More Bangkok Observations

The Grand Palace is a tourist attraction living up to the hype – as in yes, it’s worth visiting. Although other temples around Bangkok Old Town have equally impressive golden buddhas and multi-tiered roofs, not to mention fewer Chinese tour groups, their (cheaper) entrance tickets don’t include entry to two museums and a dance show.

I’m not going to describe the Grand Palace. I didn’t learn much about it because, having to pose for or take a photo every two minutes, I couldn’t concentrate on the audio guide. I get grumpy about taking photos at the time, but later want to look at them. While for M, I think the taking of the photos is the most enjoyable thing.

The paintings on the wall of the Emerald Buddha Temple (part of the Grand Palace complex) caught my attention. This two-kilometre-long mural has 178 scenes from the Ranakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic the Ramayana. I’ve seen similar scenes depicted on temples in Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia – but not Vietnam – a Sinophere rather than Indosphere country. The paintings fascinated me – in a boy looking at dragons or dinosaurs and saying “that looks cool” way. Each scene has a QR code that links to an explanation on the official Grand Palace site, unfortunately, the English translations aren’t very good.

Episode 21 was my favourite. Here’s a description of it I adapted from the website:

  1. Dasakanta, a demon king of Lanka City, left his brother-in-law Jivha to take care of the city. After seven days and nights, Jivha had to sleep, so he enlarged his tongue and used it to cover the city thus hiding it from the enemy.  
  1. Dasakanta returned but couldn’t see the city. Thinking the enemy was attacking he threw out the magic weapon ‘Cakra’ to kill the enemy. However, the weapon cut Jivha’s tongue and killed him.

At the palace, the Chinese didn’t arrive in force until we were ready to leave. The tour groups, normally made up of denizens of 3rd and 4th-tier mainland cities, are infamous for invading personal space and shouting while posing for photos. M got more annoyed than me. Because I’ve spent nearly four years in China, I expected this behaviour. Not having been to the Middle Kingdom for nearly a decade, my tolerance was high. I (almost) missed this not-badly intentioned but incredibly inconsiderate behaviour. 

I noticed a few young Chinese women visiting the palace alone. Good to see independent travellers from the Chinese mainland. These women (I don’t recall seeing any solo men) all employed the services of a guide. You wouldn’t want to be alone-alone! Only crazy Westerners do that. With impressive language skills, some guides offered tours in both English and Chinese.

Visiting the Grand Palace was a civilised and cultural start to our holiday. But in the evening I mucked up this good start…

Smoking Marijuana in Thailand in designated cafes is now legal. Are edibles legal? That’s a bit more difficult to figure out. Here is a summary of the relevant laws:

Possession, cultivation, distribution, consumption, and sale of any part of the plant, is now legal.

Extracts containing more than 0.2% THC, which include edibles, food supplements, and cosmetics, are still classified as narcotics.

So, edibles are technically illegal. They’ll sell you them though. Prostitution is illegal too, so go figure. Looking for a different buzz because I wasn’t drinking, I wanted to try some edibles. Neither of us likes smoking. We headed towards Khaosan Road – possibly the world’s most famous backpacker area – to get a SIM card for M. On Khaosan, under the Mcdonald’s there was a basement level of shops selling ganja and related paraphernalia. Several foreigners sat smoking, in what I think twenty years ago was a food court area. Khaosan itself was hardly pumping at five in the evening. I’ve read a lot online lamenting the passing of its golden era. Who knows though, we had to go home early…maybe it turned into party central later on.

After striking out at a few stores that only had buds, we found a place with edibles. I wanted gummies but M said 800 baht for a jar of them was too expensive. The Thai girl working at the shop told us how much THC the various cookies on display contained. She was hard to understand, I’m not disparaging her English – but a mouthful of braces didn’t help her pronunciation. Another problem was our lack of knowledge about how much THC would be a good dose. We bought one small cookie for 150 baht and, at a table in the shop, ate half each. I noted they had a vomiting fee of 200 baht.

We suspected the 150-baht cookie wouldn’t be enough to give us a buzz. On the street, we shopped around for a SIM card. I got a Papaya smoothie and M Lemon juice. The only thing different from my last visit twenty years ago were crocodiles-on-a-spit food carts – the latest gimmick I guess. A sign for a Garden Bar with music ‘not too loud’ caught my middle-aged eye. Tempting but we decided to get a foot massage.

I started to feel funny while they washed our feet. When the massage started, I obsessed over one toenail which stung as the masseur rubbed it – would it get infected and ruin my trip? Then I looked over at M. She smiled at me, her eyes half closed.

“I feel great, we should get another cookie,” she said.

Then I felt it. No euphoria preceded the full-blown anxiety stage. The twenty-minute massage seemed to take forever. ‘Stay in control, stay in control, it’s going to be OK.’ I told myself. After the massage, M asked, “How do you feel?”

“I’m sorry but terrible,” I felt guilty for always being the party pooper.

“It’s going to be OK.”  

“We NEED to get back to the hotel.”


Khaosan Road with its crocodiles was no place to be in this state. We had a twenty-minute walk back to the hotel, a straightforward route, but I feared getting lost. Crossing roads in Thailand is never easy, but with our senses all messed up we almost walked into the path of a truck at least once. A woman sat on the curb – “nuestra amiga” I mumbled. “¿Qué?” M asked. It was the woman we’d met when walking to the Grand Palace in the morning. She’d instructed us to rub a statue of a pig by the side of a canal. 

“Touch for luck. You go Grand Palace? Closed today. Thailand holiday. You wanna go boat ride? Come with me have a look.”

The Grand Palace closed? A very obvious ruse. Then the woman-on-the-curb’s face morphed… No, she wasn’t the boat ride scammer. I was seeing things. M had her own problems. “¡Elote!” A food stall with BBQ’d corn, exactly what she craved. But as she approached, the corn turned out to be squid. Famished, she insisted we stop at the 7-Eleven… I wanted the hotel badly. My thoughts raced, my brain had never worked this hard. Did people notice? What was going to happen to me? Every second I had to calm myself a thousand times. My amygdala was overstimulated like crazy. Looking at sandwiches provoked terror. Rama help me. Even writing this brings a ripple of that anxiety back to me.

“It’s going to be OK,” M said in the hotel room, “I feel bad too though, it’s sooo strong.”

I tried to lie down but thoughts pulsed through me like electric shocks. I paced back and forth for two hours. Poor M, she looked scared. Finally, I could lie down but had trouble swallowing. I couldn’t look at my phone screen to check at the time but that’s a sign of a significant edible overdose. Around five in the morning, survival looking likely, I went to the 7-Eleven to get breakfast.

This wasn’t my first bad experience with edibles. I remember a weekend in Buenos Aires in 2011 when I had zero funds – not an uncommon situation for me in Argentina. A friend of mine lent me twenty pesos so I could go with him and his girlfriend to watch a Beatles cover band. (It occurs to me with a pang of guilt that I never paid him back.) Unaccustomed to going out at night sober and with no money for alcohol, I got a brownie on credit from my flatmate. Despite my flatmate recommending I take half, I ate the whole brownie. During the concert, my friend’s girlfriend kept asking what was wrong with me as I could barely talk. Walking home at one in the morning I felt paranoid about being robbed (not a ridiculous sentiment in a large South American capital). When I got home, I fell asleep quickly and slept twelve hours. So the Buenos Aires experience was one of far less horror. People have suggested to me the Thai cookie was laced, but that doesn’t make much sense.

I didn’t enjoy the trip to Wat Arun the following morning. The sun was too intense and my anxiety remained high. I stayed in the shade while M climbed the temple with the Asian women dressed up for photo shoots. She made a video of our boat ride over the Chao Phraya River. Watching it, I can see the worry and struggle on my face. Expressions we see on the faces of others every day but we can’t feel their inner turmoil. Maybe real empaths can.

The heat and the after-effects of greening out kept us at the hotel pool. Out of the tanned flesh on display, I remember two tall, broad-shouldered brunettes in black bathing suits. They sat on the other side of the pool from us, so I couldn’t hear what language they were speaking (if only they’d been from a third-tier Chinese city their voices would have reached my ears!). They were always there, morning to night. Maybe they’d been in Thailand for weeks and figured staying by the pool trumped heading out into the sauna-like Big Mango.

What about that heat? In April 2023 a heat wave started in Asia. The temperature in Thailand topped 45 degrees for the first time in the city of Tak. On May 6th, Bangkok reached a record 41 degrees. Forest fires and high humidity contributed to these temperatures. When we arrived in late May, daily temperatures peaked at 38, but the ‘real feel’ was as high as 45. On my first trip to Thailand in June 2002, I walked around the Khaosan area after checking into a hostel and then stopped somewhere to drink a 600ml bottle of 6% Chang Beer. The combination of the beer, heat, and feeling delicate from having my wisdom teeth wrenched out a few days before got my head spinning. I had to go back to my cupboard-like room and lie down. After that, I don’t remember having many problems with the heat throughout June and July in Thailand and Vietnam. In 2023, although nearly 45, I was fitter and not being constantly hungover helped my resistance to the heat. However, every step in the oven-like air was energy-sapping. Memory is fallible and one person’s experience isn’t an objective study, but for me, the region had got hotter.

The hot weather was good news for Russia. A heat wave puts pressure on the electricity supply, through an increased need for air conditioning and refrigeration. Also, they’ll be less water to make hydroelectricity. Europe had been shunning Russian energy due to the war in Ukraine. But now Southeast Asia needed it.

The second morning after the green out, we went to a free yoga class on the roof of the adjacent hotel. This helped our recovery. The teacher was a hippie from South Africa, her tattoos thankfully minimal. She wore an unbuttoned white shirt over a bikini top. A more relaxed look from the lycra-clad, musclebound teachers at our gym in NZ. The positions and her instructions were much the same though. We stuck to the 7-Eleven for lunch and a Western-style restaurant for dinner. On day one we’d gone to the local morning market and got minced pork, rice and a fried egg from a street stall run by a Cambodian woman thrilled to have foreign customers. But since then M had seen a few rats and street vendors washing dishes in low tubs on the curbside. Bangkok sure has a lot of rats and the smell of sewage is prominent. I’d hate to see the city with its skin stripped off. It’d be a scene of putrefaction from a Daliesque nightmare – a boiling crisscross of rodent and plastic-bag-filled sewers. It was time to get away from Bangkok, to somewhere smaller and hopefully cooler.

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