Despite my need for sleep, I had to wake up early to get to the Myanmar embassy in time before the lines got too long for the visa application process. Ferries take people down the river for only 15 baht, which is less than 50 cents! Watching the ferry and the workers operate is a marvel in itself; they are so efficient in their own unique way. They communicated how close to approach the dock with a variety of whistles and as soon as the last passenger boarded the ferry, the boat disembarked from the car tire-lined dock. After filling out application forms and getting pictures taken care of at a shop down the street, I began waiting in line while talking to a Swiss. The whole process was quite simple; they did not seem to check much so long as I had the necessary baht to make it happen. However, I am not too keen on the idea of leaving my passport with them for two days but what other choice do I have? With that behind me, I explored the area with plans on working my way towards two of the most famous temples in all of Bangkok. I soon found out that Bangkok has the power to overwhelm your senses in ways you don’t expect and are not quite prepared for. Pretty much every part of the street is lined with shops, both food and random nick-nacks. It is surprising how anything gets done in Bangkok with seemingly every Thai person owning a cart or stand of some sort. The aromas from the food cannot be ignored ranging from the saltiness of dried fish to fermented soy to slow cooked, earthy broths. Just when your nostrils hit a state of nirvana, a thick, heavy mixture of unpleasant smells overwhelms you. Here is an example of some of the smells I smelled: like an elderly person’s house, so earthy and minty in all the wrong ways, rotting trash, or long standing sewage. The aromas constantly circulate so you never know when the next wave will hit you. A Thai man approached since I looked lost which I was and started chatting with me. Eventually he led me to a travel agency. I sat through their pitch since the man seemed so friendly but was not willing to pay for anything or get locked into any ‘adventure’ package. They offered me tea as is customary and frankly a duty to those that enter their ‘home’. Tired and hungry, I stopped for a bite to eat and had some Thai tea, which is mixed with milk and is similar to iced coffee but with black jelly cubes, which helped cut away at the heat from the chilies. Being the only white person around or at least one of a handful is an odd experience, especially off the beaten path. People in Bangkok see many tourists come through but at no point can I feel like I blend in like in Spain or Italy, when I occasionally got confused for a local. After much frustration and glances at my now crumbled up map, I got myself into Chinatown. On the way, I passed so many signs, posters, and flags showing pictures of the king dressed in his royal clothes. Thai people probably adore and admire their King more than the English do for the Royal family. Chinatown is simply insane; shops took over the sidewalks and even spilled onto the streets so it is best to accept you will lose your personal space while attempting to navigate through this crowded district. After much perusing, looking at the variety of food, both recognizable and sometimes alien to my Western eyes, I stopped for a plate of Chinese/Thai food. You may be thinking what a fat ass I am for wanting to eat again but the servings are small and tolerable. No longer am I in America sitting before a trough of food in which I am expected to finish a meal the size of my face. After eating, you feel satisfied and not ready to give birth to a Thai sized food baby. I sat down at one of many pop up restaurants in the area and pointed at some random dishes that looked appealing. Since no one spoke English, I had no idea what was on my plate. After taking my first bites, I sensed quite a bit of chewiness, similar to cartilage. I could have been eating pig snout or face for all I knew. The most I could tell you was that it was tasty and fresh and burned my mouth twice over. Eating Thai food is akin to taking your tongue and licking it across a meter of hot coals. Chinatown and most of Bangkok is an example of an off-tune orchestra with random words (to my ears) being spoken, clanging and scraping of woks as women furiously cook their homemade dishes to passersby, honking of horns and roaring of engines, and barking of dogs. Besides the symphony of sounds that entered my ears, the sights that came into my view were overwhelming at times. In spurts, my eyes didn’t know what to do. At no point in their existence did they need to be so aware; it was a seizure of the senses waiting to happen. I saw more pineapples, bananas, whole ducks, motorcycles, etc in that time than in my entire life combined. Being in Bangkok has screwed up how I view the value of money. Never in my life have I been in a place where I can get a great meal for a couple of dollars and see world renowned temples for a few dollars. A long while later, I got myself out of the concrete jungle of Bangkok’s outskirts to Wat Pho, a temple complex housing the famous reclining Buddha. The complex is quite massive, large enough to get me lost to give you an idea. The temples were not like anything I have seen before. The buildings are so vibrant, practically a kaleidoscope of colors, many of which are covered in variously shaped tiles similar to the Art Nouveau that I became familiar with in Barcelona. Besides walking past the many shops and stands and seeing the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, this was my first moment where I thought to myself I had finally arrived, I was now in Southeast Asia. I was able to see places of worship in which Buddhists go to pray. Even though I don’t quite understand what they are doing and even though it is very different from what I grew up with, I respect it and try to learn what I can while I am in their presence. Now if a Buddhist from Thailand went to Rome and saw this bearded man everywhere especially on a cross, he or she wouldn’t have the understanding of someone with that background. Here I came in contact with the first of many ogres or demon-looking creatures that protect the bad spirits from entering a house of worship. In the main temple which draws the most foot traffic, sits the immense golden Buddha reclining in a building that doesn’t quite fit its size. The width of one foot is as tall as me to give you an example. In this temple as in many temples and places of worship, you must remove your shoes out of respect. Across the river sits Wat Arun which is one of the smaller temple sites in Bangkok but on the higher end of most holy places around. The main temple where all eyes are drawn is a structure that shows its age but feels that much more authentic. Along with many others, I climbed the steep steps (and I mean steep; you could look straight down from the top and not see a single step) to the top and got a great view of Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, which I will have to save for tomorrow, as well as the main river or canal that runs through the city. The temple is supported by the many ogres etched into its architecture, wrapped around its circumference. While walking back I bought a coconut because why not when it costs less than a buck; it is a drink and a meal waiting to happen. On Khaosan Road I had my first Pad Thai in Thailand, which is a milestone in itself. As close as my hostel is to Khaosan I still managed to get lost. To pass the time until I found it, I figured why not drink a beer; so another Chang beer at 7/11 hit the spot. A few people that I had met at the hostel the night before and I went out on the town for a couple beers on Khaosan Rd., some coconut ice cream, and, in general, people watching since this was the first time I got to see in Khao San in all its glory at night. At one point we stopped at a travel agency so that they could buy train tickets to Chiang Mai. Not to sound like a complete asshole but I don’t understand why people believe everything that someone tells them. With just a bit of research I have saved myself a lot of money and headache by not buying the package deal that is dangled right in front of everyone. Maybe I just like the satisfaction of figuring it out myself, who knows. Anyways, while walking down Khao San Rd. I heard more times than I would like to mention people trying to sell tickets to a ping pong show, which is not the type of ping pong you might initially expect. Some stands were selling fried tarantulas, scorpions, and maggots amongst many other creepy crawlies; the tarantulas piqued my tastebuds. We kept hanging out, chatting, and loving life but eventually I had to play the old man and call it a night.
Thailand Day 54: Sensory Overload