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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thailand - Final days in Bangkok

From the laid-back beaches of Ko Samui to the frenzied streets of Bangkok: our last two days in Thailand were spent back in the capital. This time we stayed in the Siam Square area, which could be accessed from Suvarnabhumi International Airport via the Airport Rail Link and the elevated BTS, aka the Skytrain. This was the view from our room at the Evergreen Place hotel:

What to watch on TV?:

Vendors were conveniently located outside the hotel to take care of all our fried food needs:

Not far from our hotel was the Siam Paragon shopping mall, apparently one of Bangkok's swankiest. As in China, many of the shops were of the high-end luxury brand variety, but there was also a Kinokuniya bookstore, the view from which looked like this:

The food court in the basement was huge. Despite the temptation to go Japanese or Western, we stuck with the local cuisine, though afterward my daughter cajoled us into taking her to Swensen's ice cream for dessert:

Friday night traffic on Th Phayathai:

The next morning we walked from the hotel to a place I'd long wanted to see: the Jim Thompson House. Thompson was an American who settled in Bangkok after World War II, and soon established a successful business dealing in traditional Thai silk-woven textiles. One day in March 1967, Thompson went for a walk while vacationing in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands and was never seen again. The nature of his mysterious disappearance has led to a number of theories being put forth, from being eaten by a tiger to dying at the hands of the CIA due to his opposition to the Vietnam War (though why the U.S. government would want to eliminate a silk-trader in Bangkok has never been satisfactorily explained). 

But while the man's story is fascinating, it was his house that I wanted to see. Thompson was a collector of Asian art; he also collected traditional Thai homes, six houses made of teak from various regions of the country, that he had reassembled and combined on his property close to the Khlong Saen Saeb waterway to make one large, fascinating home. His house can be seen on a guided tour, and it's an absorbing sight, very Thai but with some Western touches like dining room tables and a chandelier which surprisingly harmonize with the more traditional setting. The rooms were tastefully decorated with the antiques (many of which were Burmese or Chinese) Thompson collected during his lifetime.  Going through the different parts of the house and walking the lush grounds, I cursed the man for stealing my ideal dream house way back in 1959 (when it first opened to the public for limited viewings). If you find yourself in Bangkok, be sure not to miss the Jim Thompson House:

In front of the house demonstrations of classical dance and silk weaving were being given:

My wife had expressed an interest in riding one of Bangkok's express boats (which in effect function as water-borne subways). The resulting stench from the churned up water after one passed by made her quickly change her mind, however:

Following a shopping excursion tracking down a Thai national soccer team jersey in the neighborhood around the National Stadium (surprisingly difficult but ultimately successful), we had lunch at a Korean restaurant. At this point, Pamela decided the air-conditioned comfort of our hotel room was preferable to spending more time in Bangkok's sticky weather, so Amber and I returned to Siam Paragon, where I rewarded my child's patience with having endured Buddhist temples earlier in our trip by treating her to an afternoon at Siam Ocean World:

Satisfied daughter in tow, I did some souvenir shopping before returning to the other parental unit back at the hotel:

Amber was delighted with the squid plush toy I bought for her at the aquarium (and which she named "Jim Thompson") while I modeled my new jersey:

Twice a day, at 8am and 6pm, Thai TV channels play a video of the national anthem. Most of the scenes glorify the military, followed by images of the revered royal family (Thailand is notorious for its lèse-majesté laws), and concludes with a group shot of the choir demonstrating the diversity of the Thai state:

An early evening swim in the hotel's outdoor swimming pool left Amber and I feeling refreshed. Mom, daughter and I then ventured out to eat at one of the nearby street-side restaurants, dining alfresco on the sidewalk for our final dinner in Thailand:

Pamela buys a snack under the watchful gaze of the king. As I'd like to visit the country again (and those aforementioned lèse-majesté laws are pretty draconian), I'll refrain from saying anything more:

While the girls returned to the hotel room to pack for the next day's morning departure, I took one final walk around, trying to soak up a little of Bangkok's frenetic atmosphere, like the night market on Th Phra Ram I road:

With much satisfaction and an almost equal amount of regret, we caught the Airport Rail Link back to Suvaranabhumi Airport:

27 years. That's how long it took to finally make it to Thailand, but the long wait was worth it. In many respects, I'm glad I did go at this point in my life, as a curmudgeonly cynic with wife and child in two. Had I traveled there as planned when I was much younger, I might've ended up like those expats I saw on Ko Samui (and that's not a bad thing!). The beaches, the culture, the food, the people - it's too easy to lapse into guidebookspeak at this point, but Thailand was an amazing place to visit. I'd like to go back for again - there's more of Bangkok to check out, as well as the World War II-related memorials of Kanchanaburi, the northern foothill city of Chiang Mai and some more of the country's beautiful islands, to name just a few of the highlights. And as for the even longer-term future, well, who knows?

From the Airport Rail Link on the way to Suvarnabhumi


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