I write this from an internet cafe in Chiang Mai, while next to me a young Buddhist monk in orange robes is busily updating his Facebook status.
That to me says a lot about the kind of place Thailand is.
Thais are such an easy-going and friendly people that it's hard to imagine how country has been riven with violent political protests of late, or how police corruption is such an enormous problem. But that peaceful nature is clearly a must when dealing with Bangkok's notorious traffic. Apparently it's no longer the worst in SE Asia - Jakarta has claimed first prize there - but that says more about what's wrong with Jakarta rather than Bangkok getting any better. Jakarta's public transport system is still barely a notch above dysfunctional, and Bangkok's is outstanding as developing countries go.
I ducked into a pharmacy in Bangkok's mammoth Mah Boon Krong (MBK) shopping centre the other day as I needed to buy some moisturizing cream. (I like my skin to be baby smooth, okay? Don't judge me.) However, it was almost impossible to find any product that didn't trumpet it's "whitening" property as it's greatest asset. I'm quite white enough already, thank you. It's sad that this sort of thing is endemic throughout Asia. The beauty of Thai women is well-known around the world, and despite what most Thais probably think, I'm guessing that having a slightly tanned complexion is part of the reason.
I've written before about Thai names and how they just happen to sound very rude or funny when written down and read by English speakers. I won't add too much to what I've said before, but I'll just mention a few random place names: Gaysorn Plaza, Chong Nonsi, On Nut, and Udom Suk. Oh and let's not forget Anusarn Market.
One thing you may not know is that Bangkok has one of the largest Sikh communities in the world - they make up the vast majority of the 105,000 Indians resident in this city, and most have dual Thai-Indian citizenship. It was this community that brought me to Thailand to celebrate the 4-day wedding of Punjabi friends (he's from Bangkok, she's from Kuala Lumpur). Ending the celebrations by driving off in a "Just married" tuk-tuk was a brilliant touch.
I'm quite conflicted about the multitude of white guy - Thai girl couples that I see everywhere in Bangkok. On one hand, I try not to judge people too much since I don't know them - if I had a SE Asian girlfriend and we went to Thailand together, I'm sure people would look at us in a certain way, and I don't want to leap to conclusions. On the other hand, something about it just creeps me out. On the other hand (I have a lot of hands), if both parties are getting some mutual benefit out of it, then maybe that's a good thing. Then again, there are a helluva lot of victims of many Western men's view of Bangkok as a place to come and satisfy their less saintly urges, and many don't really have a say in their fate.
What bars (both cool and creepy) are to Bangkok, coffee shops are to Chiang Mai. They are everywhere, all with espresso machines and free wi-fi. While this could imply that northern Thais are a bunch of latte-sipping, facebook status-updating yuppies, it's probably more likely that it reflects the different breed of tourist that arrives in Chiang Mai as opposed to Bangkok. Most of them wear fisherman pants.
Speaking of coffee, order a cappuccino in Chiang Mai and odds are it will be dusted not with chocolate but with cinnamon. Which is actually an improvement, to my tastes. But the real coffee to try is kopi boran, meaning "ancient coffee". It's not that ancient really, but appears to be what Thais call any coffee that's neither espresso-machine-based nor Nescafe instant. Kopi boran is usually filtered through what looks like a large sock, and will probably be served with condensed milk unless you ask otherwise. I really like the muddy brew, but then again I tend to like condensed milk in things.
The Dome hotel in Chiang Mai has a ginger cat that rides the elevators like it ain't no thang. That's not necessarily a reason to stay there, but I just thought it was awesome. Like most cats, it has a major sense of entitlement.