Monday, January 28, 2013


We arrive in Bangkok after more than 17 hours of travel, bleary-eyed but energized to finally be in Thailand.  It's been a long time coming.  After a hectic week driving around the Pacific Northwest, it was nice to actually board our plane and start our trip.  We left Seattle at 12:30 pm on January 16th, and are arriving a day and a half later.  I'm trying to figure out how 17 hours can equal 36, but my mental state is making it really difficult to figure out whether to multiply by the dateline or divide by the time zone I left, so I drop it.  Besides, my watch is broken so it doesn't matter anyway.  Instead, I join Abby and Mary in tackling the task at hand - finding ourselves a place to stay for the night.  We decided to wait and get a guide book here, because we're cheap, so only have a vague idea of how to proceed.  We heard there was a light rail, so we collect our bags, change some US dollars to Thai baht, and eagerly make our way to the Skytrain platform.  With a brand new sleek and sexy airport and requisite door-to-door mass transit, Bangkok seems to be stepping hard into the 21st century.  Or maybe not.  Despite the fact that the airport is packed full of thousands of tourists disgorging all at once from more than a dozen flights arrived from all over the world, the last Skytrain of the night has inexplicably left the airport exactly 15 minutes after the first international flight landed.  I love this place already.

We’re in Thailand for a brief stopover on our way to Kathmandu.  We wanted to break up the trip to Nepal and decided to give ourselves a few days to explore Bangkok - enough time to get a good sense of the city but short enough that we could ignore the the siren song of Thailand's beaches.  Part of our stay involves a visit to my friend Dan. He’s actually one of my brother’s best friends from high school, but over the years I’ve made it a point to visit him whenever possible as he’s built an international teaching career.  I made it to Guatemala and Kuwait, was slightly bummed to miss out on the Dominican Republic, and seriously cut up when he left Brasil before I could make it over.  Thailand was a sure bet.

In Guatemala City he threw a party for a friend’s birthday so I could meet his crew and be introduced to the expat existence.  I managed to make it through the birthday piñata but spent the rest of the night naked in the maid’s bathroom, alternating between the toilet and the shower.  In Kuwait I met his future wife (Kim), made out with one of his coworkers (not Kim), had drinks at the American Embassy, and commando-rolled and saluted my way through a graveyard of burned out Iraqi tanks and personnel carriers from the 1st Gulf War.  That was in 2002, and I've only seen him once since, for a brief moment back home a few Christmases past.  I'm eager to introduce Abby to my international benefactor, and am excited to have him share his Bangkok with us.

But first, we have a couple of days to discover Bangkok on our own.  Instead of the Skytrain, we settle for a shared taxi to Khao San.  It's a 30-minute drive on a mostly empty expressway with nothing much to see, so our energy has flagged again by the time we reach our destination.  Not for long.  We step out of the taxi into mayhem.  It's almost 2 am and the neighborhood is literally jumping to the pounding music coming from any number of bars and dance clubs lining the cramped little street.  In my mind Khao San Road, the stuff of traveler legend, was supposed to be longer.  In reality, it's barely 100 meters long, albeit densely packed.  It's a wall of neon above, and a mass of sounds and smells below. Travelers are here to party, and party hard.   We elbow our way through the half-drunk crowd, backpacks conspicuously bumping into people, racks of t-shirts, tables, and find an alleyway to duck into and escape the onslaught.  We grab the first room we can find, and fall into a fitful sleep.

Morning arrives quickly.  None of us can sleep, so we're up with the roosters, and exploring the area much too early.  The street is mostly deserted, except for a surprising number of hard core partiers who are still at it.  Their persistence is impressive, although their communication skills have mostly devolved into a series of loud grunts and bawls.  For once I'm glad I went to bed instead of hanging out.  We spend the day wandering around the city, ecstatic to once again be in the land of outdoor markets.  You can buy anything you can imagine if you wander long enough!  Jewelry, clothing, furniture, office supplies, even pets.  Every corner you turn is a new world to be discovered.  We find ourselves on a university campus and investigate the library.  It's full of academic journals and students studying, pretty much exactly like home.  We hop a ride uptown on a water taxi, and visit the world's largest reclining buddha.  It's really big.  We sample from the variety of street food and everything is delicious.  By the time we get back to our hotel, Khao San has woken up, and the party has started again, early.  It's incredible.

We decide to find a cheaper hotel, since we we weren't too inclined to hunt around the night before.  Abby finds a nice place just down the road for half the price, and is excited since the receptionist is upfront about the place being a little bit noisy.  Heck, everything is noisy around here, so the honesty is appreciated.  We pack up our stuff and move the half block down the road.  Dan arrives for dinner, and we eat some more delicious food and knock back a few drinks.  Jet lag sets in halfway through dinner, so we call it a night  early and walk back to our hotel.  It turns out that the hotel is more than a little bit loud.  The reception area is a little bit loud, but the noise builds with every step up the stairs to our floor.  By the time we reach our room, the place is bumping, and we open the door to a disco in our bedroom.  It turns out that the building next door is a club, and the bass is so loud the beds are rattling.  Abby, Mary, and I share a giggle, and Dan bursts out laughing.

"I kind of miss budget travel, you know?  Hey, you guys have a good sleep, okay?" he cracks.  "I'll see you tomorrow."  His laughter can be heard echoing down the hallway.  We are tempted to follow him out the door, but resignedly crawl into bed and stare at the ceiling as the dance party rages next door.  Sleep eventually finds us.

The next morning, we take a water taxi out to Dan's house.  If it's possible, our jet lag has actually increased.  The music didn't stop until after 6, but whatever, it was an experience.  It turns out, Dan's Bangkok isn't much like our Bangkok.  He calls his Bangkok Pleasantville, and compares the expat community where he lives to the bubble world of The Truman Show.  I'm inclined to agree.  They live in a gated neighborhood amongst ambassadors and CEOs, drive around in golf carts, and have a live-in maid.  When they venture forth outside the gates, they call it "going to Thailand".  The contrast between our thumping hotel room on Khao San and his friend's 3 floor condo where he puts us up could not be more stark. I won't lie - it's really nice.  We go for a swim in the condo pool, we eat some fresh thai food prepared by B, the house keeper, and we catch up on our lives over the past half-decade.  We go to bed happy and relaxed, but ready to move on.  Thailand is good, but we have a country to walk across, and besides, we get to come back in a few months.  Nepal, here we come!


cynicalbuddha said...

At first I though, you only are going to spend 3 days in Thailand and all of them in Bangkok. DOH!! It's been over 13 years since I've been there and I'm sure it hasn't changed much.

Scooper said...

Awesome! Thanks for keeping us all posted! Good luck in Nepal!

Jarridhuck said...

Hey, not sure when you will be online next but if you want a summer job working in homer working at a youth wilderness education camp with good pay and lots of outdoor fun let me know pretty soon. I'll be down there working for the summer and they were asking if i knew a good camp nurse and male counselor. I though you two would be GREAT ! check out the website

The dates would be June 12th – August 10th let me know as soon as possible .....

take care,
Jarrid H.