Sunday, 16 July 2006
Again, blogger is not overly good with photo layout. Also I am posting from Cambodia where dialup is high speed access, so bear with me:
a. Me, on a Ferris Wheel! A real hoot.
b. The old capital of Ayuthaya.
c. From the top of a tall lookout in Bangkok. A view of the city far below.
d. A genius of modern design who created this and other masterpieces of art.
e. Me comfy and fed on a boat heading back to Bangkok from Ayuthaya.
f. Just in case the Arts Degree does not pay, I have an alternative career waiting.
g. Enjoying a ride on an elephant.
h. At Ayuthaya, climbing a Temple steps.
i. The resting Ian.
j. One of the 'naughty' areas of Bangkok.
k. One of the other 'naughty' areas of Bangkok.
l. Me and an elephant getting acquainted.
How can mere words describe my happy times in the ‘Land of 1,000 Smiles’? I will state here and now that Thailand has been the most fun destination in my Asian travels. The people, the places, the sights have all been enjoyable, rewarding, and fun fun fun.
My first stop in Thailand was in the southern city of Hat Yai, while small, this is a bustling town with a booming economy. I spent a day here in order to sample the delights of Thailand before diving into the megalopolis that is Bangkok. I secured a room without a view at a small hotel which caters for passing farangs (Euro foreigners). I then looked around for a few activities. The most obvious was a one day expedition into the jungle. This I partook of, it was hot and humid, sticky and with a few bugs, but an enjoyable experience. After this I was more than ready to head north to the big city. I booked a train, first class (the other classes were not so good), hopped on board and immediately went to sleep.
The train trip itself was fine, however, I have noted that most of the countries I have visited were somewhat bureaucratic in their operating procedures. Thai rail was no exception. No less than three people came by in my first half-hour on board to ask to see my ticket. This was in addition to the chap who showed me to my cabin. Needless to say, this was not overly helpful when it came to sleep.
Upon arrival in Bangkok I was approached by a local taxi driver who offered to take me to my hotel for a mere 200 Baht (~A$7), and offer which I accepted. I did suspect that this was pricey, and was later to learn that this was in deed excessive, when relying on the meter few trips in Bangkok cost more than 75B. My hotel, as I was again soon to learn (travel is an educational experience), is in the middle of the red light/entertainment area of Bangkok. There are several such areas catering to western men (and more than a few western women) in search of paid ‘romance’ (or fucking). To be frank I see nothing wrong with a little financially remunerated humpy bumby. If I were to register an objection to any form of social behaviour it would be towards smoking and the consumption of alcohol. However, what I did find disturbing was the sight of attractive young Thai girls walking hand in hand with some of the grossest, fat, loser slobs you have ever had the misfortune to set your eyes upon. Every day at breakfast there would be this dichotomy between beauty and the beast. One sight sticks in my mind, this loser from the UK had his girlfriend wear a Supergirl outfit, including boots and cape, for several days. The scariest sight, one which I am still attempting to suppress and will never mention again, was a old, ugly, farang, walking along a main street, in a bright red dress, with his (remaining) hair dyed blonde. Very scary. The Thais are a tolerant people.
One of the entertaining activities in Asian travel is a visit to the local markets. One of the larger in Bangkok is the JJ weekend markets. This is a large area located at the end of the BTS (the Skytrain). I went there on a Saturday to look around and to also meet up with a Thai girl (Aon) I had met on the internet (yahoo messenger to be precise). After a little running around and miscommunication we met and spent a few enjoyable hours chit chatting and travelling around the markets. In summary, prices were I believe good, and there were lots of farangs wandering around looking hot and tired (just like me). One thing I will mention is that it was at this market that my mobile phone was stolen. So far this has been the only disagreeable event of my trip. It was my fault. I normally kept my phone inside my shoulder bag but I had just used the phone and so put it on my belt. A crowded market is a prime location for pickpockets. So, future travellers, be warned!
Speaking of visiting things, I went on a lot of tours, however, with one exception, I shall not attempt to individually itemise. I saw temples, museums, art galleries, saw old building, toured new, climbed high places, visited everything of worth. In case anyone is wondering Bangkok is a great city to visit.
The one tour I found particularly worthy of note was a visit to the old capital of Thailand, Ayuthaya (‘R-U-T-R), which lies about an hour’s drive to the north of Bangkok. It became the ‘old’ capital after an invading Burmese army destroyed the place. Thankfully, old temples and palaces do serve one useful purpose, they make excellent tourist attractions. I took a one day tour to Ayuthaya. In short, it was great, maybe the best tour so far. First we visited the King’s summer palace, then we headed to the old city. It is in ruins, but is slowly being restored. Amidst the rubble and half standing buildings there were hoards of Thai students running around and having their photograph taken. Clearly Ayuthaya is a designated ‘cultural’ artifact for the Thais. My tour group was shown two main set of ruins, one was the palace complex, the second an adjacent temple complex. The tour would have been better if the guide had been a little more knowledgeable about what we were seeing. Fortunately, I had previously purchased a book so I had some idea (and of course, there is that source of universal information: ‘The Lonely Planet Guide to ....’. Then, after the history, was the fun part. A small amusement area, with elephant rides and things to buy. Great fun! The journey back was on a ship, which served an excellent lunch. Being a vego the catering staff kindly made for me an excellent and very large vego meal! I got back to Bangkok happy, replete and tired.
One amusing aspect of touring in Thailand is the presence of touts. You will find these people standing outside tourist spots: temples, sights, and markets, saying something like ‘Where you from?’ or “You like to see something better?’. There goal in life is to take you not where you want to go but to somewhere they want you to go, and spend money. In effect these folk are harmless. There is no prospect of physical violence or intimidation (the Thai’s are a polite people, and also a people small in stature). Their patter, after a few iterations, is amusing, and one can, if one wishes, have some fun with these guys by answering their patter back—’Are you sure this temple closed? People are walking in and out’, ‘Maybe I go, can you pay for taxi first’, etc. All good fun. I did see a few people become annoyed with the touts, understandable, but keeping one’s cool and staying in control of oneself is always the best option. As Mark Twain once wrote, ‘A man should only be concerned about the prospect of being shot in the morning’.
A few passing thoughts on Thailand:
Before I left for Bangkok I had read and been told about the omnipresent noise, pollution, and congestion of the city. I had heard so much that I had come to believe that this could be a damper on my enjoyment, however, I am happy to state that reports of Bangkok’s environmental degradation are greatly exaggerated. It is true that rush hour traffic does not, that noise is omnipresent, and that vehicular pollution can be annoying, but I found all of this, and me coming from the small and quiet city of Perth, not to be a great problem. Away from the main streets you can find quiet and peaceful accommodation, while even near the main thoroughfares things are not so bad. Do not let the oft repeated claims of Bangkok’s detractors put you off from visiting this fine city.
I did see a two movies in Thailand (‘Superman’—OK; ‘Pirates 2’—not so good). The cinematic experience is, I am sure, the same world wide, however, there are two small items of note: Thai cinemas are cold, I was shivering in one; second, the Thais respect their King, amidst the movie previews and the adds for hair cream, there was a 60 second advert for the King, everyone in the cinema, including yours truly, stood. This respect for the King is found in the innumerable signs, banners and posters of the King which are found all over Bangkok (and I am sure throughout the country).
As I am sure everyone knows Thailand is a Buddhist country. The guide books say 95% of the population are Buddhists and, judging by the overt and covert Buddhist activity, I can only agree. This amount of religious adherence does lead to an interesting situation when yours truly is asked to discuss his religious affiliation. Every Thai ‘knows’ that Australians are christians, as such when the topic of religion arises I am invariably referred to as a christian. When I try and explain that I am an atheist and that god does not exist I am met with blank stares from most Thais. The paradigm of religion is deeply embedded in Thai society.
There are lots of farangs in Bangkok, and tourism is a big business, however, it is not being developed as well as it could be. I keep coming back to the example of Singapore, which is essentially a small island with nothing of real interest, but has created a tourist market from scratch with manufactured and somewhat cosmetic attractions while other countries, which do have natural features of note, ignore or fail to fully develop their tourist potential.
After close to two weeks in Thailand I decided it was time to depart and find new adventures. This was to lead me across the border into Cambodia—the next step on my Odyssey.