All of the best things to be seen in Bangkok are safely tucked away from the main streets.
I’ve been falling into this habit: when anything happens, when I do anything of note, I think to myself, ‘what was I doing, where was I exactly a year ago?’
In the case of this past weekend, the answers were more or less the same. Last year, I made this video of my first time at any festival in Thailand.
This year, there was also lots of wandering around Chinatown to explore the Buddhist Vegetarian Festival. While I am perfectly content to mill around dark alleyways and crowded intersections by myself for hours, I couldn’t help but wish that I had friends to share in these experiences with. I’ve learned so much of the lay of the land in Bangkok and I wonder what will happen to all of this knowledge once I’m not in Thailand anymore. Will my sense of direction get fuzzy? Probably.
I suppose I had better enjoy it as much as I possibly can for now.
Whatever Bangkok tourism propaganda may want you to believe about there being an abundance of parks in the city, it’s more or less not true. Bangkok is a heaving, concrete behemoth of a city and my guess is that if you had to poll residents of Bangkok, far more would be interested in shopping malls and food stalls than jogging paths and quiet places to picnic.
That’s why I’m glad that I lived where I did in Bangkok. Right next to Suan Thonburiram (or just Suan Thon, as my friends and I called it). Unlike many other parks in Bangkok, it was a place for people in our neighborhood to gather – clean, secluded and set away from the main road.
It was the perfect place to be around people and be in my own world at the same time (a feeling I love). I could head home from work, throw on some workout clothes and jam to Beyoncé in my quiet, local, urban jungle. And I miss it.
I used to walk by this pond every day on the way to work and I always secretly adored the way this look, with the algae belched out onto the sidewalk.
The benches were a good place to read, provided it wasn’t rainy or excessively hot/humid or there weren’t mosquitoes out (I’m guessing you can now see why there isn’t much of a park-going culture in Bangkok).
Oh, what a year it’s been.
One year ago day, I had another typical, feverish 3am packing frenzy. I stuffed equal amounts of comforting things I loved and crazy thrift-store clothing I didn’t care about getting trashed into a medium-sized suitcase and a backpack.
I cut off all of my hair, partly because it was something I always wanted to do and partly because I needed to leave things behind.
I bid farewell to my friends. I said goodbye to my family. It was the first time I ever hugged my sisters and parents goodbye without knowing when I would see them again. Before there was always a return date in mind. When I set out for Bangkok last year, there wasn’t.
People always tell me how brave I am, to do something like move across an ocean, but I don’t know if I can understand that. It’s not bravery that I have as much as a desire to see the world, at any cost. And to not chase this desire while I’m young and unattached would be soul-crushing to me. This wanderlust I have is innate. It drove me as a young girl just as much as it drives me now.
I made this trip. Over the Pacific once more, nary a plane cankle in sight. And let me tell you, on that plane from Chicago to Hong Kong, I cried. Just because I do things doesn’t mean they aren’t scary to me. Quite the opposite, really. From constant challenges I grow, learn more about myself, learn more about the world. The only thing scarier than challenging myself is becoming complacent with shelving my dreams for another day, another year, another decade. Plenty of real adults I have met at home, in Providence, in Bangkok, in Buriram, have told me that they wished they would have done something like this when they were younger. And I am a firm believer in regretting more the things I don’t do over the things I have done.
My permavacation in Bangkok was magical. So much exploring, so much getting acquainted to do. Except this time, it was with a city. This was a year for falling in love with places. My heart will always burst for Bangkok.
And then I moved. I have met wonderfully kind, fascinating people in the middle of nowhere. I have had the chance to try and become wonderful and kind myself, but it’s hard. I thought I’d start immediately soul-searching. As much as traveling or living or working abroad is often equated with “soul-searching,” it shouldn’t be. Far-flung locales don’t facilitate soul-searching, it comes from within as a response to an outside conflict. And I don’t even know if soul-searching is a good phrase. It’s more about personal development and self-knowledge. But soul-searching and personal development are not why you read this blog.
It feels so universal, the romanticization of lives of friends and acquaintances and strangers abroad. I am more than guilty of this. I click through facebook, enviously clicking through pictures of friends’ trips abroad, wishing I could also travel. And then I have to snap out of it, because I remember that I’m abroad. This isn’t me bragging, this is me telling you that my life isn’t as exciting as it seems through a blog and facebook pictures. There are lots of things to overcome that wouldn’t exist if I was working at home. There are days when I have thought only about how green the grass must be in an alternate, America-dwelling life I would have had.
It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s rewarding in a complex, sometimes backhanded, sometimes straightforward way that nothing has ever been before. I can’t always articulate it, but you know it if you’ve been here, if you’ve felt these same things. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made here, I’m grateful for the friends and family who have clocked in many early and late hours on skype. I am grateful for everything I’ve learned in this year, because it’s so much, it astonishes me. I am grateful for myself, for persevering and making it here in Thailand one whole year. I can only hope that my next year of life will bring so many adventures and insights.
There are a great many reasons why I loved living in Bangkok and while I still anticipate every single trip of mine to the City of Angels (the non-LA City of Angels).
A lot of these reasons have to do with food. Talking about how Bangkok is a foodie’s paradise is like beating a dead horse. It’s as if everything that needs to be said about the city’s food scene has already been said.
But I’m going to share my trip to Thip Samai anyway.
Located in the fun, old-school Krung Thep area of Banglamphu, Thip Samai is a behemoth of a pad thai purveyor.
I remembered being totally blown away by my first pad thai. And in comparison to what Thip Samai has to offer, my first pad thai sucked. Pad thai is one of those specialty dishes that most restaurants in the US manage to screw up and make gloopy. And to make the dish at home, with all of the unique, fresh Thai ingredients (tamarind paste?!) is unthinkable. Execution and ingredients are everything, so I believe it’s best to leave pad thai to the pros.
So to the pros I went.
Imagine your plain-old, everyday chicken or tofu pad thai. Now imagine it sliding off the table and having it replaced by the most amazing pad thai topped with sliced green mango, cuttlefish, crab meat, shrimp roe, and the classics – chili, bean sprouts, fish sauce, sugar. Whoa. So good. At THB200 (USD6.30), it’s about as pricy as pad thai comes, but savored among 3 friends, it was more than worth it. Thipsamai’s been around since 1966, so they know what they’re doing.
The restaurant is nicknamed “Ghost Gate Pad Thai” due to its proximity to Bangkok’s Ghost Gate (Pratu Pi), the location of the burial of people who perished during a cholera epidemic.
Luckily, we didn’t get cholera, we didn’t even get indigestion.
Probably because we took a nice little neighborhood walk after our heaps of pad thai. And this nighttime walk was especially great because of the views of nearby Wat Ratchanatdaram.
Thipsamai Pad Thai is located at 313 Mahachai Road, Phra Nakorn, Bangkok.
I am tired from a multi-hour baking session with Summer (Baby Girl is graduating from high school tomorrow! Where did the time go? How is she not 3 anymore?). Right now, I’m as happy as a clam in my family’s Spam apron, making cupcakes and singing along to my favorite records with Summer.
I am also dealing with spending quality time in 4 radically different time zones in the past week. And shoveling 4 radically different cuisines in my system (Thai, Indian, French, Midwestern). More or less, my body hates me right now.
I am trying to get the energy to edit pictures from Paris and write a few posts, but I lost a little heart after Facebook wouldn’t let me publish a great album full of film pictures I took last December. Hopefully they’ll let me put up my Paris pics.
In the meantime, here are a few pics of Bangkok. There will be more to come. As expensive as it is to have film developed these days, I love the excitement of forgetting about the pictures I’ve taken and falling in love with and/or being disappointed with how they turn out. And I love the grain. I think of my film photos as things that I love more than anyone else, but nevertheless, I shall post them.
There is one thing to be sure about myself: I am excellent at attracting exactly two things: mosquitoes and misadventure.
Before flying, I expressed concern to a few family and friends about the current Air India pilots’ strike and how that would affect my flight. Flights are being cancelled and rescheduled left and right, people have been stranded in airports for days. There comes a point however, when I have to acknowledge that there’s nothing I can do to change a situation. I just have to accept things as they come. The only thing I can control is my attitude in how I deal with the situation.
It is with this attitude that I left Lamplaimat for Bangkok. Even though I was already all packed up, I stayed up most of the night anyway, as is my tradition with international flights.
I made it to Suvarnabhumi International Airport bright and early at 7:00AM, managed to work my way onto the plane with two rather large carry-ons, and enjoyed the company of a group of students who were currently doing a program where they traveled all around the world learning photography and doing service projects. I kind of envied them.
One of my general rules for international flights is that I always take an aisle seat. I like to be able to get up and move around if need be.
Air India is not so organized (as I will elaborate soon) and ignored my preference for aisle seating. I sat next to the window and got to witness some really amazing things from up in the air.
I didn’t get a picture of it, but I did see my old apartment complex where I lived, Baan Suan Thon. I made a little squeak of joy.
I saw the majestic bridges of Bangkok.
The Varanasi River!
And look at the amount of pollution as we were about to touch down in Delhi.
Straight off the airplane in Delhi, people in transit from Bangkok to Paris via Delhi were corralled off to the side and told that our flight wouldn’t leave until early morning the next day.
Obviously, I was a little crestfallen. However, I’m a broke, in-debt recent college graduate whose salary is paid in Thai baht. All of the money for this trip I’m currently on has been saved. And after this trip is over, I’ll have next to nothing. While it’s of upmost importance for me to see my friends and family, I don’t have the financial means to buy another ticket and board the next plane bound for Europe.
So I wait.
My passport has been taken, I have been escorted from the airport and put up in a hotel.
This is what the India I have seen so far looks like.
I could be really panicky and frustrated that all of this is happening to me. But I’m choosing to accept it as gracefully as I can (although I think my mom has told me that there’s a good reason my middle name is ‘Hope’ and not ‘Grace’) and with no frustrations directed toward the staff of Air India. They’re not responsible for the strike, they’re doing their best to accommodate us as best they can. I have good faith that everything will work out. Maybe just not in the timing I was hoping for.
INDIA 2013 has been my little personal mantra for months now. I tell it to all of my friends. But it seems as though India was impatient to see me.
So what do I do? I delight in India’s impatience. I’m supposed to be eating croissants right now, but I have been missing Indian food for awhile.
Thank goodness there’s hotel buffet here. It’s made a frustrating (and frankly, a little scary) situation truly delicious. The naan, the makhani, even the basmati rice, so different from Thai rice, takes the edge off of the uneasiness of not having my passport with me.
When life gives me India, I eat Indian food.
I’ve had to spend a lot of quality time in government offices across 3 different provinces lately. A LOT of quality time. One such office is in Bangkok, which meant that I usually went to Bangkok over the weekend to enjoy all of the pleasures of city life and friendship, and went to government offices first thing in the morning on Monday before heading back to Buriram Province later on in the day.
As most people are wont to do, I find myself operating within the comfortable patterns of things I know I love to in Bangkok and did frequently when I lived there. This usually means eating at the same restaurants (we found legit Mexican food in Southeast Asia and couldn’t contain our joy!), frequenting the same shops, ambling about the same markets.
With time to kill one weekend, I decided to hit up somewhere I had always wanted to go but hadn’t before: the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. I cannot hide my love for art museums and have frequented quite a few in my time at Brown and while studying abroad. The BACC is the premier exhibition space for contemporary art in Thailand. Located downtown (right at the National Stadium BTS stop and right across the street from MBK), the BACC is like a little Guggenheim copycat (right down to the spiral layout) right in the heart of Bangkok. Admission is free and exhibits change regularly.
I lucked out when I went because two of the three current exhibits were right up my alley. One, entitled The Upside Down Work of Phillippe Ramette was chock full of wonderful surrealist photography carried out by a sculptor. (Fun fact: the photo below by Phillippe Ramette was also the first thing I posted on my tumblr!)
The second exhibit was entitled You Are Not Alone and featured artists from many nationalities showcasing work that promotes greater understanding of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS (the exhibit was curated by ArtAIDS, a transnational organization). I felt like I was back on IHP, and I found the exhibit interesting and definitely worthwhile of a visit if you’re in Bangkok now. Some of the exhibits called to me more than others and I found two particularly effective.
Walking into the exhibit, you are confronted with this piece, by Elmgreen and Dragset:
The first thing you see when you walk into You Are Not Alone, I thought that this piece was all at once excellent and terrible, but only terrible because it’s true. It was a stark reminder of the reality of today’s screwed up pharmaceutical industry and the subject of a lot of my intellectual pursuits during college. This artwork more or less encapsulated why I spent a good part of my sophomore year of college thinking about becoming an intellectual property lawyer.
Further into the exhibit is a room of photos taken by famous South African photographer, David Goldblatt. During the darker days of my final year at college, I would often find myself curled up on my old stomping grounds on the fourth floor of the Rock, with a big photo book in my lap and another huge pile of books at my side. Photography was one of the only things that could truly, really soothe me and was a way for me to momentarily escape. One such photographer I poured over the work of was David Goldblatt. I admired his striking, honest portrayal of life in South Africa. It was a treat to be able to see his work displayed in Bangkok.
Goldblatt’s work displayed at the BACC depicted the ubiquity of the red ribbon as a sign of HIV/AIDS as a “stale advertisement for an unwanted product.”
Here are a few more snaps from the BACC:
For more information about the exhibit, you can read this article from the Bangkok Post. The Phillippe Ramette exhibit is on display until April 29 and You Are Not Alone is on display until May 20. The exhibits are well worth a few weekend hours.
It has been a shamefully long time since I’ve made a video to share with you. I made one of my trip to Luang Prabang, but there were sound issues with it that I never figured out how to resolve and I was too embarrassed to post it here.
Nevertheless, here is the video of my trip this past Sunday, from Bangkok to Buriram province on the train (now available in HD for your viewing pleasure!).
The whole 8 hour journey cost me 63 baht (or US$2.07). Only 3rd class seats, no air conditioning. I loved the feeling of air on my face the whole day. Until, of course, I tried to start to rub the dirt off of my face. Then, I wasn’t so enamored.You don’t want to see the kleenexes I used to wipe my face.
It was a pleasant journey, and a relaxing way to enjoy the views of Bangkok, Ayutthaya (check out that old-school stupa around 2:00!), Khao Yai National Park, Pak Chong Reservoir, and Khorat. I didn’t actually film up to Lamplaimat, simply because the views out my window were pitch black.
Before the train took off, I sat in the train at the station. I was pleased that had I paid so little for this journey. I was happy I had the time to soak up the experience of train travel again (my favorite way to travel!). I felt joy that this is my life.