Friday, July 11, 2008

Bangkok - Day Three - Part One

Brought to you in several manageable sections as it was our last day and we had to make up for lost time. Besides, my continued jet lag makes it impossible to focus.

One congratulatory cake and twelve hours of sleep later, we rose before the sun, before the birds, and before the smog of Bangkok became so thick you could cut it with a knife. It seemed like time moved terribly slow…like when you wake up to go to the gym and then don’t arrive until an hour later. All you had to do was put on your clothes and shoes that you had so carefully laid out the night before! How could it have taken an hour?

We had decided to visit Lumphini Park that morning, Bangkok’s big breath of fresh air. Although it was less than a mile away, we took so long to get ready that we had to catch a cab (a cab!) to the park in order to make it by 7 a.m. Seven is the magical number in which the park really gets hopping, according to Fodder’s, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet and all those other guide books that I read.

At seven, there were definitely some fun sights in Lumphini but we couldn’t help feeling that things would have been a lot more active an hour earlier. You read me travel guides? Six! Six is the magical number! A lot of people were already packing it in to go to work. This reminds me…It seems like no one works in Bangkok as the streets are always packed. Cars, bikes, motorbikes, pedestrians…Don’t these people have some place to be?

The beloved King[1], encourages health and fitness among his people so people visit the park in droves. Once again, our early start made us the only tourists in a place packed with something exciting to take a photo of around every corner. Groups of men and women, young and old practicing fan dances, doing tai chi, jogging, practicing yoga, singing karaoke around built-in television sets or briskly walking around pumping their arms up and down in strange ways. My favorites? Two young women doing martial arts with swords in the middle of the path[2] or the lone elderly woman practicing tai chi on a bridge.

Although the national anthem plays daily at eight a.m. (at which time the park freezes), our stomachs led us to miss that sight in search of breakfast. By seven thirty, we were walking up and down two sides of the park analyzing each street vendor to pick our meal. Determining that it was too early for curry and fried chicken and eliminating everything with easily identifiable egg (hey, the only egg I’ll eat is scrambled really dry), we walked the length of those vendors twice before deciding on our original choice.

At home, we are dedicated pho[3] eaters, enjoying it four or five times a week during the winter and once or twice a week during the summer. We quickly found that we had a tendency to gravitate toward soups in Bangkok. This time, our noses guided us to a vendor serving a soup that smelled so tasty that we were pretty certain it would taste as good as it smelled. Without even wondering what was in it, we ordered two bowls. Rice, a delicious fish stock, about eight ounces of flaky whitefish and a smattering of green onions made up the bowl. We tossed in the traditional flavors of Thai food: a bit of sugar for the sweet, hot chilies for the spicy, soy sauce and shrimp paste for the salty, and lime juice for the sour. Digging in, we were pleased to discover that it was fish and not something frightening, like tripe (our motto, if it has gills, we’ll eat it.)[4] What a tasty fish soup it was. We both commented how we paid a grand total of $3.12 (100 baht) for such a wonderful dish. I only had a momentary flash back to the man fishing in the raw sewage that is the Chao Prao River the previous day. I then quickly added a few more spoonfuls of peppers to my soup, my version of spraying on Windex. Hungover? Have peppers! Open wound? Add peppers! Have a cold? Blow it out with peppers! They make anything better.

After breakfast, I located a Thai iced tea vendor and promptly ordered two. We watched as she brewed the dark tea, poured it back and forth with coconut milk, and then poured it into a little plastic bag filled with ice. After a few sips of it, I found a garbage can. It was the reminder that it is Thai coffee I like instead of the tea, not the fact that it was over street ice, which lead me to throw it away. David quickly followed suit, although I suspect that he was creeped out by the ice. It was time to hail a cab and move on to next part of our day.

[1] Long Live the King: The majority of Thais were wearing a yellow Livestrong type bracelet that said “Long Live the King” in English or Thai.
[2] I mean, really, swords? How cool is that! In the U.S., you’d be arrested for being in the park with a large weapon.
[3] Pho: Vietnamese noodle soup.
[4] Last year’s motto: “If it oinks, we’ll eat it.” We’ve definitely been refining our eating habits.

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