Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Buddha, truffles and Soi Cowboy

We got in pretty late last night, so I'm uber late with posting yesterday's recap. Yesterday we took a river boat on the Chao Phraya River to see the Grand Palace/ Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho. These visits were originally on our agenda for our first day in Bangkok, but plans got derailed since they've been closed because of the king's sister's funeral ceremonies.

We were turned away at the palace by people who told us everything was closed until Friday. We didn't panic because we had been warned to be leery of people who would say places are closed and then try to get you to go in a tuk tuk for one of their tours. However, it turned out the Grand Palace was really closed (we made friends with another Thai professor who walked around with us and talked to some of the guards), but Wat Pho was open. Whew. I'm sad we won't be able to see the Emerald Buddha since the palace was closed during our entire trip, but at least we got to be part of the cremation festivities.

At Wat Pho, we admired the ginormous Reclining Buddha that's 150 feet long, and then dropped 100 coins into bowls along his side for a blessing. But first we removed our shoes before entering the temple, per Thai custom.

Wat Pho is also home to the famous Thai massage school, and we scored fantastic 30-minute massages for the equivalent of $7. During the massage, you lay on a bed inside an air conditioned area that overlooks the temple. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and reflection. My masseuse melted away the soreness in my neck from falling asleep in weird places over the past few days to catch shut eye whenever I could. Afterward, we sipped refreshing iced green tea.

Finally, we rubbed Buddha's belly for good luck. For a donation, you're given a flower, incense sticks, a candle and a few pieces of paper with a square gold fleck inside. After your reflections, you rub the gold flecks on Buddha's belly....

For lunch, I met up w a NYT reporter at Biscotti, an Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. He's been living in Bangkok for three years and covers all of Southeast Asia...quite the territory. It's truffle season, so he treated me to a fantastic lunch...so funny to eat Italian in Thailand and have my first taste of freshly grated white and black truffles in a scallops dish. I also had a fantastic potato and saffron soup. Although he covers foreign affairs, he's a foodie, and it delighted me when he said he heard Cleveland has great restaurants. I found out from the reporter that gas is so cheap in Thailand because they use natural gas. The price is about 20 baht per liter, which is less than 60 cents. Take note America!

Mary and I met up again and visited the Jim Thompson house. Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur who's credited with rescuing the silk trade and establishing the Thai Silk Company that became a world-class designer brand. His home is now a museum and features integration of traditional Thai houses into one main house.

Next, I grabbed a drink with a Financial Times reporter who's only been in Bangkok for six weeks. Met up at the Foreign Correspondents Club for a few brews and chatted about his views on the best culinary destinations in the world since he's lived so many places (he's originally from London). His vote is for Australia because of their expertise in using local ingredients. He's a huge pork fan, so I told him he'd love Michael Symon and should visit Cleveland sometime. :)

Cleaned up at the hotel and then ventured off to score some food since we were starving. We wandered to Soi Cowboy, a short, lively street like none other I've seen anywhere, since it was recommended by one of the reporters. Giant neon signs glowed on go-go clubs, girls were everywhere and when we sat down to try some Thai liquor, a random elephant walked by. We saw her walking across the highway later on in the evening. At least she had a reflector tied to her tail. :( The animals we've seen in Bangkok certainly have a tough life.

Thankfully, we didn't have to use any of the pick-up rejection lines recommended in our phrase book like, "easy tiger" or "you just want to use me for sex."

For dinner, we wanted to try a restaurant recommended by locals, Hazara, which we were told was on Soi 36...not so much. After walking for a while, we stopped off at a bar that was playing country music just because it was funny. We were practically the only ones there and hot and sticky since yesterday was sweltering, so we asked the staff to point a fan at us. They ended up pointing a huge fan in front of us and one behind us so we were in a giant wind tunnel and we couldn't stop giggling. It sure felt good though. As I was walking to the bathroom, I saw a small animal climbing up a tree and assumed it was a chipmunk (don't know why). When I looked a little closer, I realized it was a Siamese kitten. Made me think of my little Ava at home.

We found out at the bar that the restaurant we were looking for was a couple sois over (@$&**!!), so we headed back. After 20 feet, we grabbed a motorcycle taxi who drove us a couple minutes to Soi 38. So, now we've used just about all forms of Thai transportation: tuk tuk, Sky Train, taxi, motorcycle taxi, bus.

Time is running out since we head home on Wednesday, but still lots to explore...

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