Saturday, August 4, 2012

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok

Our final leg of the journey was in Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok was a crazy change from Phuket and Chiang Mai. The hustle and bustle of the city life was amazing, and we got to see some of the best sites in Bangkok. Our first stop was the imperial palace.
Thailand is an interesting country. They claim to be "democratic", yet there are many scandalous secrets within the government and royal family. The country is also sensored: they face jail time if they speak ill of the royal family, they are not allowed to watch some movies, including The King and I, because it is a movie about one of the former kings, but is based around a love story. Our tour guide became really uncomfortable answering our questions about the royal family-they have to be very careful to always talk about them in a positive light.

Imperial Palace

It was amazing to see some of the housing that people lived in in Bangkok, and incredibly humbling. Houses balanced on teetering stilts sticking out from the mucky river. It was amazing the stilts weren't rotting away, and the houses collapsing into the river. It made me feel very lucky to have grown up in America (a feeling I get the longer I spend in Asia).
River Tour
Aside from the dangerous housing, the river itself was very unfortunate. It was murky and brown with dead fish scattered around. Cat fish are abundant in the river, and fisherman often fish in this river to sell at the markets. Our tour guide told us the fish caught in this river are usually placed in a fresh water tank for around 3 days to "clean" before they are killed and eaten. Still, super yuck.
Houses on stilts in the river

Wat Arun

The steep climb up Wat Arun

View of Bangkok

 We visited the train market on our second day. This was another appalling thing for me to experience. Dozens of small, Thai shops littered the sides of the tracks selling everything from herbs and garlic to eggs, vegetables, and lots and lots of meat. The smells were nauseating, a terrible mixture of dead fish flesh, pork, and irony blood. I had to plug my nose about half way through to escape the stench. The sights of the conditions of the market were even more disturbing. Flys buzzed frantically around the meat, which sat sans ice in the hot, sweaty heat, being touched barehanded by the owners of the market and the customers who passed. Everything was in close proximity to the dirty ground, as well as the train tracks, which emitted cloudy gasses and fumes and kicked up dust as the train passed through.
All in all, a great experience. One that made me especially thankful for clean butcher shops.

 Our final tour was to the floating market, a must see in Bangkok. We piled into the boat and took off to  float lazily around the market. The laziness only lasted about an hour because we arrived early. The market was soon swarming with people in boats, all trying to pass each other and bargain on the sides of the river. I tried a coconut drink, because I have seen them all over Asia. It was extremely disappointing, and the taste was somewhere between milky, watery, and grassy. Yuck. We had gotten our fix of shopping, so we just toured the market and did a lot of people watching.
 Our guide took us to this factory that makes caramels from coconut. They boil it for quite some time and wait for it to caramelize, then they stir it rapidly using this giant stirring stick. I got to try and it was hard work :)

 Finally, we took off to a tower to see the city view from above. Our experience at the tower wasn't great, as they charged us a lot of money to buy a ticket to the top and our "free drink" turned out to be a soda or juice, but the views were still incredible!

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