Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bangkok for Beginners

If we were asked to represent three South-East Asian capitals by tropical fruits, we might think of clean, green Singapore as a fresh lime, and richer-flavoured Kuala Lumpur, perhaps as a ripe pineapple.  Employing this imagery, the association that immediately springs to mind for Bangkok is the king of tropical treats,  the delicious, delightful and delectable durian. Granted, this head-sized botanical wonder with its thick spiky skin and soft yellow flesh, is very much an acquired taste. It is like a smelly cheese is to a connoisseur, and the fruit's initial effect on a novice's nostrils can be just as overwhelming as the first impressions of the Thai capital on an unsuspecting new arrival, fresh from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The oft-intoned "Wow, they stink before even being peeled" is indeed true, and it is this fact which effectively bans the offending fruit from enclosed public spaces. Even following a durian-laden truck in a closed air-conditioned coach can fill the vehicle with more than just a tolerable whiff. "Hey, how can people eat this thing?" is a common question, posed almost as frequently as "Hey, how can anybody actually live in Bangkok?"
But beware, like the durian, Bangkok can be habit-forming. The teeming 220-year old Thai city not only has a strong and unique flavour, it possesses a potentially highly addictive mix of subtle qualities, which once experienced, can lure visitors back, time and again. "Aye, this is our 14th trip" I overheard an elderly Scots couple say to some fresh-faced honeymooners on a neighbouring pool bed the other day, adding: "Ye can get a real taste fir it"
Aye, and they are not alone. Hotels all over the city will tell you of again-and-again-guests who have become close friends of staff and management through repeated, often annual, visits. Given the air and noise pollution, the motorised chaos, and the often searing temperatures, it is not easy for "outsiders" to understand the attraction. Even if you ask those geriatric aficionados why they keep coming back, they tend to reply in non-specifics. "Oh, we just love it here" is a common response. If you dig deeper, it may be followed by any or all of the following:- the people, the food, the temples, the river, the canals, the smiles, the charm, the smells, the friendliness and the friends made, the sounds, the shopping, the atmosphere......and the magic. Don't forget the magic.  Years ago, I had to entertain some VIP British tourists to dinner. On meeting the middle-aged couple in the hotel lobby bar, they greeted me grumpily by blurting that they'd just arrived, hated what they had observed on the way from the airport, and had absolutely no desire to venture out at night into "this bloody awful place." Instead, they wanted to eat a "nice steak and chips" in the hotel grill room. After two rounds of drinks and much cajoling, I finally did persuade them to at least try Thai food at my local restaurant - with the promise that I'd take them home instantly any time they wished.
On arrival, they sat at the wooden table expressing a mix of utter dejection and intense fear, much like that of poor wretches about to be executed. Signs of cautious enjoyment appeared however when the aromas of our food order reached their noses, and relaxed if reluctant nods followed as they began to sample the rich, wonderful tastes. Laughter joined in as an adjoining table of jolly Thai students sent us over glasses of local "Mekhong" whisky to accompany our Thai beer, and all duly stood up charmingly to give us regular toasts, ensuring our maximum indulgence in the copious supply of spirits, which generously just kept on arriving. The previously stuffy Brits were suddenly convivial, charming company. The dinner turned into a huge, hilarious success.
Out on the street, with the now smiling pair metamorphosed into merriment, it was easy to coax them into a coasting "Tuk Tuk", Bangkok's open-sided three wheeled taxi. Seconds later, we were roaring three-up through the traffic to enjoy a great evening in the city's night spots, with the couple waving to all and sundry, and all and sundry happily waving back - in a way that only happens in Thailand.
As a finale, I took them to the Erawan shrine, a small open place of worship dedicated to a Brahman God, situated at Rajaprasong, one of the city's busiest intersections in Pratunam.
In this incense-filled microcosm of Asia, the roar of the traffic was curiously muted by the music from the small Thai orchestra performing at one side. As we sat down to observe, dancers and worshippers obscured our view to the street outside. Offerings of sweet-smelling garlands, stacked up over the hours, rose higher than our heads. Although I had been there countless times, there was something undeniably special about this particular evening, something, perhaps, even verging on the mystical. The lady's very emotional voice suddenly interrupted my thoughts: "I have never experienced anything as wonderful as this" she was saying, over and over again. I looked over, and saw she was in tears. Her husband wasn't too far away from the same emotion. Two more Bangkok addicts were thus born. And it happens every day. It is perhaps this undeniably magical quality of "Krungthep" as it is called by the Thais, that becomes so compelling - the unexpected experience in a relatively unattractive city, when the world freezes in a moment of arresting, unforgettable beauty.
Certainly, if the rough translation if its official name (which happens to be the longest place name in the world, and thus occupies a section in the Guinness Book of Records) is anything to go by, this is no ordinary spot on the globe:
Great city of angels, the supreme repository of divine jewels, the great land unconquerable, the grand and prominent realm, the royal and delightful capital city full of nine noble gems, the highest royal dwelling and grand palace, the divine shelter and living place of reincarnated spirits.
In other words - what better place for a fascinating holiday? Or a place to do business? Amari Hotels and Resorts is lucky to have several hotels in this huge metropolis, each in its own special location. Whether you are a first-time traveller to the Thai capital, or an old hand coming back for yet more magic, Amari wishes you a warm welcome to this amazing city.

No comments:

Post a Comment