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Gary: Thailand

wrecked fishing boats and debris at Baan Amphoe Beach
The wreckage of Baan Amphoe Beach

Thailand: From the Wreckage, a Lotus Blooms
Story and Photos by Gary Singh

aan Amphoe Beach sits about 15 km from Pattaya, Thailand’s Dionysian party playground. I am here amidst an assortment of wrecked fishing boats, all parked on the beach in various states of disrepair. It looks like a tsunami has just hit, but I learn from the nearby Malabar Seafood Restaurant that this is where the locals store their boats when they need to get fixed.

It’s funny, primarily because Baan means village and Amphoe means district, and there exist many different English spellings for anything in Thai. I see it written Baan-Am-Per, Ban Amphur and at least a few others. But the absurdity phases me none. On the contrary, the desolated abandonment of the entire scenario beckons me to stay. I got a thing for abandoned places.

dilapidated fishing boats at Baan Amphoe
Dilapidated fishing boats at Baan Amphoe

gathering storm at Baan Amphoe with fishing boats in the foreground
The storm looms
As I contemplate the scene, a storm appears imminent, with a dreary gunmetal sky hovering above all. Crashes of thunder begin to reverberate across the landscape, juxtaposed only against the horrific ‘70s AM-radio monstrosities emanating from the Malabar Restaurant. Leo Sayer would be proud to know he is “only a heartbeat away” from this destroyed nautical bric-a-brac near the Gulf of Siam.

And here at Baan Amphoe, I also sense a feeling of laidback acceptance of all things as they are. As soon as one local floats up in his fishing boat, he begins pumping the water out of it. The boat has a leak, it seems. More locals are yelling playfully at each other across the inlet. A few bored seagulls float in and out of the scene. A few children scamper about. Everyone appears to be in a lazy mood due to the pulverizing humidity, even though the rain is starting to come down.

fishing boats and locals at Baan Amphoe
Baan Amphoe locals take in the day

Malabar Restaurant is cheap. As I meticulously pick through a delicious grouper fish, a syrupy instrumental version of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline fills the room. Moments later, the sky darkens to near-black and the rain suddenly becomes violent. The employees scramble to shut the sliding glass barriers that separate the restaurant from the outside patio. I am now safe to watch the abandoned fishing boats in all their ruined glory.

With the storm now in full force, the boats look even more wrecked and desolate. Many Thais believe in animism, and I wouldn’t be surprised if spirits from times past are lurking here somewhere.

a sea wall at Baan Amphoe
At Baan Amphoe, there must be spirits

After experiencing the desolated and remote wreckage at Baan Amphoe, it was time to revel in the polar opposite: sheer luxury. Shattered nautical wreckage and luxury hotels can be seen as merely two sides of the same coin. Just like yin and yang, each scene compliments the other.

So, one day later, the opulent Siam Kempinski Hotel in Bangkok became my next place of contemplation. After all, what would a bleak stew of conked-out fishing boats be without a contradictory scenario? In particular, the Garden Wing of the Siam Kempinski features 21 swim-up rooms with direct pool access (see photos).

views of the swim-up rooms and pool, Siam Kempinski Hotel, Bangkok
Left: View from outside the swim-up room; Right: View from inside the swim-up room

view of the pools and gardens from the tenth floor, Siam Kempinski Hotel
Tenth-floor view of the Siam Kempinski pools and gardens
Inside, weary folks might feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the Kempinski’s grand lobby in all its glory--the interior design alone is staggering--but as a traveler who often feels like a ghost looking in on humanity, I fit in perfectly. The Kempinsky is inimitable. It is not cookie-cutter. The hallways are refreshingly maze-like, an uplifting change from the repetitive straight corridors of so many homogeneous box hotels.

But the property’s art collection, above all else, is what comes crashing through as the key visual component. Over 4000 pieces of native artwork fill the rooms, hallways, public spaces and especially the lobby, creating a vibrant cultural backdrop. Of those 4000 pieces, 200 are commissioned paintings, sculptures and photographs from more than 30 Thai artists. It took four years to amass the entire collection.

artwork with a lotus theme on wall of Siam Kempinski Hotel
Lotus-themed artwork appears on every wall, every nook and cranny

The lobby alone functions as a 24-hour art gallery of sorts, with lotuses and splashing water serving as the foundation and source inspiration for the rest of the collection. The wall sconces are formed like the decorative fingernails of traditional Northern Thai dancers, with lotus patterns blooming from splashing water. Similar lotus patterns appear on the elevator doors and signage, as well as the employees’ uniforms.

urn and bottled water at the Siam Kempinski
Left: Urn on the 10th floor;
Right: The Kempinski stocks its own bottled water in the rooms

The lotus appears everywhere at the Kempinski

Especially for a traveler in Thailand, where Buddhism penetrates everything, all of this leaves an indelible impression. The lotus in ancient worlds was believed to symbolize the union of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Its roots are in the earth, it grows in and by means of water, its leaves are nourished by air and it blooms through the power of the sun’s fire. Therefore, the lotus can represent the fourfold order of the natural world.

The unfolding petals of the lotus also symbolize the expansion of the enlightened self. As the saying goes: “From the darkest mud blooms the brightest lotus.” One needn’t eliminate the imperfection, the mud, the wreckage, in order to bloom. It is precisely in that mud where our own true nature thrives.

And yes, I am transformed. In a period of just two days, I have traversed a tiny slice of the Thai landscape. From the abandoned wreckage and dreariness of a desolated beach at Baan Amphoe to the opulent environs of the Siam Kempinski Hotel, I have bloomed.

view of the pool from one of the swim-up rooms at the Siam Kempinski
The Siam Kempinski features 21 swim-up rooms

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Your tea adventures are especially interesting because I've always associated tea with British etiquette or a bevy of women wearing dainty victorian costumes and sipping tea with their little pinky sticking out. To see Tea from a man's perspective brings new light in a man's psyche. I've been among the many silent admirers of your writings for a long time here at Traveling Boy. Thanks for your very interesting perspectives about your travels. Keep it up! --- Rodger, B. of Whittier, CA, USA

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