Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bangkok, Oriental city

one night in Bangkok
Until recently, everything I knew about Bangkok came from John Burdett's crime novels, this Murray Head song, and Lawrence Osborne's memoir, Bangkok Days, in which he wanders around the city by night consorting with hookers and ex-pat sleazebags.

Unsurprisingly, I expected Bangkok to be a grimy fleshpot full of prostitutes and paunchy white male sex tourists on scooters and I'm afraid this is a common perception of the city among Americans. My father said, "When someone says he's going to Bangkok, you almost feel compelled to smirk." Yesterday, I ran into a friend and told her where I'd been and her eyes lit up and she asked me about a sordid Thai sex performance she'd heard about.

In fact, I hadn't caught one of those shows and couldn't provide any details unavailable on wikipedia. I explained, instead, that despite its reputation, Bangkok has a lot more to offer than the sex trade. SO MUCH MORE. I want to shout that because the SO MUCH MORE came as a complete surprise. Isabel and I almost didn't go to Bangkok on account of what I'd heard and read, but it turned out to be the clear high point of our trip.

The word I'd use to describe Bangkok is layered. We stayed in a small hotel with lush gardens, a pool, and a resident cat. In the morning we sat on the patio drinking coffee, peeling rambutans, and listening to the neighborhood chickens. It was idyllic. Step out the front gate, though, and we were in the middle of a huge, chaotic metropolis, just a short walk from the Skytrain, tantalizing street food, movie theaters, malls full of fabulous clothes by Thai designers, and people, people, people. It was like midtown Manhattan, but moreso. With chickens.
Nahm restaurant in Bangkok is worth every baht. I didn't take pictures of the food because everyone else was taking pictures of the food and they looked silly, but in hindsight, I was the silly one. I wish I had pictures! 
One day we ate an intricate multi-course lunch at David Thompson's Nahm. Thompson is an Australian chef and cookbook author, and at Nahm he serves ultra-refined renditions of Thai classics. What I remember best are little rice pancakes with spicy seafood, some exquisite salads, and a dessert of mangosteens and lychees in crushed ice. Every morsel was perfect and the meal cost a pretty penny.

We tried everything except insects and deep-fried chicken heads. It was almost all delicious.
Later, we had an equally incredible late-night dinner of noodle soup and hot doughnuts with pandan custard on the street in Chinatown with about 117,000 of our closest friends. Every morsel was perfect and the meal cost basically nothing.

In Bangkok, you get the high and the low and both are really, really terrific. What I hadn't realized was just how much of the high there is in that city. We stumbled on galleries and artisanal coffee shops and fancy gelato and fascinating Thai designer clothes that I would have coveted desperately were I twenty years younger and twenty pounds thinner. I'm betraying myself as a complete ignoramus because I hadn't expected any of this.

What I'd expected was sleaze. In three days of nonstop walking in Bangkok, we saw school kids in uniforms, colorful Chinese temples, teak houses, ex-pats, coconut vendors, tuk tuk drivers, a grisly museum that you should avoid at all costs, women exhorting us to get our feet massaged, artists, fashionistas, clotheslines, mysterious back alleys, and a lot of nice, everyday people who helped us read our map and cross the street without getting killed. What I didn't see was a single man, woman, or child whom I could positively identify as a sex worker.

I know they're there. But if you want to find them you might have to look harder than you think.

We loved Bangkok.

32 comments:

  1. 1. This makes me want to visit Bangkok, which I never expected to say.

    2. Thank you for dropping the song from "Chess." It's on my running playlist and I love it a ridiculous amount. "I'd let you watch, I would invite you / But the queens we use would not excite you."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That song is ridiculously catchy.

      Delete
  2. Wonderful description - any chance of seeing some/more of your pictures?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I spent just a few days in Bangkok en route to India some years ago, but your post makes me want to go back. That trip was complicated because I was traveling with a whole mess of study abroad students (as a leader, not a student, which makes a big difference!) and then the day after we left Bangkok and arrived in Calcutta, 9/11 happened. (On my birthday, too.) So, Bangkok gets lost in all of that. I mostly remember those massive reclining Buddhas at one of the temple complexes. It may be time for another trip . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you should go back. That sounds like a terrible confluence of events -- Calcutta, 9/11, birthday.
      We didn't intentionally visit any temples in Bangkok. We made up for it everywhere else . . .

      Delete
  4. I think I'd like that museum -- not sure that reflects well on me. But mostly, do you have any of David Thompson's cookbooks, and if so, what did you think?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought I'd like that museum, but it gave me chills. I do have David Thompson's books and they've been too daunting for me. I have to revisit now.

      Delete
  5. Ugh! I thought the fetus wall at the Museum of Science and Industry was disturbing...

    Were there Thai diners in Nahm?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hard to tell if there were Thai diners at Nahm. There were not that many Westerners -- the crowd was mostly Asian, but I don't know where they came from in Asia. I do know the people at the next table were Japanese.

      Delete
  6. I read the first few of Burdett's Bangkok mysteries and finally had to stop, they were so disturbing. Your account has restored it's allure for me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yours is the only blog I read regularly, so though I don't often comment, I hope you know there are many who read. Would you explain why you have titled the non-cookbook reviews "18 minute reviews?" Where does 18 minutes come from?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried to answer this in another comment -- no real reason. Because the number sounded cute or it seemed like the right amount of time to devote to a capsule review. But I really can't write something I'm willing to share in 18 minutes so I don't keep it up.

      Delete
  8. Great. This article is excellent. I have read many articles with this topic, but I have not liked. I think I have the same opinion with you. descargar facebook , whatsapp , baixar whatsapp plus

    ReplyDelete
  9. Kannur University Result 2016 for all course
    Kannur University Admit Card 2016
    Kannur University Hall Ticket 2017
    Kannur University Result 2017
    Kannur University Admit Card 2016
    Kannur University Entrance Date 2016
    Kannur University Degree Allotment
    Kannur University Trial Allotment 2016
    Kannur University Admission 2016
    Kannur University Onlie Admission
    Kannur University Distance Education Result 2016
    Kannur University Hall Ticket 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University BA Result 2016-2017
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Hall Ticket 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Result 2016 for all course
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Admit Card 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Hall Ticket 2017
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Result 2017
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Admit Card 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Entrance Date 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Degree Allotment
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Trial Allotment 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Admission 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Onlie Admission
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Distance Education Result 2016
    Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University Hall Ticket 2016
    Karnatak State Open University BA Result 2016-2017
    Karnatak State Open University Hall Ticket 2016
    Karnatak State Open University Result 2016 for all course
    Karnatak State Open University Admit Card 2016
    Karnatak State Open University Hall Ticket 2017
    Karnatak State Open University Result 2017
    Karnatak State Open University Admit Card 2016
    Karnatak State Open University Entrance Date 2016
    Karnatak State Open University Degree Allotment
    Karnatak State Open University Trial Allotment 2016

    ReplyDelete
  10. Karnatak State Open University Admission 2016
    Karnatak State Open University Onlie Admission
    Karnatak State Open University Distance Education Result 2016
    Karnatak State Open University Hall Ticket 2016
    Andhara University BA Result 2016-2017
    Andhara University Hall Ticket 2016
    Andhara University Result 2016 for all course
    Andhara University Admit Card 2016
    Andhara University Hall Ticket 2017
    Andhara University Result 2017
    Andhara University Admit Card 2016
    Andhara University Entrance Date 2016
    Andhara University Degree Allotment
    Andhara University Trial Allotment 2016
    Andhara University Admission 2016
    Andhara University Onlie Admission
    Andhara University Distance Education Result 2016
    Andhara University Hall Ticket 2016
    Symbiosis University BA Result 2016-2017
    Symbiosis University Hall Ticket 2016
    Symbiosis University Result 2016 for all course
    Symbiosis University Admit Card 2016
    Symbiosis University Hall Ticket 2017
    Symbiosis University Result 2017
    Symbiosis University Admit Card 2016
    Symbiosis University Entrance Date 2016
    Symbiosis University Degree Allotment
    Symbiosis University Trial Allotment 2016
    Symbiosis University Admission 2016
    Symbiosis University Onlie Admission
    Symbiosis University Distance Education Result 2016
    Symbiosis University Hall Ticket 2016
    IBS Hydrabad BA Result 2016-2017
    IBS Hydrabad Hall Ticket 2016
    IBS Hydrabad Result 2016 for all course
    IBS Hydrabad Admit Card 2016
    IBS Hydrabad Hall Ticket 2017
    IBS Hydrabad Result 2017
    IBS Hydrabad Admit Card 2016

    ReplyDelete