Friday, August 12, 2005

Muay Thai

We managed to cram a lot into our short stay in Bangkok, including a trip to the ancient capital Ayutthaya -- a city founded in 1350 and crammed full of breathtaking and imposing yet completely ruined bell-shaped chedis, corncob-shaped Khmer prangs, reclining and seated Buddhas and temples or wats. We took a slow boat cruise back down the Chao Phraya river and saw once again how important water living is for Bangkok residents. Both sides of the river were lined with wooden stilt houses, elegant mansions, temples, boat yards and breweries such as the Singha beer company.

We also spent an afternoon riding the SkyTrain and metro, visiting the various shopping malls that young Bangkok residents love to hang out in -- eating bowls of fish ball noodles and drinking Coca Colas, paid for with pre-bought redeemable coupons, in the food courts. We shopped too: Asian movies are very cheap for Westerners to buy here, and as most have English subtitles, it was easy to buy many of them at 2 GBP a pop. We bought: Kim Ki Duk's Samaritan Girl (Korea), Kazuaki Kiriya's Casshern (Japan), Pisuth Praesaengaim, Oxide and Pang-Shun's Bangkok Haunted (Thailand), Apichatpong Weerasethakul's The Adventure of Iron Pussy and Tropical Malady (Thailand), and Park Gi-Hyeong's Whispering Corridor (Korea). We were struck, however, at how all the electrical and leather goods are at Western prices and therefore beyond the reach of most Thais.

More food was eaten -- dishes such as green papaya salad, chicken green curry, chicken skewers with satay sauce, lime ice juices with sugar and salt (like in India) were particularly memorable.

And on our last night, we were able to catch a Thai boxing match at the Lumphini Stadium, sitting on rickety wooden benches and completely surrounded by Chinese men taking and putting on bets on which boxer would knock the other out per round as well as who would be the overall winner. It was like being on a trading floor on the Stock Exchange with men shouting over each other's head, hands flying, deals being made over three or four fingers, men yelling into Bluetooth headsets. The situation was surreal and rather more exciting than the boxing matches themselves.

And we spent much time simply strolling the streets tucked beneath the Expressways and SkyTrain bridges that swoop across the sky like a scene in a science fiction movie: narrow pavement streets crammed with stalls selling pirated CDs, VCDs, DVDs, music cassettes, Diesel jeans, Tag Heuer watches (select your fake watch from a thick illustrated catalogue!), Louis Vuitton or Gucci handbags, plus the usual tourist trinkets sold by deaf mutes signing to each other; makeshift noodle stalls, plush Indian-owned fabric stores and tailors, Tesco Lotus and 7-11 mini-marts, Starbucks, smoothie bars, Baskin Robbins, and inumerable massage parlours complete with "private room and bath"; elderly blind men and women walking slowly up and down with amps on their backs singing into microphones; men playing droughts on biro-marked cardboard and using bottle tops for counters, sitting on crates; streetside cobblers and seamstresses, snack sellers (dried fish or chicken on a skewer, bags of freshly cut pineapples) and marigold garlanders (for temple offerngs) fighting for space in every nook and cranny; and on the roads, tuk-tuk drivers -- "Where you going? You want tuk-tuk? Where you going?" -- driving their rusting and noisy auto-rickshaws alongside sleek silver and black BMWs, Hondas, Toyotas, 4-by-4s and big hulking pickups.

I will miss this colourful, dynamic city. But now we're in the beach resort of Hua Hun for a few days, eating lots of seafood, strolling along the white sandy beaches, lolling around by the pool reading, and chatting to the girls at the local hostess bar. Blissful R 'n' R, but more later!

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