Thailand: Part 4 Bicycling in Bangkok and Foodie Tour of Chinatown

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Our day started early at 8:00 AM. Ken and driver met us at the hotel and transferred us to a bicycle shop so we could have a different sort of adventure. Yesterday, we saw opulent temples, but today, our guides promised to show us the other side of Bangkok, the way that “real” people live in the city. The ride to the bike shop took about 45 minutes.

Genene can sleep anywhere and is practicing her father’s fly-catching technique.

We arrived at a small bike shop on a residential street and met our guide Amm, a tall, young slender Thai man without one ounce of fat on his body. He looked hip in the way that all people who make their living on bikes look. He picked bikes for all of us, gave us the basic safety instructions, and we were off. We cycled on the Bangkok streets for about five minutes at the start, and it was hair-raising. There are many scooters and bikes on the road, so the local people in cars are accustomed to sharing the lanes. It was very scary to me though. We rode single file and followed Amm’s directions. I was very glad when we left the road.
We cycled through alleyways and into what Amm described as the poor area. People live extremely close together in shacks. Amm noted that some people get good materials to build their homes, while others use a little rotten wood and tin.
Two dwellings side by side.
This cat peered out at us. We saw and heard lots of cats.

 

We stopped to visit a private elementary school. The bike shop provides some financial support to the school in exchange for the chance to bring tourists in for a quick look. We found clean happy kids. We arrived at the same time as three monks, who were getting food from the children and the locals. Monks only eat two meals a day, and their second meal is at 1:00 PM. They must eat only what is given to them. People feed the monks in the hope of having good fortune.

A monk accepts a child’s food offering.

Lining up for morning instruction.

The children listen attentively as the monks chant.
The kids all wanted to give us high-fives.
There are no desks or chairs. Classroom instruction is done on the floor.
We got underway again.

 

We passed through a Chinatown area known as the 200 rooms area, so called because the Chinese own it and have 200 rooms for their workers. The workers are sometimes Thai people but now may also be immigrants: Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian. They work very long hours, stopping only to eat and sleep. They send money back home to their families. Amm described the area as a “seawing center”. It took me a moment to translate: sewing center! The workers get paid per each t-shirt sewn together. The shirts are then shipped to another destination for finishing.

Amm said, “The man reading the paper is the boss.”

She will not make many baht today.
The stack of t-shirts waiting to be sewn.
The machine.
The man.
The next time I read a shirt label that says “Made in Thailand”, I will think of this place and the people who work so hard here.
Many of the passageways were quite narrow.

We rode to a pier on the river, stopped and drank an ice-cold Coke. I can’t remember a Coke ever being more refreshing.

We crossed the river on another longtail boat, this one much smaller and more rickety than the one we rode two days ago. There were no life preservers on board, and the boat sat low in the water. We whizzed by the big freighters.

 

One of the better looking dogs we saw.
A lock.
Our launch point as seen from the river.
The neighborhood.
Docking on the other side.

We headed into the old plantation area of Bangkok. It was hard to believe that we were still in the city. It looked more like a jungle. We rode on narrow elevated sidewalks. In many places there were no rails. To ride off would mean getting wet, muddy, and possibly injured, depending on the height from which you fell.

It was challenging, and there were a lot of hard right angle turns. It’s been a long time since I rode single-track, but I remembered the rules: keep pedaling and keep your eyes on where you want your wheels to go.

We arrived in a local park. The government bought an old plantation and converted it into a green space for the people. It was virtually empty today, but Amm said it would be packed on the weekend. We fed the fish, and they were waiting for us. As soon as we stood at the water’s edge, they rose to the surface. When the food hit the water, the frenzy was on.

A local temple.
The mausoleum.
Family photo: I wish I had sucked in my gut!
Spirit houses.

We stopped for a delicious, spicy lunch at a restaurant that had no western name.

Greg and I had basil fried rice while Genene had pad thai noodles.

 

We stopped inside an old temple. It had been struck by lightning twice and caught fire once. With that kind of bad luck track record, the decision was made to build a new one next to the old one.

The king’s symbol atop the temple.

The murals on the walls were falling into disrepair but were still beautiful.

The next mural is a depiction of hell. Amm explained that the Buddhist hell is not too scary. If the soul has not attained nirvana, it just gets a “clean-up’ and is sent back down for another try. I love this mural because it is so accessible and easy to understand.

This one is a depiction of the Battle of the Elephants in the Burmese/Siamese war. Can you see the evil white people? They are Portuguese.
Now this one is worth a hard look because some odd things are going on. Amm said it was a depiction of a funeral, but I’ve never seen a funeral where people were getting it on during the ceremony.

Amm told us the story of Lord Buddha talking to the demon Mara who was tempting him as he meditated. Buddha called upon mother earth to help him. She rose from the ground, squeezed out her wet hair and caused flooding which washed the demon and his armies away. The story put me in the mind of Jesus and His struggles with Satan.

The wood carvings over the door were considerably less ornate than the Grand Palace, but they held a certain charm.

We climbed back aboard our bikes and headed back to the river.
You can see a lot of floating trash on the water.
Our chariot arrives.
Greg is always happy on the water.
We stopped at a Thai boxing training center. The ring looked very small, and I would hate to be trapped in it with someone who was trying to elbow me until the blood ran.
We saw no fighting today. The men were watching soap operas.
We saw a cock-fight operation. Amm said that they do not fight to the death but only until one gives up. It is legal to cockfight but not to gamble on it. The gambling rule is often broken.

 

We finished our ride in the middle of the afternoon and were hot, sweaty and tired. If you would like to see video of the ride, I think this link will work:

http://youtu.be/dcRXYIeOMKw

We took baths, packed up our bags (we leave tomorrow), took a nap and suited up for our evening foodie tour. It was about a 45 minute car ride to Chinatown, where we met our guide, Ploy, a beautiful young lady. We would be having a progressive seven course dinner, walking from restaurant to restaurant between courses.

Like birds in the nest, happily waiting for the first course to arrive:

We began with a pink noodle soup with fish ball and a sweet fried banana cake. Both were divine.
We walked past the Chinatown gate, stood under the middle of the arch, and made wishes.
This lantern is in the local hospital.
Another view of the hospital.
Our second course was dim sum, which included deep fried dumpling, minced pork inside a steamed noodle, green noodle wrapped around meat, and sweet cake. It was outstanding. We all agreed later that the minced pork was a favorite.
A view of Chinatown.
Texas Street! Ya-hoo!
Our next course was a bitter tea from a shopmaker whose family has brewed the recipe for over 100 years. The tea is not supposed to be delicious and it was not. It is drunk to “restore balance” and health to a person. If it tastes bitter to you, it is doing its job. It definitely did its job on me. In fact, I thought it was going to cause me to toss my cookies. I could only drink a few sips. Greg’s reaction was not as violent, but he did not care for it either. Ploy took pity on Genene and got her a glass of chrysanthemum tea instead.
Our next course was river prawn in lemongrass, Chinese morning glory, and crab dry curry. Greg finally achieved spice heaven (or maybe that’s nirvana) at this stop. The prawn brought sweat to the brow and made our noses run. It was wonderful!
The rainy season has officially begun and it began to pour. We were getting wet between courses. Ploy told us that Ken had been calling her to check on us. He didn’t want us getting wet and sick since we have a lot more vacation. She got us some ponchos from the 7-11. (7-11s are everywhere here.) The rain made it a little more difficult, because we had to walk fast between courses. There’s nothing like getting a full stomach of spices and weird tea and then running in the hot rain. I hope it is restoring “balance” to my universe. At the very least, I hope I don’t gain weight from all the misbehavior.
The last course before dessert was a soup with crispy pork. Ploy told us we could add organ meat if we wanted. Greg asked them to add liver, but I stayed with the crispy pork. It was delicious but by this time, I was on the high side of full and could not do it justice.
We had our choice of ice cream for dessert, and then Ploy tested us by giving a second dessert and asking us to identify the ingredients: it was sesame in hot ginger tea. We could correctly identify ginger, but the sesame tasted like peanut butter to me. We ate the last bite as Ken and the driver pulled up to get us out of the pouring rain. We headed back to our hotel in Bangkok for the last evening. Our bellies were full. Today was an awesome day of adventures that went beyond the things that tourists normally see. We got to eat what real Thai people eat and see how real Thai people live.
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POSTSCRIPT:
It is Wednesday night, and I haven’t written Wednesday’s blog yet so I am already behind. We are heading to an elephant camp tomorrow. Accommodations will be “basic.” Wifi will be non-existent. The blog will be down for a few days. I’ll see you on the other side.
 

 

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