Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Who says Buddhists are pacifists? Bangkok Part 2...

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Okay, the Bull owes you the remainder of BKK, so let's get amongst it:
On Sunday, Team Taylor popped (ish) out of bed, checked out of the Triple Two, and made our way toward some of the other temples near the Grand Palace. All I wanted was a bloody cup of coffee, but that was not easy to come by in this city. There are TONS of street hawkers and roadside vendors, but all of them are offering 1 of 3 things:
1. Fruit (which is wicked fresh and tasty)
2. Balls of random meats and organs mashed together and boiled in oil (yeah, it's like something out of the Gorgon sisters from Clash of the Titans - yep, you're welcome for that)
3. Slabs of raw chicken and beef laying side by side (Hairless - you KNOW how I felt about that)
All the same, we did find a great little place that made TERRIFIC coffee, and I tucked into a breakfast of - what else - pad thai. I mean, spicy noodles at 10 in the morning is the way forward, don't you think? The place was just terrific, and we even had a view of the old train station, which was, incidentally, the ending point for the Turkey-Thailand leg of the Orient Express (or so I think - don't quote me on that one...this is the part where Jason Martin reads this blog and says 94% of all statistics are made up on the spot - especially Taylor's...details).
After that it was off to the first spot on the interary for the day: The Giant Swing. Famous because it is, well, a swing that people can launch themselves off once a year to reach for gold during a festival. It should be noted that this custom was recently discontinued due to the fact that someone was dying EVERY year from this event, but the swing remains as a monument "to simpler times" (like the beer from Trader Joe's).
So here's the deal with this thing - on the map it looks GINORMOUS - we are talking like a 40 story building. And given that no building in this section of BKK is higher than about 3 stories, I reckoned that it would be pretty easy to spot. Well, as fate would have it, that's just not true. And given that THERE IS NO GRID IN BANGKOK, this took longer than expected to find.
As fate would have it, it was less than impressive (which is standard for the items that the Bull labels as "must do's"), but it did land us on a) the doorstep of city hall (which could NOT have looked more like the Reunification Palace in Saigon if it had tried) and b) the front entrance of 2 AMAZING temples right beside it. It would tell you their names, but they have more letters than cities in Iceland and are equally hard to pronounce. Consequently, we'll just call them Temple 1 and Temple 2.
So I've talked plenty about temples to date, and I don't want to bore you. There are always lots of amazing paintings on the walls and a HUGE Golden Buddha at the end of the room. And again, as many of you know, tradition dictates that you take your shoes off before entering a temple. At Temple 1, however, they are VERY adamant that you must keep and hold your shoes with you (because they don't want people stealing tourist shoes outside the temple). Consequently, I take off my shoes, tuck them carefully under my arm, and proceed inside.
Well, I've been in there all of FIVE MINUTES and am walking around (VERY respectfully, I might add) when I hear a voice beside me YELL and shatter the silence: "YOU!!!!!" I notice he's close to me, but I don't react, thinking maybe he's intoning some kind of prayer. But then I hear "YOUUUUUUUU!!!!!" again, and now I realize that he's talking about me and not happy about something. I continue walking, determined to get clear of this guy, at which point HE STANDS UP AND HITS ME WITH HIS PRAYER BOOK. He then pushes my shoes away and says "YOOOOOOUUUUUUUU" again as though he's the voice of angry Buddha incarnate.
Now look, I I know it's not ideal that I had my shoes with me (even though I was told I HAD to take them inside). I know that it's not ideal to have a crazy ang mo roaming inside your temple before service. I ALSO know that it's not cool I don't speak your language or understand your religion. But seriously - to bitch slap me with YOUR PRAYER BOOK? I gotta think that goes against more principles than "though shalt not rock Brooks Adrenaline in the temple." All the same, I'd like to apologize to the Thai version of Old Man River for disturbing his chi.
After that and thankful to be alive, we proceeded to the planned highlight of the day - the Golden Mount. This shrine, sitting atop a hill in Bangkok was one of those "now you see it, now you don't" kind of places, where we walked ALL OVER the surrounding block but just COULD NOT find it. We'd caught one glimpse of it, but I just couldn't locate it again, which is a) odd considering it's arguably THE HIGHEST AND SHINIEST THING IN THE CITY and b) not odd because I just simply CANNOT read a map. But luckily Jenny politely said, "Babe, I think it's this way," which is code for "Husband Bear, why do I put up with you - I've known where this was for an hour but tried to help you look manly" - 5 minutes later we were at the Mount. Awesome.
The view from the top was great, and it really was a neat spot. I got a chance to clang the bells and gongs, and we had amazing vistas of the city. There were lots of folks praying, and I should say at this point that I was surprised how many folks were actively praying or meditating in the temples. Thailand seems like a very spiritual place, with BKK being moreso than Phuket (at least in the spots we visited).
After that we hit a fine shrine - the "Golden Buddha." Muffin had a GREAT line her when she said, "Aren't ALL the Buddhas golden?", which was a point I'd never considered. She's quite right on that, as EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM WE SAW WAS 100% GOLD. That beind said, there was always something to differentiate them and make you pay that $1 USD - the "Golden Buddha," the "Reclining Buddha," the "Emerald Buddha" (we didn't see that one, so I'm not sure if it totally disproves the theory or not, but you get the point - there were a lot of gold ones).
On the way home we rolled through Chinatown, which was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, THE MOST CONGESTED PLACE I'VE EVER BEEN TO. Hitman - you would have died or shot someone - it was CRAZY. We didn't make any purchases save food and beverage, but we went STRONG in that regard. I was getting peckish, and I noticed this cat grilling squid (because why shouldn't you use an open flame in the middle of a 300 year old crowded market that's made completely of wood?) and I thought about the immortal words of Matt Miller: "When it comes to street meat - go big or go home." 2 minutes later the Bull ordered 2 skewers of squid, and when the guy said, "Spicy?" I said yes and he laughed maniacally. I shrugged him off, as I KNEW I could take it. But this guy wasn't making stuff for white tourists - he was making it for locals. And HOLY @#$# WAS IT SCALDING.
Seriously - it was, without a doubt, one of the tastiest yet MOST SCORCHING things I've EVER eaten. It wasn't quite in the Naga chicken category, but I did think my tongue was liquifying at one point. And the best part? The guy had given me 2 bags when I bought it, but I dismissed this as unnecessary because it made it hard to stab the squid. So I removed the outer bag and started spearing squid. All was good until I inadvertently jabbed a hole in the bag, letting chili oil run down my arm. At the time I just thought it was annoying because it was sticky. Two hours later (and after MULTIPLE HAND WASHINGS, FOR THE RECORD), however, MY ARM WAS ON FIRE FROM WHERE THE CHILI OIL WAS SEARING MY FLESH. And just think, that was a trickle of the stuff. The other 20 ounces were burning a hole through my small intestine. Good times.
The reward was that, DESPERATE for something to drink, I find some pure lime juice (and killed 3 bottles). Jenny had mango juice, and that was LIFE CHANGING. We also tried another street vendor treat, something I'm calling the "sweet taco" (no relation to Dirty Sanchez). It was basically a crepe, but much smaller.
We then rolled back to the hotel, where we forced them to make good on their promise to let us shower. We thought they were just going to open the gym, but instead they actually gave us a hotel room for 30 minutes, which was EXTRA AWESOME. So half an hour later I was freshly changed and washed and a new man.
We then rolled to the airport, where we ate at...wait for it...wait for it - THE MANGO TREE, BABY! That's right, it's the same chain that's in London, and it was just as guuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies). And it should be noted that, even at the airport, prices were WAAAAAAAY lower than in Westminster. They must be making a KILLING on that place.
Okay, that's Bangkok in a nutshell and definitely all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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