It's not saying much, I know. But take a gander at that leg room above! Plus, a bottle of water and a snack (bun) provided by our neon pink polyester clad hostess. Why doesn't Greyhound get this memo? Minus the polyester, of course. Additionally, the rest of the lavender tinged bus looked not unlike Sparta Lanes a la 1980s fabulousness. This also brought Eli some happy kneecaps, as they did not suffer from cramming themselves against the built-in plastic desk in front of him. This equals major bus success.
All of this magic happened on our eight hour bus ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Until about twelve hours prior to this trip, we were thinking that our general trajectory would be through Northern Laos, to Vietnam and down through Cambodia to Bangkok after the New Year. In conversation about plans, or lack thereof, something clicked with reversing that idea. Thus, we hopped on a an air-conditioned (read: hella-fancy-to-us-post-Nepal) bus and it heralded us to the Mo Chit bus station in Bangkok. Right before our late night arrival, we - well, mostly Eli given that I had zonked out, witnessed some of the major damage from the floods.
People had established makeshift huts between cars on the freeway and the Don Muang airport area was full of water up to the brim of the same type of trucks that had been bringing us from one point to the next in Chiang Mai. It was all quite surreal - especially considering the difference between flooded and not-flooded that we witnessed firsthand, once in the city itself. In hindsight, as I write this, we had quite an easygoing visit to Bangkok, despite the tragic flooding so nearby in the farming areas. In fact, it is representative of the country on the whole, as we have thus far experienced it. The flood itself is a distinct, physical expression of the divide between different classes. For this, we feel conflicted, but simultaneously cannot deny the time we did spend.
The tile work above was reminiscent of our time in Istanbul, but surrounded by excessive opulence (to an almost stifling degree) at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We decided to have one touristy day in the ever sprawling city by visiting the palace and Wat Pho all in one afternoon. The palace was bustling but still managed to be somewhat serene in certain nooks. Each building, and there are many, was decadently and meticulously covered in either gold, mother of pearl inlay, mosaic, intricate carvings, paintings of an epic story or some combination thereof. Our favorite parts were inspecting the inlay on the doors (we are still unsure how people had the patience to create this) and searching for the 'secret' story asides hidden within the long paintings. There are battles and Wat visits and the like, but also a smoking monkey and risky business in the shrubs next to the palace to be found. History should always be this entertaining.
Wat Pho is the home of an enormous reclining buddha statue, which also receives many visitors but exudes a calm presence, as one might expect of a large golden Buddha. It is difficult to convey the sheer size in images due to the somewhat cramped quarters, but the statue was more impressive than expected. The soles of it's feet are covered in inlay illustrating 108 auspicious renditions of the Buddha, and it is covered completely in gold.. What struck us was the sound in the hall directly behind the statue, where a line of people dropped single coins into dozens of small metal bowls all in a row. That sound combined with the echoing, almost ghostly voices from the other areas of the building was meditative almost. Listen here
In addition to many good meals shared with Sharon, my cousin and fearless host in Bangkok, we went to a famous restaurant that educates on family planning and their own organization's focus on community development. Added bonuses to this is that it is all done in good fun and the food is actually tasty! Cabbages and Condoms
(you heard me) topped off our tourist activities with good style - anyone up for wearing this dress? It probably isn't too comfortable, but it is definitely safe.
A few suggestions for what not to do in Bangkok include going to Khao San Road - the standard hotspot with backpackers is really just a dingy row of overpriced restaurants, stalls of trinkets and nothing much more, going IN to one of the places on Cowboy Soi, or is it Soi Cowboy? - the red light district lite of Bangkok, where ladyboys beckon you in with promises not to check your ID, free drinks and the like (you will also be sharing the premises with a heap of older, white men who give you the willies), or trying to use a crosswalk - because, like in the rest of Thailand, it won't do you much good. One just needs to develop extra eyes and walk intently while attempting to ignore the close calls. Do, however, test out Lao-Lao: an herb infused, honey sweetened moonshine offered on the street in shots, accompanied by a little fruit chaser. Perhaps choose the one for strength, like we did, over the UP all night version (aimed, perhaps, at the creepy men above). I have to personally thank Sharon's awesome friend Ji for her expertise on this one!
We will be returning to this metropolis in January sometime, so you may hear some more about it soon enough. In the meantime, we are looking forward to going back to the place with the most amazing foot massages for $3 and the stalls across the street from Sharon's place for some of the best Thai iced tea yet. A little indulgent, yes, but in a city as dense, huge and overwhelming as Bangkok, it's the little things on the side streets that are, so far, the most memorable.