Thailand <- December and January
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Other Thailand Visits:
I was finally able to get some cheap(ish) tickets to Bangkok for Christmas and New Year's, so on the 24th of December I headed off, with Rachel, who had somehow managed to get exactly the same tickets as I without any planning at all, to Fukuoka airport for the 6 hour flight to Bangkok. She had arranged an apartment in Bangkok, courtesy of a friend of her father's, which we were able to stay in for the time we were in Bangkok. It was very nice, and even had a good view. So we arrived, dropped our bags, and headed out for a night on the town, tasty food, and a walk down a shopping lane which sits in the middle of the red-light district. Several items heavier, we return to the apartment by tuk-tuk, an experience which I worried was going to give Rachel a heart attack.
The next day, Christmas!, we meet Becky and Paul at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. I am forced to don some nasty trousers, as I have stupidly forgotten not to wear shorts. We wander through the many buildings of the royal palace, take some group photos, and then set off for the many Wats of Bangkok, using the water buses to get from place to place (which sometimes involved waiting). Wat Pho is a large more modern temple with a big Buddha, and Wat Arun reminds me strongly of Ayutthaya. Of course, we had to snap some group photos here as well. After all the temples, we head back to our respective residences (Becky and Paul are at the Tower Inn!) to shower, regroup, etc. Then back out to The Londoner for dinner (and a show by a local Thai cover band!). Finally back to the apartment to collapse, exhausted.
Much of Christmas Day, and the days which follow, is devoted to the running joke of "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Boxing Day" or somesuch, just to remind ourselves that despite the fact that it's 30 degrees (C) and sunny, it really is the holidays.
The next day was a sort of regroup, reorient, plan, and see random things day. Often my favorite days, and this one proved no exception. We headed first to the world (in)famous Khao San Road (see the movie "The Beach" for a good description of the road. Then turn off the television and get the book for the rest of the story, 'cause the movie sucks). We were suitably impressed by the place. Which is to say, we left as quickly as possible, after finding out our plans for a visit to Chaing Mai would probably not come through. We then wandered off to see nearby sights, temples, and monks practicing their English. A good time had by all!
The next morning started at 5 AM or a little before. We caught a taxi to the bus station, and from there hit the floating market way outside of town. It was really good until the tour buses showed up, but since we were there so early, we got to see it before it went to hell. By 10 AM or so, we were ready to go back, because the market was gone and the tourist trap had arrived, and we had already had our little boat tour down the river. So we read in the book we could get to Bangkok by water from the market. Well, that was all bull. We spent the rest of the day trying to get anyone to take us seriously whn we said we wanted to go to Bangkok by water. In the end, we used bus and train and a load of time, but it was definitely an interesting day. If you ever get the chance, ride a local bus in Thailand! Back in Bangkok we ran into a huge market on a closed road. Only Thais around, and at the end of several blocks of stalls, a kickboxing match was going on. Pretty random and cool stuff. We finished the day by relaxing and plotting how to get to the islands.
Which we spent the entire next day doing. Standby from early morning until 4 PM. We reserved a hotel in Phuket city, and although it had bugs, it was otherwise acceptable. We had some photos developed, wandered the town, and otherwise just relaxed.
The next day brought us to the beaches. All of them. Phuket is an island just chock full of beaches, and we started at the mother or tourist beaches, Pattong. We were there long enough to say "This is not what we want" and then we headed south. To Club Med. Well, the club med beach, anyway, which was quite comfy. I found out why the guidebooks tell you topless sunbathing is considered bad form in Thailand. We met some other interesting travellers, generally kicked around town, and turned in with plans to migrate northward the next day.
The next day brough us to Phang Nga, courtesy of a completely overloaded bus. We checked in to a wacky little Thai resort bungalow place, and then headed for the waters (not really knowing where we were heading). We were picked up by a Songthaew containing two guys, a Dutch Londoner and a guy working for Cisco in California, which gave us a lift to a boat dock. This was our first encounter with Mr. Kean, a man who would follow our trip throughout Phang Nga, as he was pretty much the only game in town. But at the time we didn't know that. So we ended up going on a boat trip through the islands with these two guys, who really had a very similar style of travel to us, which worked out nicely. Saw lots of random islands, including one where the man with the golden gun was filmed. Then back, and I took some time to feel unwell, which began a long running argument with my tummy over the state of Thai food.
The next day, New Year's Eve, will definitely go down in my book as one of the strangest sightseeing days in a long time. We had planned to go around in a taxi driven by a guy named Anon. Instead, no one could raise him, so we got a Songthaew with a picture of the flower party's candidate on the side, driven by someone we'll call old guy #1. Anyway, we hit Sanang Forest Park first, which had a nice walking path, not too overgrown, with near-rainforest like plants (and no leeches! Yes!) and loads of picnicing Thais. Upon returning we find old guy #1 had been replaced by a guy and his son, with two random young guys who spoke English. We tried to figure out how many ways the money split for our day, and it was something like seven people taking a cut, including the aforementioned Mr. Kean. They take us to a cave temple, which had the usual cave stuff in addition to the temple. We then convince them to take us to a few more spots, like a cool park entrance with monkeys, and for the grand finale, they take us to Buddhist hell, with lots of colorful displays and animated tortures and chanting monks. The best part is, they inform us they are all Muslim. So this is just a lark, which the boy enjoys quite a little bit, we think. And we have a pretty fun time of it too. We pass one other foreigner in the park, and he looks as bemused as us - a sort of mutual 'what in the world!' goes between us as he passes. Anyway, we next head back, grab some internet, practice English with some school girls, get some dinner, and head for our place. Lo and behold, the songthaew that takes us back is the guy and his son! Rachel gets one more pic of the kid, and we retire to the room to plot what's next. Just before midnight, we head up to the restaurant/karaoke bar to get a bite to eat and hear some Thais bring in the new year. We chat with a guy at the next table, do the happy new year thing, and run into the other two boys from our day trip! We wish them happy new year, and return to the bungalow, secure in the fact that we will not see another new year's like this in the near future. Happy New Year!
The next day, New Year's Day, I snag a bus from the station, bid Rachel farewell, and head to the airport. The bus drops me in the middle of nowhere, but a woman gives me a lift in the back of her pickup (with her 3 children, who were just terribly cute), and I arrive at the airport early enough to easily secure a seat to Bangkok, where I hope to bounce to Phnom Phen or Siem Reap in Cambodia. Before popping over to international departures to look for a flight, I stop by the international phone and call everyone and their cousin to wish them a happy new year. 2 AM in the states, but these things happen, and noone seemed to hate me for calling, so.... Then off to the international terminal. I find everything to be full or difficult, so I book a room in town, take the world's fastest taxi (150 kph!) to the room to drop off my stuff, and head to Khao San Road (again!!) to get tickets. The tickets, to Phnom Phen, are much cheaper than had I flown standby, so the day is not wasted. I also have a suit made, to be picked up on my return. It is about this time I start to notice my finances are not weathering the trip well. More about that later. I head off to Silom Road to do the last thing necessary to any trip to Bangkok, which is to take in one of the legendary sex shows. Now, a word in my defense, some of the tour companies go to these places because of the sheer... weirdness... of the shows, and there was in fact a pair of married couples at the table next to mine, just takin' it in. On the other hand, there was a dirty old man across the way who went off with one of the girls for a more private show, so the sleaze is definitely there. I mean, besides the fact that the show revolves around women doing things with their body that their body was never meant to do. It was... unique. I was of course charged $15 for a coke, and went home secure in the knowledge that Madeline and Marisa are not the only people from the apartments to go to one of these shows.
The next morning, after eating more bacon than I had ever thought possible (I think I would go to Bangkok just for the western breakfasts!) I get a taxi to the airport for a 7:30 flight to Phnom Phen.
On to Cambodia
All the photos
Back to December/January
This is in fact my second trip to Thailand in 2000. Photos from my first trip, along with the stories associated, can be found in May