1,000 smiles in Thailand
Thailand is one of those places everyone dreams of going to. Even its slogan sounds alluring: “Land of 1,000 Smiles,” although, the recent events in Bangkok might put a small question mark on that statement. We started off in the capital city, moving on to Chang Mai and then Krabi Province. So we start with chaos and end on a beach. Sounds good to me.
When it comes to an overwhelming sense of chaos, Bangkok doesn’t disappoint. Asian cities’ brand of metropolitan are far different than their Western counterparts but even in the craziness there’s an orchestrated choreography that you begin to marvel at as if you were watching some spectacle that even the geniuses of Cirque du Soleil couldn’t pull off.
The Grand Palace is certainly grand and so Disney-like in its veneer that it would fit right into Epcot, which has both China and Japan but no Southeast Asian pavilions. Let’s start a petition! It really is quite pretty with every inch of it decorated like a wedding cake but I did found myself a bit disappointed with how “new” it looked and actually wished it had more of a patina of age to it. And yet that is what is so impressive about the Thais who unlike a lot of their neighbors just finding their way in the land of tourism have been doing this for 30 years. The Thais are polished and have their act together.
While taking a break on one of the benches I began to realize something rather odd: everybody was dressed … awfully. They were the worst dressed travelers of all time. I’m no fashion icon myself (need professional help to look good) and never turn my nose down on how people dress but the questionable outfits en masse were embarrassing and unavoidable. The Grand Palace is the number 1 attraction in Bangkok receiving visitors from around the world. How could it be that collectively the whole world was just one big fashion faux pas? Surely there were some impeccably dressed Italians in the mix? But just about everyone regardless of origin was wearing strange pants with loud patterns and colors, sort of the Thai version of the Hawaiian shirt but in britches. Then I figured it out: they HAD to buy the pants outside the gates of the Palace to be considered appropriately dressed enough to enter. OOOH right. It’s a Buddhist temple so you have to cover bare knees and shoulders. OOOH right. At that point I thought what was worse?
Moved to Chang Mai and staying at the unbelievable Dhara Dhevi Resort, a replica of an entire ancient Thai Kingdom with a working rice paddy field in the middle. Kevin my husband is joining me and we are so excited to find our accommodations is a two story Villa where the bathroom is larger than our Brooklyn kitchen and living room combined. We have a great day off exploring Chang Mai, eating too much and going for a swim. The next day is going to be even better as we are shooting at an Elephant orphanage and sanctuary called Patara, where I will get to take care of an elephant, bathe it and go for a ride.
At about 5:30 in the morning Kevin’s cell phone rings. He answers it and immediately jolts up breathing very heavy. Our house is on fire. Back in September, Kevin and I bought a beautiful 180-year-old farmhouse in upstate NY. It was not only to be an escape from the city but a promise to ourselves, to slow down and start a family. And those dreams were literally going up in smoke. In my mind I just went to the worst case scenario that our house was gone knowing if I could come to terms with that then I could handle anything that came after and so as Kevin was deciphering the news I got into the shower and got ready for the day. There’s nothing quite like having to go on camera while part of your world is crumbling, but this is why I love my job. As we were driving thru Chang Mai and the country side on our way to meet elephants I began to cry not for my house, it’s fate still unknown, but because I realized how damn lucky I am. That even with this very bad news I was still in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and as our crew van made its way every person I locked eyes with whether they were people opening up their stores, women sweeping pavements and children hanging onto the backs of mopeds all smiled. I also got to spend the day fawning over an elephant named DoDo, feeding it bananas and scrubbing its toupee of brillo hair on top of its big knobby head. Goodness knows I needed every one of Thailand’s one thousand smiles that day and I got them, even from a teenage elephant.
(Note: the house was saved! It suffered fire and extensive smoke damage but we should be able to live in it by August. Fingers crossed.)