Friday, February 27, 2009

Bangkok: Shoppers' Paradise and much more

Imagine the best vintage and antique shops in a partially outdoor and partially indoor market where you can haggle over the price of clothing, arts and crafts, bags, sunglasses and basically anything you want. Also image huge mega malls with floors dedicated to particular types of goods - electronics, cell phones, clothing, food or individual stalls selling arts and crafts, designer knock-off watches, sunglasses, bags and clothes coupled with large brand name stores and trendy local boutiques.That is Bangkok shopping in a nutshell, in other words Shopper’s Paradise. There are outdoor markets open during the day with thousands of vendors and night markets with another thousand vendors, there are wholesale markets, people selling items on the sidewalk, along the pier towards the river ferries – EVERYWHERE. And the best part it isn’t all the same stuff, but enough that we got a good idea what things were worth and what to offer when bargaining.
Some of our favorite markets were the Mahboonkrong or MBK, small inexpensive stalls that sold t-shirts, cell phone accessories, handbags, knock-offs and unique clothes and toys teenagers love. Connected to the awesome Japanese department store Tokyu Hands. It is in an air conditioned mall right off the BTS near Siam Square. But the mother of all shopping we found was the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Huge, with over 15,000 stalls of unique interesting clothes by local designers, crafts such as masks, carvings and leather goods, and food vendors throughout. We were so busy walking around among the shoe shops, jewelry stores, clothing stalls and home décor shops that we didn’t even bother taking out our cameras.Not completely shopped out we headed to the huge night market called Suan Lum Night Bizarre. Another fantastic open market selling everything at bargain prices and with a terrific food court where we had to buy tickets in the particular dollar amounts and chose from around 100 different food stalls. It was too dark to take pictures at this time and we were too distracted by the entertaining, yet strange Thai pop band on stage at the end of the covered dining area.
When we said markets are everywhere we really mean it, there are night markets set up everywhere. Behind both of the hotels we stayed at were markets one set up at night and one permanent structure that spilled out into the street at night – amazing!We couldn’t go to Bangkok and not go to its famous red light district, which had it’s own night market of course.Known as the Patpong district, it is home to go-go bars, sex shows and Boy Alley.It actually is tamer than it sounds and we saw tour buses full of tourists go by every few minutes. Thailand - Bangkok in particular, has been known as a top destination for sex tours. There are several reasons for this: the general no judgement attitude of the Thai people, the lack of laws and enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, a 1966 law still in effect today, allows "special services" to be rendered at legal establishments, such as massage parlor, go go bars, hostess bars and tea houses, and the vagueness of the meaning "special services" has allowed the a fairly legal setting for the sex trade to take a hold in Thailand. We read about plane loads of Germans coming to Bangkok for weekend benders.  What resulted in decades of exploitation of young girls coming from the country-side for employment in the city was the common scene of old white European men and young beautiful Thai girl couples, something we got tired of seeing after awhile. But one interesting aspect was the boy-girls. Beautiful transvestites that worked in the go-go bars and in special shows. The go-go bars in the famous Patong district in Bangkok was filled with bored looking girls dancing and constant touts trying to get us to go in to view a “show”, approaching us with cards like the one below.
Don’t worry mom and dad we didn’t go in.

Tuk Tuking

Thailand has a unique mode of transportation called Tuk Tuks. What are tuk tuks? They basically are three wheeled covered scooters, seats 4 including the driver.There is no meter and we negotiated the rate before we got in. Since tuk tuks have no doors and we were exposed to the notorious Bangkok traffic; it got very noisy and the exhaust from the traffic made us nauseous at times, so we traveled with scarves to wrap ourselves up.Tuk tuks and taxis operated on a very strange commission system that we couldn’t figure out, some will try to take you to a tailor shop, to get clothes mades or jewelry store because they got commissions or gas vouchers from the shops. We were informed by a friendly local that the green and yellow tuk tuks are government tuk tuks who will take you to local sites for as little as 30 Baht which is less than a dollar. These tuk tuks also work on a commission system and will take you to government sponsored jewelry and tailor stores. We found a nice tuk tuk driver who took us all over the city for over 5 hours and we could pay whatever we wanted.Tuk tuks are a unique experience in Thailand, but one our lungs could only endure a little at a time.If only we could stick one in a crate and ship it home, we’ll be eyeing Craig’s list when we get home.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sporadic Blogging

Hello Everyone,
Sorry for the lack of blog entries. Internet has been either wonky, expensive or just unavailable. We don't mind paying for internet when we have to, but what can you do in an hour? After checking and responding to emails we definitely need more than an hour. We are several countries behind, but will be posting as soon as we get time and not feeling the need to go out and explore. 
We aren't feeling homesick yet, but we are looking forward to getting back and sleeping in our own bed, leaving our hairbrush someplace and not worry about making sure to pack it, cooking a meal for ourselves and even doing the dishes. We realize we have been spoiled with someone else doing the cooking, cleaning and even our laundry for the last 3 months. It's been amazing and we still have many adventures ahead. So please be patient and we will be sharing our stories with you all shortly.
Anne & Mike

Monday, February 23, 2009

Memorable Meals: Bangkok

Everywhere you go in Bangkok there is food available. With mobile pushcarts, vendors can move from place to place with relative ease.These two were pushing their cart down a VERY busy freeway exit, we couldn’t believe it!
We saw food vendors literally everywhere, crammed in any possible space. On the sidewalk in front of stores.
In front of temples.

At make-shift nighttime food courts.
On the subway and MRT platforms. These waffles for 80¢ were the best waffles we have ever had in our lives. There were filled, not stuffed, with cream custard, chocolate, fruit or savory. Not too sweet or too big, perfect balance of filling and waffles, blows away anything we have found anywhere else in the world. Like we have said before Thais know how to make their snack foods – inexpensive, quick and perfect to be eaten on-the-go!So now we are going to pass on a golden piece of food heaven find in Bangkok. If you are looking for cheap, large variety of terrific street food and you are not at a large outdoor market (where there are vendors selling anything, there will be a large variety of food vendors also, but we’ll get to that later) head to Democracy Monument, it looks like this.Situated on the McDonald’s side of the Monument is an all girls school and right before school lets out for the day vendors set up to begin a bustling business of selling to the school girls as they leave and head home. Like we mentioned earlier Thais like to snack all day long and the food the vendors sell are of the delicious snack variety for shamefully cheap, it’s to students after all. Quote from Mike on our first day in Bangkok “Oh I think I’m gonna like this town, they have all kinds of meats-on-a-stick!"There were  several other snack foods we really enjoyed. A sweet crispy crepe filled with marshmallow crème and shredded orange or lemon zest, for 2¢ each!And for a nice refreshing drink there were two milk tea vendors, but we opted for no tapioca balls and just the slushy chocolate or ovaltine. It tasted like a chocolate flavored slushy, delicious after a hot day of temples siteseeing.
It wouldn’t be Thailand without a mango salad or two or three.

There were bready foods like pancakes and waffles, but with a Thai-twist.

Fried foods.And there was even sushi!
But street food wasn’t the only kind of foods we enjoyed, Bangkok is a major cosmopolitan city with world-class restaurants and we decided to enjoy a nice dinner at a rooftop restaurant called Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar on the 63rd floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel.

Our pictures of the food didn’t come out, but the food was eclectic fusion and very tasty. There was even a half red moon that added to the magical atmosphere.

There was so much food we couldn’t try it all in the 5 days we were there. But we'll be back!