We bid farewell to the Kingdom of Cambodia early Thursday morning, roaring out of Siem Reap at 7:30 am and reaching the Thai border a few hours later. The entire process was arduous and filled with minor annoyances; particularly the border crossing, which as per usual we had to get off the bus and walk through. Immediately on passing onto the Thai side, we were greeted by the aroma of fish fermenting in the stifling heat, and the sight of smiling ladies hawking boiled eggs and sliced mangoes. The ride from there to Bangkok took about four hours. I was happily tucked into Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, so that while the others were crammed in their seats glumly staring out at the Thai countryside, I was hitchhiking from New York to Denver with Dean Moriarty and Marylou.
The guest house we’re staying at is the same one that blew our minds when we first arrived here from India a month ago – we’d consider staying longer in this city just to stay here. It’s immaculate and friendly, and the shower is wonderful. I digress. We awoke to our first day in Bangkok with some business to take care of, the first order of which was breakfast. Serendipitously, our prayers were answered in the form of a stall in the lane behind our guest house selling thick slabs of crispy fried bacon. YES. The vendor chopped it up for us, and we devoured it on a park bench with sweet chilli sauce drizzled over it, fresh strawberry juice to wash it down with, sunshine beating down, and morning traffic zooming by. We couldn’t help but congratulate each other with high fives for having created the most perfect possible breakfast situation.
Our second mission of the day was of an even more serious nature. Riccardo has been having some trouble with both his camera lenses – one sustained some minor stress on account of our motorcycle mishap; and the other, maddeningly, hasn’t been producing optimal results since a guy we’d been chatting with on a boat in northern Laos asked to try it out on his camera. (We learned afterwards from some other travellers who know him that he’s been feeling terrible ever since.) In another remarkable turn of luck, Canon’s Thai headquarters happens to be located a twenty-minute walk from where we’re staying! So, off we went.
The Canon office was incredibly sleek, refreshingly freezing, and staffed by smiling and immaculately coiffed girls with gigantic bows on top of their heads. After dropping off the camera and one of the lenses (the other will take too long to repair; will have to wait until home), we continued on our way. There was a list of temples, museums, and palaces that we’d failed to visit during our previous stint in town, but we decided to give them a pass again and instead spend the day observing modern Bangkok culture: shopping in over-air conditioned malls, snacking on the street, and riding the Skytrain from station to station.
We remembered a soup we’d had last time at an outdoor restaurant-type set-up under the Siam Skytrain station, and went back to have some for lunch. Riccardo was afflicted with a momentary memory lapse and forgot that Thais never, ever bring food to the mouth with a fork. The fork is merely provided as a tool for pushing food onto the spoon. (Chopsticks are occasionally used for noodles, but thanks to the westernizing efforts of King Rama V in the 19th century, the spoon and fork duo has been embraced by most Thais.) When Riccardo used his fork to twirl his noodles against his spoon and then pop them into his mouth (like the Italian that he is), I noticed the three ladies we were sharing our table with glancing at each other with mixed mortification and amusement. I attempted to bring the transgression discreetly to his attention, but he thought I was trying to tell him to use chopsticks, and loudly proclaimed “I don’t have any chopsticks!!”, much to the further diversion of our three table-mates. One of them actually took pity on the clueless farang before her and decided to ask the vendor for a pair of chopsticks. I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again!
We paid a visit to Dusit Zoo, but were unimpressed with the lack of panda bears (it’s Asia, for god’s sake!) and the dismal condition the elephants were kept in. Among my favourite animals on display was the black and white spotted Holstein dairy cow, imported directly from America! They must be rather impressive compared to the standard-issue brown or white cows found in these parts.
In the evening, after cocktail hour in our room, we called on An, the lovely hairdresser who fixed my hair and some drinks for me just before we left Bangkok the last time. He’s such a social butterfly that we didn’t expect him to be home, but there he was – he invited us up to his swanky all-white bachelor pad above the salon and solicited my opinion on his outfit for the evening (I chose the striped tank top with bejeweled faux-pocket). He had some friends over – a kind-faced Thai gentleman, and a fantastic Missouri boy working in the peace corps. Although ill-clad for the occasion, we accompanied An and his crew to a massive dance club where as far as I could tell, I was the only [bona fide] female, and Riccardo was definitely the only straight guy. (His complete comfort in such a situation is one of the reasons he’s so awesome, by the way.) An breezed past the snaking queue outside with a warm greeting for the doorman and beckoned us all to follow – few can resist his wide smile and charming personality – and the night disappeared into a haze of strobe lights and exuberant beats. As we bopped to a J-Lo track on an enormous platform above the crowds, one of An’s many friends leaned toward me and shouted over the din, “WELCOME! TO! BANGKOK!!”
A few other random sights from the day: