Thailand 1: Arrival in Bangkok

WOW!!  I’m in Bangkok, and I like it so far.  I’m not totally in love, but I really like it.  My cousin, his girlfriend, and I arrived after our EIGHT hour flight from Tokyo (lots of research time) and caught a taxi into Bangkok with no problem.  They drive on the left here too, so no confusion for me.  The city reminded me a lot of Indian cities.  Run down, but people still making a living at all hours.  The highways are really nice made from something as smooth as plastic.  All the cars and taxis seem to be Toyota.  New ones.  The cab’s interior was lit with a blue light just like in Bombay.
I am NOT all about getting to a new country and just going to bed, no matter how late it is, so after they checked in at 1am I dragged Kathleen and Brian out to a local grungy local place with dirty food and dirty plates and dirty chairs, but VERY smiling faces.  I thought I would just get it over with and see if Pad Thai in America was indeed Thai food.  Sure enough, it’s the same over here.  I only bothered to question this when I realized in China they don’t even KNOW what dishes like General Gao’s Chicken are - Chinese food is TOTALLY different in America.  But as far as Pad Thai goes, it’s the same.  We had some Singha beers (not my fav, but hey, it’s local!) and I got a measure on how they felt about poor countries (I think their first aside from Mexico and Costa Rica).  I never would have guessed I’d like poor countries as much as I do, and always like talking to people expereincing it for the first time.
I went off at 2am to find a place to stay for cheap and hopefully DIRTY!!  Haha!!  I found my first choice (listed in LP for $3) but there was a “FULL” sign.  Luckily the sign also said they just opened a new guest house.  “Turn left, and at corner, turn left. We are on corner”  Well it took me close to an hour to figure out they actually meant RIGHT.  But hey, it’s Thailand.  There relaxed.  I knocked on the new GH door at 3 am, and woke up the teenager who man’s the desk in return for a free place to sleep.  They were out of $3 rooms so I had to break the bank and splurge on a $5 room!!!  Tough life here.  The upgrade includes a private bath and shower, so I took a nice cold shower (I had already sweated through my shirt 3 times that night).  The place IS new, and I wonder if anyone has ever even USED the bathroom or bed.  Nice deal!!
This morning I woke up at 8 with little sleep but tons of excitement to make up for it.  I met them at their hotel at 9 and bought SIM cards.  Unfortunately Kathleen’s GSM cell phone was from the US where companies like Cingular and T-Mobile LOCK the phone so you can ONLY use their SIM cards (so… what’s the POINT of having a GSM phone…???).  She didn’t get the Cingular code before leaving, so her SIM card, and cell are useless abroad.  But at least ONE of us can be reached if needed.  Besides, I tend to meet other travelers a lot who do what I do and we can easily meet up as we please instead of being attached at the hip of a stranger.  So I’m happy to have my $5 SIM card with 2 hours talk time included.
Kathleen had a meeting in Japan and had lined one up in Bangkok as well, so she went to her meeting, and Brian and I took a “Christian’s home-made walking tour” of Bangkok.  It was REALLY just a walk to get out there and see what things are like, and the lay of the land.  I had the ulterior motive, of course, of sampling from every food stall we saw.  OH MY GOD THE FOOD HERE IS SO GOOD!!!!  We saw Khao San Road and made it in time for an amazing show of percussion and break dancing (Bangkok is famous for breakdancing).  And they REALLY ripped it up!!  They had movie crews around and mic booms all over the place.  It is a NORMAL street so they would wait until there was no traffic and then they would do a 1-2 minute set.  Then, like Canadian street hockey, they would yell “CAR” and it would be over for a few minutes.  Very cool.  Khao San Road otherwise is a tourist/backpacker ghetto.  Lots of hippy clothes for sale at marked up prices, and hamburger joints, and even a Starfucks.  So we moved on to the long walk.  We walked by many important places we both wanted to see, but Brian wanted to wait for Kathleen (justly) so we really just took it all in.
I had been eating a lot of foods along the way, but here is an example of a typical food stall encounter.  I saw something weird (always a good thing) and stopped.  I looked at it and saw it was probably squid or octopus on a stick.  I asked for one but then realized I was asking a customer (because these stalls are just carts parked wherever, so there’s no clear front or back).  But she said something in English (not common) so I decided to exploit my opportunity to ask about it, and her.  Thai people are EXCEEDINGLY nice, so as long as it’s a natural encounter they are more than happy to talk and help.  I asked which of the 2 options were better and if she was a student (she was wearing a student type outfit) and how many days of the week they go to school here (always a point of curiosity for me for some reason).  It’s M-F just in case you were dying to know (Japan is essentially 7 days, and Nepal is Sun-Fri).  Then before I asked how much (like it matters) she asked the guy.  Now, she knew how much it was for HER, but every good Thai understands that a businessman may be charging 2 different prices depending on your nationality (or THREE if you count Japanese, who always get the HIGHEST price).  So she guessed 20 bhat, but he said 25.  For all I know she paid 5 bhat.  That’s ok.  As I get the hang for Thailand I will start to understand the REAL prices and may choose to use that knowledge to bring the price down.  Now I’m a know-nothing F.O.B. “Farang” (aka Gaigin in Japan, aka Lowai in China, aka foreigner).  I deserve to pay for my ignorance.  Like I said - it doesn’t matter much anyway at 10 cents versus 50 cents.  She got her tentacles and we said bye.  I got mine but he left them on the stick (he took hers off) for some reason.  Maybe THAT’S what 25 bhat gets you?  Maybe he thinks Farang like things on sticks?  He also didn’t hesitate to pour FIRE hot sauce on hers, but of course asked if I wanted it (with a point of his finger and a shrug).  Well, it was hot, and good, and tentacley.  And I ate it WHILE walking, which I really miss (you can’t eat while walking in Japan - it’s rude).
Our final stop before the Typhoon (more later) was Chinatown.  NOTHING like the Chinatown’s we know, this one is kind of like a big outdoor factory or warehouse with a million alleys running all over the place.  No cars.  The goods were standard - cloth for women’s clothes, cheap plastic junk (everything from crappy combs to stuff to put on your cell phone), fake brand name shirts and bags.  Nothing either of us needed, but the madness of a sea of people pushing and shouting their way through tight alleys was fun.  I came to Thailand with no clothes beside the ones I wore here (why bother - especially when I know I need summer clothes for Japan anyway), so I bought my first shirt (badly needed since I’m obviously going to sweat through 2-3 per day here!!).  Funny enough, I’m so fascinated with Japanese t-shirts, that when I saw a Japanese one I had to have it.  It’s not THAT hysterical, but it still meets the “odd English” criteria.  It says “Classic Stories” and then a picture of a VW Bug front and back. Then says “Racing has been pretty IMPORTANT TO US over the past”… right.  whatever.  It’s yellow and cool, and I hope it doesn’t fall apart later today.      

So that’s when I noticed a little rain coming down between the rooftops.  It was light, but Brian didn’t have an umbrella and was carrying Kathleen’s expensive digital SLR camera.  I recommended a place to buy the kind I have for $1, and no sooner did he finish the sale did the heavens open up.  MAN it poured.  It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it was up there.  The streets flooded immediately  Parked cars were covered up to their engine blocks.  People were huddling together under any overhang.  Trees were coming down, branches blowing down the street.  Tin roofs got blown  away.  We were in a perfect spot to stay dry and safe,  but the storm didn’t pass as fast as I’d expected.  After 20 minutes it was just getting worse.  We ran across a major street back into the Chinatown alleys under a glass covered pedestrian mall type thing, which helped a little, but not much.  Panels of the buildings walls were flapping around even in there.  Brian had had  it with protecting the camera and we hailed a taxi.  The normal rule is DON’T agree on a set price.  Use the meter.  But beggars can’t be choosers, so we agreed to the 100 bhat without a seconds hesitation.  The drive back was brutal.  We could barely see out the windows but what we could see was tree limbs and branches EVERYWHERE.  I hadn’t even NOTICED that many trees in Bangkok until then.  The streets had turned into swiftly moving rivers.  The driver was all in a panic, and seemed to be breaking hard - Brian said it was to keep from stalling.  It was awesome!  Then suddenly within about 2 minutes time the rain had stopped, and we could see blue sky coming.
Well, Kathleen called and said she was on her way back from the meeting, and we had already decided to go back to their hotel.  I came up and cleaned my silty feet and said I’d check in with them again at about 6.  By the time I left the hotel it was a scorching hot sunny day!!!  I went back to the alleys I’d discovered earlier so I could take some pictures of the flooding.  It was fun walking around in my sandals in 10-12 inches of water on all the streets.  People must have thought I was funny to be taking pictures of something so common and boring as flooding because everyone was laughing and saying things to me.  They are REALLY friendly.  In most countries I’ve been to people are very concerned about “privacy” whatever that means.  HEY!  You’re OUT in PUBLIC.  I can see you, can’t I?  How much privacy can you expect?  Well… not that I feel that strongly about it, but still. But in Thailand everyone I’ve asked (by pointing at the camera inquisitively) are very happy to let me take their picture.  Not quite proud, but borderline.  Sometimes when I sort of sneak a picture of someone they’ll even smile and laugh (not so in Japan - they may call the police!).  It’s great to feel like I’m just taking pictures again, and not stealing their souls (like they make me feel in Japan).  See Masa’s opinions about this at - a  Japanese culture blogger with a flare for English.
So after a long stroll through the alleys, I realized I was sunburned, soaking with sweat, and had 4 blisters on my feet.  And it was the height of the afternoon heat, so I thought I’d come back and take my second cold shower today and dump my dig pics.
I ended up bringing my laptop, BTW, against my own wishes.  I REALLY don’t need a laptop for an 8-day trip to THAILAND!!  But ultimately I couldn’t think of another way to deal with my camera.  I tend to take 150Mb - 250Mb worth of pictures per day.  Trouble is I only have a 256Mb card.  That meant I’d have to burn a CD everyday at a local photo shop (if there is one everywhere I go) but it wouldn’t EVEN be half of what the CD could hold.  The other options involved spending money on a new card.  But since I don’t HAVE extra money (hoping to travel for 8 days on $160 - and only HAVE $240 with me) I decided to bring the laptop.  Also (and this sounds entirely pathetic), without the laptop my bag is too empty.  It was all awkward with a bulky camera and not much else (remember I had no clothes).

So that’s what the first 14 hours in Bangkok have been like.  Not TOO exciting, I know, but in truth I just needed something to do while I rest my feet and cool off.

—–>  Read Next Post  —–>