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June 13 – Bangkok Sightseeing

Having knocked out more than we expected to yesterday, we had a pretty free day ahead of us, so we took the Sky Train to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Bangkok and one of the largest in the world. Vendors here sell everything from food (fresh ingredients and ready-to-eat) to furniture to art to counterfeit clothing. We wandered for a few hours sampling the wares, including a green coconut hacked open before our very eyes by a machete-wielding 6-year-old.

We ate nearly all of our meals in Bangkok–actually, nearly all of our meals on this trip–out of vendor stalls like these. In fact, our only truly disappointing meal was in the wildly expensive Vertigo restaurant, where most of the price of the meal goes into the logistics of operating an open air restaurant on the rooftop of a 64-story building. If you can let go of everything you think you know about food safety–yes, that fish sits out in the tropical heat all day–the food from these stands is usually excellent. Interestingly, in Bangkok, much of this food is served in (and eaten out of) a plastic bag of the sort that a pet store uses to sell goldfish. Even drinks are served this way, from sodas to the awesome Thai iced coffees and teas. We ate for pocket change, and neither of us ever got sick.

What is hard to capture in text or pictures is the way Bangkok is an almost constant assault on the senses. It sprawls in every direction as far as you can see, and it never thins out. There is no zoning, so you are never far from a day or night market, never out of the traffic and noise and confusion. Life takes place mostly outdoors, so you never escape the heat and humidity, the pollution, the eternal construction zones, or the overwhelming smell of stagnant water coming from the river, the canals, and storm sewers. Everything is noisy…the mopeds, the tuk-tuks, the blaring television advertisements on trains, the outboard motors on water taxis, the shouting market vendors, and the sidewalks that seem to be jackhammered up daily only to be restored again seemingly by entire families pounding the tiles back in under the sun. It is powerfully Buddhist; wherever there are people, there are monks, and wherever there are buildings there are spirit houses. And it is developing much faster than its infrastructure, so there is a slapdash feel to much of it, and a general claptrappiness to most of it. After a few hours of walking, it would just close in on us.