Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

This travel business is strange. I mean only a few days ago I was in Bangkok, then two flights later I’m back again and Singapore seems just like a dream. Soon I’ll be Hong Kong and I guess that Bangkok will seem just the same.

But then this whole trip feels quite strange. I first decided that I wanted to visit all these countries over ten years ago now, and back then I thought I’d do it between school and university. I never organised that, so all through university I thought I’d work for a year or so afterwards and then do it. Then of course every year my expenditure would approximate my income and I’d pull down the travel guides from my bookshelves, flip through them and think ‘well, maybe next year’.

Now here I am. After all that time I’m sitting in my hotel room writing this, drinking Sprite, munching on potato chips and doughnuts, and listening to the cleaners laughing while they put up the curtains that my room didn’t have last night. Geez, this place is like Grand Central Station at the moment…

Back to the point. For so long these places have just been marks on maps or photos in guide books and now I’m living in one. I’m two weeks into my trip, one country is just a memory and another will join it in a few days. Before too long it will be over and I’ll be back to work with nothing but a few photos and videotapes, souvenirs and memories to look back on. Time is very odd.

Still, I’m glad in some respects that it was delayed for so long. If I’d travelled before now I wouldn’t have been able to meet up with all my net.friends and see all these places from the local viewpoint. That’s certainly adding a nice touch to this trip.

Not The Elephant In Question

You know they say ‘travel light’? And you always ignore it? Well, I think I understand what they mean. I’m dreading packing tomorrow before I fly to Singapore, so I think that I’m going to end up mailing some stuff back to my parents in the morning. There are some films and a tape that I’ve used up, I haven’t used my tripod so far (it’s not very heavy, but is bulky) and I guess I can lose my alarm clock too. I can use my watch if I need to, or rely on someone waking me up. That will probably only save about a kilogram in total, but a lot of room.

Back to recent events, yesterday started out as Taxi Hell. I’d found that when I met a taxi driver who didn’t understand English I could just point at the Thai version of the placename in the Lonely Planet guidebook and that would usually work. Unfortunately this time it didn’t, and I ended up being dropped off at the end of a small alleyway on an almost deserted road. For some reason it was blocked off, but I didn’t know why. During the week I’d noticed that a lot of grandstands were being assembled in the centre of Bangkok. If I’d realised that I was only a few hundred yards from them I might have worked out what was going on.

I wandered around for a while looking for the place I wanted to visit (the old Palace), and eventually gave up. I tried to take a second taxi, but the driver just gesticulated wildly in various directions so I gave up on that too. I could see a large tower above me and signs to the ‘Golden Mount’, so I decided to skip the Palace and take a look at that instead. I walked through the Buddhist Temple and just as I got to the steps up the mount someone blocked it off. Oh well.

Finally, I grabbed another taxi and the driver explained that there was a big army parade that day to commemorate the King’s fiftieth anniversary. This explained a lot. I arrived at the old teak Palace and explored it for a while, it was quite pretty and full of objects which the Kings had collected from all over Asia and Europe on their travels. I caught the end of a traditional Thai dance show by the canal, then left in the hope of taking afternoon tea at the Hilton.

Finding a taxi was easy. Explaining to the driver was very hard, and he eventually dropped me off on a street corner after a total failure to communicate. I tried a few more. The only taxi who wanted to go there wanted four times the usual rate. I started walking and found a street sign which was marked on my map, finally worked out where I was, then spotted some paratroopers dropping out of the sky only a few hundred yards away. Then a column of armoured cars rumbled past, and I finally realised why the taxis weren’t very happy about travelling in that direction. At this point I regretted not refilling my water bottle from the Palace restaurant and decided that I’d better walk past the parade zone and pick up a taxi on the other side.

I followed the route, skirting the boundaries of the area that had been closed off, then the road abruptly came to a halt with a crowd of people in front of me. Jets flew over only a few hundred feet up, a military band paraded past and MPs on motorbikes drove up in front of us. In the distance I could see the Golden Mount where I’d started my travels. I now understood why they’d been so concerned about closing it off, it was only about a hundred yards from the grandstand where the Royal family were sitting, an ideal sniper shot.

Tanks Roll Past

Well, as I was stuck there I thought I might as well enjoy the show. It was fun, something of a big boys’ toy show. Tanks and missile launchers rumbled past, more planes flew over, fireworks went off, the band played, flags waved, the MPs sternly kept everyone under control and squirrels played obliviously in the trees and telephone wires. I also had a excuse to pull out my video camera and get some use from it. That’s the first tape finished…

So I missed my afternoon tea, but saw the Thai Royal Family and lots of cool toys, and waved at the soldiers with the rest of the crowd. I might even appear in some crowd-shots on TV or in the newspapers, as some official-looking photographers and guys with BetaCam cameras were filming us during the parade. Afterwards I hung around for a while taking pictures as they packed up, then began the walk to the hotel. By the time some taxis had emptied I was half-way there and could see little point paying them rather than finish on foot.

Sunset At A Memorial (or something)

I’ve actually been walking a surprising amount here, and if you don’t mind sweating like crazy I can recommend it. You’ll get a much better understanding of the geography and see a lot of things that you miss from the road. The city is packed with tiny food stores and huge night-time food markets which you can’t see from a taxi because you’re either in the wrong place or too low down to see over the walls. In fact, food seems to be the thing in Bangkok, at night any empty space from the sidewalk to building sites comes alive with food stalls of various sorts.

Ah well, that’s enough for now. I have to nip down to the cyberpub to check that all’s well for tomorrow, then get ready to fly to Singapore. I found some accommodation for when I get back here, it’s not as impressive as this hotel and costs more than I paid the travel agent for this one, but it’s about 1/3 of the price that they wanted for me to extend my stay here. Hotels are strange…

Hee… may be on TV again – a TV crew arrived to film the cyberpub while I was there. They only interviewed some of the staff rather than the customers though. I also saw something that I’ve never seen anywhere but Bangkok – elephants blocking the sidewalk. See what I mean about the advantages of walking?

You know the problem with this technomadism business? To make it work you need good access to the Internet. In Israel I could just take my outgoing mail along to the Internet Cafe on a floppy disk, ftp it up to my isp, send it, then ftp down my incoming mail. Here things aren’t so simple. Last night I visited the Cyberpub in Bangkok, where floppy drives are out of bounds, so my planned brief session became an expensive one.

It’s certainly the smartest Internet Cafe/Pub that I’ve been to, the food was good and I spent a couple of hours there drinking beer and listening to live music. But I couldn’t afford to read or reply to even half my messages. I guess this means you’ll get this message from Singapore!

At lunch I think I finally worked out why I’m still feeling somewhat lethargic at the moment – caffeine withdrawal.

As some of you don’t work in the computer industry, perhaps I should explain. Computer people will put up with a lot of things. Computers keep crashing? Air-conditioning breaks? Major hurricane blows the roof off the building? Terrorist car-bomb explodes in the lobby? No problem – we’re tough, we can handle that. But if the coffee machine breaks down… well, you’d better get it fixed or there’ll be a major mutiny.

Most software is written in a caffeine high, and before I flew out here I was probably drinking ten or fifteen cups a day. Since I arrived I’ve drunk three in five days. So not surprisingly my body is rebelling somewhat. One interesting thing is that now I’m no longer addicted I do actually feel an effect when I drink it, which I’d lost over my years of perpetual coffee-abuse. I suspect this will be good for me once by body finishes adapting.

One thing I will probably be addicted to after I leave is the food. Being able to get good Thai food for a fifth of the price we pay in England is just wonderful. I shall miss it when I go. So far I’ve just been ordering anything that stood out on the menu and on a couple of occasions I’ve had trouble working out how to eat what turned up. I guess it’s like an intelligence test – ‘Given this food and these utensils you have one minute to decide how to eat it’. I haven’t been thrown out yet.

I couldn’t go dancing with Yui in the end because she got stuck in a traffic jam (no joke, you haven’t seen traffic jams until you’ve seen Bangkok). She’s now off visiting her parents so I won’t see her again until I get back from Singapore. Consequently I’ve been being a tourist.

Friday I wandered down to Lumphini Park and spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around, but was practically boiled alive on the way there and back. I’m not sure I’d try it again in this weather. Saturday I visited the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha shrine. I really love the traditional Thai architecture, it’s far more colourful and elaborate than just about anything in England. The place is very much a tourist-haven, so for once I didn’t feel uncomfortable about wandering around with a still camera hung from one shoulder and a camcorder on the other. This is probably why I blew away a couple of films and half a videotape in an afternoon.

I was also accosted by some girls from one of the local schools to be interviewed for their English class project. That was quite fun, though I was stumped by the question about ‘what does Edward mean in English?’ Strange to be in a country where I’m a tourist attraction.

Now that I’m becoming used to Bangkok, I can hardly believe that I only have about four more days here. I definitely expect to come back some day, but my inability to speak Thai has become increasingly frustrating so I think I’d want to learn it to at least an elementary level first. I can get around well enough, but even just ordering food in a restaurant can get quite complicated.

Bangkok From The Air

Bangkok is hot… very, very hot. Except when you’re indoors, when it can be very, very cold. Somehow the air conditioning often seems to be set far too low. The city is also extremely congested. The 24km trip from the airport to my hotel took about two and a half hours the day I arrived, including about half an hour sitting stationary in one traffic jam! I can certainly understand why so many people ride motorbikes here, as they can weave in and out of the stationary cars and buses. However, given the rather exciting driving style where you can never be entirely sure which side of the road people will be driving on, I’m not sure that motorbikes would be conducive to a long life. Taxi drivers must be very brave.

Thanks to a combination of the time difference and the hassle of the last few weeks I pretty much fell asleep for three days. Monday I got up solely to shower and eat, Tuesday I spent the afternoon wandering around the local area, then met up with Yui, a net.friend here. As it was her birthday she took me out with some of her friends for dinner in the evening. That was nice, though I finally passed my hot-food-threshold. After my friend Ben’s extremely hot Indonesian curries I didn’t think that was possible. Hopefully we’ll be going dancing on Friday.

I think I’ve probably eaten more Thai food here than I ever did back home, and I’ll get through plenty more before I leave. I rather like the Thai way of eating with a fork and spoon, it works well. I think I should have mastered it soon.

The Cat Has The Right Idea

Yesterday I got up in the afternoon and started doing some touristy stuff, today I got up at 8am and I’m probably going to visit the National Museum. Being a sucker for museums I’ll probably be there all day. If not then I’ll head for the cyberpub at one of hotels here and see if my magic mailbot works. If you get this there’s a good chance that it did.

Bangkok reminds me of Jerusalem; there’s the same sort
of mixture of old and new architecture, though most of the buildings in the area I’m staying are definitely new. Another difference are the Thai ‘spirit houses’ which are built along with all new buildings, so that the spirits of the land will move into the spirit house rather than live in the buildings with the occupants. I can see why they would, most of them are very pretty, particularly the two outside the hotel.

Ah, the hotel. Yes, well, I’m paying $22.50 per night to the travel agency for my room and apparently the normal room rate is more like $150 per night. I don’t think that they often get people wandering into the lobby carrying huge rucksacks and wearing trousers with holes in them. It’s nice because everything is here, but on the other hand I’m not meeting any other travellers like I did in the hostel in Israel. I’ve also learnt to avoid getting a taxi from outside the hotel as the drivers think all the people staying here must be rich.

Next week I’m off for a couple of days to visit friends in Singapore, then back here for a day or two before I leave for Hong Kong. I’m wishing now that I’d had the three or four weeks I originally planned so that I could have travelled out to see some of the other towns and rural areas. Bangkok is an interesting city, but I think the congestion would get tiring after a while. Guess I’ll just have to come back another time, and learn some Thai first to make life easier.

This is actually looking to be a big problem with this travel business. One reason for making this trip was so that I could visit all these places in one go and not have a need to visit them again in the future. Of course the opposite seems to be happening – having seen a bit of the country I want more time to see the rest of it. Oh well, if I can find a telecommuting job…