Posts Tagged ‘asia’
You can treat yourself to a really nice hotel, to great restaurants and all sorts of other luxurious indulgences that won’t bust your vacation budget.
Of course, one of the big things here in Thailand are massages.
Wherever you go, you’ll hear someone asking “Mister, want massage?”
And depending on the neighbourhood, you can get a massage for just about any part of your body that you can imagine…
But that whole scene is actually pretty depressing and not what I’d want to support in Thailand.
Taking a Takashi in Thailand
What I tried instead, was something a little more sophisticated: a Takashi facial massage.
And they have great opening bargains that I just couldn’t pass by…
The equivalent of six Euros bought me 45 minutes of what it must feel like to be Brad Pitt. Or Madonna. Or whoever else regularly has their face cleansed, creamed and caressed professionally.
According to the Takashi flier, the treatment I got consisted of
- Complete cleansing
- Steaming / removing blackheads and impurities
- Massage in Takashi style
- Nourishing treatment
I have no idea whether all of these were actually performed on me because I had my eyes closed and just gave in to the pampering. Whatever it all was, it was very enjoyable.
I don’t know if that’s always part of the deal.
But my suspicion was that the lady may have found the fact interesting that I have a beard and most of her Asian customers don’t.
Generally speaking, I was extremely surprised how many men were in that place getting facial treatments.
From what I could see, most of them were just average guys. Sort of like “Joe the Plumber” enjoying a facial massage.
I guess we guys have come a long way since the days of Old Spice and Aqua Velva.
Lunch at a royal palace is something pretty unusual for me. But on my last day in Bangkok, Dusit Palace is really where I had my lunch.
O.K. – so it wasn’t exactly a 15 course state lunch with the Royals at one of the palace’s banquet halls. It was a modest snack at a nice little restaurant next to the Moorish-looking Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.
The place caters mainly to the employees working in the different museums housed in the palace complex.
But still: for me, eating at this little restaurant was lunch at Dusit Palace! Sitting there on the restaurant’s porch, looking out into the lush royal gardens, I felt just a little blue-blooded.
I didn’t even mind that Thailand’s King Bhumibol hasn’t been seen at this palace for ages. I still enjoyed my lunch – even without him.
Caught in the rain
The pouring rain forced me to sit under the roof of that porch much longer than I’d planned. There was just no getting away without getting totally soaked.
After almost an hour of torrential rain, the palace gardens, the paths and roads were ankle-deep under water. The earth and the gutters just couldn’t absorb that much water in such a short time.
Should the Thai king, by any chance, ever visit Dusit Palace and suddenly get hungry, I could definitely recommend this little restaurant.
He should just make sure he doesn’t go to the big tourist eating joint at the main entrance – that has absolutely no charm whatsoever.
But at this small place next to Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, he’d be able to chat with the locals, meet his staff, so to speak. I could recommend the rice with prawn with chilies and hot basil leaves stir fry. At 85 Thai Baht (1,65 Euro or 2.60 US Dollars), this dish wouldn’t even leave a dent in his the royal budget.
And when the waitress brought my change, I realized that King Bhumibol was there with me after all…
Taking a taxi in Thailand isn’t easy if you’re a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language. This morning, I wanted to take a taxi to Vimanmek Mansion for some sightseeing.
The place was recommended in Thai Airways’ in-flight magazine as one of the lesser-known, yet worth-while sights in Bangkok. “Famous as the world’s largest teakwood building, Vimanmek Mansion is set in spacious green gardens…” it said in the magazine. Reason enough for me to go there.
Off the beaten track…
The first taxi I got into didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I told him I wanted to go to Vimanmek Mansion. I showed him the page from the Thai Airways magazine, which I’d cleverly torn our and saved, but that didn’t help either.
My taxi driver couldn’t read the name Vimanmek because the Thais have a different alphabet. And the picture in the text didn’t look like anything he recognized.
So after some shrugging, smiling and friendly explanations (I presume) in Thai, he pulled over and let me out of his car.
In the next taxi, things got off to a familiar start. This time, however, the driver called someone on his cell phone and then handed it to me.
I guess the person on the other end was supposed to be able to understand me and then explain to the driver where I wanted to go.
So in the friendliest and most arti-cu-la-ted way I could, I told the person on the other end: “I would like to go to Vimanmek Mansion.”
I heard a click and the line went dead.
But my taxi driver had his heart set on getting me to my destination, so he made another call. Again, he gave me the phone and once again, I tried to explain what I wanted to the stranger on the other end “Vimanmek Mansion. I want to go to Vimanmek Mansion.”
But I just got passed on to someone else. “Vimanmek Mansion. I would like to go to Vimanmek,” I told him, but his response in Thai was beyond me. “Vimanmek. I want to go to Vimanmek,” I said one more time. He hung up.
Frustration turns to puzzlement
I was almost ready to get out of the taxi in the hope that another driver might know this place, but my driver had already pulled up to a hotel and gotten the attention of the livered employee standing in front of it.
I can only guess that what he then said must have been something like: “Oh, you want to go to Vimanmek! Why didn’t you just say so? Vimanmek Mansion, ha ha, Vimanmek Mansion!”
But wasn’t that what I’d said all along?
I still haven’t figured out why episodes like this one happen so often when Westerners try to pronounce Asian words.
It’s always the same story: The Asians we address just look at us as though we’re speaking gibberish. We try to say the word again and again, until finally someone understands what we’re trying to say.
And then they repeat what we’ve said just the way we’ve said it (at least it always seems that way to me). But to our Asian counterparts, the way we said it must have been absolutely incomprehensible.
Maybe it’s the tonal thing – that we Westerners just can’t get the tonality of the words right. All we hear is the pronunciation, not the pitch or melody of the word.
By the way: if you’re ever in Bangkok and thinking about visiting Vimanmek Mansion, go! It’s worth it.
But you may want to ask a Thai to write it down for you in Thai script before you get on a taxi.
Universities in Thailand are going to offer separate dorms and restrooms for male cross-dressers and trans-gender students. At least that’s what the country’s DAILY XPRESS reports in an article this weekend.
Male cross-dressers have long had problems using lavatories: fellow students do not welcome them in either men’s or women’s facilities.
The paper quotes the Thai Deputy Minister of Education, Boonlue Prasertsopha, as saying that the schools will also change rules, allowing these students to attend classes in women’s clothing.
According to a ministry study, more cross-dressing and transgender students are attending universities in Thailand. The largest enrolments are found in Chiang Mai, in the North of the country, and in Khon Kaen and Prince of Songkhla Universities.
Paving the way for tolerance
Although this whole story may seem somewhat bizzare or amusing at first sight, it’s really astounding testimony to Thai tolerance. It’s amazing how alternative lifestyles are gaining acceptance in this country.
There’s even an annual “Miss Tiffany’s” beauty peagant for cross-dressers and transgenders. It’s broadcast live on national television. Some 15 million Thais are said to tune in to watch the show.
Another story published in another Thai paper this weekend also reports about an interesting development in the field of university education: students will be able to learn the traditional art of kick-boxing at some Thai universities.
I hope there’s no connection between these two stories.
The sad thing is that this doesn’t work at airports abroad, where I often have long waits for connecting flights.
If I wanted to get into a business lounge in Bangkok, Hanoi or Beijing without actually having booked a business flight, I’d have to have a gold card – unfortunately, my frequent traveller card is just silver.
Always hoping to get lucky
Nevertheless, I always try to get into the lounges with my silver card, hoping that somewhere, some time the locals might not know or care and just let me sit in those plush chairs and enjoy the free booze they serve in business lounges…
When I got to the lounge at the airport in an unnamed Asian city today, I was the only guest. The lady at the reception politely informed me that my silver card wasn’t enough to enter the lounge. As if I hadn’t known…
I thought that sounded like a good idea since I had more than one and a half hours to kill before my plane was due to depart.
The supervisor suggested I pay fifteen US Dollars.
That’s a sizeable sum in this unnamed Asian country.
After I gave her the cash, she happily put it into her wallet. Or was it the company wallet? Anyway: there were no witnesses. And I didn’t get a receipt.
Am I being too suspicious?
So let’s think of a more positive version of this episode. Who am I to suspect these people of any wrongdoing anyway?!
Let’s just look at this story from another point of view: the lady bent the rules to make my last hour in her country as pleasant as possible. She was friendly and helpful.
And for me it was nice to sit in a cushy chair and have access to the internet, instead of having to sit on the metal chairs in the general waiting area at the flight gate.
And who really cares about the fifteen bucks…
But – oh – the food! The food is absolutely scrumptious!
And the best thing is that they only serve one dish. So you won’t be spending hours studying the menu, trying to decide what to get.
At Cha Ca La Vong, there’s only “Cha Ca” – the signature fish dish. It’s so popular that it’s even lent its name to the street that the restaurant is on.
Know where to look, or you’ll walk right by it
Cha Ca La Vong has been run by the same family for generations. It’s located in a rickety old house in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. There’s no flashy sign, no line of people, no attractive exterior that’ll draw you to this traditional restaurant.
If you aren’t aware of what’s inside this shabby house, you’ll never notice it or think of going in.
Luckily, a friend had told me about it, so we stepped inside, climbed up the narrow wooden stairs to the left of the entrance, and made our way to the first floor.
Upstairs, one of the waiters showed us to our seats and placed a little laminated card in front of us. It told us that the only dish at this restaurant – Cha Ca – would cost us 90 000 Vietnamese Dong each – roughly € 3,50 or about $ 5,00.
After we’d managed to communicate that that price was just within our financial limits, we were on.
You’ve got to know how to Cha Ca
In addition, we got some cold rice noodles in a bowl, some peanuts, a small plate with dill and Vietnamese herbs and a bowl with spring onions.
Unfortunately, we were clueless as to what should happen next: Should we take the frying pan off the grill at some point? Or should we also put the noodles and peanuts into the pan?
No, no, our waiter signalled, and demonstrated how it’s done: you put some of the cold rice noodles in your bowl, add some pieces of fried fish from the pan, sprinkle with some peanuts and add the fresh herbs.
“This is the best dinner we’ve had in Vietnam”, my friend said.
I think it didn’t take us longer than fifteen minutes to clear that pan.
If you can’t stand the heat, don’t order the Cha Ca
But as soon we were no longer busy chowing down, we suddenly became aware of the fact that there was this extremely hot grill sitting right in front of us on our table. A grill with burning charcoal and a pan full of hot oil. A grill on a wooden table, in a wooden house, in the middle of the maze that is Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
We felt pretty relieved when the waiter finally took away that charcoal grill and just left us with our beers. And the bill…
A few days ago, I discussed with a German and an American friend what our preconceptions of Vietnam had been before we first came here. What did we expect to find here? What did we think the country would be like?
And, more important still, what was the biggest surprise for us when we arrived in Vietnam?
That’s obvious, one of us said, we’ll all be answering that question in the same way.
But as it turned out, the three of us were all surprised by different things in Vietnam.
Picture postcard views
One of us hadn’t anticipated the fact that people here were still wear conical hats. And that they still carry heavy loads in baskets balanced on a wooden board carried on one shoulder, which makes the whole contraption look like an old scale.
But even though the hats and the carrying devices look like they are straight out of a brochure published by the Vietnam tourism board, they’re not. They are still a very common sight all over the country.
Where to eat? The sidewalk!
My other friend hadn’t expected to find all the city sidewalks crowded with people eating. As a matter of fact, the sidewalk food vendors are where the Vietnamese have many of their meals. They sit on little plastic stools around makeshift tables and eat in the countless sidewalk restaurants. There’s one every few meters.
As a pedestrian who’s trying to make his way along the city sidewalks, you feel like the whole town is one big open-air restaurant. You constantly have to weasel your way around the tables and the eating people. And you’re constantly stepping on chicken bones, fish heads or other things the sidewalk eaters have discarded…
They call it “Creative Driving”
Asked about what surprised him most in Vietnam, my other friend immediately said: the traffic. Indeed, the way the Vietnamese drive is pretty unique.
No one who owns a set of wheels cares about red lights or traffic rules. And I’ve never seen this many motorbikes on the streets anywhere else in the world.
Bigger is better
The general traffic rule in Vietnam is: the bigger your vehicle, the more rights you have. Drivers of cars almost always feel like they have the right of way. They feel safe and secure in their vehicles – so if you’re a pedestrian trying to cross the street, you’d better get out of the way – even if your light is green and that for the cars is red.
Drivers of motorbikes, on the other hand, are even harder to predict in city traffic: they’re fast and can manoeuvre easily between the cars and bicycles. They’ll take any chance that presents itself to get a few inches ahead – in front of the other drivers. The result is chaos.
In the narrow city streets, the result is often a deadlock. Oncoming cars get squeezed in by motorbikes and blocked by other cars or scooters who want to go the other way. No one is able to move forward any more, but no one’s willing to back up a little to resolve the deadlock either.
Oh, and don’t expect the motorbike drivers to stop at red lights either. The only thing that will make them stop at a light is if there’s massive traffic crossing their path. But the most daring drivers will even risk their lives cutting through those.
If you’re a pedestrian trying to cross the street and you see a horde of motorbike drivers coming at you, the best thing to do is to pretend you didn’t notice them and keep walking at a steady pace. They’ll calculate how fast you’re walking and try to avoid hitting you. Usually they’re pretty good at just barely scraping by…
And finally, the most vulnerable
The third group on Vietnamese streets is the one that causes others the least problems: people riding their bicycles. Unfortunately, their numbers seem to be dwindling.
Whether that’s because more people are turning to motorised vehicles as the population gets richer, or because more bicyclists are getting run over and killed, I don’t know. But it’s sad.