Doug's Vietnam

Bangkok, Thailand

Van's Qui Nhon
Van's Welcome page and Saigon resturant list
Vietnam Travel Guide
SE Asia links
Phu Quoc Island - A trip to old school Vietnam
Life in Vietnam photos
Saigon for the Marco Polo in all of us
The motorbike way
Reunification Express - Saigon to Da Nang
Phu Cat air base then and now
Gia My's photos - Phu Quoc Island
Bus and boat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Letter from Cambodia
Bangkok, Thailand
Phu Cat Air base links

Thailand, sure I knew about it. After all I did go and watch the movie The King and I, and yes, I know that Yule Brenner is English, not Thai, but so what! These thoughts are running through my head as I walk into the terminal at Bangkok's Don Muang International Airport. Then I make a quick trip through immigration, grab my bags off the luggage carrousel and head for customs. I work my way through the greeters and touts on my way outside to the taxi stand. Soon I am off on a 25-minute taxi ride to my hotel, just off Sukumivit and Ploen Chit in the center of Bangkok. The taxi I draw is a very nice, newer-looking Camry. My driver pulls out of the airport and onto the Airport Expressway. I start entertaining myself by watching the seemingly endless rows of office and apartment towers, and I think of Houston or Atlanta. "There it is," I say to my taxi driver, "over there, those buildings with the gold tripped, pointy spires I once saw in the movie, what are they?" "Buddhist Temples there," he says in a bored tone and gets back to his driving. I watch with fascination as the eclectic mix of old and new architecture slides by the window of my speeding taxi. Congratulating myself for having the good sense to deciding on this trip, I am also thinking that Thailand might be a damn cool place.


In the short time since my arrival, I've already found I like the "Land of Smiles" as the country calls itself. The "Land of Smiles" they say, but it's not as smiley as I've found my favorite Asian country, Vietnam, to be. Thailand's infrastructure is far more sophisticated then Vietnam's,  or for that matter any of its neighboring countries. So, even if it does come up a few smiles short, the more effective and modern infrastructure would be a fine trade off. As I spend more time in Thailand, I find the developing infrastructure has made it an easy country to travel in. I also find that the modernization, while it has far reaching effects on improving the quality of life, doesn't seem to have much effect on traditional Thai customs and values. Proof of this is that next to the tall buildings, close to the transportation hubs and hot spot Internet connections, you can still find a smiling face looking for sanuk (fun).


     As we approach the center of Bangkok I look out my taxi window, and unlike my movie experience, most of the people I see are wearing western style clothes and the women, well as a single guy, I mentally establish a new benchmark for style and beauty. Once I get my mind beyond the Thai ladies, I can see that Bangkok is filled with a curious mixture of old and new. Skyscrapers stretching onward and upward into the sky, dwarfing those numerous gold-trimmed Wats and low-rise shop houses bordering the highway. People everywhere, old, young, western looking, traditional Thai, Indians, Africans, and the unclassifiable characters like me. There is unbelievable traffic, which I have since learned results in even more unbelievable traffic jams. On a street corner a man stands watching the goings on and is accompanied by an elephant. Meanwhile, 35 baht (30 baht=1 USD) buys you lunch from a pushcart or perhaps you decide a touch of home is needed, so how about a Big Mac from Mickey Dees. A humming, rattling sound from above catches your attention, as the super modern Sky Train (BTS) passes by, hidden from view by its ultra-modern overhead rail system. Bangkok, was once know as the Venice of the East before it started filling in many of its clogs (cannels) to make way for roads. It still has an extensive river taxi system, and I might add, this is a good, inexpensive way to tour parts of the city. The Chao Pheaya River Express Taxi can be boarded at ThaiWat Ratchasingkhon and ridden to Nonthaburi. The total route takes about three hours and costs around 30 baht. That is, if you don't get off at one of its numerous and interesting stops along the way. I stopped and took a walk through densely packed China town and visited Wat Intharawihan. Actually, it was about at this point that I became Wated (temple, if you hadn't guessed) out and had a running conversation with myself about how Thai words were created just to mess with farang's (Thai slang for foreigner) minds.  


Bangkok has a lot of city buses and many even appear to have real mechanical air-conditioning, not the other kind you see on so many Southeast Asia buses where they just punched out the windows to increase ventilation. I have read about how the buses are an efficient and cheap way to get around town, but I have never taken the time to figure them out. Mostly I rely on taxis, the car type, along with the two and three wheel motorcycles called Tuk-Tucks. The Tuk-tuks are the most fun, open sided with a canvas top, painted all kinds of bright colors, with lots of chrome. Although, let me add, Tuk-tuk drivers can be a very unstable lot - maybe from all the exhaust fumes, and hot, humid air they breathe.


I arrive early one morning at Bangkok's Hualamphong Station aboard the overnight train from Udon Thani. I walk out of the station only to find myself in the middle of a mob of taxi and tut-tut guys looking for a fresh catch. There I stand with my backpack slung over my shoulder, one hand dragging a second bag and my other clutching a piece of paper with my hotel address, trying to make myself understood and find out who knew where the hotel was and what the cost would be to get me there. When suddenly I find myself, bag and baggage, in a tuk-tuk roaring off down the highway with the driver screaming at me "where you come" - "where you come" actually meaning to say where are you going? At this point, to be honest, I was just plain scared to death. All I could think about was how the hell I did this to myself. I could feel myself losing control as the panic started to take over. The driver sensed this and became increasingly agitated and frustrated at my inability to tell him where I wanted to go, which seemed to make him drive faster and even more erratically, finely wheeling up into the entrance of the U.S. Embassy. The guards there showed us their AK 47's while my driver showed them my paper with the hotel address, and I guess, asked for directions. At this point, it was obvious to me that my driver and I would be shot as suspected terrorists. Then a break through, one of the guards, trying to make the best of a confusing situation or perhaps because he was bored with the whole thing, asked me in very broken English if I was an American and then he went on to say he liked Americans, to which I replied that I was very glad he liked Americans. When my tuk-tuk driver took the opportunity to roar off, I smiled, waved, and silently prayed there wouldnt be any gunshots. We finely arrived at my little hotel after numerous and, thankfully, uneventful stops. As I gladly paid the maniac, I couldn't help but feel secure in my new-found knowledge that no matter how screwed up and dysfunctional a person might be, there would always be a spot for them as a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok.


Well, I didn't get to see the king, although Thailand has one, even though it isn't Yul Bryner, but what I did find was a wonderful, inexpensive, and exciting place in which to hang out.

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