Selena Sol in Thailand

A schizophrenia worthy of any proto-cyberian city. Unfinished monoliths of modernity streak skyward out of the exhaust fume painted squalor of squatter slums; solitary virgin shoots out of a freshly decimated forest floor (though always tied to the unseen ancestral root system). Urban sprawl as far as the eye can see.
[*] Soy and her sister Pet, drive me from the airport to the "Sathorn Inn" (The expressway is a ghost road at 1 AM) where I immediately fall into a deep slumber, having stayed awake for the 26 hour flight so as to fool my internal clock out of jet lag.

Note: In Thai hotel rooms, you must place the room key in a slot above the main light switch in order to activate the electricity. Take out the key and break the circuit. My first night was spent without lights or air conditioning because I did not figure this out.
Up at 5:30 AM to the arhythmically rhythmical sounds of roadside restaurateurs preparing for the day ahead. Showered in the darkness (still hadnt figured the room key thing out) and sat on the balcony waiting for Soy and watching the sun rise over downtown Bangkok. [Marketplace]
[*] In the darkness, the cramped and twisted back alleyways, "Sois", alive with preparation appear otherwise dull and dingy except for the candle lit, gold-painted spirit houses which protect each home from evil spirits and the frantic buzz of people. Dozens. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions of people.
Note: Picture ten million people, two million cars, hundreds of temples, thousands of restaurants, markets, skyscrapers, sleepy canals and street stalls all pressing against each other 24 hours a day like commuters in a Paris metro in rush hour and you get Bangkok, the "City of Angels".
Khao Men Gai for breakfast bought from an old shirtless smiley cavern-toothed man on the side of the road and a parade of skinny, whiny cats to fend off. I am glad that Soy can order for us in the beginning. I also know how much this meal "really" costs for future reference. [Red Peppers]
Note: Horror stories tend to be circulated about the dangers of eating anything from street stalls. Do not believe them. Unless you have a particularly weak stomach, almost anything a Thai offers you will be good. Water is always boiled before served or bottled water is provided. As for the food, the small noodle shop on the corner of some Soi or the little old lady who sells grilled chicken and rice at the market provide some of the most tasty and safe local cuisine. As a ground rule check that the food is freshly cooked and if you have just arrived, go easy at first. Beyond that put your worries aside and feast. The Thais do and they are healthy enough.

Here are the phrases I needed (but of course I also pointed a lot)

chawp phet = I like it spicy
mii mai? = Do you have
Khao Suay = Rice
Gai = Chicken
Neua = Beef
lae = and
Chan chab naam deum khuat = Id like bottled water.
Kii baht = How many Baht is it (25 Baht/1 $US)?
Khit waa phaeng pai = I think thats too much.
Khap Khun Krub = Thank You.
Khaw thot = Excuse me.

Traffic] Soy is at work now and I am walking towards the grand palace on Silom Road. Swarms of monoxide coughing motorcycles gather at every red light carrying dozens of side saddle sitting Thai women to work, their refined flawless appearances contrasting with the greasy motorcycle cabbies with their numbered vests and smog protection masks. I am already rather dizzy myself from 15 minutes on foot during rush hour.

Note: If you go to Bangkok, don't expect to find a center of town like in US cities. There isn't one. The city's development has been rapid and haphazard with temples, hotels, shopping centers and high rises spread randomly over a larger area than the entire county of LA. There are however, several main districts connected by a network of over congested roads and winding side streets. [Elephant] Things I needed to say while getting around. Khaw Thot, Phom haa = Excuse me, I am looking for
Sawat dii Krub = Hello
Phom phuut phaasaa thai mai dai krub = I cant speak Thai.
Khun Phuut phaasaa angkrit dai mai krub? = Can you speak English?
Phom mai khao jai krub = I dont understand.

Silom is alive with development. Every 3rd building is under construction and the road is a constant maze of detours and construction zones edged with clusters of street stalls busy with activity.
[*] "Tuk Tuk" driver slithers up and walks with me. 20 Baht (25 Baht/1 $US) for a 3 hour tour. We'll see many Buddhist Temples and he'll return me to Soy's office for lunch. I agree and the tuk tuk driver takes off re-establishing its place in the swarm of Bangkokian rush hour traffic.
Tuk Tuks are three wheeled open car/motorcycles with a curved roof and room for two passengers. The benefit of taking a Tuk Tuk or a motorcycle cab instead of a regular metered cab or a bus is that you can zip through the wall of traffic (You can easily spend an hour in a 20 block commute). Sometimes you go between lanes, sometimes on side walks and sometimes in oncoming lanes. The problem is that you typically need to bargain the fare and you'll get ripped off every time. Plus there are no windows to roll up and protect you from the foul air.
We commence to cruise by several "Wats" (Buddhist Temples) where I see all sorts of majestic Buddha statues and Buddhist compounds with their intricate towers and buildings. Each time I am fortunate enough to find someone there who speaks enough English to tell me about the meanings behind and the history of the temples. Sometimes I actually sneak on to the back of tour groups coming from the large Hotels on busses and listen to their guides until shooed away.
[*] [Buddha] At the end of almost every street on any corner you will come across one of the thousands of Bangkok temples. Most consist of a main, walled compound with one or more Viharns or Pagodas surrounding a central temple with some form of (usually solid or at least plated gold) Buddha image. Shoes line the entrance and all around burns incense and thin yellow candles.
Note: If you light any, note that you should un-rubberband the incense from the candle and place the smoking incense in the sand pot and the lighted candle in the madora. Most Farangs (foreigners), without watching the locals first, just put the whole thing in the sand pot.
On many statues flap gold flakes pasted on by worshippers. Most Wats are plentifully adorned with ceramics and stone images from Thai, Indian and Buddhist folklore. Monstrous Yakshas Nagas and Kinari bar their teeth at you as you enter. Along the walls intricately detailed historical/mythological murals depict more stories than I have time to ask people to retell for me.
[*] As it turns out, it is "Buddha Day" and Ill have good luck for the year having visited the temples. When asked, I say that I am Taoist rather than an Extropian. Close enough I guess.
Note: The state official religion is Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism and about 90% of the population are Buddhists (though much less are practicing, just like the percentage of Christians in the U.S.) Buddhism comes from its founder Gautama Buddha of Nepal India. [Monks] It is believed by some academics that Buddhism came to Thailand c.269-237 BC brought by Indian merchants and emigrants and particularly two monks Phra Sona and Phra Uttara. There it was meshed with traditional beliefs as well as bits and pieces from Hinduism. There are four noble truths in Buddhism: Buddhism is so strongly ingrained that every male reaching 20 years of age strives to enter the monkhood at least once for three months at the least before death. But this period is highly adjustable these days for economic reasons.
[Ornate Ceiling] Then the tuk tuk driver asks me to see some shopping centers. I am not too interested but he is persistent. A whirlwind tour of jewelry and tailor shops ensues. As it turns out, the "real" reason that I got such a good rate on the tuk tuk was not because of Buddha Day as I was told, but because the tuk tuk driver gets a commission for bringing farangs. A liter of gas even if I dont buy anything and a percentage if I do. Why I looked like a deep-pocketed tourist Ill never know. Forty minutes of that and the driver seemed to realize that my patience was thinning and drove me back. On the plus side, I did get to see many of the wats that Id intended to see and I did get a tour of many areas of Bangkok that may not have been on a tour route. Also, I am reminded early to be more careful. It has been awhile since Europe and Im not in the swing of dodging scams.
Note: Here is a list of scams to watch out for compiled from several tourist guides:
[Tiles] Lunch at the "Little Home" where they serve pancakes with Maple Syrup as the house specialty desert. Reminds me of Dave saying that the traditional American breakfast is pretty unhealthy. I have Pad Thai, my old standby and find that American Thai restaurants are very faithful to the traditional recipes. I suspect it will not be the same for Chinese food in China though.
[*] [Bikes] The afternoon lasts all of two hours. I walk down Silom Road the opposite direction, pass Patpong, the red light district, asleep at 3 PM, and all the way down to King Rama IV Rd. Then back. I am tired and ready for a nap.
[*] Buzzing phone at 6 PM. Soy is off work and ready to take me to dinner. We eat at Silom Village. I order Pad Ka Phrao and Chicken in Pandas Leaves while watching Thai traditional dancing and kickboxing demonstrations. The restaurant is especially interesting because it is an open kitchen so that we can watch all the dishes being prepared.
Note: Thai food is extremely cheap. $6 will feed two at even the most posh restaurants and $1 is plenty for a meal on the road. However, portions are smaller (maybe 75% of an American Thai meal). But, since it is so hot, ones appetite is reduced and the smaller portions are very satisfying.
After dinner, Soy and I stay in until I fall asleep.
[*] Day Two begins like Day One. Soy arrives several hours before work and we spend a leisurely morning together. The she goes to work and I head off down Sathorn Road towards Chao Phraya River. With some Thai phrases Ive memorized, I get myself breakfast. I also try some grilled chicken which unfortunately turns out to be liver and fish which when I turn the corner gets tossed to an exuberant mutt.
[*] Tuk Tuk picks me up and takes me down to the river after I get tired of walking, but I agree to take a boat trip with a long-tailed boatsman he knows. I get a "great" deal (uh, even though it is way too expensive, I am glad I took the trip as I would not have taken a long-tailed (a.k.a. James Bond boat) boat otherwise). The boat takes me up river and down [Floating Market] into smaller rivlets in Thonburi, the Venice of the Orient. Interestingly, we pass by a Wat on one of the smaller rivers where fish swim freely, even jumping out of the water. I suppose there is no fishing allowed in the area of the Wat and so the fish have come there to live. Near there, I see an old man taking a bath in the waterpretty gross really since the river is fairly polluted, but probably his only source of water, fresh or not. The boat driver asks me if I want to buy some weed but the image of a Thai prison is distasteful. Along the way we pass dozens of one-person kayaks full of wares on their way to the markets of Bangkok.
[*] The boat trip ends at Wat Po where I stop to get a ˝ hour massage at the school of massage for $4/hr. What a deal. Then to the Grand Palace for the afternoon.
[*] Firm grasp on my bicep. Militia garbed in brown saying, "No, No pants!" He points at my shorts. "Where rent pants?" is probably what I said backing away unnecessarily cautiously. Following the finger across the street I find the appropriate vendor renting pants to unprepared farang like myself. I rent some pants and make my way back to the royal palace. [Grand Palace]
[*] The palace grounds are somewhat smaller than Versailles, and though decked out, it does not wreak of the decadence of European monarchy. Relatively new (built in 1783 after the militarily conscious move south from Ayutthaya to Bangkok away from Burma), the pagodas seem drenched in age, perhaps because so much of it immigrated south with the monarchy.
[*] The outer palace (we can only go into the outer and middle palaces) is a study in space. The intricacies of Thai traditional ornamentation, so dangerously close to gaudy (and in that beautiful), are casually balanced by the openness of the courtyards and wide staircases as well as the sloping faces of pyramidic towers. Today I cannot get in to see the famed Emerald Buddha because the palace is being prepared for the evenings celebration, the Kings birthday but there is more than enough to explore, and I can come back.
[*] [Model] As I exit the palace I am flagged by a Thai man who sits with three young school girls. He is watching over them while they interview foreigners for their English class. I answer their questions and then I correct their questions and write out my answers. It is nice to leave a good impression of Americans. Too many come to Thailand for seedier goals and leave the impression that America truly is Hollywood.
[*] Outside the streets are being closed off in preparation for the evenings festivities and fireworks. So, before it gets too late, I grab a tuk tuk back to Soys and wait in the lobby until she is off. Meanwhile I read more of my book on Thai culture and language.
[*] That night Soy drives us back to the river, fireworks ablaze in the night sky as we board a restaurant/ferryboat named "Yok Yoh" to dine while drifting slowly down Mae Nam Chao Phraya River. The shoreline is a tapestry of fireflies in the darkness; quite a different view than in the daylight when the river urchin shacks are visible. Our diner includes a two person Thai band who has a fetish for Southern Rock and makes minced meat out of the Eagles. But it is fun in a Karaoke sortve way. The female lead gets a bunch of drunk Americans to get up and sing verses and [Lillies] dance with her. I watch the Thai couples watch the Americans and notice Soy watching me watch them.
[*] Metered cab to Vimanmek Palace which is a nice place to start the day. The cool and comfortable, well-manicured grounds are very relaxing and quite contrasting to the congestion far outside, unnoticeable by eye, ear, or nose. The palace is a huge teak wood building surrounded by a European-style lawn and man made lake with the uncanny ability to keep exceptionally cool in the Bangkokian oven.
[*] A walking tour of the palace followed by a Thai dance and kick boxing demonstration which, though well narrated and explained, begins to get repetitive. It seems as if every place catering to tourists has the same demonstrations, even down to the choreography of the combat. (Must be some type of standard two-person short form).
[*] [Lion] Having already expanded 100 fold my Thai lexicon, I am ready for my next adventure; the public bus system. Vimanmek is quite a jaunt from the royal palace which I will finish exploring today and though I could easily hop a cab, it is early in the day which means that I have plenty of time to get lost. Plus, the bus route requires only one transfer and I have the phrase "I am trying to get to the royal palace, would you tell me when to get off?" down pat!
[*] Standing room only in the stairwell of course and quite a few stares communicating "who is this weird looking, disheveled farang?!?" But a very successful experiment. 5 baht as opposed to 150, though about 3 times as long a trip. But a different experience nonetheless.
[*] A self-reflection in retrospect:
[*] When you think of riding the bus as a thrilling and novel experience, you can be sure you are truly derangedof course, not as much as the person who empathetically reads two paragraphs about it.
[*] After cruising the rest of the palace (brought jeans in my backpack), I hop a watercab over to Wat Arun which is unfortunately under reconstruction. But at least I am on a roll with communication and cheap public transportation. Turn in early for tomorrow. We leave early by plane to Koh Samuii, an island off the Southern coast in the Gulf of Thailand. [Koh Samuii]
[*] The flight out of Bangkok is quite smooth for a small propeller-powered plane and we arrive in a spectacular steamy, hot rain storm. Soy has banked on us missing monsoon seasonanduhlost big time! However, the warm rain and the tropical environs are invigorating to me. The taxi makes its way over mud covered roads, in between water buffaloes, and through furies of butterflies (Samui is a butterfly preserve).
[*] We reach our hotel "The Fair Inn". (In retrospect, I recommend "The Central Samui" at Chaewan Beach for just a little more money). The bungalow is great and this incarnation of the storm has slid on by and the sun is quickly, amazingly drying things up. [Beach]
[*] We lounge most of the day on the beach and then walk along the shore at sunset till we find a beach café for dinner. I order Pad See Ewe and have been paying since. Bad pork probably. The night is fairly restless with several trips to the bathroom.
[*] The second day on the island is fortunate. My stomach behaves remarkably and though the rain has muddied the reef too much for snorkeling, the island has many non-beach activities. We rent a four wheeled drive jeep and I get my first lessen driving on the left with the steering wheel on the right. Slow at first and later confidently, Soy and I drive into the interior. [Monkey Farm]
[*] The first stop is the Samui monkey farm theater where trained monkeys perform all sorts of tricks from slam dunking a basketball to harvesting coconuts. It is a fun, if cheesy show. There is also an elephant soccer game afterwards which is a bit awkward, but also fun.
[*] After the monkey farm, we head over to Hinta/Hinya a local tourist trap made up of genitalia-looking stone formations. Pretty stupid, but hey, on the list of things to do in Lets Go.
[*] Finally, we head to the waterfalls. The largest one requires a forty minute hike deep into the lush island interior. Mosquitoes dive like packs of B-42s and I realize that maybe this counts as a malaria zone and that maybe I should have gotten some malaria pills before I came. As it turns out, I read in a brochure later that night, I am in fact deep inside malaria land. But as of a week later, I am still healthy and thankful. Anyway, it is hard to get Stones "Platoon" out of my mind as we trek deeper and deeper into the roughly cut trail which leads upwards at a steep slope. We pull ourselves up by massive roots spanning the muddy slope, ducking underneath the canopy just above our heads.
[*] Soy slips in the mud and nearly takes me down too. We both laugh until [Jungle] the mosquitoes, excited at stopped prey, begin their charge. Still is not raining but the humidity and my sweat keep a constant stream dripping off my brow. Finally, we make it up to the base of the majestic waterfall, maybe 10 or 15 stories and cracking like lightning down several faces at once. Unlike tamed falls in the states, for better or worse, there are no bars, gates or walls. Soy stays back cooling herself in the mist at the base of the falls while I climb up hoisting myself up by cracks in the rock and thick roots webbing criss-cross on the sides of the waterfall.
[*] 40 or 50 feet up there is a wide ledge of standing water large and deep enough for me to submerge myself and not get sucked over the lip if I stay to one side. The water is a little muddy with run off from the rain but it is cool and I am excited to be drenched by the spray.
[*] I cross over and rip my way through the brush (no mosquitoes here but huge palm sized spiders in thick webs which I stay well away from) only to find a second, even larger waterfall far too powerful to climb up into. I return carefully. Climbing down proves to be much more difficult and scary than up and I keep getting the creeps that one of those spiders got on me, but I make it down nonetheless.
[*] As the sun drops into the seascape we pull in to the hotel trail again and grab diner at the beach side restaraunt. Daiquiri and Pina Colada just like in St. Croix. I get a bland rice meal to thank my stomach for being so kind to me during the day. [Yuan]
[*] Chaewang beach early in the day. The main drag of Samui. After getting some medicine for my stomach which is not so kind today, we lounge on the beach and I write while Soy reads. The day passes smoothly with short body surfing breaks. Amazingly enough, there is also a cheap Internet café in Samui, so I get a chance to clean out my mail box a bit, reducing it from 300 to 47 messages. It seems that my vacation messages everywhere have saved me from the usual e-mail attacks! Fortunately, I will have time to answer my mail before I set out for the West Coast.
[*] My first Roti
[*] Sunday is spent relaxing and shell collecting. My stomach is still pretty bad despite the medicine and we have seen everything already. However, before we head back to the airport, we stop at the islands local wat affectionately known as Big Buddha and Soy teaches me some of the few Buddhist rituals that she knows. I try a little bit of coconut and find that I indeed still do not like coconut!
[*] Soy is back to work so I make arrangements to take a day trip out of Bangkok. At the last minute, Soy finds a boat tour North to Ayuttaya, the site of the 2nd capital of Thailand and a historical/archeological landmark. The boat ride lasts for a good three hours and we are served a Thai buffet on route while the tour guide drones in the background over the intercom. The front of the boat is cool with the spray and I hold to the railing as we bounce along the wakes of other boats heading in to Bangkok filled with goods from the Northern territories (mainly lumber and sand for cement). [Ayutthaya]
[*] Ayuttaya is very interesting and the tour guide leaves us alone after 30 minutes of introductory history. We are free to wander around the ruins much like the ruins of old Rome in Italy. Ayuttaya is filled with decapitated Buddha images which had been ransacked during one of many invasions of the Burmese people. Apparently the soldiers, searching for treasure or golden Buddhas, chopped off the heads of any images they found and brought them back to Burma. Their current social and political problems, says the guide, are seen in part as a country-wide Karma. I wonder when the Us will pay up for crimes against the third world and the Native Americans?
[*] After a couple of hours of wandering and looking, we gather at the bus which will take us away from the river and into farm country where one of the royal summer homes is located Bangpoinn. Again, I am impressed with the royal, yet not lavish interiors so unlike the French and English counterparts. Thailand has been blessed with good kings in her history. [Rice Farming]
[*] Then a long ride home on the bus. I take some time to write and read happy to have a comfortable spot with which to spend rush hour.
[*] We go to a trendy spot in Silom Square for diner with one of Soys best friend Dew. I am again struck by how cheap food is, even at the swank places. A jazz band rips it up on a balcony above the main area. They are actually very good. Dew tells me that there has just been an international Jazz Festival of high regard which coincided with the Kings Birthday (The current King of Thailand is an avid Jazz fan). Driving home with drooping lids we pass by another famous tourist attraction, the Erawan Shrine. More of the same, not too interested.
[*] Soy picks me up early so that we can get to the Ancient City early. Unfortunately, we get a little bit lost on the way. But all turns out well because when we get there it is still pretty barren. The Ancient City as a fantastic and beautiful grounds on which one multibillionaire Thai man has gathered together vast amounts of historical structures, statues and artas well as recreated many "scenes" from all parts of Thailand. It is sortve like Disneyland, but with a lot of taste and meaning. Like Disneyland, it is huge. In fact, we are unable to see the entire park in the time we have. But I will return the next time I go to Thailand.
[*] [Tiger] After the Ancient City, we zip over to the Crocodile Farm which sidelines as a Zoo. This trip turns out to be one of the more exciting of Bangkok.. (more later)

[Internet Café, Internet Thailand]


Here is a list of books I used to help me get along..

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