Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Friday, September 07, 2007

Blissful Back Rubs & Broken Noses in Bangkok

The idea of spending a few weeks exploring Thailand, hopping from one perfect beach to the next, eating green curry and noodles and indulging ourselves with a few Thai massages sounds idyllic. Unfortunately, we can only speculate about how idyllic this could've been, because determined to press on towards India, we squeezed our taste of Thailand into just four days. Settling for a hotel swimming pool instead of a beach, we spent our limited time in Thailand's capital, Bangkok.

Thanks to Jason's skills at sniffing out fantastic hotel deals, we stayed at the
Prince Palace Hotel, a towering urban resort catering to foreign package tourists and Thai conference guests. Jason was even more charming than usual at the check-in desk, which somehow landed us an upgrade to a suite on the 23rd floor, even though we were paying less than half the rack rate. Nice one, Jase!

View of Bangkok from the 23rd floor of the Prince Palace Hotel.

We gave the hotel's "authentic English pub" a wide berth, preferring to mingle with other guests at breakfast time, where a fairly miserable looking international crowd picked over the uninspiring buffet. With all manner of quirky holiday attire and bad behavior to observe, including cutting in line, sneezing over platters of eggs and being rude to staff, the quality people watching opportunities took our minds off the unappetizing food.

We plunged into Bangkok's busy streets wide eyed and enthusiastic, eager to immerse ourselves in all things Thai, and soon noticed some unique elements of Thai culture.

Smile, you're in Thailand!
Thai people are smilers. They are friendly and gracious, and greet others with their hands together in a prayer gesture, and their heads bowed. We were welcomed with such ubiquitous warmth that we felt immediately at ease in Thailand, wondering why we hadn't planned a longer stay.

Long live the King!
There's no doubt that for Thais, their King is "The Dude". There are life size photos of him all over town, and thousands of Thais can be spotted wearing yellow shirts with an embroidered Royal crest, making a proud pro-King fashion statement.

The Royal Crest flies high on this yellow flag.

The King may rule, but Buddha is Boss.
Buddhism plays a prominent role in Thai society. Shrines with burning incense and marigolds can be found on virtually every street corner as well as in many homes and businesses. Bangkok boasts a fair share of temples too. We perspired our way up to the Golden Mount, a Buddhist monument commissioned by King Rama V, admiring aerial views of Bangkok from the top, whilst being dazzled by the shiny gold dome and spire.

The Golden Mount, and the external spiral staircase we slogged our way up.

We found these gold Bodhisattvas adorned with marigolds watching over the mausoleum at the Golden Mount.

We were particularly awed by Wat Arun, an unforgettable temple on the banks of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River. Our visit there was accompanied by the sound of saffron robed monks chattering over lunch, and the clatter of their spoons on metal plates.

The 82 meter high "prang" (spire) of Wat Arun temple. Undeterred by blistering heat and oppressive humidity, we insisted on climbing the spire. Two temple climbs in one day. What were we thinking?

Rooftops in the grounds of Wat Arun.

Another temple at Wat Arun, with beautiful mosaic detail.

Delicate details make a bold impact
So many things in Thailand seem delicate, but beautifully striking at the same time. This is evident in Thai architecture, with its pretty mosaics in bold colors, and ornate woodwork on some of the traditional canal side homes.

The blue and white designs on this pagoda are made from ceramic mosaics. Close inspection reveals broken pieces of plates and cups embedded in the pillars.

Jim Thompson was a well known American exporter of Thai silk. We visited his Bangkok home, pictured here. It's a beautiful example of traditional Thai architecture with some Western influences.

Thai silk can be found in stunning yet intricate designs, perhaps inspired by gloriously colorful, yet fragile local flowers.

A gorgeous Thai flower, blooming on the water.

Even Thai food, seasoned with the delicate flavors and fragrances of lemongrass, ginger and coconut can pack a powerful chili induced punch. Of course, we sampled as many Thai specialties as we could in our blink-and-you've-missed-it visit. The street food was particularly good, and we feasted on duck noodle soup, spare rib, fat noodles and curry, served by smiling vendors on various street corners.

Anyone for Pad Thai?

Bangkok's laid back buzz.
For a capital city, Bangkok is surprisingly chilled out. In spite of consistent gridlock, there's barely a honk to be heard. Somehow, weaving through traffic in a Tuk Tuk, which often involves maneuvers that would make Danica Patrick break into a sweat, feels like a mellow experience.

The uniquely Thai Tuk Tuk.

Bangkok's canal taxis bomb along the city's stinky waterways at breakneck speed, yet the local passengers just sit back and relax, as if they were on a dinner cruise.

A Bangkok Canal Taxi makes waves. Note the high tech blue plastic splash guards on either side of the boat.

Perhaps the lack of angst amongst Thais has something to do with massage. Considered integral to general well being in Thailand, regular massages are part of the Thai lifestyle, and Bangkok is littered with spas and parlors to service locals and visitors alike. We indulged in a two hour Thai massage, and couldn't resist paying a few extra "baht" to have gentle pounding with a hot herbal compress included in the treatment. Jason emerged from his massage revitalized and ready to conquer the world. I was so relaxed I could barely put my clothes back on. You could say our treatments at Seventh Sense Spa hit the spot.

And then there's Muay Thai
We abandoned almost every conclusion we'd drawn about Thai culture during our evening watching Muay Thai (Thai boxing) at Lumpini Stadium. There was nothing friendly, delicate or relaxed about the way the fighters pummeled each other. On the contrary, we found ourselves watching an aggressive, brutal and frenetic spectacle, the admission price startling us almost as much the punches. In fact, we spent more on tickets to see Muay Thai than evenings at the Russian ballet and Chinese acrobatics combined. But we mingled with the crowds and savored being in the heart of the action in our ringside seats, and the event did not disappoint.

Thai boxers in pre-fight prayer.

Warming up with dance-like moves and stretches.

We found ourselves seated in the blue corner, and cheered enthusiastically for blue in all nine fights of the evening, even though lady luck seemed to be with the red corner. Most of the jabs came from the knees, aiming at the opponent's abdomen and groin. Ouch.

A rough muscle rub and some touch coaching in the blue corner between rounds.

The crowd was as much of a spectacle as the fighters, transforming into a noisy, excitable mob of fans, gamblers and bookies in the last couple of rounds of each fight. The stadium throbbed with frenzied music from the traditional Thai band and desperate cries of "EEEHH!" and "AAAHH!" from the sweaty stands.

This coach yells at his fighter from the blue corner. Judging by his yellow shirt, he's a fan of the King. The marigolds hanging from the ropes symbolize good luck.

We were somewhat surprised that the Main Event was followed by a fight between two foreigners, but cheered extra loud for the American fighter in the blue corner. When he suffered a broken nosed defeat to the Australian, it was time for us to leave, grabbing a noodle soup on the street before heading home.

Ethan, from California, psyches himself up to fight. The photos from after his defeat are not so pretty.

That was about all of Thailand we had time for. Next time we visit the Land of Smiles we'll make a beeline for its world famous beaches. In the meantime, we'll remember the four days of fun we had in Bangkok whenever we wear our Royal crested yellow shirts. Long live the King, indeed!

"To the airport please!"


Coming up soon on Donkey Crossing

Fly with us to India for some serious high altitude acclimatisation, and a fabulous eight day trek in the Himalayas. Stay tuned!

No Tuk Tuks here; just trekking poles & ponies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Thailand is on place we to would like to visit. Hope to see you in India!!

5:46 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Movie plot: Jason accrues a large gambling debt at a Thai boxing match and is forced into fighting a swarthy, sneaky and sweaty South African. Jason is, of course, handily defeated, but must regain his honor, and so takes up residence in Thailand to train. Racel becomes his trainer, and in the process becomes a guru of Thai message. The ending is Karate Kid-like, with Jason overcoming the odds to defeat his nemesis. At the end, the King descends, deus ex machina, and blesses Jason for his bravery. Yes, the noble Westerner triumphs again...

Looking forward to India, and send my love to Bobby...

5:54 PM  

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