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Tuesday, May 29

Thailand Travels: Day One

After passing through the customs gate at the airport in Bangkok, a sign translated into English stating “Way Out” and not “Exit” was our first clue that we had most definitely left Kansas. Only steps past this sign, the barrage of tour company bombardment began. We honestly had no idea that there were so many innovative ways for people to offer simple taxi service. One even used tactics that stopped us at first but brought us quickly back to the realization that it was just yet another sales ploy. Then, just because you said no and kept walking, this meant nothing to these salesmen. After a six hour, late night flight, we lost patience quickly with the bombardment and started forcefully pushing past people, following the signs towards the local taxis.

You see, Bangkok is crazy cheap for foreign travelers. However, this is only the case if you are smart enough to know how to go about it. Don’t take those taxi offers inside the airport or you will likely be paying for more limousine-like service, versus the simply taxi that costs a mere $4 to go downtown to your hotel.

Safely inside our everyday, standard taxi, we took our first breaths of the intensely oppressive mug hanging in the air as we watched the many neighborhoods of Bangkok illuminated by the moonlight fly by our window. And I mean fly… as the cab meandered itself in and out of lanes at breakneck speeds.

We had booked our trip through Expedia, choosing a rather low cost option but one with a few extra stars behind the hotel name. It looked nice enough in the pictures. Pulling up to the Lebua at State Tower, we realized that perhaps we might have gone out of our league. The doormen rush to open doors. The bellboy rushes to take your bags. The desk clerk rushes to check you in while you sit in plush sofa comfort. Then an escort rushes you to your room, even opening the door for you so you don’t have put any effort in with your own tender fingers. All this… with the biggest smiles on their faces as the clasp their hands into Buddhist lotus flower positioning and bow in welcome to you.

As we entered our room, it took all we had not to laugh at loud at the simple but exquisite luxury of the room. The front room housed a dining table and then a separate seating area, complete with a flat screen for your Thai television viewing pleasure. Placed on the table were a life white and purple orchid, a welcoming box of chocolates and a handwritten card thanking us for our visit. The hallway was turned into an efficiency type kitchen and closets where the lights would turn on as you open the doors. To the left were double glass doors that rolled back to show a bathroom larger than either of our two spare bedrooms. Double sinks, deep tub with spa settings, western toilet with bidet settings and a corner shower encased in glass. The towels that hung awaiting our use would stretch from head to toe when opened up with a thickness equivalent to the best towels you could find at a Neiman Marcus. Onward into the bedroom to find an oversized king bed with all white plush linens that you sunk into. As it was late, the maids had turned down the linens in preparation for our bedtime and dimmed the lights so that the view from the balcony of the river and the city glittering like so many stars stood to lull us into good dreams.

But bedtime was not to be had for us just yet. It was 10:30 p.m. Bangkok, 12:30 a.m. Japan time and we were too hungry to sleep. Leaving luxury behind, we headed out into the sticky night air in search of our first Thai meal.

And leave luxury we did. For there is one strange thing about Thailand. Like Japan, rich and poor live side by side. This stately hotel of 64 rooms back up directly into the one of the shabbiest neighborhoods I have ever seen. Only as our days went on would we realize this was completely normal in this city. Overly skinny dogs and cats sniffed the streets in search of food littered on corners. Buildings looked as if it was impossible for human life to exist inside. (WE would be told the next day that buildings in the area were 250 to 300 years old surviving through the tropical elements, hence the appearance.) Wires hung in drooping clumps from overloaded poles, threatening to snap and swing electric down onto people in the streets below.

And everyone was on these streets. It must be difficult to find air conditioning inside these homes so most locals could be found at dilapidated tables outside their front door. Some were hanging out at similar decrepit tables next to food vendors serving various Thai mixtures. We wandered in all directions looking for the “nice” part of the neighborhood with a restaurant or two located inside. On this first night, it became very clear that pretty much all restaurants are outside locales. As we wandered the dim and dirty streets, cabs in all varieties would stop and ask us if we needed a ride. All smiles… all full of help… we declined all offers and kept on trekking.

Finally coming to a more normally lit area, we entered an outdoor restaurant in Silom Village. Tanks of shrimp, fish, crab and other sea creatures greeted patrons along the pathway. At least the meal would be fresh, so we took a seat. Easing ourselves into the heat of Thai food, we ordered a grilled pork dish, pad thai and crab legs with lemon, garlic and pepper with each arriving on beautifully decorated plated. I topped my first meal with a fine mai thai that only after I had drank half did I consider that the ice cubes might be made from unfiltered Thai water. I shouldn’t have to explain what that would do to an unsuspecting stomach. Luckily, the cubes were filtered and all went well although the drink did little to unparch me from the intensity of the dishes we consumed. Another lesson quickly learned, eating the spiciest of foods in 33 degree Celsius weather is a tremendously difficult task and will cause you to sweat like you imagine you would if sitting on the edge of an erupting volcano… a lesson we would choose to repeat on a nightly basis.

Stomachs filled and clothes soaked, we started the walk back to the hotel, encountering again a multitude of offers for a ride even on at the front steps of our hotel.

Upstairs, even overwhelming exhaustion did not stop us from taking icy showers before collapsing into bed. Day two loomed ahead and promised to be the first real part of a major adventure.


Anonymous said...

Im jealous!!!!!!!

Mike S said...

Not much different from the old days. Great place for foreigners:)