25 October 2013


Waking up on my birthday, I knew three things:

1.       Saturday was going to be a good day
2.       Paul was on his way to Bangkok
3.       The fact that I was waking up in Bangkok on my birthday was a great start to a brand new, amazing year

Megan’s sister, Danielle, joined me overnight. Danielle lives in Seattle and was, lucky for us, doing some work around Asia. She had a free weekend so she decided to pop down and spend a couple days with us; we were thrilled.

Danielle and I at Chatuchak

We spent the better part of the late night getting reacquainted and catching up on things that had happened since we last saw each other, even though we knew we needed to sleep because Saturday was going to be a long day.

Danielle and I wandered down to breakfast a little late – we needed a little extra time – where we met Megan and Troy and began to plot out our day. We had three things to accomplish. First, we needed to find the Chatuchak Market where almost anything can be found. Second, Troy needed to be at his fitting for 3 p.m. and I needed to switch hotels since Paul and his crew were booked down the road. Third, we needed to make our 7 p.m. dinner reservation at a place called Nahm.

Though we left the hotel a little later than Troy would have liked, we made it to the market quite easily and had several good shopping and wandering hours ahead. When we first entered the market, I was taken aback by the store quality housed in front of me. I was expecting an open-air, dirt floor, cheap table setup with lots of older ladies pawning cheap goods.

This place looked more like a second world Easton Shopping Center. There were actual walls, doors, windows and, in some shops, changing areas. These were real stores. With real stores came real prices and we quickly came to realize that not everything was negotiable.

As we wandered out into the street (more for walking than driving, though there were a few cars), the market began to unfold into more of what I was originally expecting. The shops were a bit flimsy but they were under cover and provided a lot of quality goods. The ground was earth and the pathways between the lines of stalls was narrow. Some shop owners would allow us to haggle or bundle goods for cheaper prices; some would not.

I went into the market looking for gifts and came out with a couple, and a few other items for myself. I ended up buying some really thin printed cotton drawstring pants for those lazy PNG days and a really cute sleeveless one-piece shorts jumper that I wore to dinner that evening. I was also able to find two really cool gifts for my best friend’s baby’s nursery. Awesome.

Once we had had enough of the market (and believe me, I had had enough), Danielle and I headed back to the Sheraton while Troy and Megan went back to Tailor on Ten. Once Danielle and I were finally settled at the hotel, we popped a bottle of champagne kindly provided by Nic and Duncan and had a glass or two before I moved on.

Getting to the hotel took a little longer than anticipated and neither the desk clerk nor I realized that Paul had already checked in. After 15 minutes at the desk, the representative called Paul and sought permission for me to ascend to the 17th floor. Thankfully, he let me up.

While I awaited the elevator, I wanted to melt where I stood as I glanced over at the sound of beautiful music and, to my amazement, saw a man playing the violin in the entryway of what I assumed to be a restaurant. If I were not running very close to being late for dinner, I would have stood there for an hour. I had officially arrived at the Shangri-La.

I arrived in the room around 6:40; Paul had already showered but was not quite ready. I rushed around and was finally ready to catch a cab seven minutes after our reservation time. I didn’t think we would be too late – Google said we had a four-minute cab ride. Instead, it took 20 minutes and we were a full half hour late for my own birthday dinner.

Troy, Danielle, Paul, Rachael, Megan

The five of us ordered drinks, appetizers and main courses, saving room for the ever-important birthday dessert. Nahm is one of the top-rated Thai restaurants in Bangkok and came highly recommended. Nic, Duncan, Troy and Megan are huge fans of Thai food so I knew they would love it. Paul and I, on the other hand, had our reservations, for differing reasons.

Paul most of the time simply doesn’t know what to order. Growing up in Northeast Ohio, he only knows Greek food, Italian food and takeout American Chinese food that he only discovered after his girlfriend at the time (yeah, it was I) insisted that he get over his fear and just eat the goodness inside the carton. He knows what he likes but he doesn’t know what he would like when presented with alternative choices that have funny names.

I have two problems named chili and pepper. I have the weakest taste buds on the planet. I can taste spice where there is no spice – extremely tame will burn my mouth and I am so not kidding. When I order, I avoid chili, sambal and anything with a lot of pepper (that includes Singapore’s famous chili crab and black pepper crab).

We reviewed the menu and made our selections. I thought my dishes were spicy (even, again, after the waiter insisted that they were not), but Paul’s were on a whole ‘nother planet. Even Troy admitted that Paul’s starter, some sort of soup, might have been too hot to handle. Funny enough, Paul’s main course came with a side of the same spice used in his soup.

Troy was sweating while eating his dish but the kicker went to Megan who bit into something she thought was a tame vegetable and instead was surprised to the point of choking when she realized she had actually bitten into and eaten a whole pepper. She nearly died – mostly of laughter, and then of the incredible hotness. Danielle was laughing harder than Megan.

Satisfied with our meal, we decided not to order dessert. We instead wandered over to the Banyan Tree hotel next door and enjoyed chocolate brownies and ice cream sundaes topped with cookies. They sang the birthday song a little too loudly for comfort but it was really nice. I was thrilled for such a great day.

I was also thrilled to go back to the Shangri-La, an amazing, amazing place to spend my birthday. When I awoke the next morning I told Paul that I did not feel pretty enough to be in that room. It. Was. Beautiful.

The ceilings were soffited, there were dark woods, a beautiful, comfy bed. The bathroom was marble with a glass shower and separate bath tub in which I would have loved to have had time to soak. Instead, I went to yet another breakfast buffet with Paul and then watched him leave with his crew as they flew on to Israel.

My flight was later in the evening and it appeared that I had time for one more little adventure before I departed. I sought Trip Advisor for something exciting near the hotel and I found a place with a familiar name – the Jim Thompson House. I had only recently discovered Jim Thompson due to a shop in the Sheraton hotel with beautiful bags, scarves, ties and dining accessories that immediately caught my eye. Because the shop was closed when we first arrived, I Googled the name to see just how expensive the bags might be.

I learned that the Jim Thompson company produced silks and, without reading too much, knew that I should check out the shop when it was open. To my surprise, while I was perusing the merchandise, Megan, Troy and Danielle arrived loudly singing the birthday song (the first time that day), with a Jim Thompson gift bag in hand. Megan knew that one of the elephant bags had caught my eye, so she went ahead and purchased one without me knowing! I was thrilled and completely surprised. She made my bag choice easy.

So, on Sunday, when I saw the Jim Thompson House as an attraction, I felt a twinge of interest so I decided to read a little blurb about this American man who had served in the military and settled in Bangkok. In the late 1950s he built a home by the river after a career in architecture, army services, the old-school CIA and as a silk tradesman. Time magazine reportedly stated that Thompson nearly single handedly saved Thailand’s silk industry. He loved the Thai people and lifestyle and became the sort of expat who really becomes a funny-looking local.

Then, in 1967 while visiting a friend, he walked into the jungle and never returned. Google his story; it’s an interesting read. Some say he was kidnapped; I think the CIA may have had something to do with it. After a year the manager of Thompson’s estate petitioned the local government to protect the site which now boasts tours of his home, an art gallery and a museum.

He collected art from all over Asia and incorporated Thai traditions like a riverfront entrance, a spirit house and several Buddhist pieces into his home. Inside we were not permitted to take any photos but I can tell you that the teak house was strong, dark, open and the furniture reflected a masculine opulence.

Large, thick, dark tables and bed platforms were prevalent around the home but the detail on each of the pieces, either carved into the wood or etched in jewel tones, was spectacular. Old china pieces were preserved and displayed in cases; some of the art dated back centuries.

Anyone familiar with Jim’s story might like a visit but I wouldn’t say that the trip is a must see. I was hoping to learn more about Jim and the silk industry but the tour mostly just featured the home and the art housed inside. Art collectors, by the way, will love this house.

After my tour I headed back to the hotel to shower and pack. Within the hour, I was on my way to the airport where I encountered something I never expected.

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