Last Moments in Bangkok
What would you do during your last days in Bangkok? A group of Carolina Southeast Asia Summer Program participants decided to spend those final days in luxury: going to the spa for 2-hour full body Thai massages (only 450 baht, the equivalent of about $16 U.S.), indulging with ice cream sundaes served in cut glass at Swensen’s (109 baht, or a little over $3 U.S.) and treating ourselves to manicures and pedicures (120 baht, or $4 U.S.) at the salon across the street from Mahidol University International College.
Knowing we could never afford such luxury back in the states, we went from one shop to the next, relaxing first with the soft melodies, chrysanthemum tea and back-cracking wonders of the Health Spa. We continued on to Swensen’s, where we enjoyed ice cream sensations, like Chocolate Crunch (a mound of chocolate ice cream, drenched in hot fudge, sprinkled with chocolate chips and Cocoa Puffs and crowned with whipped cream and a chocolate-covered cherry). And then we spent a good hour and a half at the nail salon, picking through sheers and pastels, debating the merits of sparkles and veneers.
But luxury aside, the most special last moments in Bangkok were spent with our new friends from MUIC. We spent our last afternoon at the university taking a cooking class, learning how to make some of our favorite Thai dishes, like Pad Thai (of course), but also mango salad, spring rolls and even how to cut fruit in Thai style, forming cantaloupe into roses and honeydew into leaves. And our new friends were with us, making intricate cuts into pineapple and watermelon and rejoicing and lamenting over each misstep as often as the rest of us.
Two friends in particular have stuck out in my mind, as I’ve returned home to the states. Pin Aramwittaya and Plai Kunjara, our student coordinators in Thailand, showed us around the university and Bangkok and truly made us feel at home in our new surroundings, while immersing us in Thai culture. Twiddling our thumbs with an entire blank Sunday in front of us and no idea what to do in Bangkok? They suggested shopping at the weekend market, told us how to get there and pinpointed particular shops for that perfect tea set for our moms or the best Aladdin pants for our friends (or, more likely, ourselves). Middle of the afternoon with nothing (aside from piles of school work) to do? They suggested taking part in dance and art club activities. Dinnertime, hungry and no idea how to read a Thai menu? They took us across the street to the best restaurants, described dishes, and, ultimately, ordered our meals. All this they did while balancing classes and midterms! (MUIC is on a trimester schedule, so students don’t get out for summer break until August.)
On our final night in Thailand, MUIC took us to Ban Nam Kiang Din, an excellent German restaurant with outside seating, overlooking rolling green lawns and a pond filled with black swans. At first we thought: this is our last night in Thailand. Why are we eating German food? And then we were told that the Thai royalty frequent the restaurant and our anticipation rose. Dishes of sausages, spicy crab meat, grilled bread and seafood fried rice came out on large white china plates, and our questions were silenced mid-gulp, our expectations more than met. We’d expected to feast on all our favorite Thai foods one last time, but I guess that’s why we took the cooking class. After all, when you can dine with royalty, who cares the origin of the cuisine?
Ultimately, that was my big take-away from Thailand: We could schedule activities and expect certain experiences, but ultimately when those initial plans fell through, different experiences — probably better experiences — were enjoyed.
Now that I’m back in the USA, I can even better appreciate the treasures of Thailand. We touched down in New York around lunchtime on Thursday, July 19 with a single mission in mind: to enjoy some good, American food. I ended up at an overpriced restaurant, where I spent $15 on a sandwich and fries. My friend, Lisa Li, quickly reminded me just how much that would have bought in baht: a Thai massage, for instance.
But while I certainly miss the lifestyle I could afford back in Thailand, baht aside, I find myself thinking not so much about how many manicures and pedicures I could afford back in Bangkok (is every week too much?) but rather where I would be and what I’d be doing with my new friends. Half a world away, it’s a question I’ll be asking ‘til our next visit, and whether in the USA or Thailand, I know that we’ll have no trouble finding things to do when we’re together again. Still, my vote is for Thailand. I could really use another massage!
Emily Palmer, a junior global studies and creative writing student from Durham, is an intern for the Carolina Alumni Review. She is blogging for the Review and wants to hear about your can’t-miss experiences while at Carolina.