Sunday, February 10, 2008
In Search of the Bangkok I Knew
Maybe it is true that you can never go back. It seems like such an overused statement about travel. But as I found during this last trip to Bangkok, it may be overused but it rings true none the less.
First, let me state that the Thais are a magical people. Kind, welcoming and sincerely happy to meet you. That impression has never failed me during my travels in Thailand. The Four Seasons hotel also never disappoints. The rooms are handsomely decorated in silks and dark woods – and the wake up calls are prompt, with the coffee arriving precisely at the minute requested. And I mean precisely. The concierge staff is friendly, curious and aims to please. The courtyard breakfast is a delight. The doormen anticipate your every move.
The Peninsula Hotel also did not disappoint with its ESPA spa being a wonderful sanctuary from the exhaust and haphazard weavings of the tuk-tuks. I arrived a full hour early for my appointment and spent a wonderfully relaxing hour in an upstairs relaxation room prostrate on a lounger with ginger and honey tea, a warm blanket engulfing me and the anticipation of my Thai massage and facial. Both were heavenly, my body in need of a purging of sickness and fatigue which had plagued me all week.
The water taxi (for about 50 cents or 15 baht) was also worth every single baht. Up the river we zoomed at 7:30 a.m. one morning, watching as life emerged on the banks of the river, the water spraying up the sides of the boat, packed with Thais on their way to work. I emerged at the Royal Palace, only to be overcome by mourners dressed in black who had come to pay their respects to the Princess (the King’s sister) who died in early January. As I learned from a helpful, middle-aged attendant, the royal family had mourned for the obligatory month and now the commoners were to pay their respects for a month. The city was curtained in black matching the crowds that packed themselves onto lawns, although the mood did not seem somber but somehow festive.
As I write this, I realize it is not about disappointment in returning to Bangkok but perhaps a maturation in my tastes and travels that was evident on this last trip. I tired easily of the Night Market, its stalls packed with knock off luggage and purses and cheap souvenirs. I was saddened by the growth of mega malls outside my hotel door, including the new glass and chrome Gaysorn, with its artistic but empty Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton stores. On the street, simple women spent hours putting flowers on garlands that could be placed at the always bustling Erawan shrine while western models stared down from the Coach posters and Gucci posters that loomed above. The wealth disaparity was troubling.
So I will go back but just to a different Bangkok where I will still seek out the simple, be thankful for the luxurious and be grateful that no matter what changes, the simplicity and warmth of the Thais does not.