Friday, February 08, 2008

Day 1: MBK center and Jim Thompson house

OK, I have managed to drag myself away from Bioshock for long enough to start the more in depth, illustrated trip report. We'll see how long I can resist the allure of this fantastic game. BTW, if anyone reading this likes games, or humor, and you have not seen Zero Punctuation yet, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. It is brilliant.

OK, so the first day we were in Bangkok (BKK) we pretty much took it easy. We walked down to the Skytrain (think Chicago's el trains, but newer and nicer) station about a 5 minute walk from the hotel and rode up to the huge MBK mall. Holy crap, is this mall enormous. First off, it's seven stories tall, and fairly large laterally as well. There is a whole floor that is almost entirely cellphones. Here is a view of the central atrium area.
Among the many amusing things here was the Ronald McDonald that wais passersby. Pretty funny.

We got lunch that day in the food court at the mall. Now, food courts in Thailand are much, much different from in the US. First, and most importantly, the food is actually really good. It is also pretty cheap. The system works like this. When you enter you either buy a certain amount of tickets, or you get a debit card (which was the case here). You then go to any vendor you like, and at MBK there were probably 15, with everything from Thai food to Indian food to American food to Chinese food, and everything in between. After taking your order the vendor either takes the appropriate number of tickets, or debits your card. At MBK they have a cool system where they don't have to swipe your card, they simply place it on a little pad and it is automatic. I assume it uses RFID or the like. In any case, when you leave you either redeem leftover tickets, or pay the amount indicate on your card. It's a good system. Anyway, the food was really good. I had green curry pork and a large Singha beer, and L had a seafood pad thai and a soda. The total was 380 bhat, or about $12, and of that 120 bhat, or $3.85, was my huge beer. After walking around the mall for a while longer, we decided to leave, as it was getting crowded. You could tell that school let out because the place filled up with school kids. You could tell they were school kids because they were still wearing their uniforms.

We decided to go see the nearby Jim Thompson house and museum. Jim Thompson was an American ex OSS agent (the OSS was the forerunner to the CIA) who worked in Bangkok, fell in love with it and after WWII stayed there. He is credited with reviving the then dying Thai silk industry, and the company he started is still a major player in the industry. His house is down a peaceful soi (alley) on one of the klongs (canals) that used to me much more common in Bangkok, and at one time were the main form of transportation. His house consists of five antique Thai houses that he brought in from other parts of the country and had reassembled on site. He was also an avid collector on SE Asian art.

The house was amazing. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the structures, but I will include some exterior shots to give you an idea.

The bottom shows what appear to be some (mostly) prehistoric pots in his collection. The really nice stuff, of course, was inside. Nicer items included an really nice Buddha (still with the head, unlike the one above), and some amazing Chinese porcelain. It was a really nice tour, and a nice location. After the tour, and walking around exploring the garden on our own, we had a drink at the cafe. We then walked back to the nearest BTS station and went back to the hotel. We were both jet lagged, so we decided to take a nap. After waking up at 8 pm, we decided, screw it, we're just going to bed.

General impressions of BKK. First off, holy crap was it hot. With the humidity (which was considerable), it was around 100 every day. I had really not expected that, since it was winter there, too. I guess when you are only 14 degrees about the equator that's what you get.

Consequently, we were not able to get as much done each day as I had thought, since it took a lot out of you just being out walking around in the heat. Speaking of walking-wow, not a real pedestrian-friendly town. First off, it is really spread out. We were in an area called Pathumwan, which is primarily a shopping area. It was nice, but it was a long way from many of the major sites. The traffic is every bit as bad as I had heard, and you are smelling diesel fumes a lot. There are also a lot of touts, primarily tuk tuk and taxi drivers. They seem to assume that any farang walking obviously wants a cab or tuk tuk ride, and you are constantly asked "Where you go?" by them. They are not really aggressive or anything, but it gets old pretty rapidly. Taxi and (especially) tuk tuk drivers are also famous for scamming tourists. Generally this is done by not wanting to use the meter, in the case of taxis, or asking exorbitant prices in the case of tuk tuks. The other side of the coin is the tuk tuk driver offering you a really cheap tour of the city (like 20 bhat an hour, around 75 cents) which will actually be a tour of gem shops and tailor shops and souvenir shops, all of which pay him a commission for each person he brings in. This is also how the famous 'gem scam' can start.

In short, it is not an easy city to visit. However, we wanted to visit someplace really different, and it was definitely that.

OK, that is enough for now. I'll post the next day tomorrow.


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