Wangsaipoon and Bangkok are not comparable; they are totally different worlds.
In one Bangkok day I do more than I could in a Wangsaipoon week. I enjoy the contrast of city and country. Although I can appreciate the hustle and bustle for the weekend I know that if I lived here the novelty of navigating the buses, the motorcycle taxis, the train lines, sky-high buildings, sky-high prices, farang everywhere would ware off.
Oil, a fascinating young woman who works for the British Council, suggested that Frances and I visit Terminal 21. It was only a walk and a train away and when we arrived we were not too surprised to see that it looked and was set out like an airport terminal (the clue is in the name). Each floor was done in the theme of world cities. ‘Around the world in 80 days’ eat your heart out; we went around the world in less than an hour; to Paris, Istanbul, Tokyo, San Francisco, London etc.…all over the place. Even the bathrooms fitted in with the theme and all of the floors supported ‘Japanese style’ loos with various functions, including heated seats. Needless to say people were so comfortable that a queue developed fairly quickly. The views were also amazing. I was particularly amused, being a ‘Londoner’ to see what was picked out. There were road signs to various sights, a red telephone box (which was bigger than life) and a mock tube train with a ‘Bakerloo line’ sign. If the only qualm I have is that the colour above this sign was blue (Piccadilly line colour), rather than brown, I think it is safe to say that they did a pretty good job.
After a quick waffle on the run Frances and I boarded the train to Lumpini Park. This is where I was robbed on the second day, but today I had quite a different experience. It took us a while to navigate our way from Lumpini station past the police station and an extremely long, uninterrupted (by doors) gate. On entry to the park we were ‘inspected’ by some guards. Lumpini Park is enormous and green with lakes, aerobic areas, a food stall section, and lots of trees and surrounded by tall Bangkok-ian buildings. From a distance it appeared as if there was a large market on, but on closer inspection there were lots of little tents, lots of little children in pyjamas and stalls selling very specific items (such as body lotion… I’m still not sure why). Many of the people had been camping out for a large, peaceful protest. A friendly Thai lady saw our slightly lost faces and explained that there were there to fight against corruption in the government. There were queues at various tables beside the action and the stage. We decided to hop into one of them and learnt that they were free food and drink stalls. So, whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch… We were given a plastic bag full of ice and extremely sweet, dark green liquid; a little pot with porridge, rice, sugar, water and condensed milk and a deep fried desert that was covered in a mixture of crushed sugar and sesame seeds. What a treat.
Tom, an English artist, has lived in Bangkok for 3.5 years. He is a friend of Frances’ big brother; they went to school together when they were younger. Frances met him for the first time on her first day of her Thailand trip, but because of the family connection they seemed to have an instant bond. We were so lucky to get shown around by a ‘local’. First off we took the metro to a station called Hua Lampong, which marks the end of the line. We walked for about 10 minutes to take a look at the hostel where Frances stayed on her first night. It was nestled at the end of an incredible street filled with real people working in tailor shops, sitting outside with their families, tending to crying babies; the brightly coloured washing brightening up the fairly drab flats and buildings covered with corrugated iron. So, we saw that even within Bangkok there are different worlds. Sukhomvit, the area where we were staying, is both a business district and apparently one of the largest ‘adult playgrounds’ in Asia.
We all exchanged looks across a busy road, and about 3 minutes later, when the traffic cleared for a few seconds, we were able to scamper across to the other side in time to meet Tom. He took us on a personalized tour of the little streets surrounding his studio, past engine sheds, old men playing checkers, old women complimenting our modest clothing in Thai (which Tom translated for us), boarded up buildings, Chinese pagodas, and the river. He took us to a concrete platform right by the river’s edge, which he had tracked down purposefully after spying it from a boat when numerous locals practiced yoga and aerobics in unison. I didn’t mention earlier but today was the queen’s birthday, and therefore a national holiday in Thailand which doubles up as mother’s day. We saw numerous little groups of mothers with their children of diverse ages. I accidentally became a temporary personal photographer for one such group who got me to snap them in various poses with quite different backgrounds while Tom and Frances waited in the shade for me.
The next stop on our tour was China town proper. I’ll put in a picture to give you a little impression; all I’ll say here is there was a lot of meat! I introduced Frances to the wonders of fresh pomegranate before we were led into the entrance of Tesco Lotus. We didn’t go inside the shop, but instead into a little lift, and up to the 10th
10th floor passing a multiple storey car park en route. What awaited us at the top was actually quite mind blowing. The 10th floor is empty except from a couple of little shops that are in the process of being built. So we had a vast concrete expanse before us, and beyond the walls was Bangkok. High rise buildings, flats, temples, the river, houses, people, and bright umbrellas appearing only momentarily as flashes as their owners scurried through little alleyways. Stunning. After being on the ground for the weekend, in the markets and the red lights district it was very refreshing to be able to just look down on it all from somewhere else. The monsoon rain changed the atmosphere even further to one of contemplation and we all looked down on the same block of flats wondering who lived inside, wondering what their lives had been like and what stories they had to tell.
The rain was incredible and unending. When it ceased (a little) we went to get the lift, and I just saw Tom looking in lovingly saying ‘hello there’, imagining it was a lost child, only for a minute later to see it was a dog. Frances was scared, but managed, and I’m sure our laughter helped. We ran out into the middle of the busy road, hopped onto the bus and took it to the studio. It was such a creative space, quite modern and open planned with various desks covered in paint, freshly screen printed t-shirts and bags, quite a few laptops and scanners, drawings, paintings, and… of course… the Artists! The majority of them were gathered at a table on an outside porch, which was covered from the rain, surrounded by flashes of green outside and buildings. They sat playing dominoes, smoking (they must have been) and drinking cider. It was about 30 degrees and humid. One of the women stood out to me in particular. She was Thai with a heart shaped face, thick, dark rimmed glasses, and bleach blonde spikey hair. At various intervals she nipped inside to talk to Tom or Nathan (a Thai/Australian who was working away). They (at least Tom) have an exhibition coming up in a week or so to mark the anniversary of the gallery that they have downstairs and were working away hectically so we dashed off when the rain died down a little. I didn’t mention that Tom has been sleeping (with various friends) at the studio for a few weeks… that’s how busy he has been, so it’s amazing he fitted us into his plans and showed us around.
By the time we left Frances and I were ‘hangry’ (hungry and ‘angry’- more like desperate). She led me to a vegetarian restaurant, which she had been to before and told me that they serve almost any meat dish (including shark fin soup and ducks legs), which looks and tastes the same, but is not made out of meat. It was jam packed when we arrived, but we managed to bag ourselves a small table outside at the end. Many of the things on the menu were either finished or unavailable so in the end we went for a fairly unadventurous ‘vegetable fried rice’ and ‘vegetable noodles’… Maybe next time we can eat a dog?!? (made out of soy).
By the time we got back to Sukhomvit we were tired and craving ice cream. After this ‘need’ was satisfied we proceeded back to our apartment. The sky was like nothing I have ever seen before. We experienced a real tropical lightning storm with sheet lightning illuminating the whole sky and various buildings too. It didn’t start raining for quite a while after the lightning begun. I was stunned and a little too excited to go to sleep, so yet again it became a little bit of a late one. Not too late though, it’s just living in a rural area in central Thailand has changed my standards.