Monday, June 06, 2011

THAILAND PART II: BANGKOK, ORIENTAL CITY

What an awesome city!  I only wish that we had had more time.  We covered a lot in the 5 days we were there, but there was so much more to explore.

I had this idea in my head about Bangkok.  I was expecting a big, chaotic, dirty city.  And it was in parts, but we were pleasantly surprised at how modern the city was.  The transportation system is wonderful.  Although the subway and skytrain do not stretch into the "old" part of town,  the tuk-tuk's and taxi's are everywhere and inexpensive.  There were unexpected surprises around every corner, and we loved it! 

If I had to sum up our time in Bangkok in three words I would say:  FoodTemplesMassages.

Let's start with the food.

Although we found several great restaurants, much of our eating was done at food stalls on the street or little open air establishments.  We would grab food here and there, a little at a time.   Whatever tempted us as we walked by.   This happened quite often because at the entrance of the subways and water taxis there were always a tone of stalls, if not a full on market. I ate so much fruit (pineapple, mango and papaya) as they were constantly cutting it fresh and I couldn't resist.  Ernesto ordered meats, one favorite was pork and beef grilled until it was almost a jerky.  Very tasty!

Probably the coolest place that we ate was located right on the river at Tha Phra Pin Klao, one of the water taxi piers. The name of the restaurant was no where to be found, but we saw a huge pavilion of families eating and on each table was an individual cooking station.   Hmmm Thai fondue?

After walking in to see the piles of meat, seafood and vegetables on the buffet, we decided to go for it.  I mean, with a price tag of 100 baht ($3) how could we go wrong?

We were definitely the only foreigners there.  Ernesto said he could feel people looking at us.  Ha!  We had no idea how it worked.  Our nice waitress spoke zero English but did a great job guiding us through.   First they bring the hot coals to the table.  You fill the cone shaped "grill" with water so the meat juices drain into the water making a broth.  Noodles are thrown in and wha-la!  You have something like Pho! Delish!  (if anyone knows what this style of cooking is called, please let me know!)
Ernesto's insatiable apatite for unique food lead us on a culinary walking tours throughout the city.  Bangkoks' China Town is supposed to be one of the most authentic.   It didn't seem any bigger than say, New York's China Town, but the street vendors make all the difference!  

When Ernesto told me about the Chinese delicacy "birds' nest soup" I was intrigued.  The lour?  You guessed it...a soup made with an actual birds nest.  A type of bird called a swift makes its nests high in caves...out of....wait for it...saliva! 

The edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. The nests have been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, most often as bird's nest soup. The nests have high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium and are said to have many health benefits. We took the advice of Lonely Planet and ate at Burapa Birds Nest.  
The tiny eatery only had 6 [bright yellow] booths and the rest of the place was jam packed with jars of the bird nests.
The waitress brought over two bowls with the nests and a tray with 2 eggs and some brown syrup and little egg shaped things??  She could tell we were clueless so she prepared the soup for us by pouring the broth over the nest, cracked open the poached egg, added the syrup and the other "things".
When dissolved in water, the birds' nests has a gelatinous texture. The little egg things had the consistency of potatoes but sweet and the syrup was sweet too.  The soup reminded me of oatmeal and was a really delicious treat, albeit strange.

Moving on to the Temples.  

Roughly 95% of Thais are Buddhist and we witnessed colorful examples of daily worship are on every corner.  Truth be told,  I know very little about this religion, but all the flowers temples and prayer rituals made me want to learn a bit more. 
I was a bit obsessed with the monks in their orange cotton robes.  I think they are just beautiful.  I tried to capture some pictures without being too obvious.
In the amulet market I snapped this photo of sitting monks.  Would you believe these are wax?
You could probably tour Bangkok for a week solid and see nothing but temples.  We visited as many as we could.  You would think it would get redundant, but no, there were fresh designs abound.

One is Wat Arun.  Located on the "left bank" of the Chao Phraya River, we passed it every time we took a water taxi.  Wat Arun was originally established as a royal palace and a temple to house the Emerald Buddha, however when the current Royal Palace was established the Buddha was moved ....and since we never got to visit the inside....im not sure what is in there now:)  The outside is sure awesome though!
The temples are equally (if not more so) impressive at night when they are all lit up.  We ended one evening at the rooftop bar of Deck to catch the sunset views across the river from the monster...
 ...and ended up being stuck there longer due to a torrential rainfall.  We could not even see across the river for a while because it was raining so hard.  When it let up though....we were glad we waited it out... LOOK!
Next up was Wat Pho,  home to the [GIANT] Reclining Budda  (150 ft. long x 49 ft. high).  The entire temple is the buddha statue.  There is a rectangle walkway around it...ornate and beautiful.
Here I am next to it, just to give you an idea of the scale:

The grand daddy of temples, and the most visited tourist attraction in Bangkok is Wat Phra Kaew (also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace.   This is a huge complex of over 100 buildings, surrounded by 4 walls.   It was established in 1782 and consists of the royal residence and throne halls, plus a number of government offices. (ps. 1782 was 229 years ago!)  
{Outside Temple of the Emerald Budda}



 The detail work in these buildings is just amazing.  Mosaics, gilded carved wood and marble really make it feel like a palace.  Who was lucky enough to live like this?  The amount of gold inspired me!  The color combos were luscious....I feel some good jewelry designs coming on....ornate, royal pieces.
You could wander for hours at the Grand Palace.  It was so hot out that we stopped for breaks. 

Yet one more beauty is Wat Tramit
The outside is gorgeous white marble and gilded gold...one of my favorite color combos!
The attraction to this temple is undoubtedly the impressive solid-gold Buddha that stands, or rather sits, nearly 10 feet tall.  SOLID-GOLD!!!
And now...the massages! 
Unfortunately no pictures with this one, but let me just say that the Thai people know what they are doing!
This is a way of life, part of the culture and "when in Rome...!"

Massage parlors and spas are on every street corner in Bangkok.  Girls sit outside the shop advertising as you walk by.  "Massage,"  I read that if they hold the "a" a long time, like"Massaaaaage"  then you may be able to get more than a massage at that parlor...if you catch my drift.

Foot massages are done in an open room with many chairs. If you have ever gotten a pedicure then you know, the part where they lather the lotion onto your feet and legs and massage it in is just heavenly. When you order a foot massage in Thailand, you are treated to not only your feet, but all the way up to your knees... and they dont stop there.  The last 15-20 minutes focus on your arms, shoulders, and neck. 
A-MAZ-ING!!

At only $8, we treated ourselves everyother night!  After long days of walking this was a perfect treat!

The Thai people are ready willing and able to satisfy you...and although we never ordered the "happy ending," we always had a happy ending to our day:)

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