Bangkok comes alive at night

by francine Hardaway on December 1, 2005

Bangkok comes alive at night, perhaps because during the day it’s so hot and humid. At night, the clubs thrive, and there are vendors on the streets selling the obligatory Asian knockoffs: purses on which Chanel is spelled Chanal, and silk that is 80% rayon. Bangkok is teeming with tourists — tourism is the second biggest industry in the country, the first being cultivation of rice.

The food is outstanding, even if you get it off the street, because the Thais have such great vegetables (not to mention the peanut sauce). When I got here, alone in a city where English is not commonly spoken and the street signs are in a language derived from Sanskrit, I went out to eat at the restaurant across from the hotel, which turned out to be both authentic and awesome (Rosebieng, if you’re ever here).

In the morning, I was fortunate enough to find a tour of the Grand Palace in English, and I joined it. The tour guide was my age, and had been taught English in Malaysia. He explained to me that “Thai” means free, and the country changed its name from Siam to Thailand to celebrate the fact that it was the only southeast Asian country not colonized by Europeans.

December 3 is the King, Rama IX’s birthday, and the city was busy hanging up pictures of him in his youth (he will be 78) and getting ready for a parade and a big drunk. In case you saw “The King and I,” Anna’s king was Rama IV. Rama IV had a lot more power than Rama IX, because Rama VIII made Thailand into a democracy and stepped down into a ceremonial role rather than risk a civil war.

The Grande Palace, where the movie was filmed, is a 40-year development project of palaces, shrines, temples, and gardens; it’s done in gold leaf and mosaic, and it’s another Buddhist shrine. 92% of the Thais are Buddhists, although they have some pesky Al Qaeda Muslims in the south.

I decided to see how the water life is lived (Thailand is on a river and used to be full of canals), so after the Grande Palace tour I took myself to the Oriental Hotel, the first and most famous hotel in Siam. It’s a 5-star hotel now, complete with negative edge pools and women to fan the businessmen who stay there. It’s right on the river, and you can eat overlooking all the barges and tour boats./ In my next life, I want to stay at the Oriental Hotel.

And then I thought I’d get ready for the long trip home by having a Thai massage, so I went to a spa. A woman who weighs no more than 80 pounds realigned my body and then bathed it in hot Thai herbs. Do not leave this life without a Thai massage.

I have to come back here. I’m not finished. I haven’t yet been to a sex show, nor have I done much of the shopping for which Bangkok is renowned. I am, however, reading an autobiography of a girl whose mother sold her into prostitution here. That may be the closest I get to a sex show. I have a friend who saw one in which a woman shot darts out of her vagina. Not sexy, but certainly compelling. It probably took place after my bed time.

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