BANGKOK, THAILAND: A CITY OF CONTRASTS

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My post last week gave you a small glimpse of the golden splendor of Bangkok.  However, that is only a small slice of the capital of Thailand, as it is a city full of dynamic contrasts.  For example, along the Chao Phraya River you can see quaint junks and barges floating past high-end hotels, french-styled mansions and derelict custom houses:

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See that building on the right?  It is a new hotel almost built to completion, but the shape you see is pretty much the shape it will be:

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This building jarred my sensibilities as I grew up with a brilliant brother whose childhood structures were, even at 6 years old perfectly balanced:

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OMG that sofa!  It was olive and rust colored.

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My brother went on not only to secure doctorates in aeronautical and electrical engineering but also created many patents that I am still trying to sort out.  I may not have his talent but I do share his desire for order and balance in all things.

Transportation in Bangkok is not like any other bustling city I have visited, though not for the obvious reasons.   Tuk-tuks and cyclos converge with motorcycles, trucks and luxury cars with more near-misses than one can imagine.  In fact, traffic accidents contribute the highest percentage of deaths in the city (glad I heard that statistic after successfully traveling via tuk-tuk (those are the toes of my shoes in the first photo):

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There might have been traffic signals, but if so I don’t recall anyone stopping for one.  Traffic zigged and zagged every which way, but I definitely didn’t feel like I was in New York – not one horn honked, or one person cursed.   There was almost a peaceful serenity amidst the traffic chaos.  Maybe Buddhists are onto something.  More about this calm serene happiness in a later post.

There is plenty of traffic on the river as well, and again the contrasts are fascinating – there are sampans, junks, trawlers, riverboats, small cruise ships, canoes and more:

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Even at night, the river does not sleep:

 

But the city is not all concrete and clay.  Last week I showed you the dizzying array of fantastical temples, alight with gold leaf in and around Wat Phra Kaew aka the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  Pure  Thai style.

But that’s not all – the complex, built in 1782 also has many elegant buildings and gardens with a European flair, however with enough traditional Thai accoutrements to make sure you don’t forget where you are:

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I loved the symmetrical shape of this travelers palm (Ravenala madagascariensis) with its  big, fan-like leaves (remember my discourse above about order and balance)?  The name is actually a bit of a misnomer, as travelers palm plants are actually more closely related to banana trees. Although they come from Madagascar their graceful shape is in perfect harmony with Thai flora.

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I suppose I am too a study in contrasts, for while I crave order and balance and symmetry – I do not care for plants that have been pruned into non-natural shapes. While some may find Topiary gardens whimsical delights, I feel they are against the natural order of things – it it doesn’t grow like that naturally it ain’t natural.

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These last two figures bring me back again to “The King and I” – the costume designers certainly captured the essence of these “angels.”  How fitting for this post on contrasts that these images were used in the ballet Tuptim created about the American “House of Uncle Thomas:”

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Finally we come to Thai  food.  Sadly some Western fast food establishments have taken a foothold in Bangkok – however I can’t imagine anyone not preferring glorious authentic Thai food.  Exploding with flavors, consistencies and of course color, these culinary masterpieces are not expensive.  Average price?  About a dollar.

I was too busy gobbling down my meals so didn’t get a chance to take many pics so the following are courtesy of a friend who recently moved to Thailand:

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Kuai Tiao –  Simply, this is Thai noodle soup, but there is nothing simple about it. Rice noodles in a hearty broth plus a helping of any or all of the following:  meat balls, fish balls, fish cake, or roast pork,  with minced spring onion, fried garlic, chilli flakes, fish sauce or minced fresh chillies.

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Kai man gai – Thai Chicken and Rice – tender chicken with fragrant jasmine rice,  ginger, garlic, chillies, and soy sauce

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Kao pad kai dow –  This pic is mine and the meal was scrumptuous – Shrimp, fried egg, jasmine rice, sliced cucumber, fish sauce, minced garlic, green onion, lime, soy sauce, Thai chili pepper,  tomato.  And, a Thai-hito to wash it down:

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Confession:  while I thoroughly enjoyed all the wonderful cuisines – Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese, my Western palate did develop a craving for more familiar food – this was my last lunch before leaving (I did switch back to Asian type fare on the 20 hour plane ride home):

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It appears that my tummy has some limitations as to contrasts.

Next week:  On to Cambodia, with another WTDGAP moment

 

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