Bangkok is a typical big Southeast Asian metropolis with one caveat: it has never been colonized by any European nation and thus, it is devoid of any positive European influence on its appearance. The facades and the spirit of Saigon, Hanoi, and Rangoon all benefited (even though ever so slightly) from the prolonged European presence, which infused some charm into their shabby third world architecture. Bangkok had none of that influence that would ameliorate its third world unsightliness. But I knew that and had no expectations. I did have a flickering hope that Bangkok’s system of canals might translate into some possible charm, but that hope turned out to be futile.
What I did expect was to feast on the fabulous Thai food and was dismayed to have my hopes shuttered! The lauded street food looks completely unappealing to me, the buffet lunches our tour took us to were just that: buffet lunches, and even a pricey fancy restaurant we went to for dinner was mediocre at best.
I was shocked to discover that the Thai have preference for deep-fried and greasy food. I can’t help but keep comparing this food to the food we had in Vietnam – light, fresh, healthy, and delectable. Thus far, Pure and Land lead the way of my favorite Thai restaurants! This is the first time in my travels that the food in the country of origin is worse than the eponymous food in the US!
Our half day city tour took us to the main Buddhist temple, and Buddhist temples never impressed me on my previous visits to other buddhist countries; a visit to the Royal Palace complex, where all the buildings were closed to the public due to the mourning of the beloved king, dead for more than a year now and finally cremated back in October; a walk around Chinatown akin to all other Chinatowns; and a visit to a Chinese temple – another tawdry shrine adorned with many shiny buddha statures.
In the afternoon, we went to the famous Chatuchak market, which also disappointed. Here too, I kept comparing it to the big markets in Yangon and Saigon. In Yangon, the market was raw, primitive, and primeval, with some booths selling prehistoric foods, and others – what looked like vintage black magic. In Saigon, fake designer bags looked so authentic, I couldn’t tell they were fake. Here, the foods were the same fried and greasy numbers, and the fakes looked fake from two miles away.
Since food and shopping failed to impress, I decided to try the famed Thai massage. Our hotel’s spa was fragrant, tranquil, and tasteful, but the prices of services rivaled those in the US. So we decided to go out into the real world and, around the corner from our hotel, we stumbled upon a massage parlor where I was given an excellent foot massage and a very mediocre pedicure, all for $15. The whole experience was surreal. The place had dimmed light, soft Asian music, and people stretched out on recliners in various states of oblivion. In between the recliners, silent Thai women flattered, attending to the clients’ bodies. It had a look and a feel of an opium den. I must say, I did enjoy the massage, but I think I’m going to splurge on the hotel spa next time – the hygienic state of the ersatz opium den was too questionable for my taste.