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Travelogue - 02-01-05                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


Thailand, page 1

Thailand is great! After 17 long hours traveling from Auckland to Singapore to Bangkok on Sunday (January 30th), the first Thai I met, my cab driver from the airport, could only speak two words of English. As we passed the Royal Palace he asked me, "Thailand good?" And when I replied, "Yes, Thailand good," he laughed with genuine mirth, so pleased was he that I agreed that Thailand was good. He kept chuckling and mumbling to himself, "Thailand good," the rest of the way to my hotel. The night watchman that greeted me when we arrived was even nicer!

The first day here I was out and about in Bangkok, giggling at how cheap things are. I enjoyed a big, filling plate-full of Pat Thai for the equivalent of 80-cents, bought a new pair of cotton slacks for $7, had them hemmed up by a seamstress while I waited for 75-cents and then treated myself to an hour-long Thai massage for four bucks. My hotel room, smack in the center of this district, is clean, air conditioned and priced at $10 a night. What fun to feel so rich!

This is my second visit to the Kingdom of Thailand, called "The Land of Smiles" because people here tend to smile a lot - it takes some getting used to. Unlike some of my fellow travelers, I didn't come for the prostitutes. I just like this land and culture, the people and the prices. Bangkok is a bit much, an enormous city, hot & muggy, with some of the worst automobile-generated air and noise pollution in the world. Still, I've toughed it out for several days just to visit a few places. Yesterday it was the National Museum, today Chinatown by way of the river ferries, tomorrow a wat (Buddhist temple enclave) across the river and maybe Thai kick-boxing at one of the big stadiums. The rest of the time I'm just hanging around the backpackers ghetto, a lively warren of narrow streets and alleys lined with inexpensive guest houses, shops, street stalls, restaurants and pubs adjacent to a sprawling wat. As I write this a monk is singing an ancient chant in a courtyard outside my window, perhaps announcing evening meditation to his brethren. Or maybe he's just calling them to dinner, which seems like a good idea. I'm off to find food and drink. Here are some photos I took around Bangkok:





People who visit Thailand always rave about it and rightfully so, but there are a few flies in the noodle soup. The #1 down side to this country is the horrible, automobile-generated air pollution. It is stifling! Even in the countryside the sky is never really blue, and in the cities visibility often gets down to a block or two, so thick are the exhaust fumes. I often wear a bandana over my nose and mouth on city streets, and always when I'm riding in the back of the open tuk-tuks, those noisy little three-wheeled taxis that are in every Thai town. 

Another downer is the climate. It's in the mid-90's everyday, both the temperature and the humidity, and this is the mid-winter dry season! It doesn't seem to bother the Thai's, but farangs (farang, or in the north, falang means Westerner in Thai) like me sweat a lot and feel sticky most of the time. (Thank goodness air conditioned guest house rooms are so affordable! I'm staying in a handsome teak cabana in a cozy GH compound right now for about $11 a night.)

Last and least is the general shabbiness. Most places here look kind of grubby and run down to a Westerner, but then again that's pretty much how the world is outside of Europe and North America so I don't hold it against Thailand. In spite of these drawbacks, though, there is so much good stuff here that it's definitely a worthwhile place to visit.

I left Bangkok last week and was out in the boondocks for a few days, camping and hiking in a big national park called Khao Yai. I was able to rent a pup tent, mat and sleeping bag from the ranger station for a few dollars. The tropical rain forest there is a wild place, with cobras & pythons and wild elephants & tigers roaming around as they have for centuries. I didn't actually see any of those beasties during my short visit, but they were there in the jungle with me for sure. I did, however, see other strange animals and some very exotic birds as I slogged through dense jungle straight out of a Tarzan movie set. And the sounds! There is nothing in this world as eerie and entertaining as the non-stop and endlessly varied cacophony of a Thai rain forest. Strange birds, goofy monkeys, apes, frogs, giant squirrels, bizarre insects - even the lizards and the "barking deer" have something to say. Together they chirp, croak, whistle, whoop, holler, bark, tweet, squawk and caw 24/7, and it has a way of echoing through the forest. It's really something to hear even if you only occasionally get to see who's making the sounds.

Now I'm in a town in the central plains called Sukhothai, where I am visiting the sprawling, majestic ruins of Thailand's ancient capital city by day and enjoying a festival that happens to be going on right now in the evenings. I'll post some photos of the ruins. The festival, honoring the mother of the first king of Thailand, I think, is so bizarre. It's being held in the town's traditional night marketplace, so there are booths set up selling everything from blue jeans and kitchen ware to hot Thai dishes, the contents of which I can only guess at. For the festival they have erected several stages and there are little shows going on all evening. Last night I watched a troop of young Thais performing traditional Siamese dances to the clang and whine of ancient instruments. Meanwhile, the pleasant locals seem genuinely pleased to have me among them. They're a very polite and gracious people.

I'm working my way north towards Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city, and then beyond to revisit the primitive northern hill tribes. Come March I think I'll fly to Bali and spend a month there. It's less than $300 round trip from Bangkok! Life's a bitch.

Khoa Yai:




Next Entry: 02/19/05


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