Monday, July 05, 2010

In Which We Take a Vacation From the Vacation

It was on the road between the train station and the palace in Versailles that Emily and I had our massive argument.

We'd been traveling together for a month at that point - two 20-year-olds who had been together night and day for 30 days. It was inevitable.

After storming away from each other, we spent the day apart, then reconciled at the hostel that night. We also decided it was time for a vacation from our vacation. So, the next day, we treated ourselves to a day at Disneyland Paris.

Ever since then, I've known that on long trips, it's important to give yourself a break from your travels. Which is why I had been so excited about going to Bangkok this past weekend. And, happily, it was a really great day.

Oscar, Eunice, Sean, and I met up at the yellow-roofed bus stop between the wat and the Trina House at 7:30 Saturday morning. We hopped on the #78 bus. It's one of the luxury buses, meaning it's air conditioned (AIR CONDITIONED!). After we settled into some empty seats towards the back, the conductress came down the aisle in her red uniform, carrying her shiny silver ticket tube. We told her we were going to Bangkok, she asked us for 54 baht each. (That's about $1.60.) Then we settled in for the 2 -hour ride. Fortunately, the driver had "Speed Racer" playing on the tv at the front, so we had entertainment. :)

We arrived at the Southern Bus Terminal at about 10:00 and got into a cab. As I slid across the back seat, I told the driver "Chatuchak Market." "Okay!" he said, and once the others were in, we were off!

And quickly got stuck in traffic. We were back in Bangkok, after all.

The market's north of the city, a bit out of the way, but totally worthwhile. It reminded me of the Grand Bazaare in Istanbul and Eunice of the Silk Market in Beijing. We made our way first to the big clock tower in the middle of the market, our designated meeting place to find Paul, who had come up to Bangkok the night before. We waited for 20 minutes, but he never showed. So, we decided to split off and meet back at the clock tower at 1:00 to regroup.

Eunice and I dove into the stalls to east of the clock tower (look at me finding dirctions without a compass or anything!). The market is indeed huge, and the stalls sell all kinds of things - t-shirts, jewlery, bags, silk scarves and curtains, handicrafts, herbs, dried fish, blue jeans, flowers, animals (both dead and alive), and almost all of the souveniers you see around Bangkok.

We stumbled into the food-court area just as we were thinking about how hungry we were. One guy approached us with menus, inviting us fervently into his place. We took the crowds of Thais eating there as a good sign and agreed. He lead us through the pools of water (it had rained a lot the night before and there was a second downpour for a few minutes while we were waiting for Paul) to two stools at a table where a Thai couple were eating. He brushed off the stools, patted them, put the menu in front of us, and looked expectantly at me to order.

I glanced over the menu, then asked for a favorite - Pad Thai ("mai pet" - not spicy) and a bottle of water. Eunice got the same, and the fellow hollered our order over our heads to the woman cutting up vegetables next to a large, steaming wok.

The Pad Thai was delicious! I ate around the prawns that were perched on top of it, but the flavors were just right. Yum! Plus, each of our meals was just 80 baht (about $2.50). Awesome.

We walked around the food area bit more, admiring the fruits and desserts, then dove back in for more shopping.

I bought a lot of stuff, some for me and some for Christmas presents, so I won't go into too much detail here other than saying that the prices are awesome! I had lost my sunglasses on the beach wat trip, so I picked up a knock-off pair for 49 baht. After a few stops, I stopped at one of the bag stalls to get a fabric bag to carry my stuff in.

We rendezvoused with the boys, but everyone was game for more shopping so we extended the time until 2:30. Eunice and I stuck mainly to the deep insides of the market, since the stalls on the perimeters seemed much more touristy - a lot of knock-offs and Americanized stuff. The good stuff's in deeper. We bargained a bit, found a stand that was making fresh-squeezed orange juice from the green-skinned Thai oranges and each bought a bottle. Oh, it was good. Sweet and pulpy and so good-for-you-tasting. I've missed vitamins.

By the second meet-up, we were all good to go. The market was also getting a lot more crowded. I definitely recommend going in the morning to any of you who find yourself in Bangkok (Mom, Dad - I'm looking at you. You'd love this market).


Being the one who suggested the trip and who planned it, I informed the others that I was going to an English bookstore next. They all said they would like to come, too, so we hunted down the sky train together (the market's at the Mo Chit stop, if anyone's planning), figured out how the zones and tickets work, and boarded the very nice train to the Siam stop.

We got off at Siam Square - the opulent, wealthy part of Bangkok. This is the area where the protests were centered (Central World, the mall they set on fire, was right next to the stop), and also the site of the Siam Paragon, a luxury mall with not one but TWO English bookstores.

After ooo-ing over the waterfalls and eternity pools that surround the mall, we walked through the front doors to a blast of air conditioning (AIR CONDITIONING!). Dude, this place was posh. The stores were all high-end - Hermes, and such. The place was spit-spot clean and, once we walked past the opening into the mall proper, pretty quiet. The people we did pass were all dressed in designer, wealthy clothing. Also? Everything was in English.

We found Asia books first. Being a chain here, I expected them to have mostly Thai books with a self or two of books in English. Nope. The entire store was English books. I was in heaven. Within 20 minutes, I had 6 books in my arms. Sean looked at my load and said, "You weren't kidding when you said you read a lot!" I got a variety - a few young adult books, a couple of novels, and they had a book I was hoping existed - an art book with pictures from the murals of the Grand Palace along with an English version of the story of the Ramakien.

Getting peckish, we went down to the basement level to check out the food level. There's this mega-gourmet grocery store there where a kilo of cherries is $5! $5! This is Thailand, people!

We had a few samples of dried fruit (which was really good, but overpriced), then went back to food court proper. In the mood for ice cream, we found a stand of New Zealand Ice Cream. We sampled their signature kiwi flavor, then each ordered our own treat. I got a cone with a scoop of mint chocolate chip and a scoop of banana. It was really good (although my heart still belongs to Sweet Action).

We sat at a table there, commenting on how nice it was to be somewhere cool and clean, eating really good ice cream, and such. We debated about what to do next - a massage? Haircuts for Sean and Eunice? Then decided, meh. We're happy here. Doing those things would mean going to a different part of town, and none of us wanted to leave the poshness yet. Plus, they had good-looking food here. We opted for dinner instead.

The boys got Burger King and Eunice and I found a gyro-style wrap place. It was so nice to eat good-tasting food again! Food that I didn't have to pick around and that was fresh! Oscar and Sean went for wraps as well for their second course, and I checked out a bakery to get some savory pastries to go for my dinner the next day. We talked Eunice into getting a scoop of Turkish ice cream just so we could see the show they put on serving it up with the great big pole.

We also visited the restrooms. Which, I know, is neither polite nor a remarkable event usually, but these bathrooms had Western toilets that flushed AND toilet paper AND soap AND paper towels. AND they were clean. It's the first time in weeks I've been able to use the bathroom without having to bat away mosquitos and ants that fall from the ceiling onto my neck and legs. I was so excited, I went twice.

We had talked about maybe seeing a movie, so we wandered up the the 5th level to see what was playing. There we somehow managed to crash a Technology conference. Once we escaped, we found the most decked-out movie theater lobby I've ever seen. They had a gourmet popcorn bar; huge leather couches everywhere with low, colored lighting like a snobby, trendy bar; and petite women in uniforms with clipboards. One approached us as we tried to figure out what was playing - she had the list on her board, and politely showed us the times and offered to sell us tickets. Unfortunately, the only thing that was playing in the next hour was "Twilight". The others started too late for us to get the bus back, and I couldn't talk the rest of the group into seeing "Twilight" for the sake of experiencing a movie in Thailand.

Instead we went back down to the fourth floor and found... another English bookstore! Hurrah!

I bought two more books. Because of course I did.

By the time we all finished browsing the second one, we were ready to call it a day. We walked back outside to the heat of the nighttime city, found the line for taxis, and I showed the taxi attendant the word for the Southern Bus Terminal that I had copied in Thai the day before (thank goodness the orphans taught me some of the letters!). He picked out a cab for us from the line-up, we threw our bags in the trunk, and headed to the station.

There was a little bit of wandering at the station as Sean tried to orient himself to recall where the platform was for the bus back. I showed a worker a request for the 78 bus in Thai, and he pointed to one that was just pulling away. He ran after it, shouting and clapping his hands. Miraculously, the bus stopped and we climbed on board after thanking the nice fellow. The back of the bus was empty, so we each took a pair of seats, showed the conductress the instructions for letting us off at the wat (also written in Thai), and shared the bag of fried bananas I had gotten back the food court.

90 minutes later, the conductress waved us forward, "Okay, here!" They had dropped us right at the gate! It was close to 11:00 by this time, so Eunice was trying hard to talk me out of walking all the way back to the Trina House by myself when Oscar very nicely offered to walk me all the way.

All in all, it was an excellent day. Great shopping, smooth travels, excellent food, and a very nice break from the routine here. Plus, books! (I've read two already. Sean and Eunice have both remarked on my speed, and I just try to explain that this is what I do and why I was so desperate for an English bookstore.)

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