Megacity Circuit

On Monday morning, I left Baltimore to go to the other side of the planet. It took a long time and a non-trivial amount of money, but it happened. No six-month voyage. No small army of translators and traders. No small army of actual army. Just a backpack and a space-age machine blasting through the stratosphere at a significant fraction of the speed of sound.

Neat.

On Wednesday (or Tuesday? Tuesday for someone), a bus, a train, two airliners and a mangled sleep schedule later, I staggered through the gate at Changi airport in Singapore. I had a few hours before another machine was scheduled to launch me through the air, but Singapore is a small place. It’s also a practical place, and the airport provides a series of free tours of the city for travelers with a few hours to kill between flights. I was whisked through immigration and onto a bus, out into the shiniest city I have ever seen.

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“That’s a casino up there. With a pool 150 meters long. Don’t do the backstroke” – My Tour Guide
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“I don’t know why it’s a lion. There are no lions in Singapore. Tigers maybe. But no lions. Back then, they did not have cameras.”
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“Singapore is only 50km long. There is very little crime here. There is nowhere to run. I’m telling jokes so you all don’t fall asleep.”

I was also impressed by how much greenery was in the city.

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The whole place felt like an exhibit of The City of The Future, and from the 15 seconds of internet research I conducted after having that thought, that’s exactly what they were going for.

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The Malay Quarter, deserted during Ramadan.
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Alley art near a taco place.

And then we were done. Back through immigration, onto another plane, and then finally to Bangkok.

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It was raining sideways, but that wasn’t a problem since the first and last thing I did was faceplant into bed.

 


 

Bangkok is the opposite of small and shiny. It’s massive, sprawling, and smells like a mixture of human waste, dust, exhaust fumes, and delicious street food. I spend the next day wandering around, mostly to keep myself awake. I visited the Erawan Museum, a collection of ancient Buddhist artifacts housed inside a giant, iron, three-headed elephant that is in turn contained in a walled garden. The whole compound is directly next to a freeway junction, but is surprisingly peaceful even with all the mayhem outside.

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The Erawan of legend has 33 heads, but the architects had to settle for 3.

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Inside of the pedestal. Yes, that is Moses.

The inside of the structure was covered in intricate mosaics that my poor photography skills completely failed to capture, and the exhibits couldn’t be photographed at all.

I also visited Lumpini Park, near the US Embassy. It’s another small, peaceful patch of green surrounded by metropolis, full of joggers, bikers, and dinosaurs.

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High rises, swan boats, and primordial beasts

OK, fine, you can call them monitor lizards if you want to be boring, but they were 6 feet long with the tail, so I’ll stick with dinosaur.

A quick aside about Bangkok: it’s the most visited city in the world. Khao San Road in particular is famous for it’s backpacker culture, and is filled with hostels, bars, and tour companies, so of course, I wanted none of it. The experience of deep fried scorpions, buckets of Mystery Drank, and yelling “WOOOOOOO!” just isn’t my thing. I like iron elephant museums and parks full of dragons. Go figure. Oddly though, Khao San Road, and all the other attractions aren’t serviced by any kind of mass transit. What this means is that there is a buffer of a few miles between the last metro stop and all the cool temples. So I walked it. Of course I did, I’ve walked some miles in my time. Of course, those miles weren’t in a city a few paltry degrees north of the equator. And there was one more wrinkle. Everything was closed.

There’s a common scam where a taxi driver will claim that an attraction, such as the royal palace, is closed. They will then offer to take the tourist to a different place, often a shop where the driver gets kickbacks. So the first time a tuk tuk driver called out claiming that the temple I was approaching was closed, I thanked him politely for his advice, and kept walking. But that day, of all days, it wasn’t a scam. I ended up walking without the breaks I had been counting on, looking at what I could from outside the walls. Yeah, I could have gotten a taxi back, but that would have been an awful lot like giving up.

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This whole street was lined with wood carving shops

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Exactly one temple was still open

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BOOM
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Skyline from the Golden Mount

I ended up at the mall attached to the skytrain station, overpaying for a smoothie made out of fruit I couldn’t identify. It didn’t matter though. I was pretty low on electrolytes, and it was one of the best things I’d ever tasted.

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