I have been away from my blog longer than I intended. An amazing holiday in Thailand and Vietnam left me with a back log of work. Burning the midnight oil I am still with self imposed deadlines that keeps the work where it needs to be going but has my sleeping at normal hours still a distant dream!
I was visiting Thailand after thirty-something years. On that occasion I was only a few days in Bangkok, and my memories are of a polluted and chaotic city with far too many two wheelers and traffic jams! The Bangkok of today however stands in sharp contrast to that memory, and the city can teach us a thing or two about urban planning and development. Bangkok has and become a city of flyovers and well orchestrated traffic that makes travelling long distances very easy. The most striking fact of this tourist destination is that it is CLEAN in capital letters! Considering it is also a street-foodies paradise, there appears to be a very efficient system that is maintained by the local people where no littering occurs, and the garbage disposal is well coordinated.
However the sex trade remains very close to the surface at all times. As a feminist this made me question what the ideas of female representation are within a society that is allowing so blatantly for prostitution to be part of the agenda of attracting foreign tourism. I also found that the myth of it being a shoppers haven was not lived up to. I discovered the Thai traders to be very aggressive and rude. Loud and in your face, they lack basic courtesy and treat Indians with discrimination, despite the courtesy I extended from my side as a client. My experiences at the malls recommended by local people was disappointing and sometimes quite unpleasant.
But what was a delighted were the many cultural sites that we visited. Ayutthaya was also a day trip destination that lived up to its expectations, and despite the heat and humidity was transfixing in its historical grandeur. However the greatest visual treat was going to the Parliament house, where there is an extraordinary permanent display of artifacts, that has been commissioned to commemorate the various special occasions within their monarchy's history. Mind blowing, these works employ the local crafts people and are done to keep the traditional craft practises alive. A project initiated and monitored by the Queen, each piece is exquisite. It is world class museum quality artifacts that I would strongly recommend as a "must see" to any visitor going to Bangkok.
Staying at the Banyan tree hotel was a beautiful experience. Lying under the stars at their roof top bar on a huge circular seating was a moment of decadence to last me a life time! I had a foot massage to sample the legends I had head about the massage culture of Thailand. It put to shame any other endeavour that had passed off as one before.
Vietnam, the second destination on our trip, is a country where the people are genuinely respectful to all tourists. A much less visited destination, this country like Cambodia, is yet to become spoilt by the typical touristy nonsense that one sometimes encounters elsewhere. Hanoi with it's winding streets and old quarter is quaint and endearing. It has hints of an old "Indian colonial" flavor that is reminiscent of our cantonment areas. Life spills out onto the streets. The Hocchi men mausoleum had too long a queue that wound around like a giant serpent. Disrespectful as it may sound, none of us felt that inclined to wait hours to see a dead man's body on display!
Perhaps the highlight of this trip was being on a luxury yacht that was hired only for the five of us. It was magical, and though I left behind my newly acquired paper parasol that I had great plans on flaunting in the Baroda heat, nothing can detract from the memories of this place. The chef who was this beautiful young girl made the best sea platter I have ever had in my entire life. The five of us indulged in the desires of our palates and stomachs rather like old roman soldiers out on a binge! The extra baggage was not in our bags but as personal luggage as a result!!!!
I have many other stories from these seven days. But like good wine, even memories need to percolate and stay for a while before being shared. I am off to Amsterdam in June and already my excitement is building up!!!