Bangkok: Try Something New

Thai Massage

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Thailand is famous for its signature massage techniques so I headed to the hotel’s spa for that quintessential experience, my first Thai massage. The room had a great relaxing atmosphere, but this was no gentle experience, but was nonetheless 90 minutes of pain/bliss followed by a cup of tea. The masseuse was actually on top of the table with me to do much of the massage. This massage left me sore for a couple of days, sort of like I’d been exercising. It’s no wonder that it did since the technique used is deep muscle massage.

The second massage I had was off property and seemed like a more traditional set up. There were several closed off partitions for each patron with a mat on the floor. There was another client next to my partition and I could occasionally hear the rustling of the other masseuse’s clothing as she worked on them. Otherwise the room was very calm and the spa ensured this atmosphere by disallowing photos, silent mobiles, etc. The masseuse was different than the one at the hotel: she was very thorough and even though it was a shorter massage than the first, she even massaged my feet, head, and ears. She used her elbows, arms, knees, legs, and hands depending on which muscle of mine she was manipulating. She also used some kind of oil that might have been for muscle soreness because although this felt like a deeper massage than the first, I was not sore afterwards.

Patpong

We spent an evening in Patpong wandering the vendor stalls and people watching across from a dance bar. We estimated that about half of the beautiful, bikini clad dancers were lady boys, possibly including the middle-aged proprietor dressed in a muumuu sporting a Samurai hair cut. I watched as one dancer tried to entice a man to come into the bar by putting the man’s hand over the front of her bikini bottom. I suppose a lady boy was proving something to a tourist, but who knows.

Throughout our travels among the stalls, men would approach to invite passersby to a pingpong show. I was able to snap a photo of one of the sexy show menus. You can click it for a better view, but be warned that it’s NSFW.

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The vendors were also aggressive. One women even pulled me over to her stall with such a friendly and enthusiastic attitude, picked out an item of clothing, and held it against me. I rewarded her for the approach, and purchased something because she was good! None of the items were very expensive by Canadian standards.

That evening over drinks at the hotel bar, I was regaled with my companions’ adventures from the evenings before I arrived. The funniest of these stories happened in the Patpong night market. A man was trying to entice passers by, calling out to them to “try something new” and he was hitting the tops of cars and tuk tuks with a flagellation tool. He represented an S&M venue.

Food

Already being a fan of Thai food, I knew this adventure was going to be culinary! I purposely tried many things that were new to me or things I cannot get back home. Here are some of the more memorable meals. Some of them are Chinese dishes and some are Thai.

 Goose Web Soup with Sea Cucumber and Mushroom

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The sea cucumber had no discernible flavour, but the consistency was something I could not bear. Sadly, I only got past one bite. I did enjoy the mushrooms and ate the goose web, however. Goose web is the webbed toes of a goose foot and is similar to a chicken wing in the amount of meat and way you eat around the small bones. It had soaked up the flavour of the dish that tasted mostly of Chinese 5 spice, which I really like.

Tom Yum Kung

I discovered a new favourite dish! This soup is hot, sour, and flavourful. The version I ate had so many ingredients adnd is really a complete meal in itself: tofu, scallops, squid, lemongrass, a bit of coconut milk, chilies, and more. I loved it so much that I brought some flavour packets home so I can try to make it at home. I’ve also ordered it from both Thai places in town but they just don’t compare to this first one I tried. Sadly, I didn’t capure a photo of the soup that captured my heart.

Morning Glory

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This tasty green stem and leaf vegetable was sautéed with sliced garlic and served as a side dish. I found it to be a bit like collards or mustard greens, but not as tart.

IMG_0789Cococut Prawn Curry

My hotel served a prawn curry that I cannot recall the name of. The plucked prawn heads were served on the plate in what I can only describe as a creative presentation. The dish was mediocre, but the prawns were delicious.

Mu Grob – Crispy Pork

We walked some distance a bit late one night to seek out a specific street vendor selling this delicacy. Crispy pork is an appetizing  deep fried pork belly that is sliced, served over a cold salad, and comes with a spicy sauce made from chilies, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic.

Bird’s Nest

Sadly, although I am brave enough in my culinary exploits, I missed out on this experience because I was simply too cheap to try this expensive delicacy.

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 Tribe collecting score: 3

  • Travel
  • Adventure
  • Food

Inside Shutdown Bangkok

Shutdown BangkokThe night I arrived in Bangkok, Shutdown Bangkok was in full swing. Protesters forced the closure of roads and intersections, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra before the upcoming election. Therefore it was necessary to walk some distance to my hotel since taxis couldn’t make it from the airport. I walked through a large protest area that seemed like a huge block party: impromptu shops were set up along the entire blocked road with food, protest T-shirts, and trinkets. There was also a stage set up with live music. Side by side with the vendors were the Reset Bangkok paraphernalia,  handmade protest signs, and the white walls around the police station were scrawled with FUCK POLICE. It was a surreal experience, this marriage of protest and commerce. I didn’t stop to get pictures that night as I had my luggage in tow, it was dark, and I was eager to find my hotel after a very long trip. Here are some photos of the same street from later in my trip:

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Later, when I saw the mass demonstrations in action, some protester’s idea of rebellion was to emulate Che Guevara: dressed in camouflaged clothing, fists in the air, and lots of passionate shouting over loud speakers. They also used whistles, which was occasionally confusing because the constabulary and guards use whistles in every day dealings with the populace. We needed to avoid wearing faction coloured tops during our stay so we could not accidentally be seen as representatives of either side: red represented loyalty to the current government and yellow represented the opposition. I tucked away the bright red hoodie I had traveled in – I didn’t want to accidentally be identified with the UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship). Wikipedia has a good background on the crisis if you want to learn more.

As an additional safety measure, I had registered with the US consulate before leaving on my trip. My traveling companions and I made the US Embassy our meeting point in case we were separated or hurt during the protests. Better safe than sorry!On January 20, 2014 was emailed a travel alert to inform of potential risks in Bangkok due to the social unrest prior to the parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place nationwide on February 2, 2014. We gave ourselves plenty of extra time to reach any destinations early to make sure we could make it to places even if we were delayed. This really helped out in one situation where we found ourselves being channeled to make room for a parade of protesters.

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The view of the protest from our cab, trapped in the middle of it all.

The protest started with a truck full of anti-government protesters that blared music and bull horns, seemed harmless enough. But then came the rest, a mob that forced a traffic redirect and stand still. Luckily the protest remained a calm parade and the rovers moved past after a 45 minute delay.

While we didn’t let the unpredictable nature of the political situation affect our amazing holiday and we never felt unsafe, there was an ever-present sense that things could change very quickly and I know my family was relieved when I left. During our stay, a grenade was thrown at the protesters injuring over 30 people. Fortunately, we were nowhere near this incident and all protesters I saw were non-violent. In our immediate experience, the net result of Shutdown Bangkok was that taxi drivers justified scalping their fares and did use fee meters because they had to make severe diversions to make their way around closed intersections, etc. I imagine the street fair environment was also detrimental to the regular street vendors, since there was more competition for tourists’ attention and less funneling of traffic for the capture of sales.

After I left Thailand, there was a state of emergency declared.

Tribe collecting score: 2

  • Travel
  • Adventure