Thursday, December 4, 2008

hello, sexy show?

We spent our final time on the bikes searching for the Chakravorty (owner of India Bikes) home in a Kolkata suburb. Despite being a Sunday the Indian drivers were in as much of a rush as usual and we were looking forward to being rid of our two-wheeled burdens. On the way back we found a sweet shop serving the local treat, misti doi (sweetened milk curd) as well as payesh, which to me tasted like kheer (my favorite Indian dessert).

The next day things were still looking iffy for opening of the Thailand's Suvarnabhumi International Airport by our scheduled flight date of 02 December, so the day before we paid a visit to the Jet Airways office. They told us that they had a special flight (the first since 25 Nov) arranged that afternoon to the naval airport in Utapao (~180 km from Bangkok), but after that they were uncertain of when they would next fly into Thailand. We decided to take the opportunity and after a kheer stop at a New Market tea house we went back to our hotel to pack.
We arrived at the airport 3 hours in advance as requested and stood in line with the mostly Thais, plus a handful of Indians and Westerners. We didn't have a confirmed seat (only a note scribbled on our e-ticket by the customer service agent), and we weren't completely confident that we would get one, but all worked out. After much anticipation the flight landed in Utapao at 10:15 pm to applause from the Thais. We weren't sure how we would get out of the airport, as the military base wasn't exactly set up for international arrivals and there were no official money changers or ATMs. I had no information on local hotels, so I figured our best bet was to get to Bangkok. The prepaid taxi stall was charging 3500+ bhat ($100+) to Bangkok and unlike Thai Airlines, our Indian-based airline wasn't providing free shuttles to the city. I found an outside taxi for 3000, who would let us stop at an ATM. We got an extra night at our already booked Bangkok hotel and arrived just before 2 am. People were still out and about in the street; we later found out that our guest house is close to the red light district (probably what are taxi driver meant by "bad part of town").

For our first day in Bangkok we headed over to Wat Po for a long overdue Thai massage at the massage school. We were amazed at the number and variety of food stalls on the short jaunt from our hotel to the Sky Train station. We started off with Thai iced coffee and chive dumplings made from glutinous rice flour. The Sky Train ends a few stops from our hotel
at the Central river boat station, from which you can catch a boat to numerous places along the river. At Wat Po we made a beeline for the massage school, figuring that we could catch the main attraction, the massive reclining Buddha, on the way out. Our one hour massages weren't quite up to par with Cathy and Lynn at Pho Siam in L.A., but they were still worthwhile. We checked out the giant shiny gold Buddha and watched as local artisans painstakingly restored the
temple murals.

Instead of taking the boat back to the Central station we decided to walk through the maze of stalls that make up the Chinatown markets. The size of the clothing and fabric market alone dwarfed anything we had seen in India. With no aggressive touts or vendors the experience was far more pleasant. We found our way to a district selling a dizzying array of metal and machined parts, then on to the silver jewelry zone before finally reaching the
station. The food stalls near the stop for our hotel had been replaced by stalls selling clothing, CD/DVDs and souvenirs. We returned to our hotel serenaded by a stereo blaring Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer.

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