EVEN if Vogue’s Anna Wintour has already equaled jeans and a t-shirt to an Oscar de la Renta, my plain shirt seemed to be quite off in a sea of plaid dress shirts, neon platform shoes, and tulle skirt-clad girls at McDonald’s. Popular among the men, on the other hand, are dyed, Justin Bieber-swept bangs, as they wear overly skin-tight trousers—leatherette, in fact—paired with high cut sneakers, either in shocking blue or orange.

But what else could be more shocking in a city that offers 50 percent markdown on Botox next to a noodle house?

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From a pocket of century-old palaces co-existing with digital billboards, sleepless markets, and model-sized citizens to an itinerant sky train above horse-drawn carriages around the city, Thailand (originally Siam) has never run out of extreme points.

So understandably, labeling it “The City of Life” or the “fashion and shopping capital of Asia” is like putting the entire culture in a box, making one unable to grasp the limitless view that its citizens have been accustomed to.

A three-hour flight from Manila, Bangkok, its main artery of progress, has even more of these extremes, that if you’d pause for a closer look, things might be just as humorous.

Beauty call

The reason that led to convincing my parents to treat me to Thailand was to confirm whether nip-tuck—plastic surgery, if you please—was cheap or not. No plans of changing how I look, but rumor has it Filipino surgeons, including those who cater to celebrities, flock to Bangkok to update themselves on the latest beauty trend and upgrade their machines.

I didn’t probe deeper into the proposition, but in Ekkamai, where we stayed in a boutique hotel, a plastic surgery center stood between an English language school and ramen house.

“Many Filipinos come here. They get nose jobs, skin whitening, (and) face lift. They always ask after, ‘how do I look?’” said the resident doctor when we inquired about the markdown of his services. My father, the least vain man I know, was even tempted, but he ended up content with his natural facial lines.

And if you think getting Botox at P3,000 (from Thai bhatt converted to Philippine currency) is reasonable enough, then book a flight to Thailand; it’s not difficult to schedule an appointment with a surgeon as there are a string of dermatological centers.

How would you look?

In most unexpected areas and circumstances, one can easily spot Thai girls in six-inch stilettos, commuting on the BTS Skytrain, which transports them to key districts, walking to their offices (this keeps them slender, by the way), or lunching at the nearby mall.

Shuttling them daily is easy: buses, taxi cabs, and trains are air-conditioned and sidewalks are smoothly paved. Rubber shoes are good traveling companions, all right, but this side of the world, your Manolo Blahniks would just be as comfortable.

We Filipinos would not look foreign in Thailand. I would have blended in easily had I gone for the current fashion statements, the ones you see on Asian television series: neon, plaids, skinny jeans, and razor-edged hairstyles dyed in chestnut brown or with streaks of blond.

Surely, clothing and other goods are cheap, but sales clerks aren’t really into haggling. Check your budget range before approaching the stalls.

Tricks at the palace

How do they look?

The sight of the Grand Palace from afar awes the viewer on the barge from the Chao Praya River, a 10-minute alternative route to this tourist spot.

Inside the walled royal village, one can understand the appetite for visual arts of Thai rulers through the architectural designs of each bailiwick. Mostly plated in gold paint and decorated with icons of mythological giants standing as guardians, the temples were built for their spiritual and social obligations.

The miraculous Temple of the Emerald Buddha is close to the Phra Si Rattana Chedi, where its bell-resembling tower is an instant attraction.

The Grand Palace is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Some may lure you into embarking on a different trip, saying the temples are closed for cleaning. But unfortunately, it’s a ruse.

From what we experienced, the tok-tok driver (tricycle in Cebu) told us he would tour us around the palace, but since the temples were closed until 12 noon, we had to go to three nearby novelty shops first.

We discovered in the middle of the trip that he would receive free fuel from these establishments if he brought passengers to the store for 15 minutes. It didn’t matter if they purchased anything or not.

Survival tip: do not entertain bystanders who offer package tours aside from ones prepared by the agency or hotel.

For backpackers, go directly to the ticket stand, or drop by the government-installed tourist helpdesks around the palace where one can also get free maps.

But after all, some good things never last: on our last night we were serenaded by a street choir singing traditional hymns—and as I leaned back to take it all in, I couldn’t believe it was almost time to go home.