The late Spalding Gray in his book Swimming to Cambodia wrote of finding the “perfect moment”. A precise moment in time when nothing else exists,you are just in that moment. Gray found his, somewhat understandably, on a beach in Thailand.
At first glance I just couldn’t imagine Bangkok, a sprawling city of heat and chaos, as being the kind of place where I would find my own “perfect moment”. But I soon discovered that if you’re prepared to accept it for what it is, for all the good,the bad, and the downright ugly, then your efforts will be rewarded. A “perfect moment”may not come as you stand amongst the gleaming spires of The Grand Palace, or as you gaze up in awe at the serene beauty of the huge reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. It sort of sneaks up on you when you least expect it. A full red coloured moon at dusk rising above corrugated rooftops. Or the sight, and unbelievable sound, of a longtailed boat as it blasts it’s way along the Chao Phraya River with The Temple of Dawn as a backdrop. The traditional Thai dancers at the hectic Erewan Shrine. In a swirl of incense they make merit for worshippers amidst the crowds, especially on lottery day, as the traffic roars and skytrains glide by overhead. From atop The Golden Mount Temple i watched a storm sweep across the city at dawn. Lightning seemed to crackle in the air as thunder rolled all around. I’d like to say i was up early for that but in truth i had’nt yet been to bed. Time can slip away from you in a city like Bangkok. It will wrap itself around you if you let it. There’s a real energy you can feel. All you have to do is get out there whatever your budget. A “perfect moment” is priceless anyway.
Lose yourself in Chinatown where open fronted shops spill out into a maze of narrow alleyways and where shopkeepers still use the abacus to calculate with. Take the skytrain to the end of the line at Mor Chit and wander around the chaotic Chatuchak Weekend Market. You could probably find anything you want here but I found that you need more than a weekend to find it. I dined out, as Thai’s seem to do continuosly, at busy street food stalls where you can watch the world go by as amazing dishes materialize from boiling pots and flaming pans. Patpong Road no longer makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Bartering for fake goods in the bustling night market is all part of the fun, though some hard bargaining is required for a good deal. While there I looked in at Radio City Bar. As if to continue the theme of fake goods the Thai Elvis, and Tom Jones, sang for the price of a Singha Beer. The excellent house band ensured that things were not taken too seriously, though I had already guessed that from the large pair of knickers hanging from Tom’s mike stand.
If I had to choose I would probably say that The Chao Phraya River was what I enjoyed most about Bangkok. Whether I was overlooking it from one of many riverside restaurants, or on it in a boat, it was always fascinating to watch the ever changing scene. The skytrain ties up nicely with the public express boat service. Picking up a boat at the floating pier, under Thaksin Bridge, I took the trip up to Nonthaburi which gave a close up view of life on this working river. From five star hotels,to temples that glint in the sunlight, to tumble down houses where kids dive into it’s murky waters and still wave at farangs (westerners) who venture that far. You can charter a longtailed boat (fix the price first) and explore the canals. Take a cocktail cruise at sunset on a converted rice barge, or an evening dinner cruise and see the river by night. If you’re feeling energetic enough you can even attend an aerobics class alongside the river in the park at Phra Sumane Fort in Banglumpoo every evening at six o’clock. But for one of the best views of the river, and the city itself, has to be from The State Tower. Stepping out from it’s golden dome into the warm breeze on the sixty fourth floor is truly breathtaking. The Sky Bar appears to be perched, rather than built, on to a far corner of the building. Reached by descending a grand stairway I stood at the circular bar and realized that there was nothing between me and the ground way below except for a thin sheet of glass about a meter high. At sunset the river reflected the sky that had slowly turned to the colour of my Mai Tai cocktail. A red river now wound it’s way through this incredible place. As city lights began to come on all around, stretching out to the far horizon, I realized then that I had found my “perfect moment”. You can’t predict when it will come, but from here you will certainly increase your chances.