To those of me who follow my travels on Facebook and saw that I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on these dates – that was a hex to fool some people. You’ll see why in later blogs. Here is what really happened…
I left Astana on a dark and dim Saturday evening. It was -42’C. 24 hours later I was in bright and bonkers Bangkok. It was +35’C. From one extreme to another, and a brutal awakening to what I have in store for the next two weeks. Brutality only matched by a flying downwards elbow to the neck in a Muay Thai boxing match.
My final experience of the cold was in Almaty airport. Admittedly it was a mere -18’C there, but that does not excuse Air Astana making people dressed in clothes suitable for Thailand line up outside the jet to check their tickets. This is normally done inside, but inexplicably they thought it was a good idea to let us feel the chill one more time before leaving. I blame jealousy.
Bangkok is a massive, complex and hectic supercity. There are many things to do and see. Having been here a few times, and with the knowledge of my next destination in mind, I used my time here to relax and catch up on some of the things that I have missed in Kazakhstan. Like Subway. And James Bond.
The cinematic experience in Bangkok is actually fairly unique. The cinema I went to had a mere six seats in each row, and not too many rows either. This is due to the size of the things. Huge. (NB The picture below is from a different cinema, but the idea is the same) Oh, and the fact that they recline. It was a very comfortable setting, made more so by the welcome drink you receive before the show. It’s not quite paradise, though. The fact that you are provided with a blanket when you enter hints at what is to come. Mainly, the fact that I felt like I had gone back to Astana. Such was the strength and ferocity of the air conditioning, I actually spent quite a lot of time fidgeting with my blanket to keep myself warm.
The other intriguing aspect of watching a film in Bangkok is that they play the King’s Anthem before the start of every showing. The King is revered here, and is a very popular man in Thailand.
Another popular aspect of Thailand, for travellers at least, is the infamous and chaotic Khao San Road. I met some people in the hostel and we traversed there for some fun. This came in the form of buckets of gin, but the most bizarre aspect of our time there were posted on wooden boards and carried around by local sellers. Wristbands. Written in English. Often the most vulgar English you could find. I’ll leave you to read them for yourselves. More than anything, it made me wonder who on earth came up with some of the phrases you see in the picture below, and what on earth possessed them to make them into a product.
The main product I enjoyed in Thailand was the food. The spices of Thai cuisine magnify all of your senses, and create a buzz in your body as you eat it. Sometimes the buzz is very pleasurable, yet other times it can be a little too much. Thai food is notoriously spicy. I enjoy spicy dishes and, after 3 months of bland plov and manty, was craving some ‘pep’ on my plate. The first meal I had, however, turned me the colour of the tom yam soup I was eating. The chef of this roadside café I was eating in found it particularly amusing, especially when I told her to make it even hotter.
Soup is often the dish of the day in Thailand. I probably had a soup every day, and often followed this by lying in the surprisingly tranquil and green Lumpini Park. It was a lovely place to relax and read, seemingly a world away from the traffic and terror that are Bangkok’s roads nearby.
Lumpini is an area often visited by foreigners, but for a very different reason. Indeed, the reason would be the very antonym of tranquility. It is the home of Muay Thai boxing. Boxing, but with your hands…and feet…and knees…and elbows…
We watched this on my final night, though it was being held in an area close to where I went to the cinema. The pre-fight rituals were fascinating – lots of praying and touching of ropes. It was a moment of calm before a wild and violent storm. The atmosphere and tempo of the fights seemed to be dictated by the drummers on the side of the ring as much as the fighters within it. When they played Jingle Bells, for example, it was evident that there was a relative lull in the action.
We actually saw a world title fight, for the crown of the best female welterweight Muay Thai boxer. It was won by a frightening Russian woman who, when her hair came undone from her bun, resembled the terrifying girl from The Ring. She dominated this particular ring, and deservedly took home the belt after pummelling her local opponent close to submission.
The notion of hearing Jingle Bells when sweating in temperatures above 30’C was difficult to comprehend, but I have been here before when in Singapore. Christmas decorations just don’t quite seem to fit with people wearing shorts, but I’m sure people from this side of the globe and the southern hemisphere are comfortable enough with it. It is nice to be reminded that Christmas is just around the corner.
Though it has been nice, I won’t be spending Christmas in Thailand. I’ll be nextdoor. No, not Vietnam. Not Laos, nor indeed Cambodia or Malaysia. Where, you ask? The other one. The one no one knows about. The one that, until it opened up a wee bit two years ago, you couldn’t really go to. Next stop, following getting the visa in Bangkok…Myanmar. Burma. Time to take a trip back in time…
Love you all