By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter
THAILAND – Even though it is known as ‘the land of a thousand smiles’, this offered Vivi little solace as we arrived in Bangkok after a grueling 24-hour flight from New York. Her throbbing toothache set us off in search of a dentist and not on the usual routes for newly-arrived tourists.
Happily, relief was found in the hands of a Thai-born Indian, Dr. Sunil. From the private chauffeur that collected us at our hotel, to the silver service at the reception with complementary cups of tea, fruit juice, foot massages and internet while we waited, we were not disappointed with her five-star attention.
It was state-of-the-art technology at a fraction of the price in wealthier countries. This followed by a world-famous Thai massage the next day, where her 72,000 meridian points were pressed, pawed and pampered, soon had Vivi grinning again.
Bangkok for me and many other Aussies is like the back door to home. It was both exotic and familiar at same time as we wandered down the Kohsan Road, the infamous ‘farang’ hangout. Farang translates literally as guava, but is slang for outsiders. It dates from the presence of US GIs during the Vietnam War, and is a mispronunciation of foreigner – the Thai version of ‘Gringo’.
For Vivi however, Bangkok was a new world of tastes and color. Lemongrass, Kafer Lime leaves and Cardamom tickled her tongue, while a cacophony of kaleidoscopic color flitted past in scenes of endless entertainment. There were orange-robed Buddhist monks, iridescent tuk tuks and vendors selling everything under the sun. Fake designer goods such as Rolex watches and tailor-made Armani suits for under fifty bucks crowded the streets and made São Paulo’s 25 de Março Street pale in comparison.
The sensory overload continued as we meandered through endless Buddhist temples where golden deities were housed in ornately designed buildings. Later we explored the waterways by long boat – a canoe with a modified car motor strapped to the back and spinning a propeller at the end of a long driveshaft. Travelling at breakneck speeds through narrow canals, these waterways represent an alternative artery of transport in the city. We haggled for exotic dragonfruit and handmade knick-knacks from canoe vendors in the floating market and gorged on chicken satays, spring rolls and fresh coconut ice-cream.
Exploring the outlying provinces, we crossed the bridge over the River Kwai which was constructed by Allied POWs under the ruthless dominion of the Japanese in World War II, a story made famous by the classic 1957 movie starring William Holden.
Further afield found us at the Tiger Temple, a Buddhist monastery that has in recent years doubled as an animal sanctuary caring for and breeding tigers originally saved from Burmese poachers. This unique reserve allows members of the public to stroke adult tigers and play with the cubs. It survives on entry fees and volunteers from all over the world living in situ and mucking in with the yard work.
For an extra donation, tourists can feed the cubs or even put their hand in a tiger’s mouth. Now there’s a set of pearly whites!