It's huge, and it's a lot like other international cities. I feel like I could have spent one fewer day there and I would have had roughly the same experience--though it's possible I simply mismanaged my time. Which isn't to suggest my trip was anything less than lovely.
Summer Street in Ari, the neighborhood where I was staying, as it was supposed to have the best seafood in that part of town. And the seafood was good--but I didn't realize I had to cook it myself over a miniature charcoal grill they brought to my table. It's a miracle I didn't poison myself.
Summer Street was pretty bougie for street food. Much less bougie was the street food in Bangkok's bustling Chinatown. I was eating a plate of roasted duck over rice when I was suddenly joined by three teenage girls who were working on a video project for their English class--they wanted me to proofread their script. Putting my Master's degree to good use, I guess. I also had some authentic Pad Thai at the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is basically like every other market in Southeast Asia, but bigger. I maybe got some of you a souvenir...
I ate at a few restaurants, too. My hostel, The Yard, was full of interesting people, many of whom were also hungry from time to time. One evening I went to a local Ari joint called Lay Lao with Kai, a Taiwanese woman who was taking a vacation from her job managing a shoe factory in Vietnam. As you do. Another day I grabbed burgers at Paper Butter, which was right next door to our hostel, with fellow travelers from the Netherlands and from Los Angeles. Don't get on my case for eating a burger--Bangkok could give Chicago a run for its money when it comes to gourmet burger places. They're everywhere.
One day I ate at the mall. Again, don't get on my case--most lists of "must-see things in Bangkok" include the mall. Any mall, really. Shopping malls may be dying out in the United States, but in Bangkok, they're spectacular. I visited three major malls off the Siam BTS stop: Siam Paragon, Siam Center, and Siam Discovery. Siam Paragon's the fancy one, filled with designer boutiques and car dealerships. Yes, I said car dealerships. In the mall. My favorite was Siam Center, which featured lots of clothes from Thai designers. I picked up a pair of earrings from Bangkok-based Motta Shop. And by the time I got to Siam Discovery I was, quite frankly, tuckered out. But I still walked over the skyway to the MBK Center, which is more like a street market, but indoors.
I have to say, the mall provided my least favorite meal of the trip. Not altogether surprising.
Obviously, I spent one day hitting the Major Tourist Sites. Getting there was quite an adventure. Ari is somewhat far-flung, so I had to take one BTS train to another BTS train, and then I had to catch the express boat along the Chao Phraya River. I wish more cities had nautical public transportation.
It's no secret that I have the aesthetic tastes of a magpie--I love brightly colored, shiny things. So the Grand Palace was my kind of property. Everything was gold-leafed or bejeweled. Everything-everything. My only complaint was that I took a wrong turn, and I somehow exited before I explored the whole site. But that's on me. Along the outside walls of the palace, hundreds (if not thousands) of local Thai people were lined up, dressed in black, mourning their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last October. Apparently he was enormously beloved--he spent more than 70 years on the throne. The official mourning period ends this October, at which point his son will be crowned--at least according to the articles I read about it.
After the palace I walked over to nearby Wat Pho, famous for its gigantic reclining Buddha statue. The statue was impressive indeed--especially its feet--but I think I enjoyed taking in all the other architecture more. There are dozens of buildings, all of which are beautifully sculpted and decorated. After a quick lunch and an ice cream cone to beat the heat, I took a ferry across the river to Wat Arun, a smaller but no less gorgeous temple.
Can't get enough of those temples. Each one is just as good as the last.
My last day in Bangkok was, perhaps, my favorite: I headed to the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, a modern art museum that is air-conditioned and 100% free. Many of the exhibits at the BACC were interactive--like the brand new nation of Nid Noi Tan, where you had to vote in the election determining which material the state would use to construct future buildings (wood, bamboo, or steel), and where you had to stand on a brick stage and hug fellow passers-by whenever the national anthem was played over the speakers. You could also view Nid Noi Tan's "traditional" garb, and explore the red light district, where people have sex using only their hands.
It was a fun exhibit.
I am currently writing to you from Chiang Mai. I've spent most of the day wandering around the older portion of the city, which is surrounded by a brick wall and the remains of a moat. I visited the Lanna Folklife Museum to learn about the local culture. Next on the docket is dinner, and then I'm either going to a jazz club or to a divey rock bar.