Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bangkok... according to Ken

I just returned from Bangkok for a friend's birthday weekend celebration!  I've been several times this year and I must say, this was the best trip to date!

On my first trip to Bangkok, people said I'd either love it or hate it.  Upon arrival, I must say I didn't really know what to think, it's unlike any place I've ever been.  Bangkok is an easy 2.5 hour flight from Hong Kong.  It's relatively inexpensive (or can be) and home of some amazing hotels.  To be honest, I made a few trips before actually exploring the city's sights.  I would arrive, grab a taxi to the hotel, unpack and hit the pool- normally not leaving the property except for a daily massage (maybe two) at one of the many inexpensive massage places nearby.  So my initial impression was solely formed by my interaction with the local people.  Thai people are the sweetest people I have ever met.  I mentioned The Law of Motion in another post, well, the people of Thailand are what brought that awareness to my forefront this year.  Their cups are overfilled with joy, peace and are also extremely spiritual (that little Buddha alter outside my flat are everywhere).  A tour guide once shared a few of their beliefs, and although many of them are not mine, I completely respect and admire their devotion to a higher power, which is something I do believe.  Bottom line, they live knowing they are held accountable for their actions and are not alone in this world.  You can't argue with that.

Bangkok is the largest and capital city of Thailand, with a population of over 14 million people.  The historic Grand Palace and Buddhist temples stand in harsh contrast with other tourist attractions such as the CRAZY night life scenes.  Bangkok is among the world's top tourist destinations.  It is ranked third after London and Paris and has proudly held the title of "World's Best City" for three years running.  Due to Bangkok's rapid population growth the infrastructure is not up to par, resulting in the worst traffic I have ever experienced.  The last few trips we've stayed in the heart of the city which allows for walking or the use of a Tuk Tuk, a motorized tricycle taxi. 

Taxis in Bangkok have a bad reputation for refusing passengers if the destination is not convenient for the driver.  Taxis are also notorious for wanting to negotiate a fare, rather than use the meter.  Word to the wise, taxis are either privately owed or owed by a large company.  Ownership is indicated by the color of the taxi.  Pay attention to the colors and If you have a bad experience in a pink taxi, try to avoid pink taxis for the rest of your stay as the company's standards will most likely be consistent with all pink drivers.  My second word to the wise is this... if a metered rate to your destination is normally $50, and you are forced to pay a non-metered rate of $200, that is still only $6 US dollars!  So, GET OVER IT!!  Enjoy your trip and pay what they ask for.  

With each trip, I find myself understanding the city better and wanting to plan my next visit as soon as I get home.   Although I have been several times, there is still so much to see and do.  I still haven't been inside any temples... next trip...  next post!  

The Hotels...

This is the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental (where we normally stay).  The lobby flowers are always a treat for the eyes... I know I'm in Bangkok when I walk into this lobby!

Breakfast on the Chao Phraya River.

This shuttle takes you across the river to the hotel's spa... 
needless to say, I love this little boat.

This is the courtyard at the Sukhothai Hotel.  I've stayed here once, it was nice but the property is large and requires a lot of walking... I don't need to walk on vacation!
This is the hotel I stayed this past weekend... The Metropolitan.  It's hard to compare any of these great hotels because they're all so different, but The Met might be my favorite.  It's small, modern, incredibly detailed yet simple and close enough to walk to restaurants and shops.

Breakfast dining room at the Metropolitan...

For some reason it reminded me of Dallas' NorthPark Center, 
which made me feel at home.

Jim Thompson House...

Thompson was unlike any other figure in Southeast Asia.  He was an American, Princeton graduate, a NYC socialite, an ex-architect, a retired army officer, a CIA spy, a silk merchant and a renewed collector of antiques.  He was born 1906 but went missing the Easter weekend of 1967.   Many people believe he returned as a CIA Spy or simply wanted to become missing on purpose.  

Most of his treasures, if not all, were amassed after he arrived in Thailand in 1942.  While organizing the Office of Strategic Services, following the end of World War II, he became aware of Thai silk craft and single handedly built the Thai Silk trade as we know of it today (current Queen Sirikit, also played a major role in promoting Thai silk by having 100% of her wardrobe made of Thai Silk).  He focused all silk development to be produced by women working out of their homes, allowing them to maintain their vital role as homemaker and mother, but also be the main source of income for the family.  Even today's young generation regard Thompson with complete sincere admiration and appreciation for all he did for the Thai people.  

It was also Jim Thompson's silks that were used for all customs of the Oscar winning movie, The King and I, which was written by Thompson's business partner's wife.  I LOVE THIS HOUSE.  I have about 863 pictures like these on my computer.  And I'm ready to move in… just close the windows and turn on the air conditioning.

This is the entrance to the Jim Thompson Estate.
The house represents true Thai architecture.

I pulled the top right image from the internet.   He wasn't there… 

King Bhumibol Adelyadej...

King Bhumibol Adelyadej and his wife, Queen Rajawongse Sirikit (referred to by the locals as "Mom"), are the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history.  Bhumibol was attending university in Switzerland when his brother, the King of Thailand, was killed by a gunshot wound in 1946.  Bhumibol wanted to remain in Switzerland to complete his degree before returning as King, so he appointed his uncle, Prince Regent, to stand in his absents.  While attending University, Bhumibol made frequent visits to Paris where he met his future wife, Sirikit, the daughter of the Thai ambassador of France.  While in study, Bhumibol had a near fatal car accident, causing the lose of sight in one eye.  While recovering in the hospital, Sirikit would visit and care for him.  She got to know his mother and was even asked to change to a local university near the hospital so she could continue looking after  Bhumibol.  Just a few weeks before Bhumibol return to Thailand to be appointed King, he and Sirikit were married.  The Thai people love their King and Queen.  The Thai people take pride in posting images of the King and Queen all over the city.  I came across these pictures of years past.  Quite the history.

While on my FAST boat through Thailand!, we passed the hospital where the King has lived for the past three years due to his illness.  He has the entire top floor of the hospital.  Although it may not be noticeable (because of the splashing water marks on this image), out of respect all boats slow down and avoid using horns as the pass the King's hospital.

I missed out of being in the same country as my newly re-elected President Obama, as he had visited the King a few weeks prior to my trip.  It would've been interesting to have been in the same city as the President of the United States... but in Bangkok, Thailand! 

 The Chatuchak Market...

This is the Chatuchak Market.
(It was "okaaay" until I discovered the UPS stall... then it quickly became Ken's haven!)

Here's more of the 35 acres that make up the Chatuchak Market.
Food stalls at the market... not for me, but fun to observe! 
(notice that pile of pork setting out in the sun ALL DAY LONG!)

Chau Phraya River...

On one of my trips, I met a couple from the states.  One of them was a landscape architect and he was telling us about their boat ride down the Chau Phraya River.  He said they could see in the backyards of all these amazing homes.  I remember thinking that must be beautiful (especially hearing how much this landscaped architect enjoyed the sights...).  So on this trip we hired a boat for the afternoon.  It was not exactly what I expected, but none the less a great afternoon... at least until a huge nasty wave completely covered me!!

Our banana boat (top image) went two speeds, FAST and STOP!  At one STOP, these ladies  paddled up to our boat to sell little souvenirs.  I didn't need any souvenirs (because I had a lovely scent of stink on my clothes and hair that was going to help me remember this excursion all day), but I did need to experience these ladies spirits.  Here they were, on this river all day and yet were laughing, smiling and having the time of their life.  They not only impacted that day, I think of them often as I go about my days in Hong Kong.

I hope you can see her smile!

Before the nasty wave...   
(I can tell because my shirt and hair are still dry.) 
This video will help explain how FAST we were going!

Views from the River

Sky Bar...

Top of the world!  The Sky Bar at Sirocco Hotel is the  
world's tallest outdoor rooftop bar.  
(You may remember seeing this bar in the movie Hangover II.)

As with anything, friends make everything better.  This last trip was probably my favorite because we got to hang out by the pool and walk to dinner and shops... it was a perfect weekend.  Can't wait to take my friends from the states!!