Round the World, Travel

Appreciating “The Race”

November 4, 2010

Watching the many seasons of “The Amazing Race,” I laugh at some of the clueless contestants who get lost, turned around, saddled with bad taxi drivers and think to myself, “what idiots they are.  How difficult is it to just look at a map and figure it out?”  I mean, you can plant me somewhere in a city with a map and I can generally figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.  Amazing Racers, I now have more sympathy for you (except for the ugly American bickering couples).  Now I’m not talking about pulling off difficulties like finding clues in rolled up bales of hay, or rappelling down the side of a skyscraper, or shoveling manure to cover potatoes while dressed like a bubushka.  No.  I’m talking about finding something two blocks away!

My day started with a plan.  I had read about a market called Or Tor Kor, which I had read was something to see it with all its exotic food stalls.  I did manage to find it but with great difficulty despite the directions that said just exit the subway and you are in it.  That’s if you exited the right way.  Not the way I exited.  Not only are the exits far apart, they are on opposite sides of major highways.  Took the Skytrain and subway.  Once there, it was a fascinating open market with spices, fishes, meats, produce, baked goods, etc.  This was obviously a market for locals as nothing was in English and no one seemed to know any.  I was the only non-Thai there.  And the place was huge.

Skytrain station


Or Tor Kor Market

Next, it was on to see the Victory Monument in the city, which is not much on the monument scale of, oh, say the Arc de Triomphe or the Washington Monument.  It’s in the middle of a traffic roundabout that you can’t possibly cross and is roped off anyway.

Market around Victory Monument

Lots o’ traffic
From there, the plan was to head to the Jim Thompson House, an American who helped revitalize the Thai silk industry.  He was also an architect and his house is a major attraction.  If you can find it.  Or find someone who can direct you.  Or take a taxi and sit for who knows how long in traffic.  Struck out on all three attempts.  So instead, I ended up at the Siam Center, the major shopping area of Bangkok.  Now, there is “going to the mall.”  And then there is “going to the mall.”  Or three or four.  Yes, there are at least three major shopping malls right next door to each other.  And these are mega-malls with about six stories each.  And packed.  Yes, they love to shop here.

A lot of retail!

A taste of Halloween

Mall Art

Pavilion between malls

High-end mall

Kids costume fashion (post-Halloween)

One thing I found quite funny is I was in a store and they were playing hard-core rap.  We’re talking the “f” word, the “n” word, killing, beating.  And all the while the clerks just smile at you. I was so tempted to ask if they even knew what the words were in the song.  But I’m guessing not.

After, some street food and being adventurous.  A lot of things being put into a noodle bowl, some of which I had no idea what they were.  But what the heck.

And to cap off the evening, I went to the rooftop bar of the Banyan Tree Hotel, 61 stories high.  It’s an outdoor rooftop restaurant and bar where you look out the night sky at all of Bangkok.  Beer not cheap but you can’t beat the experience.  Once I found it.

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  • Reply Martha November 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Same challenges here. First, there are very few complete maps, and the maps sometimes underestimate the distances between places so something that looks like it's two blocks away is actually at least a half hour sweaty walk. No one knows the street names here either (except for a few major thoroughfares). Directions and everything else are based on landmarks. “You know the church near the restaurant with the dog that's always out front?” Ummm, no, actually. No I don't. It's a strange and new experience where most knowledge is based on what you hear and find out from other people. I too have had to give up on seeing certain sites because I can't find a person who can locate them. But I'll just try again another day. 🙂

  • Reply Martha November 6, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Oh, and they love malls here too. Must be a Southeast Asian thing. I understand it helps people escape the heat, but most people here can't afford a thing in the mall, so you think about these huge malls being constructed for a tiny portion of the population. The wealth disparity is pretty staggering if you think about it.

  • Reply Michael November 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I was wondering about that too, the wealth disparity. I mean, I could live like a king in Thailand, given how cheap everything is–you can get a full meal for about 2 bucks. But to the locals, that is a lot of money. Yet, they do love their shopping. I was amazed at how many mobile ATMs there were when the night market opened in Chiang Mai. And with about 11 million people in Bangkok, I guess even a tiny percentage is enough to keep all these malls in business.

  • Reply Martha November 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I know exactly what you mean about living like a king. When I take a cab ride here, the fare is usually about $1.50 to $2 in dollars, but that's a lot of money in Indonesian rupiah. And riding in taxis is seen as kind of indulgent, where public transit is much cheaper (about 25 cents) and used way more frequently by Indonesians. Sometimes I feel like the typical Western stereotype when I take a cab, but hey, it has A/C and it's comfortable.
    The longer I'm here, the more I find myself thinking in Indonesian terms about money, and if I have to spend more than $2.50 on a meal, I think it's exorbitant. But then my brain kind of flips back into dollar mode and I can see that even for an expensive meal by Indonesian standards, I am maybe only paying $7 for a feast. So yeah… it's strange.

  • Reply Michael November 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Taxis are practically non-existent in Chiang Mai. The tourists take the tuk-tuks, which are three wheeled motorized taxis. The locals mostly take songtaews, which are nothing more than flatbed trucks with steps in the back that are outfitted with two long benches and a surround to cover you. When I got picked up for the cooking class it was similar to one of these but didn't even have steps built into it. It was literally pull the door to a pickup truck down and a little wooden step stool to get up to stand on the door. I wanted to ask the woman if she was crazy but I thought better of it and climbed up. Damn, I'm not as young as I used to be!

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