You thought my honeymoon was over, didn’t you? So did I. Well, the luna de miel gods must have been feeling generous as we were given the gift of one extra quick stop on our trip – Bangkok. In the original itinerary for our trip, we were supposed to start in Bangkok for several days before resuming the rest of our journey. Although, given the political unrest at the time in Bangkok, we (and by we, I mean Jacobo) decided to go with a country that wasn’t having any anarchist uprisings, which took us to Vietnam instead. Unfortunately, three layovers in Bangkok was leaving me a little bummed (and maybe a little whiny) that we knew its airport inside and out, but nothing more. Somewhere between drinking pineapple smoothies and laying on the beach in Koh Phangan, however, we discovered that we would have a seven-hour layover in Bangkok. Even better, if we left from the islands earlier in the day, we could potentially have as much as 12 free hours there! So with the help of our travel agency we shuffled our flight and boat rides around and scrambled to figure out what we would do with several free hours in Thailand’s big city.
After taking our twelfth flight in three weeks, we arrived at the Bangkok Airport, fluttering through its terminal, practically throw our bags at the folks at “Left Luggage.” Moments later, we were in a cab battling traffic before arriving at one of the piers along the murky, choppy, water-hyacinth-filled Chao Phraya River. Trembling with excitement, and perhaps exhaustion, we boarded our own private long-tail boat named “Obama.”
Elated to have had the opportunity to even step foot outside the airport, we were only minimally disappointed when our boat driver told us that the famous Grand Palace had already closed for the day and we could only see it from the river. We would have been happy just sitting on the boat for five minutes and then heading back to the airport to be quite honest. So, when we had the opportunity to stop for 15 minutes at our first and only Thai Temple, Wat Arun, we did so with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning (or me as a full grown adult on Christmas morning).
The temple was so colorful and ornate compared to the other temples we’d seen on the trip – a mosaic of glass and stones that came together to make flowers, landscapes and other peculiar figures. The steps climbing to the stupa rivaled those of Siem Reap’s temples. I recalled conversations with my father of Half Dome in Yosemite, where you need to clutch on to a cable to scale the rock or fear rolling down the side of its steep incline (a vision I played over and over again in my head as a child after my dad told me we would climb it. Needless to say, I never did attempt it). From the top was a 360 degree view of the city. In the distance you could see the lights starting to twinkle on the sky scrapers of the big city, and in the foreground, the menacing (that day, anyway) Chao Phraya River. We could have absorbed every colorful glass tile of that temple, but with only 15 minutes, it was time to quickly and carefully temple-climb our way back down to the riverfront.
Returning to our Thai-style gondola, we began our journey through the klongs. Like the canals of Venice, the klongs seem to serve as roads that weave between the city’s ancient neighborhoods. We were struck by how just off the large commerce-filled river, you could find such antiquated neighborhoods. Small dilapidated homes that seemed to be one wave away from washing into the river, children swimming, jumping and playing in the water, men fishing, woman hanging clothes. All along the river, people graciously and enthusiastically waved at us as though we weren’t the millionth boat of tourists that had disturbed their daily routine, taking pictures, staring wide-eyed with goofy grins. I felt like I was on a ride at Disneyland, seeing a microcosm of Thai life, fast-forwarded and from the safety of a wildly colored boat (the only thing missing was the “It’s a small world” song looping in the background).
After an hour or so of getting lost in the back rivers of Bangkok, we arrived once again at the Chao Phraya. From there, we would be taken to dinner at a restaurant brilliantly recommended to me – Baan Klang Nam. Sitting right on the river, we were able to climb up to the pier from our boat and promptly be seated just ten feet away with a full view of the sun setting on the water around us. We ordered curry and bass, anticipating a light Thai meal, until out came our fish – our entire fish (reminding me of that time I ordered two pieces of fish at the market in Spain and, rather than getting two pieces, I got one giant fish, cut in to two pieces…thanks for the heads up on that one Jacobo). After one bite though, we attacked it like the mosquitos were attacking us. How could this fish be so fresh and delicious? The Chao Phraya was pretty and all, but surely it wasn’t the source of this happy bass – and it wasn’t. When we departed the restaurant later that night, we saw the pool full of live bass in the entryway of the restaurant (along with cages filled with other strange creatures like a monkey and squirrels – I’m glad I saw these after dinner).
For dessert we decided to treat ourselves to one last plate of one of Thailand’s famous desserts – mango and sticky rice. We need to talk about this actually. I am becoming particularly fascinated by all the wonderful things that can be done with rice. A self-proclaimed arroz-con-leche-aholic, the idea of mango and sticky rice, or even coconut and sticky rice, is a mind-blowing concept. Before this trip, I thought I didn’t even like mango, and my love of coconut was minimal. But now, I’m clamoring to find mango, and oh my lord, some sticky rice (what are the odds that I will actually find it here in Madrid??).
Finally yes, the honeymoon is over, really over. After three weeks of eating my way through South East Asia, I’ve returned to Madrid to pick up some sort of food poisoning or stomach bug. This inevitably means that the universe is laughing at me because now I am stuck eating rice. Lots of really boring rice. Repeated pleas to Jacobo to at least hunt down sticky rice have gone unfulfilled. After this, I might be taking a break from rice for awhile, at which point I will resume my intense diet of jamón, manchego, gazpacho and croquetas.