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Published: March 19th 2008
Hey Everybody...Brian here. This is our blog (the other part of our being Claire). We arrived in Bangkok a few weeks ago. We stayed for four days and then made our way down to this way too touristy island called Koh Samui. This is where we are doing our TEFL training course (that's so we can teach English; it's how were going to survive here in Asia and the other places we visit).
We'll tell you more about this island later though. We are going to start from the beginning of our trip. We actually have my laptop here and have been writing. It has been difficult for us to get my computer on the internet until this point. Now we're good. We don't want to do one huge post cause that's kind of boring, so we're going to spread it out. Well here it goes from the beginning.
Oops. Before that, a little background. Claire and I have come from the desert of Southern California to Thailand to live and teach English as a foreign/second language. We will be doing quite a bit of traveling around Southeast Asia this year. It will be nice. Now...the beginning
Welcome to Bangkok - Our first few days of adjustment:
note- this begins on March 4, 2008 but was written starting March 16. I believe this is all me (Brian) writing at this point. Don't worry Claire's writings will begin in the next section.
Claire and I arrived in Bangkok around 11:15am on Tuesday, March 4th. Both are flights we’re pretty good (first one was 14hrs into Taipei), but the second place was far less than generous with seat space and leg room. Fortunately that flight was less than 4 hours.
The Bangkok airport, which has only been open a bit over a year, was very nice. We figured it would take us a few hours to get out of the airport since we had to go through customs and all. We ended up out of there in well under an hour after we exchanged our money for Baht, the Thai currency, went got our passports stamped, and picked up our luggage. There was really no “going through customs” we simply picked up our luggage looked at the intimidating customs area, with only two employees on duty, and walked out the door. I guess we could have smuggled in just about anything. Of course, with the Thai’s extremely harsh stance on drugs you really wouldn’t want to take your chances.
The airport is a good half hour drive from the main parts of the city. The air pollution is pretty bad. It’s pretty much like the worst day in the Inland Empire. The weather was much milder than expected. I believe the temperature was only in the low to mid 80’s and the humidity was relatively low, about 50-60%! (MISSING)The freeway into the city was pretty nice; three lanes I believe. Lots of billboards, in fact, the biggest billboards I have ever seen. Some of them had to be a dozen or so times larger than our typical large freeway billboards. Actually, thinking about it there were a few that were even bigger—just absolutely ridiculous. There were lots of apartment buildings with clothes hanging out to dry—a normal Thai thing. I noticed that many more apartment buildings had air conditioning than I would have thought. They were all single a/c units—as they pretty much all seem to be—I have not yet seen central a/c, although I’m sure it exists.
As we drove into the city we ran into the infamous Bangkok traffic. There are not many rules of the road here. That is really all I have to say about that. I really thought the traffic was horrendous, but after 5 minutes or so we got a view of why traffic was so bad. There was a political rally blocking most of the street (it’s my guess that it was a political rally anyway). Interesting, and no men with guns, so not very frightening.
About ten minutes later we turned into an alley and approached our hotel for the next four days. My thoughts…well it didn’t look too nice but, I really wasn’t expecting it. We splurged for our accommodations in Bangkok because we weren’t sure how our jetlag would be. We could have acquired something as cheap as ten bucks a night (fantastic idea that we didn’t) but we went for a decent rated place that was about 30 dollars a night, that’s 900 baht in case you care. The hotel was located down an alley, but almost everything is in an alley in Bangkok, and there were the last remains of a demolished building/empty lot in front of the largest part of the hotel. Not a great first impression.
The hotel lobby was nice though and the staff was pretty friendly so our fears were quickly assuaged. Check out the pics. The first impression of our room was kind of funny since American hotels are so nice. It just seemed so sparse. A bed, tv, wooden chair, and small closet thing for cloths (but with a safe; very good!). That’s it. The room was quite big though and after the first day we realized that it was a great deal. We also had a balcony which you can see pictures of. Oh, it did have a fridge/mini bar. They give you two free bottles of water a day but you have to keep the glass bottles or they’ll charge you.
At this time it was about 2pm. We were both feeling good so we journeyed out for our first real experience of Bangkok. I should mention that the area we stayed in is more of the older Bangkok. No large skyscrapers, many of the major temples are near, the grand palace is close, the Chao Prya river is close, and Kao San Road is about a 5 minute walk. Kao San Road is a horrendous piece of crap and is also very famous. This is a backpackers’ haven. It has numerous guesthouses and hostels that are very cheap, $10 and under, has lots of vendors selling overpriced crap, and tons of western bars (also overpriced for Thailand). It seems like there is always horrible techno music and everybody looks like a damn hippie in need of a three showers. There’s no Thai culture whatsoever. Yeah, so that’s that (maybe not everybody looks like a hippie; there are some good people here I’m sure; and terrorists!!!).
We walked around and were a bit overwhelmed. Vendors just set up on the street. They set up right to the curb. Sometimes they take up so much room that it’s single file walking or you can hardly get through because someone is buying something. There’s lots of food cooking, which kind of smelled good. It was hard to cross the street because there are no signals for pedestrians and there are the sorriest looking dogs you have ever seen in abundance (although they do not look particularly mean). Of course I kept Claire in front of me, I had everything in my pockets protected, and my knife was handy (thanks Layton) just in case. Probably a bit too paranoid, but hey, better a bit paranoid than getting things stolen.
We walked for…I don’t know—20, 30 minutes. It was absolutely fascinating. Once again, crossing the street sucked, but surprisingly, the drivers will stop if you just walk in front of them, even the cabbies, and we quickly learned the trick of just holding your hand out in a stop position and stepping into the road (reasonably though). They will stop. We were very hungry at this point and backtracked to a guy selling pitas. He wasn’t exactly a street vendor since he had a niche kind of store front spot—but at the end of the day he was a street vendor. I guess we just jumped right in (although it wasn’t Thai food). It was about a buck sixty for each pita and they were damn good. And no stomach problems or anything like that.
After that I think we had our first Kao San Road experience, but I believe I said enough about that in a previous paragraph. After that I believe we went back to the hotel, booked a tour for the next morning, had our free welcome drink, and went to the room.
The next morning we got up early and hit our hotel’s breakfast buffet (did I mention that our hotel had a free breakfast buffet every morning? Well they did, and it was worth quite a bit because they had some western food; western food often means western prices here, but switching to Thai food outright is difficult). After that we met up with our little tour for the day. It was just us and a French woman who did not speak a lot of English. She was nice though. I believe she was a jewelry maker and was in Bangkok to buy gems and silver and stuff like that. Apparently they do have a lot of emeralds and things here that are top quality. Who knew?
Our tour started at the Wat Pho temple. Basically it is the temple of…I don’t remember. Crap…. (Ok. I went and got our postcards—now I remember.) It’s the temple of the reclining Buddha. It was really beautiful and one of the most detailed things I had ever seen. The reclining Buddha is really, really big. Check out the pictures. Our tour guide called himself Max. He was a young guy and his lady was also a guide, but she did not speak much English. Max was only slightly informative but he drove the van through Bangkok traffic like a champ. He did keep talking about sexy ladies and how you eat food and it comes out the other end. This was kind of reference to Buddhism. Things come, things go, you have to be ok with that…it kind of made sense at the time. His “sexy lady” kept taking pictures of us with our camera. She would take a normal shot and then tell us to do an “action” shot with kung fu. It was funny.
Next he took us to another place that I can’t remember, but there is a pic of Claire and I next to the sign so you can figure it out. This too was cool. After that they fed us fruit from a street vendor as we got on a long tail boat for a ride up and down the Chao Prya. This too was cool. The river is pretty dirty though. We stopped at the bank of the river and got some bread so we could have a “fish party”. I think there’s pics of this too.
Then we ate some lunch which, among several other dishes, had a whole fried fish with papaya salad (very spicy). The fish was good. Then, remember how I said they have lots of gems here…they took us to a place that sells them. It wasn’t a scam thing though. The place was huge and they showed us a little movie on how and where they mine them and went into a large room where dozens of people were creating jewelry…then they took us into a showroom for sales. There were lots of people spending lots of money. Not us. Claire did say the deals were pretty good and there were lots of gems you rarely see in the states.
The day ended with us going to the Grand Palace. This is where the king lives with a bunch of the other royal family. The place is incredible and huge. One of my favorite parts was the gigantic mural that went around this one building. It was hundreds of yards long and told a really long story. Max explained parts of it here and there. It was really interesting and I wish he could have told us more but he was on his cell phone most of the time. Welcome to Thailand.
The Grand Palace is also the home of the Emerald Buddha, the most holy Buddha in Thailand. It’s green but not really made of emerald. It’s also kind of small and the king himself dresses it in different outfits for each of their three seasons. It was very cool. We will go back someday when we have more time to hang out. You could literally spend all day at the Palace. That was not what we did though.
We got back to the hotel at 5:30 or so. A nice 10 hour tour for $50 dollars each. I’m pretty sure it was actually a good deal. Oh, that reminds me. While walking out of the Grand Palace a kid wanted to sell us a string of postcards for 350 baht. That’s about 12 dollars. They’re always trying to take advantage of tourists here. He followed us down the block and we finally got him down to 60 baht, a reasonable deal. We have quickly learned to always negotiate in Thailand. A good rule of thumb here is to just cut the price in half to start your bargaining. Welcome to Thailand.
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