|1$US =~ 40 Baht|
Sunday, Jan 8th, 2006
After a surprisingly smooth flight, considering I had a middle seat, we landed in Tokyo and not so shortly after but on schedule in Bangkok at around midnight. Since the flight started early in the morning you just sit and try to doze and relax until it's over, unlike much shorter flights to Europe where you start in the evening and miss a night and then arrive worn out.
Finding a hotel proved not so easy now in peak season but after about 1.5 hours of driving around the taxi driver finally located one and really earned his 400 Baht (10$US).
I was comfortably but by no means luxuriously tucked away at 3am for a relatively expensive 2000Baht (50$US, I hope you'll get the math) a night.
The next morning I was up at 9am for the included buffet breakfast and went to the weekend market which was recommended to me by the taxi driver as one of the better attractions within the vicinity and only held,as the name suggests, on weekends.
What a great way to start your stay in Bangkok. The market is a real assault on the senses. It's huge and you can find anything for a fraction of the price you'd pay at home.
Since I only brought the clothes on my body I found a pair of Teva wild water sandals for 299 Baht (~7.50 US, one more time), at home 80$ plus tax, some shorts for 5 bucks and while no need for socks I splurged on 2 Thai silk undershorts for 100 Baht each. On my way back I picked up a couple of 640ml Elephant beers 6,4% at 37 Baht and 20$ later I had everything I needed.
After a little siesta I arranged the flight to Phuket and the hotel since at peak season you don't want to leave these things to chance and booked a couple of day tours to the interesting spots in the surrounding area like Ayutthaya and next day to the floating markets.
I then took the Skytrain to the river and took the ferry up the river (75 cents) to get an impression of the city. The Skytrain is only 3 years old and might just be the salvation of Bangkok. Traffic is very thick on the road and the air pollution very bad. You feel like you have your mouth tied to a hose around somebody's exhaust pipe. The Skytrain is above traffic, is air conditioned, fast and cheap.
I had also booked myself a ringside ticket to the Sunday night Thai boxing extravaganza and that was in hindsight a great thing because I ended up being able to take some great video footage and was also very touched by the experience. They do this ritual at the beginning of each fight. They pray before entering the ring, then do this dance-like warm up in the ring, going to all four corners touching them with their head, bowing to the crowds. All this is accompanied by a trio of musicians with some weird flute and two horizontal drums. The pace of the music matches the action in the ring. If they don't fight hard enough the referee admonishes them. The fighting is fierce and they do get hurt and knocked out sometimes but after briefly raising his hand in victory the winner goes right away to the other fighter and apologizes by putting his palms together and bowing, which is a gesture commonly used in Thailand. It's nice to see that they bear both winning and losing with a certain dignity unlike this relentless self promotion through outrageous behaviour by too many American athletes.
I took a tour to Ayutthaya, the old capital which is about 1.5 hours driving North of here. There were plenty of temple ruins and Buddhas and it reminded me that as any organized religion even a relatively benign religion like Buddhism also thrives on conditioning people to "ora et labora". We took the boat back down the Chaoh Praya River and every kilometer or so there was another more or less opulent temple complex with gold plated this and that. We also went to visit the Royal Summer Palace, which combines Eastern and Western architectural styles.
Tuesday, Jan 10th:
I went on a tour to the floating markets. The van picked me up at 6.30 after breakfast and again we drove for nearly 2 hours. Then we took the longboats with the incredibly powerful engines and the long, steerable propellershafts and drove through canals to the market. It's a big tourist attraction so prices are accordingly but it is a nice colorful and pungent experience. We stopped at some Arts and Crafts place where people do minutely detailed wood carvings and furniture.
Wednesday, Jan 11th
Good morning! It's 7.30 and the sky is clear and I'm looking forward to the beach and some fresh sea air. After seeing my share of manifestations of the greatness of their culture, religion and the richness of their various potentates I'm ready to worship in my favorite temple of nature, which are coral reefs! My flight leaves at 18.55.
I spoke to Auntie from the airport and wished her happy birthday. The 1 hour flight was smooth and there was a driver to pick me up and take me to the hotel which is about an hour drive from the airport.
Ha Ha, just had to correct the date to Jan. I guess when you come from winter into the heat you figure it has to be starting with a J but must be June.
After going to sleep at 22.00 last night I woke up at 6.30 to the singing of the birds. It's the first 8.5 hours of continuous, deep sleep that I've had in a while. I decided to put off the excursion to Ko Phi Phi and just chill here in the comfort and serenity of my hotel. I'll work on some web stuff to keep my customers happy, read and go swimming.
I also added to my collection of beach towels. I like the ones that have a map of the area on them. Bargaining for it is half the fun. Yesterday I saw it at the department store for 290 plus 7% VAT, but you can't really bargain at the department store. So I find a stall somewhere that has it and has an elderly merchant attending it. They've been around the block a few times and usually own the place. He wants 350. I offer 250 and explain to him that I know he is buying it from some Chinese wholesaler who has 200 children in his basement making them for 50 baht. He explains to me that he is sleeping on the floor of his stall. I offer 275. He says he needs to eat. I tell him I know he has a villa on the hill that he goes home to every night but that I know how much upkeep these cost so I'll give him 300. We make the deal and part smiling.
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