30 hours - Bangkok

30 hours on the clock. Standing in Bangkok airport, waiting. A quickly filling memory card, blistered feet and one pair of impractical flip flops, an Iphone metaphorically set to count down. A delayed internal flight, a long wait for baggage. Tactical discussions in the taxi on covering as much ground as possible, a reconnaissance of Bangkok's sprawling metropolis. The traffic moved in stops and starts, freeways and flyovers criss crossing as if an ambitious kid's lego creations; sharp edged high rises sprouted like thickets of concrete and steel along the road. A place that was the very defintion of urban - fast moving, dynamic, slightly harsh, ever evolving. 

The Chatrium was tucked away in the leafy Riverside district of Bangkok, a cell of calm inside a growing, pulsing body. The hotel was fronted by quiet bamboo gardens and paths flanked by white stones, green fountains and granite edging. I have a thing for a design hotel and floor-to-ceiling glass facades with sharp lines make my heart flutter. I liked what I was seeing. Inside were high ceilings, a slick lobby and slightly dark, cushy rooms big enough to live in. There was a balcony framed by thick curtains, with views over the Chao Phraya river and the roof tops, more high rises piercing the blue-gray sky, the overlapping flyovers a tangled rope in the distance. We left soon, ever conscious of ticking clocks, to wander in the neighborhood. Layla had stayed at the hotel years ago for a sports tournament and had fond memories of the area, for good reason. There were hundreds of narrow shops with red and gold lanterns strung to tiled ceilings, swaying in the evening breeze. Each one was a 'mom and pop' store of some kind - local tailors, hardware outfits, metal forges, fruit sellers, lantern makers, a garage, a speciality noodle place. Kids sat at rickety plastic tables, still in uniform, slurping thin noodles from steaming bowls of spicy broth as their grandparents lay on fraying sofas watching Thai soaps and their parents endlessly swept the storefronts. Commuters, walking from place to place would bow their heads at delicate shrines decorated; in memory of the king, the bell on the door of the local 7-11 never stopped ringing. Hawker owners fed the stray animals and school girls popped in and out of buses on their own, we stumbled across temples hidden in dilapidated courtyards and passed only one other tourist.

I thought of dad a lot, because of the river and the boats. I was surprised - the Chao Phraya is like an artery, flowing, keeping the city alive. We stood on the Chatrium's private jetty, waiting for the hotel boat to take us to the public pier a few blocks down, and it was a throwback to Rotterdam, dad's hometown. The working river with its tugboats, barges, the slightly industrial veneer, the scruffy sailors and their dogs, the quietly competent boatmen who steered us alongside a containership. I liked Bangkok already. Alongside the grit was - glamour, maybe, and a slightly rogue edge. Bangkok would be the one who managed to bluff their way into a super expensive, exclusive club they could never actually afford - and take the party by a storm. There was electricity, everywhere, and there was no way I'd be in bed on time tonight.

14 hours. A riverside breakfast, eating papaya, watching fish jump in the murky water of the Chao Phraya. Little birds flitted among the tables, out of the hotel's bamboo garden. Messengers, telling us to hurry, this day would wait for no one. We drew up our battle plans and studied the terrain, jumped onto the Chatrium's boat, climbed up to the metro station. The trains were futuristic pods, running entirely on tracks elevated above the city. They were crammed with daily commuters, men in suits and pretty women with perfect manicures and nice dresses, a handful of other tourists who looked, as I did, shamefully shabby in comparison. I felt even scruffier in the shiny malls around Siam Square, each tiled with wide, white marble slats. At Siam Paragon - the most instagrammed place on earth - the entire top floor was dedicated to sports cars. You could not help but stand and gawk as you came off the escalator and stood face to face with a shining black Lamborghini; next to an Aston Martin Store, across from the Rolls Royce store... there was a Mini, too, which made my car at home seem like a budget option. When London tried these stunts with super expensive cars, it just felt... pretentious. Bangkok pulled the enterprise off with natural flair.

10 hours, and nowhere near enough. The sweaty, pulsing streets beckoned and we abandoned the sports cars for the roads crowded with tuck tucks and motorbike taxis, lined by hawkers selling every type of noodle imaginable. There were fewer other foreign faces, the more you wandered, and the few you did see were hustling, like us, covering ground without skimming over it. A stopover destination in a city that was already constantly moving, echoing with the footsteps of its own people and visitors.

We lost the afternoon somehow. In the maze of streets where we wandered for the obligatory Chang beer t-shirt, at the stall where we bought a mango for under a quarter of a dollar and the lady threw in a second for free. Waiting at the pier for a boat back to the hotel, watching a man who looked like he was barely scraping through feed the remainders of his own dinner to a local stray, and the dog lay his head on the man's hand. Sitting on the boat alongside some school kids, who seemed to use the hotel boats as shuttles from place to place.  Again we looked for sleaze, found nothing, it had either headed underground or been concentrated into tiny pockets that were far out of the way. I was charmed by the Thai culture; the courtesy and respect they had for their own people. Taxi drivers bowed to the staff in highway toll booths and friends genuinely met each other with the traditional greeting. They were hardworking, tolerant and humble, preferring to just look away and pretend I didn't exist when I pointed my camera in their direction. The youth hung out in mixed groups, I was jealous of the girls' straight, light brown hair and manicures.  Bangkok's locals were proud, too, of their city, that was clear. The public spaces were well maintained and immaculate, temples had been recently painted and most neighborhoods were safe enough that primary school children were sent home on the back of motor bike taxis. As the older kids poured out of school, you got the feeling that they worked hard and did well; enjoyed it, but also knew where the fun would be on a Friday night.

The second hand flew around the face of my watch, our battle plans fell away, we failed as generals, but made pretty good foot soldiers. We packed up in a flurry, having sat out too long on the balcony watching the party boats light up the Chao Phraya. Still scruffy, still sunburnt, out of battered flip flops and into jeans instead. Into the taxi and out of Bangkok, into a dark, steamy night, where every building illuminated and burst through the horizon. There was nothing like it, no other feeling, it had been like starting a race or sitting an exam, pure adrenaline. It was unlike India because the chaos didn't leave you feeling drained; it was more satisfyingly more gritty than Kuala Lumpur, strikingly less hedonistic than Dubai. Every electric billboard suspended from a glass and steel building, each sports car, all the towering office blocks showed progress, they were arrows pointing forward, screaming this is the way the world is going. With each step we took on Bangkok's streets, it was clear, it's these cities that are leaving Europe behind. Bangkok had grown up, pushed its misspent youth behind it and there was no stopping it now. Thousands of cars on the roads, but the traffic still flowed fast; each road had four lanes and flyovers laced the arteries together, so the blood would never clot. Oh hell, Europe, you have no chance. I'd visited European cities so many times, but never had done anything like this, there I'd slept like a baby and my heart rate remained constant.   Our cab rolled onto the freeway, leaving the glittering buildings behind us. Zero hour.

I am again going to direct you to this post on Layla's site for a really good guide to Bangkok with all the practical details you may want.  She writes much more... coherently than I do, without making all the info boring... she has a great sense of humour, and I am always fascinated by how we perceive the same places. She doesn't write in the way she acts, if you know what I mean... I mean in real life she's into anything fun/whimsical/live for the moment, preferably involving heights, speed boats or long haul flights, but she has a retrospective, thoughtful style of writing. Anyway. I hope you gathered from this that I really, really liked Bangkok - I surprised myself by how much I warmed to the place. It's an amazing city and so worth a visit if you're ever in the area/passing through. 
I plan to (finally) bake a little something in the coming few days and have a recipe up on the blog end this week. Hope that you all have a lovely weekend xx


nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
There were white towels hanging on the clotheshorse; they looked even brighter against the pale cream walls. There was a new toothbrush by the sink, an unopened tube of toothpaste. Two lip balms by the bedside table. Moisturizer that was infused with coconut oil. My feet made a familiar slapping sound, skin on the heavy marble tiles of the staircase, I remembered to put all my weight on the arm holding the dark wood bannister and swing my legs down the steps. Grandma had bought the yogurt I’d always eat, they always remember, from the towels to the yogurt. I sat at their dining table, wicker chairs, grandpa turned on the TV. 6:30pm. It was dark out, the lights were glowing amber, moths fluttered and cast shadows on the walls of the patio. I listened. To the whirring fan overhead. To the chit-chat of Tamil television from the living room, the neighbors’ kids ringing bicycle bells. A car reversing; in India the parking sensors sing. A pressure cooker, a tomcat on the wall. Stillness, the warmth of day dwindling. Grandma moving steel dishes, looking for the sambar.
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

7:00pm. I’d seen upstairs, in the room that used to be mine, the notebooks were still there. From that year I’d lived in this house. The year I would sit, at 7pm, studying geography or biology, math running through my head. An odd, out-of-body feeling, I wasn’t sure if perhaps tomorrow, I should be back in the car going to school. I needed to go sort my tie and find the wretched leather belt. Check facebook, see what I missed. But that was three years ago - facebook and school. The problem with this house, with this place, was that it was so deeply caked in memories, every thing was a time suck. The house was big, too big for my grandparents really, with high ceilings. Grandma had planted succulents in little terracotta pots; the Dutch clogs that were a gift from dad years ago, grandpa had cleaned the photos on the walls. You’re home, the grandparents said to me, feel at home. Straight away, I did.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
6:30am. AC running, the room was cold. Barefoot on the colder tiles, mosquito net over the windows, the balcony beyond. Bougainvillea cascaded over the tiles of the neighbor’s roof in a rich swathe of riotous pink ; pine trees and coconut palms fluttered slowly, like wings of a bird in to land. The sky was coral, fading somewhere to peach, elsewhere to blue, the moon a skinny crescent over the rooftop. I could hear the morning activity downstairs; grandma and grandpa are up so early they could run a racing stable. The steel vessels were filled with water, grandpa sat in his chair, reading the BBC on his I-pad. The air smelled fresh, a dog was barking, the place was coming to life. The cleaning ladies were out with their coconut-branch brooms, swirling the dust into hazy clouds, but the sky was clear, tropical blue, a color engrained deeply somewhere in my subconscious, in the same way as how I could interrupt my grandparents’ Tamil conversation with some comment without ever being able to speak a word.
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

Bangalore moved quickly, scrambling to stay ahead; a socialite at a shiny dance. A new mall had come up, next to our old haunt, we went in anyway. Some kind of smug satisfaction in thinking ‘ok so there’s a rooftop bar here, but you’re still not as cool as Phoenix’. In Phoenix, the old haunt, Zara was still packed with the cool crowd, every foreigner was queuing at Starbucks, the Apple store sold tech like the Belgians sell hot waffles on a snowday. Our bookstore still had the dusty, musty shelves of old books, the old Macleans you can’t find anywhere else. But there was a Le Creuset store now, across from it. I was happy, but it was strange; Sephora and it’s sensory overload were taking over real estate, there was a Kiehl’s next to an ayurvedic cosmetics place. At the gated complex where my grandparents lived, the boys had switched from obsessive cricket to football. One wore a Chelsea shirt, another’s dad drives a Jaguar, more and more of the girls were wearing shorts, a bunch of people had adopted rescue dogs. I stood, at the end of our road one day, watching a kid in a Barcelona shirt kick a football. The perimeter fence of the compound was behind him, bougainvillea grew there too. In the distance against a powdery evening sky, the silhouettes of buildings, they never used to be there. The ball bounced, a truck hooted, a dog barked. I could’ve been anywhere. But it was India and my grandparents’ place for sure.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

I knew it was, because grandma would take us to her grocery store, and I could find pomegranates bigger than baseballs. I would sit on my grandparents’ swing, the jula on the patio, and I could hear the sing-song Hindi ads interrupting grandpa’s cricket matches, and grandma would be sorting the coriander leaves, or perhaps popping mustard seeds in a steel pan. The maids of the people behind us were washing clothes on a stone slab, someone was looking to buy an electric car. I went out in the heat, looking for the family of kittens Layla and I had adopted; one was stuck in a drain, we coaxed him out. There was a stray dog who had befriended the guards, I called her Jessie. The old tomcat Bob was embroiled in bitter feuds with a younger, fitter male; he ended up with a bloody leg, sleeping on top of the Jeep belonging to a woman who fed all the strays.

nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat
nutmeg and pear | travel guide to Bangalore from an expat

Three weeks went by, I felt at home, people stared at me at the mall like they’d never seen a girl in shorts before. I took an auto rickshaw; we went to a doctor’s office deep in a leafy Bangalore suburb; we avoided people we knew, years and lives ago. It was a foggy morning on our last day, my grandparents were wearing matching red fleeces, a stray dog sniffed at the hand luggage. We had tight connections and they wouldn’t let my grandparents into the terminal; procedures madam. We waved to them, I waved goodbye to the concrete jungle that the garden city was becoming, block after block of flats, grid after grid of housing complex. Cars, trucks, bikes on the road. I thought of my family of kittens, Jessie, my grandparents, Bob and his fights, change. ‘Wait for me’, I whispered, as the plane took off. Practical info My sister has also done a stunning Bangalore/Mysore/trains guide on her site, where she has kindly used my photos and added a lot of useful info, so I'd recommend reading that post if you'd like some more details.

Sleep: well we stay in a rather nice Mediterranean style townhouse in a gated community with a tennis court, pool, palm trees... no I totally do not mean to make you jealous. There are lots of reliable chains like Taj and Oberoi in the city centre and knowing Indian hospitality I'm sure they're amazing, and also less out of the way.

Do, see and shop

The area around MG Road is what I am going to call the center; it's where it all happens. There are great places to find nice sandalwood carvings and un-tacky souvenirs, jewelry stores for real gold stuff and great atmosphere in general.

You should visit the Vidhana Soudha which is really impressive as the seat of the Karnataka state government. From here you can get to Cubbon Park which is also great for culture - picnicking families Indian style, frolicking young couples, lots of plants. It's also car free.

Not in the same area (nearer MG road again) is Lalbagh Gardens for similar sights but there's also a lake which is nice for a walk around.

Phoenix Market City is my mall!! I know it's a mall but you have to visit, ok? Also they have one of the best stores for really worthwhile souvenirs that are both nice looking (I would buy all the plates and dishes and dark wood chairs) but are also made working with local artisans and craftsmen; keeping all those arts alive. That's Fabindia but there are quite a few other home furnishing stores that are worth a visit. Also Om Book shop for cheap books and older books (Dick Francis, alistair Maclean) and the sales at many known brands - Zara, Steve Madden, Aldo - are way better than in Europe. And also Apple products... and you might as well to go Big Bazaar because it's fun. There's groceries toys clothes houseware the works.

The other mall that's worth a trip is UB City which is in town near MG road etc and it's where the cool kids go... I was invited to a party there when I was a cool kid (yes those days existed) and it's got all the designers - both international and local talent. It's all fountains, glitzy tiles and great people watching. Also all the above mentioned cool kids used to go get smashed and have an ahem fun time in a neighbourhood called Koramangala (in the south-east). I've never been because I'm not that cool (if at all) but it was the place with all the nightlife, bars, etc, so if you're into that sort of thing, it all used to happen there :)

If you don't have time to take a train trip to see some of the everyday India I would recommend taking a drive - my old drive to school believe it or not was a really nice insight into village life- cows, pastures etc. Try a drive from the Whitefield road area to Indus international school :)

Eat Go to my grandparents' house and ask my grandma to make you chappatis with my vegetables - I wouldn't know the name but they're a colourful combination of carrots, beans, peas and some unpronounceable gourds in a broth-y spicy mix. Also ask for sambar - lentils, carrots, raddish, pumpkin, some other guord, a secret spice blend. Ok I joke but at Phoenix mall the places for Indian food that are always always packed are Copper Chimney which is pretty fancy and also Raj Dhani where you can get all these different chutneys, lentils, rice, veggies... in steel dishes, on banana leaves. Also try the Indian version of Starbucks - Coffee Day, which all my friends used to swear by.

Just a heads up that the traffic in Bangalore is bad. Like, really bad. A 5 minute drive can take 35 if a tractor parks somewhere inconvenient. So always leave with plenty of time. Taxis themselves are quick and cheap, they are also really into Uber these days. And there's also the good old auto rickshaw. Oh and the Metro works in the centre-sort of area around MG Road, it's very clean, safe and efficient.

Hope some of you found this helpful/interesting. The snow is starting in Norfolk... big hugs xx