It’s a humid Wednesday afternoon in Bangkok. I’m in an internet cafe at Mahoobonkorong Mall, popularly knows as MBK. It’s a huge mall that sells everything every teen-ager or trying to be hip adult would want to wear. I’m just killing time before heading to the sauna. Gotta check-out the map and opening times of Babylon as well as massage recommenations.
It’s been 3 days since we Joey, Arthur, and I arrived Sunday on a Cebu Pacific flight at 12:30 am (BKK time) at the magnificent Suvarnabhami airport. It’s an airport you’d want to arrive in at a country you’d love to walk into. Now, compare it to our NAIA and you know why Bangkok receives 40m tourists while we only get 2M. Suvarnabhami is all glass and steel and light. It screams “modernity” while ours moan “help”. You actually feel like an international traveller.
The 45-minute cab ride to the hotel on the expressway that connects the city to the ourskirts takes us to towering buildings and well-lit streets and avenues. We can’t get much out of the taxi driver who rudely barkes “Don’t understand English!” when I ask him about the coming holiday because of the Queen’s birthday. We drive through the city and of course, one of the first things I saw was K-Why Massage that advertised “man to man massage”. Bangkok was ready to welcome us!
We arrive at our hotel. The Mandarin is fully booked and we have to wait until 8am to check-in at our appointed reservations. I am really hungry and the only place open is the Thai resto of the hotel. I want to walk along the streets to look for the fabled hawker stalls but since it was midnight and I really didn’t know my way around yet, I stick it out with the ho-hum omellette and toast and a slice of crumbly cheesecake. Too bad, if iIhad really studied my maps, I would have realized that the hawkers along Soi Convent at Silom or even at Suriwong were just a mere 10 minute walk. Or even better, I could have gone straight to DJ Station for some dancing. The next couple of hours is like staying afloat on acid. We choose our own spot at the sofas at the deserted lobby and try rest. The only thing we could really do is to wait for the 6am buffet breakfast.
Finally, at a little past 8, we check-in. The room is big with 3 single beds, just as I had requested on my online reservation. For less than Bh 1,000/room/night, it was cheap! More importantly, as I will find-out the next morning walking to Lumphini Park, it was really conveniently located to the 2 important roads for shopping and entertainment—Silom and Suriwong. A subway station, Sala Daeng, was a mere walk.
Joey and Arthur sleep the rest of the morning and early afternoon away while I hied off to the famous Chatuchak Market north of the city for a bit of shopping.
Everything and anything is sold at this really huge open-air market consisting of 26 sections. Walking along the narrow stalls, squeezing with people from all corners of the globe and walks of life, and checking-out the goods is an adventure. each turn leads yout explosions of color and textures as rows and rows of shops offer clothes, accessories, crafts, and everything you can think of. Really nice clothes that would look more at home behind airconditioned mall shops such as People are People are displayed in cramped hot stalls and selling at really really low prices. You stumble on precious items such as printed shorts for less than Bh 200 which cost more than double back home. I ignore the tourist Thailand souvenir t-shirts and opt to buy a couple of shirts with the Singha beer logo–it uniquely shouts “I got this in Bangkok” without being touristy and cliche.
One of my best discoveries is Gabriel’s Original Design. All the clothes I ever bought at Pride Exchange and Top and Bottom in Malate and at the Glorietta 3 bargain stalls are all there! A shirt I bought for Php 900 at Glorietta with the print “Absolute Pleasure” was on sale at Bh 100! The shop is owned by a local designer with clothes geared toards the torse-hugging, tight-fitting design aesthetics of the gay crowd. I round the next corner and I stumble on Work. Again, I see some of the shirts I bought some months before in Manila. Graphically-printed tees are selling at less than Bh 200, about 3/4 the price I bought them back home.
Getting lost in Chatuchak is wonderful as you never know what to expect. You enter a labyrinth not knowing the treasures you’ll stumble on. More importantly, if you’re a greenhills shopping fanatic or self-styled metrosexual, Chatuchak will make you want to tear all those over-priced clothes you bought in Manila now knowing where they came from and how you’ve been really had.
Food! Food! Food!
What’s a market without food—especially street food? From the more recognizable skewered-on-a-stick treats like fishballs, tofu, corn cakes to mor exotic-looking ones such as these sticky green things, to traditional sweets, spring rolls, noodles, and everything else in between, Chatuchak has it. You could spend an afternoon getting lost amidst the plastic tables, wooden stalls, and busy peddlers and eat yourself to every imagineable thing you could taste. This is one place you don’t mind eating to a stomache. One of the most interesting things I had was some nuts, fruit, and syrup wrapped in small leaves and skwered on a stick. It kind tasted like some exotic baklava . You bite into the stuffed leaves and an explosion of strange but delicious flavors erupt into your mouth.
By the time I take the subway back to the hotel, I’ve got loads of clothes and the entire culinary reportoire of Thai street food in my tummy. That was just Sunday, Day 01.