We’re back in Bangkok. In some ways it reminds me of New York — frenetic pace and traffic, glutton-inducing parade of food and shopping, squalor and opulence. And just when you think you’re in another westernized city, an elephant rounds the corner.
This time we’re not infirm, and have done some proper sightseeing. We visited the Vimanmek Teakwood Mansion, the largest teakwood mansion in the world, although how many other teakwood mansions do you know of? It was occupied by the royal family for five years early in the 20th century I think, then was a storehouse for many years before restoration. It’s a really lovely Victorian building that combines Western and Thai styles, with airy latticework and high ceilings for ventilation. It’s L-shaped and centered around octagonal rooms. And the colors are great too — muted tropical colors separate the mansion into suites — pink, blue, green, violet, etc. And the mansion contains what is possibly the first bathtub in the land. No photos were allowed inside.
We also saw the National Assembly, which was built entirely in Italian Renaissance style.
The next day, we enjoyed meeting Nalin, a friend of a friend, and Bangkok native. We chatted with her over lunch at a Grayhound Cafe.
Grayhound and Homework restaurants are local cafes with sleek modern design and good food. They’re owned by a Bangkok designer who also has some Grayhound clothing stores — he’s a prominent member of the design community here. At a mall, I noticed a Grayhound and Friends store, a kind of hip little store with electronic music, selling what looked like copyright violation of Disney characters — characters deconstructed and sliced up on the clothes. On closer inspection, it looks like the clothes are actually a collaboration between Grayhound and Disney. Disney should do this in the US to improve its street cred.
I asked Nalin for a hair salon recommendation. Coincidentally, her stylist’s salon was nearby, and had an open appointment — she kindly drove us there. The stylist was sporting medium-length permed hair and some loose, semi-transparent white pants with visible Speedos. He spent about three hours carefully crafting my cut and color, while poor Jason had to wander around the neighborhood. I was ultimately really pleased with the result. This has been my second salon experience in Asia, with the first being in Istanbul, and Jason got a haircut in Vietnam. Perhaps this is the start of a haircuts around the world theme.
That particular Grayhound Cafe and the hairstylist are located off Sukhomvit Road. Sukhomvit is a long busy commercial street outside central Bangkok. There are many sois, or side streets off Sukhomvit. I get the sense a lot of more contemporary office buildings and businesses are in these neighborhoods. We also noticed a lot of upscale stores and housing developments in the area. Visiting this area has given us a sense of how the educated young work-force of Bangkok lives. This is the neighborhood we stayed in during our first stop in Bangkok, when we walked through the interior design district.
The area we’re staying in now is Banglampoo. It’s the oldest part of town, and has some hip businesses and nightlife, and seems to be a fashionable place to live. And it’s also a seedy tourist haven. It’s quite close to a lot of the sights than Sukhomvit, and has the amenities we need, like a fairly livable guest house for twenty dollars a night. Not to mention low value, high quality tailoring…