Matthew's News and Gossip

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Bangkok – Quite a place Bangkok. I was due to meet two friends from California in BK. One was Joel Tornatore, who I'd seen recently before leaving. The other was longhaired Irish git Dave Russell who had flown in from Nepal specially to see us. Or at least he thought he would, then Maoist rebels in Nepal trapped him, then all of a sudden I was at the airport in Bangkok looking hopelessly for Joel in one of the 3 exits from International Arrivals. In desperation I went to get my email, and found an email from Joel telling me that he was at the taxi stand ready to go meet Dave, who had escaped by claiming to be a buddy of Che (or something). I ran down to the taxi stand and finally saw Joel, and soon Dave, who seemed to have gone bald remarkably quickly, was leading us on an odyssey of seedy bars, seedier bar girls, cheaper beer and ping-pong balls flying in all directions. In fact the amount of foreigners in BangKok almost exceeds the locals and it took us a few days to escape the Ko Sahn road syndrome. (Ko Sahn is a street that exclusively serves backpackers and is a 24 hour party).

Over the course of the next few days Dave, Joel and I consumed copious amounts of beer and banana shakes (not in the same glass). Discussed our luck with women and the work (both miserable, but Dave's luck with the former showed glimmers of hope), and made zero progress out of Bangkok. Bangkok is very polluted and has incredibly bad traffic—the average ONE-way commute is 2 hours! After getting up suitably late we went to Jim Thompson's house; an ex-OSS guy who built the Thai silk industry and built a huge house in Bangkok to celebrate before disappearing in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands in mysterious circumstances. Later that day we went to see the Thai boxing. Although everyone gets very enthused about the ceremonial prancing before the bout and the awfully loud music being played on some mangled oboe, the fights mostly consisted of one guy kneeing the other continuously in the ribs. However, by the main event and the 135 pound heavyweights, we got the knockout we'd come for. (Ok, I was out for the count)

Next day after yet another 5 am stop followed by a 7 am start to the building work at the hotel next door, we staggered out of bed and took the ferry boat north up the river (including passing under the flash new bridge). We soon found ourselves as absolutely the only white guys at an incredible food market, where the fish were wriggling if not flying. Of course that meant that we had to celebrate, and Dave invited most of the backpackers on Ko Sahn road to a party he was throwing at a nightclub at 4 am. I ended up chatting with an English lad called Brian, who was one of the least likely new-age Rieki healers you'll ever meet. Having him faith heal my knee in a nightclub was one of the most surreal experiences I've had for some time! Some where around then Joel headed off to the airport.

The first Bangkok album with many pics of the Royal Palace is here

Life got slightly calmer for the next few days. Dave and I started meeting some locals. We had a great time with our guide, Tor, at the Timanek mansion. This is an all-teak mansion in the middle of Bangkok that is incredibly beautiful inside and out. Dave and I agreed that if we were the King (and the Thai's love their King Buhmiphol, and love even more his granddad Rama V) we'd kick the tourists out and move back in. We also met some other Thais, Nan and Lucky who were showing a Canadian friend, Charleen, around. They had been Charleen's pupils when she was teaching English in Australia (I think!). They invited us out the next day to a floating market. But before I get ahead of myself, back to Tor and her friend Pom (pronounced Bomb, as in "You are the Bomb, Baby!") Tor gave us a great tour of the mansion, managing her group in three languages (Thai, English and the odd bit of mandarin) and having jokes for all nationalities. We had tea with her and then dragged her and Pom out to dinner. Tor was taking the exam to be a government tour guide and wanted to show us a practice tour of Bangkok. She got us as far as the new Skytrain, and was navigating us to Patong (the girlie-bar area for westerners). We tried to tell her that we didn't really want to go there, but it was clear that a) she did and b) she had never been there before. It was more surprising that after Dave and I bought and gave Tor and Pom a Skytrain ticket, c) they didn't know what they were or how they worked and had never been on it before! We found out later that they spend 2 hours each way on the bus to work and tend to stay near their homes in the 'burbs on weekends. Anyway, after a fun visit to a weird Hindu temple awaiting her friend and mentor Pui (being Senior and Junior matters a great deal to Thais). We had a quick drink with Pui after Hindu prayers had been said (with Tor, a Buddhist, wondering around assisting Pui). Then of course Tor took us back to Ko Sahn Road for dinner. She and Pom were the only Thais in sight. We did mention that this tour guiding practice may not have been as successful as all that for those seeking a real "Thailand"experience, but we did have a great time! The photos are here

Early the next day (7am) I met Nan, Lucky and Charleen by the school Nan where teaches. We drove for 2 hours into the countryside, past salt flats with strange windmills, and got to a fun floating market in Danasouek. Lucky was a little peeved that I described the goods on offer as ""junk". But we had a great time floating around seeing the sights and looking at the amazing things you can do in a narrow boat. We ate noodles, chicken, sticky rice—all prepared and sold on the water. Then we went to a local park where King Rama V grew up. I tried my hand at making desert flowers. Nan and Lucky threatened to leave me there and I promised that by the time they came back in 2014 (their last visit to the market had been 12 years ago!) I would be an expert flower maker, like this lady. After they kindly agreed to bring me back, we had a wonderful 6 course lunch on the river. I paid. Easy to be a big shot when its $15 for four! However, Nan and Lucky's tour-guiding was just getting going. We came back to town, dropped of Charleen with another of her pupils from Australia and went to a) the longest name in the world (BangKok's real name written out here), which is a new monument that wasn't even open!, b) kite flying by the palace, c) aerobics by the bridge, and d) and an ice factory run by Nan's niece's husband. That was a full 14 hour tourist day, and Nan and Lucky were such great lovely people. Lucky should be in Atlanta soon where her sister lives and Nan says she's coming too! I'm not sure I have the energy to entertain them in the style to which they are accustomed!

The full set of that day is here

All that was left was to find Dave again, drink my way onto the train to the border, and get in the back of a pick-up truck with thousands of Dutch and French people going to Siem Reap near Ankor Wat in Cambodia. If you want to know why they invented airplanes, take that trip. My body will never forgive me. I'll tell you more about Ankor in the next installment!

posted by matthew  # 7:45 AM
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