Rub the city stress away

A massage in the States is a luxury to be enjoyed when you’re truly stressed, but here in Thailand you can afford to get a massage every week.

I went for my first one-hour Thai foot massage and was amazed at the service you get for a few bucks. My normally comfortable shoes had become pseudo torture devices in the humidity and a little relief was needed. For one hour, my Thai masseuse rubbed, kneaded and pounded all of the stress away. I sat in a cushy recliner, listening to soft, if strange, Thai music and even had a little snooze. They insist though that you wear a special pair of pants that are of the one-size-fits-all variety and could double as a parachute. Not flattering but oh so comfy.

Grand total: $9

Cheap massage parlors can be found across the city. But after having a good look at the classifieds, I knew to avoid places offering these types of massages …

I don’t know much about the service at this type of establishment, but I’m pretty sure you don’t get the pants.

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The real deal…

Despite being on a tourist boat, a trip through the backwater canals of Bangkok gave an insightful glimpse into another type of Thai lifestyle. Just as the well-heeled in Bangkok frequent expansive shopping malls, trendy restaurants and tote the latest in mobile technology, there is another part of the population that lives a much simpler way of life. They can be found fishing on concrete walls, toting a bucket of water from the river or playing a game of chess with a rowdy group of friends. They are the Thais that live on the canals, often with no walls, sloping floors and laundry occupying every conceivable space.

A trip on a longtail boat _ a popular vessel in Thailand that has a long rudder and sounds like a chainsaw _ takes you down the Chao Phraya river and through the canals that give Bangkok it’s nickname “The Venice of the East.” But there are no gondolas or romantic Italian architecture. It is rustic, run-down and the embodiment of everything a Westerner would consider poor. You can see the stains where the water rises to in monsoon season, when all of these people have to leave their soon-to-be-flooded homes. Yet, everyone on the canal waves at you and smiles, such a quintessentially Thai thing to do.

This boat tour also included a trip to the Wat Arun temple, an impressive structure which is adorned with broken ceramic pieces from Chinese merchant ships. It is a complex on the other side of the Chao Phraya river, where there Buddhist monks walk the grounds as they live and worship there. The size is not so grand when you’re standing at ground level, but as you climb the stairs you realize just how high this temple rises.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Porcelain exterior

As you start to climb the ancient stone steps to the top, it’s easy to become confident that it’s not as bad as it looks. But as you continue up, you realize that the steep vertical climb you see on the ground, doesn’t begin to prepare you for the ladder-like climb to the top. The key is not to look down. Once you’ve reached the summit however (and managed to keep down your lunch and suppress what you think are inaudible whimpers) you are treated to a fantastic view of the city.
View from the top

View from the top

Preparing yourself for the trip back down takes a bit of time. It’s taking that first step _ backwards, because otherwise you’ll fly headfirst down the stairs _ that is the trickiest. It requires a bit of white-knuckling the railing and if you’re wearing a short dress, using your other hand to keep from flashing the crowd below.

(Insiders tip: Don’t wear a short dress. No matter what you do, the wind will carry your dress up to your waist and you will show everyone your undies. Some are pleased by this, but it inevitably means a rushed trip back to the boat to avoid further humiliation.)

Home sweet home

Oh apartment hunting. It can be such an exciting moment when you find the right place. But come on, it’s a chore.

In New York, you waste 20 hours a week and your bosses money looking at apartments on Craigslist. Then you spend 15 hours a week wandering around strange neighborhoods with a Google map trying to figure out where you are. And then another 10 hours are gone looking at shoebox apartments with paint on the windows and unidentified stains on the walls. It’s a full-time job.

But if apartment hunting in New York were as easy as it is in Bangkok, people would tour places on the weekend for fun. My real estate agent Wit _ a polite and friendly guy who wants nothing more than to make me happy _ picks me up every day and shows me apartments. He negotiates the rent with the landlord (you can bargain for everything here, even real estate) and tries to convince them to install the oven I can’t seem to live without. I guess the luxury of cooking a chicken any time I want is too tempting to pass up.

Apartments here are beautiful, affordable and have amenities you can’t imagine in the states (spa-like pools, fitness centers, tennis courts). I could be happy in any place I’ve seen. But no, I want the BEST.

I went out with another real estate agent yesterday to see more places. As if I needed more options. But having two real estate agents is like trying to have two boyfriends. They’re sensitive about you seeing someone else and you definitely don’t want one to call while you’re with the other. So when Wit called while I was seeing apartments with Nicky (a nice, but aggressive girl), my guilt-tinged voice and one-word answers must have tipped him off to my duplicity.

But in the end I went running back to Wit. He conveniently ignored my infidelity and we were happy once again. He treats me well and gave me more than I could have asked for … including a big flat-screen TV.

My new apartment

My new apartment

What a guy.

(More pictures of my fantastic new apartment to come!)

The public transportation buffet

Taking the BTS Sky Train to Chinatown this weekend, 20 baht (60 cents). Taking a cab to work this morning, 40 baht ($1.20). Never having to decipher service changes on the NYC subway, priceless.

For a city with countless side streets, dead-ends and one-ways, Bangkok has so many transportation options, none of which costs more than a cup of coffee. I’ve always been partial to the cab ride myself. I love watching the city whiz by in air conditioned comfort. That and I always get a seat.

I’ve taken my fair share of cabs in New York, but I’ve never had a cabbie that, we’ll just say, was a few crayons short of a full box. His singing my street name, the sound effects he made when going around a big turn and finally his subtle hint to ‘tip, tip’ him at the end were definitely new for me. I wonder if this is normal for Thai cab drivers. The one I had this morning was completely silent so it’s 1-1. Thankfully I am committed to more thorough research.

If you’re like me, it’s not enough to see pictures or hear descriptions of a place, you want to see it first-hand. Well here is a trip from my apartment to the last stop on the Sky Train by the Chao Phraya river. A bumpy one.

Music by Coldplay.

Welcome to the monsoon

Ohh so THIS is what you mean by monsoon season. See I thought you meant… Nevermind.

Seattle residents, zip it. Londoners pipe down. New Yorkers, strap on your galoshes and stop whining about gusty winds off the Hudson. You have no idea what rain is.

In Bangkok, the term ‘rainy season’ is alarmingly insufficient. They should call it ‘umbrella, shumbella, leave it at home and step in that six inch puddle in your flip flops and kick up god-knows-what kind of gunk on your clothes season.’ Or perhaps ‘get in your swim gear and hope for the best season.’

The past few nights I’ve watched the skies darken and pour for about 30 minutes from the comfort of my apartment. I would think, ‘well that’s not so bad, a little shower every night is nothing. Rainy season. Ha.’

Dummy.

Starting the night...

Starting the night...

Tonight, however, I went out with work friends and was caught in a five-hour torrential downpour that flooded our section of Sukhumvit. I should have expected this. Southeast Asia tends tends to get a bit of rain and as Bangkok is in a low-lying area, flooding can be common this time of year.

Well I got the message. Next time they forecast rain, I am suiting up in a half-dozen Hefty bags. That should do the trick.

Shopping mecca I have found you!

After spending days in bed recovering from jet lag and being completely useless, I had my first full day of work today. It was so wonderfully normal to be back doing what I love. It was also my first brush with rush hour traffic in Bangkok. Wait… what rush hour traffic?

Bangkok subway...

Bangkok subway...

30 am

...at 8:30 am

If I was in New York, I would have been fighting with 100 other people for the two remaining seats and fanning myself with my Metro paper. But in this city of about 12 million, I rode to work with a seat on either side of me and a few goose bumps. I could get used to this.

As I’m starting my apartment search in a few days I decided to check out the predominantly expat neighborhood of Sukhumvit. And what better way to understand a bit more about Bangkok and it’s inhabitants than to check out one of the city’s largest shopping centers: Emporium. That, and the retail therapy was a convenient way to soothe some homesickness. It has a seemingly endless array of high-end shops like Hermes, Louis Vuiton and Calvin Klein, but also has some of my favorites in America like Zara and Esprit.

Emporium Shopping Center

Emporium Shopping Center

Emporium also has one of the largest department stores in the city of the same name. It has everything you’d want in the States, but the size (and elegance) of it puts every other department store in the U.S. to shame.

Emporium

Emporium

Ok it has almost anything. Once you go up to the second and third floors forget trying to find clothes unless you are a size 4 or 6. Unfortunately I am not a teenage boy masquerading as a Thai woman so I’m out of luck.

Next to the shopping center is a lovely park in the middle of this bustling section of the city. Benjasiri Park is tiny but just large enough to get away from the rotting egg smell and the sounds of traffic. You can walk around a small lake and see couples on benches, people in stretchy pants working out and guys playing basketball.

Incidentally it is also where I spotted my first Thai she-male, though my dear friend in San Francisco informs me this is no big deal. Spoiler.

Jet lag, and then some

I had exciting plans for today; checking out one of Bangkok’s largest shopping centers called Emporium, scouting some places to live and having my first authentic Thai meal. I was excited for this day. But I was a little wiped from the flight so I said I would take a little nap before I go. Now it’s 9:30 pm. Ooops.

So with nothing new to report (except for the firmness of Thai beds), I’ll give you a peek into where I spent my whole day with pictures of my temporary apartment. And if you’re noticing that the decor looks a little dated (those couches must have been made in 1970), don’t worry, I already noticed.

By the way … it was milk!