Well here we are in Thailand. After a nail biting connection between the Bangalore to Mumbai leg for the onward flight to Bangkok we are here at last - hurrah! I say nail biting as we had the usual palaver that always seems to occur when you need make a connection flight, the plane leaves late, lands later still, and the bus driver between the terminals has had a long, long day and done the entire trip without ever having made it out of first gear. It was a little stressful but we got here, and hey if we didn’t, there is always tomorrow.
The last time I left Thailand I had a little tear in my eye. This was not primarily due great sadness about leaving (which I was), but more because I had picked up an eye infection that left me with two continually seeping, swollen shut eyes and the terrifying suspicion that if it was not cleared up quickly I might go blind. I jest not, when I got home the only way I could negotiate traffic lights was by following the car in front of me and hoping that they had not jumped a red. In the end I had to ask a friend to take me to a doctor PDQ. I digress though, the other reason for the seeping eye was because I was finishing up Mordecai Richelieu’s Barney’s Version, a stunningly poignant and beautifully written tale about, erm, Barney. And then of course I was very sad to be leaving Thailand and toyed with the idea of coming back to teach English when I got my sight back.
Arriving back it is easy to recall why I was a little heavy of the old ticker. We have spent the last few days in Bangkok and it has been a blast. And I have seen enough to make my eyes water again, how symbolic that I left half blind. We got the bus into town and checked into Your Place, a guesthouse near Hua Lumphong station. Whilst not the most exciting part of town location wise it works really well for us, the super efficient metro is a two minute walk away and there are pretty good buses to most places. As importantly China Town is a twenty minute walk down the road which means cheap, good food. We have been eating street food for four days solid now and after India my constitution seems fabulously robust. Songkran (the Buddhist New Year or the worlds biggest wet t-shirt party depending on your interpretation) is also upon us which has meant pitched water fights in the streets. It is great! 35 degree heat, ice cold water and water pistols. Oh, and cold beer too. But the cultural bits first.
We spent our first full day at Wat Pho (your humble narrator having panicked and got off the bus too early as we were on our way to the Grand Palace) where there was a food festival on in the lead up to Song Kran. Any weight I lost in India promises to return all too quickly at this rate. Besides housing the food festival Wat Pho is also home to the Reclining Buddha, a behemoth of a statue in the form of a gold Buddha that measures 45 metres. It is enormous. The rambling complex is fascinating in itself and before we knew it was six in the evening, we had eaten the equivalent of a small armies rations and it was time to go. The next day we tried to out do our gastronomic efforts of the previous day in China Town and spent our time there, eating all manner of things that could occasionally be identified. They have a Tesco’s in China Town which seems a bit surreal, the Tesco Lotus. (Edit: Tesco Lotus seem almost as ineluctable as they are in the UK, they were even sponsoring Songkran events in Chiang Mai, offering peppermints to anyone who would take one.)
Songkran was drawing ever closer and the next evening we found ourselves in Pat Pong for the night market. Patpong remains much the same as I remember it. Within minutes of arriving I had been offered “DVD SEX," and when these tactics failed several personable and pressing invites into go-go bars (I declined). Oddly, many beautiful women seemed to think I was handsome (maybe they had a point). And then minutes later I was offered all of the above again. And a few minutes later the offers were repeated. By the time we left at about 1 am Songkran had officially started and was underway in full swing. We were both drenched, Levi's soaked through and a sweat shirt that came off at about midnight because it was so ridiculously wet that it weighed about ten kilos. In Bangkok they also add to the water throwing with smearing clay across your face as a blessing. No sooner have you managed to hose the clay off before somebody else decides to do it again. In short it is best to go with it as resistance is futile. Since then we have been back to Pat Pong for the Songkran festivities again. The fire department were out with their hoses to douse the crowd and I am really glad we got to see Songkran in Bangkok as well as Chiang Mai. It is Same Same but Different as the saying goes. Needless to say this time I wore shorts and a vest and abandoned any hope of avoiding a drenching.