Continued from here:
Packed like sardines into an ancient Bangkok Airways aircraft, we bid farewell to Siem Reap and headed north to Bangkok, our final leg on this trip.
An hour later, we landed in Bangkok's gleaming, if somewhat sterile, Suvarnabhumi Airport. The airport was festooned with banners that proclaimed, “Long Live the King”, with photos of a grim and bespectacled, but youthful-looking King Bhumipol Adulyadej, or King Rama IX. As is so often the case, appearances were misleading: King Bhumipol is a ripe 80 years of age, but perhaps neither he, nor his adoring subjects, want to acknowledge this.
We completed the immigration formalities which were smooth and painless, collected our baggage, and went in a large, gleaming van to the ambitiously named Grand Business Inn, in the Sukhumvit section (in the eastern part) of Bangkok.
My first impression of this city, as we crawled through
traffic-clogged highways, was not very favorable: a sprawling, noisy, polluted
modern city with ugly, characterless skyscrapers, and nothing to really
distinguish it from any other big city. Thank goodness that beauty is not skin
deep, and that first impressions are often wrong. Behind the mess and the clutter and the
chaos, we discovered some sights of great beauty, and a city that was full of
verve and life. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The Grand Business Inn was a clean, modern hotel, and to our
eyes, accustomed thus far to the cramped spaces of Golden Temple Villa,
everything looked extremely spacious.
The Front Desk supervisor (or manager) was a formidable-looking creature – with her artificially black hair forced into an old-fashioned bouffant, thick eyebrows, heavy frown and pancake makeup, she looked quite the martinet. The reception girls tiptoed around her, not daring to say a word in her presence. After the requisite form-filling and passport-photocopying, we went upstairs to our rooms, which were large and very clean.
While the others took a nap, I ventured downstairs to the reception desk, to find out what we could do and see that evening. The martinet was there, bustling around bossily, so I asked one of the timid-looking girls who was standing around doing nothing. Immediately the martinet came over and barked, “You wait! She is only reception, she knows nothing!” I waited patiently for a few minutes while the martinet continued to bustle around bossily. Seeing me waiting there, another of the timid-looking girls approached me and asked if she could help. Right away, the martinet rushed over and scolded me, “I told you to wait! She knows nothing!” I resigned myself to a long wait, but within a few minutes the martinet came back to me, and upon hearing my request for suggestions for what to see in Bangkok, she declared, “Nothing. Only shopping in the mall.” A bit startled by this, I pressed her some more (all the while mindful of her rising irritation, and not wanting to push her over the brink), and, with a notable lack of enthusiasm, she came up with the Bangkok Night Bazaar, near the Lumphini Gardens. So, the Bangkok Night Bazaar it was.
The first problem was trying to find a taxi to take us
there. The martinet stated that there was no other way to get there than by
taxi, and we were sufficiently intimidated by her to not question her. Outside
our hotel, we flagged down taxi after taxi, and when they heard where we wanted
to go, the drivers just shook their heads and zoomed away. We began to wonder….
But eventually we managed to get two taxis to agree to take us and we set out
for the Bangkok Night Bazaar.
Very quickly, we discovered why so many taxis had refused to take us. The traffic on the way there was some of the worst I had seen. At one traffic light, we stayed at exactly the same spot for about eight traffic light cycles. Our driver was a talkative old man, but the only thing I understood of what he said was, “Bangkok Night Bazaar. American food. Bangkok. American food. Siam Paragon. American food. American food. Very good. Indian food also very good.”
A while later, we finally arrived at Bangkok Night Bazaar, where our driver dropped us off at the taxi stop. An animated, colorful scene met our eyes, with the streets bursting with people who were shopping, or just looking around. It seemed that everything under the sun was on sale here: handicrafts, clothes, electronics, jewelry, fashion accessories, artwork, food, fake everything. This looked like fun. Grudgingly, I tipped my hat to the martinet, for a good suggestion.
Unsurprisingly, we were all hungry, so we made straight for
the food court, which is an enormous open-air area, with food stalls around
three sides, and a stage on the other, providing an “entertainment” show of
raucous music accompanied by dancers and comedy shows.
Talk about being spoiled for choice! One entire side was devoted to beer, more beer, still more beer, and other beverages, and the other two, to food. I cannot even begin to describe everything that was being cooked and sold there. There was a dizzying array of seafood that crawled and squirmed, meats that I had no idea existed, fruits and vegetables, all prepared in so many different ways. Personally, if I were a meat eater, I would be permanently put off meat after seeing such a surfeit of it at this place. For an open-air food market in this warm climate, there was no smell, no flies, and it looked very clean. The place was full of people, mostly locals, which surprised me, as I thought such a place would be a magnet for tourists (who were there alright, but they were far outnumbered by Thais).
Bangkok Night Bazaar
A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are several thousands worth, to give you an idea of what was sold in the food stalls.
We played it relatively safe, and ordered mostly vegetarian
items – the tried-and-tested fried rice (including a green-curry fried rice
which was spicy and delicious), stir-fried veggies and some chicken satay for the carnivores. And then for the grand finale, something I had been
dreaming about ever since this trip was planned: sticky rice with coconut sauce
and mango! The others greeted my
announcement with a good deal of skepticism. My reputation in terms of food was
rocky, with the ever-present memory of the morning glory. This combination of
rice, coconut and mango sounded downright strange, but as long as they were not
made to eat it, they were content to limit their comments. The dish’s
appearance did not do much to inspire confidence either – gooey rice and a goopy
coconut sauce, with the fresh, glistening mango as the only saving grace. It
was delicious! Even those who were brave enough to taste a tiny spoonful, agreed that it
was good. Everyone watched me eat my mango with indulgent looks.
We wandered around the market for a short while after
dinner, the men grumbling and dragging their heels with an air of resigned
martyrdom, the women stopping every few seconds to ooh and aah over something.
We exercised admirable restraint and did not buy anything. Soon, the
complaining from the men become too annoying to bear, and we headed back to the
hotel, deciding to give the subway a try this time, after our experience with
the taxis. We were pleasantly surprised. The station was clean and modern, with clear and easy-to-follow signs in
Thai and English. A few stops later, we were back in Sukhumvit, but it was a
bit of a walk back to the hotel. I
enjoyed this walk, through pavements
jammed with vendors of more strange meats, steamed buns, noodles, fruits,
t-shirts, jewelry, fake watches, sex objects, tourist memorabilia…..you name
it, the pavement vendors are likely to have it. This is a really vibrant city,
but I would not want to live here. I’m
sure that there are nice neighborhoods with parks and greenery, but so far, we
had seen nothing like that.
Back at the hotel, we were scolded by the martinet for not
turning in our keys before going out. With insincere looks of repentance, we
went up to our rooms to a night of sound sleep. For tomorrow, the
Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha, and the Reclining Buddha!