Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sawasdee Ka Krung Thep (Hello, Bangkok)

Krung Thep means City of Angels, but we are happy to call it Bangkok if it helps to separate a farang from his money. –John Burdett, Bangkok 8

When we arrived in Bangkok, it was after 14+ hours in the air. So, everything had a sort of dreamlike quality for the first day or so as our bodies adjusted their biorhythms from Pacific Standard to Indochina Time.

I’ll always remember when we entered Bangkok proper for the first time. As our taxi swept down from the expressway into midday Bangkok traffic, a strange sense of familiarity flooded me. It wasn’t just the billboards for Western movies and products, or even the landscape of high rises jutting into the milky sky.

It was the near-claustrophobic crush of humanity right at street level: brightly painted taxis, spindly tuk tuks, and hordes of weaving motor-scooters. Vendors would casually navigate between the packed lanes, selling snacks and flower garlands. The BTS Skytrain glided above all the commotion like a sleek, pale eel as we neared Sukhumvit Road (essentially Main Street, Bangkok), marking our destination.

It took me a minute to pinpoint where the nostalgia was coming from. Then it hit me: the urban soup of Bangkok was not too unlike that of the Third World metropolis of my childhood, Mexico DF. Half a globe away from my continent, and suddenly I knew I was going to be alright. I could navigate this, even with a huge language barrier.

Our basecamp was a condo right in downtown, which was being rented for the summer by a good friend of ours and his wonderful family. They graciously put us up for the two weeks of our stay, and were the best guides we could have hoped for as we not only navigated the ins-and-outs of the City of Angels, but the way of living in Southeast Asia.

Next up in the series: The sights of Thailand.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Berkeley to Bangkok

Lordy, no posts since May? What kind of a blogger am I?

The traveling kind, I'm proud to say. I just spent the last two weeks in Southeast Asia (primarily Bangkok, Thailand, with three days in Siem Reap, Cambodia). I've been back in the USA about 24 hours, and I'm already at the keys. I'm jet-lagged and a little culture-shocked, but otherwise feeling good. A mix of sadness that it's all over, pride that we made it, and quiet relief at being home.

Bangkok is a metropolis unlike any I've ever visited before. Just like Thailand's prize dish, Som Tam (green papaya salad), Bangkok is a unique mix of sweet and sour, pungent and spicy. The air is humid this time of year, richly infused with the scents of lemongrass, diesel fuel, incense, and river water. You can find centuries-old temples and posh super-malls within a few Skytrain stops of each other. Cuisine ranges from street-cart noodles to luxurious, five-star dining. People from all around the globe gather here to shop, eat, and play: from middle-age Anglo men hunting for flesh to Burqa-clad women hunting for designer shoes. Not to mention thirty-something American writers hunting for inspiration.

How can I sum up the experience in just one post? I can't. So, over the next few days, I'll be posting a special series about the things we saw, tasted, heard, and did. Don't worry, crafting will be included. Promise.

For now though, it's time to unpack the bags, do some laundry, and catch up on my email. It'll take a few days to get back into the swing of things, but if there's one thing travel abroad has taught me, is to go with the flow.