National Museum. What sets it apart from the rest of city are the hawkers. They are everywhere, selling everything and anything from antique coins, old Buddha statuettes, to fruits, noodles, silver jewelry and the ubiquitous wooden penis. Is it (the wooden penis) an anting-anting? I have to ask some Thai friends.

Pra Chan road is enchanting. You’ll get dizzy with all the sounds and smells of Old Bangkok. It is unlike Divisoria and Quiapo in the sense that you have a feeling of security and safety. Just throw away your caution to the wind and enjoy the orderly chaos of Pra Chan.

At the end of the road is the Pra Chan ferry station. From there to Pinklong Bridge the ferry ride is bout five minutes and will cost you 3 bahts. You’ll get a good view of the Chao Praya River and the skyscrapers of Bangkok’s financial district. During the ride you’ll also get the chance to mingle with the ordinary Thai, who are on their way to work and school. I’ve heard that we’ll soon have a ferry system in our very own Pasig River. Tama ba?

Democracy Monument: Testament to the heroism of the Thai people

Thirty-two years ago, thousands of Thai students, workers, men and women converged in the heart of Bangkok near the Old Chinatown and demanded for a return to democracy. Why was it important for me to see this monument? Because it happened on October 14 just two days away from my birthday! O inuman na.

Khao San: The backpacker’s ghetto

Khao San or Chao San is a world-famous street due to its cameo role in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie “The Beach”. It is about 200 meters of shops, bars and budget hotels. A true backpackers’ haven.

My first encounter with Khao San happened on the 3rd night of my stay in Bangkok. I was suffering from stir-craziness and cabin fever and was itching to get away from the hell-hole that was my hotel room. I tagged along with Maya, Reggie, Tatcee, and Farha (a Malaysian intern in IID). Fortunately, Trang Hotel was just a 35 baht ride to Khao San, about 15-minute walk.

Snapping away some pictures was fun. The people in Khao San just didn’t care. You’ll see all sorts of characters there: from bible-wielding mormons to cross-dressing kathueys. Unshaven hippies and rastafaris with unruly dreadlocks compete with Japanese punks with Mohawk-styled hair grab your attention. You just can not take your eyes off them. I feel old and normal when I was there. Maybe, I’m just really old, normal and boring. Pero I’m a type 4 in enneagram. I’m supposed to be unique, eccentric, MAD. hehehehe

Anyway, a funny thing happened on my second visit to Khao San on the last day of my Bangkok adventure. I was walking along one of the sidewalks listening to Easy FM Bangkok in my N6610i radio (all foreign songs format and the number one song is Christian Bautista’s “The way you look at me”!!!) when a book being sold by one of the hawkers caught my attention. It was an English-Visayan dictionary! Hahahaha.


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Anonymous said...

Amusing blog. There's probably a lot of OFWs working in Thailand who come from the Visayas and are the major buyers of that dictionary that you mentioned. Particularly, the Filipino English teachers who I heard have been increasing in numbers especially in Bangkok.