Rick Steeves, the European travel guru, says vacation travel is ?life at the maximum number of thrills per hour.? The phrase almost ? but not quite ? captures the hyper-intensity of day-to-day touring in Bangkok, which seethes with activity as much as it does heat. Throughout the day, Thai Friends guides Bobby and Tee shuffle our itinerary as easily as they move us through the Big Mango?s congested traffic, changing destinations and reorganizing the schedule on the fly.
We start the day with a long-boat tour of the Chao Praya River and the canals in and around Bangkok, where shacks sit cheek-and-jowl beside palatial homes. Elderly women in cone-shaped hats paddle their way past us, intent on the market and oblivious to the tourists. Bangkok Post newspaper delivery boxes, exactly like our Clarion-Ledger boxes back home, are affixed on every home?s pier, just above the water line. Everywhere we look, we spy people cooking, bathing, brushing teeth, washing clothes, and swimming in the river?s steamy human soup.
After a quick stop at the Royal Naval Museum to see the King and Queen?s glittering barges, we take a heat-dazzled stroll through the grounds of the Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha, cool and impervious to the heat in his crystal case and solid gold summer sarong, beams down at us from his perch fifty feet above our heads. Everywhere we go, gold leaf, millions of hand-placed mirror tiles the size of your thumbnail, and polished marble reflect the searing intensity of the noonday sun ? essentially, we?re all in a huge convection oven. Eventually, we give up photographing the place; to see it, to be overwhelmed by it, you have to be immersed in it, period.
From there, we find ourselves in a van bound for a quick lunch of snake-headed fish and frog curry (green frog curry, to be exact); after this, John and Jeri charm the entire staff of Thailand?s largest jewelry factory with a purchase that must be seen to be believed (for now, it suffices to say Jeri will need a wrist brace while showing off her newest ring).
Massages follow in a bright, clean facility where tiny, svelte women knead and press and pull and yank us into alignment ? an experience not everyone enjoys. John, however, winds up strolling naked in the hallways, prompting giggles from the female staff. (Confusion over whether John wanted an oil massage or a Thai massage led to the distribution of improper clothing and a Series of Unfortunate Events that left him exposed ? or so he claims.)
Whisked back to the hotel aboard the SkyTrain, we take just thirty minutes to shower and change clothes before dashing out for a local drag show. (You?re thinking of Southern queens with big wigs lip synching in a trailer, aren?t you? Put the image out of your mind. These impersonators wear costumes dripping with jewelry and sequins while strolling through elaborate sets.) The show pretty clearly caters to the Japanese tourists, as several of the ?stars? are designer fakes of what would be, to the Japanese, easily recognizable pop singers. We don?t recognize ?em, but we can sip over-priced drinks and marvel at the feats of engineering that make young Thai men pass for remarkably beautiful women.
Dinner at a local seafood restaurant is pleasant (more thanks to the company than to the food, which is just adequate and not especially surprising). Exhausted, some head off to the hotel. The dedicated shoppers make a beeline for the Night Market; one or two, who will remain nameless here, set off for a show in one of Bangkok?s ? how to say this? ? more infamous nightclubs.
From sailing canals to crawling nightclubs: just another fourteen hours in Bangkok!