Thursday, April 8, 2010

Three Days in Bangkok

Before departing for Bangkok, I kept one eye on the unfolding events in Thailand and another eye on what I would do when I actually got there.  To start off my trip, I figured I would need three days in Bangkok to get my bearings straight and to fight off some of my jet lag.  Having been to Asia several times in the last decade, I knew that I would hit a 3 day jet lag wall, when my body would just give out.  I guess I could equate the experience to drug addiction withdrawal symptoms. I handled "the wall" surprisingly well with the exception of one day, when I needed assistance of a cup of Starbucks coffee.

During my first night in Bangkok, my wife and I decided to visit an old university friend of mine in Bangkok. Right before my visit, I was hitting the proverbial jet lag wall and went into a Starbucks.  I ordered a "Cafe Americano" hoping that it tasted the same as regular brewed coffee at an American Starbucks.  I was satisfied with the quality and happy with the taste which was very similar to what I am used to.  The difference was only in the preparation: the barista pulled two shots of espresso into a shot glass before adding hot water to the mug.  There was also one unexpected event in ordering: no, it wasn't the language barrier, but it was the different sizing system they use here in Bangkok.  Tall, Grande, and Venti sizes weren't used, however, the sizing system here is Short, Tall, and Grande.  I ordered the Grande thinking it was medium. I ended up getting  a huge mug of coffee, which in the end wasn't so bad as it carried me through the events of the night.

When we made reservations for a Bangkok hotel in January, my wife and I decided that we wanted to be in an area of Bangkok, we have never lived in, thus we chose Khaosan Road, which is the "backpackers paradise" in Thailand.  Khaosan Road was easy to spot, not because of the backpackers, but because the street was lined with tiny Thai flags strung across the entire length of the street.  We did walk past backpackers with gigantic backpacks, but surprisingly, the tourists here seemed well-heeled and civilized.  Most were couples and families and there were very few single travelers.

The street food scene was excellent, as it had been in most of the other parts of Thailand I'd been to. The street food scene starts up on Khaosan road at sundown with carts constantly streaming in and out of the center of the road.  On the sidewalks are the permanent businesses, cheap guest houses, internet cafes, and tourist trinket shops. Here you could find every type of street food and since these foods are fast food, they are usually grilled, fried or stir-fried.  It is not a place for those on a diet.  The healthiest thing I found here are the fruit stands, but I heard from the grapevine that many of these fruits are non-organic, meaning that farmers here use plenty of pesticides and chemicals that promote growth.  I didn't let that small detail stop me and I did indulge in mango, watermelon and papaya.  Unfortunately, mangosteen season is not here yet, so I'll have to wait.  For the record, mangos come in two varieties, sweet orange and hard sour/sweet varieties.  Both are excellent this time of year. Watermelons are not as juicy as they are in the States but passable.  Some are as small as softballs and the biggest ones are as big as basketballs.  As for papayas, they are as juicy and sweet as ever, which beats anything you can find at a New York green grocer. 

In later posts, I will describe some of the food I tried in Thailand. I do not know the actual names in Thai for all the foods, but I will do my best to describe them accurately.  There is a world of food out there and now that I have left  Bangkok, I am learning that food culture is driven by how people live and how people try to use what is available to them to survive.  For the record, I am now living in a farming community in central Thailand and living here is a total 180 degree turn from anything I have ever experienced.  My trip is not a vacation but in a way, living the life as a local.  Having a strong stomach helps too!

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