Wanderlust: A strong impulse to travel & see the world. I prefer the German term “Fernweh”: An ache to travel. Left to myself, I would live on 2 suitcases (1 for my shoes), hopping from country to country. As it happens, I have a domesticated husband & daughter – who were house cats in a previous life. So I get to travel once or twice a year.
We were supposed to visit Bangkok last year. But 2011 saw Thailand flooded, so our plans were shelved. We managed to spend 9 days in Bangkok in 2012.
Bangkok’s gleaming Suvarnabhumi airport is truly world-class. I almost wept when I saw the roads: smooth like velvet and very, very clean. With a total population of just 64 Million people, Thailand is only slightly more populated than the state of Tamil Nadu. And its amazing what they’ve done with the resources & people-power they have.
Once we stepped outside the airport, we felt completely at home. Reason: The heat, of course. We thought that only the Sahara & the Thar deserts were hotter than Chennai. But we take that back. It was 95° F in mid-December in Bangkok. Enough said.
Traffic is hellish. I mean, if hell had paved roads – this is how slow the cars would move, that snails would win with both hands tied behind their back. But, the Thais are very polite. Not a single driver cursed, honked or broke the traffic rules. Thais seem to channeled their inner Buddha, for they looked placid & resigned to their fate, as the traffic crawls along.
Never diss the King or the Royalty if you are in Thailand: It’s a crime. The King, Rama IX is seen as a father figure – a benevolent monarch – and is much loved by the Thais. This is much different from how, say, the British view their royalty, although both are constitutional monarchies. Wherever we went, we could see pictures of the King and his yellow flag.
The King is not just a figurehead, but is the moral and religious leader of Thailand. Even though there is an elected government, the King is expected to resolve political crises. This is evidenced by the Thailand Flag – a band of blue flanked by bands of white and red on either side. Blue represents the King, white represents Buddhism and Red represents the Thai people. This symbolizes how the King has to uphold Buddhism and the welfare of the Thais.
95% of the Thais follow Theravada Buddhism. But, they have the option of switching their religion when they turn 16, according to our guide. But the Thai version of Buddhism is a syncretic religion, which liberally mixes animism & Hinduism to create a heady brew. For e.g., Thanon Sukhumvit, one of the major roads, has a large statue of Ardhanareeshwara – Half Shiva/Half Shakti.
One of the main reasons to visit Thailand is its food. Since the Thais are sworn carnivores, we memorized the phrase for “Vegetarian” – “Jay” or “Mangsawirat”. Thai is a tonal language. This means, the same phrase could mean, “You have a cute dog” or “I want your wife”, depending on how you say it So we took care to sound just right. But, we needn’t gone to such trouble. The locals couldn’t understand our pronunciation – but they fully understood what “Vegetarian” meant.
If you think Indians are obsessed with food, you should see the Thais. Food is everywhere – and food is everything. Some of the “food” had tentacles, for god’s sake. Thais seem to love street food. Since we’re delicate darlings, we avoided it as much as possible. But our guide bought us banana fritters on a busy street one day: Though jittery at first, we pinned our hopes on fate and bit into the fritters. Yum! They were indeed good.
We survived mostly on Yellow/Green/Red Curry, Fried Rice with Basil and Pad Thai in Bangkok. Rather tame – though delicious – choices, but our daughter let out an unearthly howl if we veered off what she considered safe choices. Even then, our Pukka Desi kid – reared on Dal, Chawal, Roti & Dahi – wrinkled her nose at the “yucky” food. Pearls before swine, indeed.
Still to come: Our close encounters with animals & our tryst with temples. But, that’s Part-2.