Tantalizing THAILAND!

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
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9
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Trip End Sep 16, 2006


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Friday, March 17, 2006

I'm in love with Thailand.

People told me I would be, but I didn't believe them. After all, what exactly is Thailand? Wonderful food (reason enough, to be sure), Siamese cats, funny hats. What else was there? What was so captivating about this place?

As we landed at the Bangkok airport we noticed something unusual and downright friendly right away. Next to the runway was... what are those vast expanses of green? Could it be? Why yes, it's a golf course, not 300 yards away. In fact we saw no demarcation or safety barriers whatsoever. In fact it seemed that this golf course was part of a public park as we saw families taking in the bright sun and crisp airplane exhaust fumes as well. There was even a public road that was actually crossing the runway. If you were to think of a train crossing with a warning signal and red and white striped barrier, you would be right on the mark-- except instead of an Amtrak car, it's a 747 Jumbo Jet crossing your path. Clearly, this is not a country that is very concerned about airplane-based terrorism. (Nor is Taiwan we discovered, as our check-in for our flight to Bangkok took us all of 30 minutes, from arrival to gate, which included luggage check in.)

We were picked up by Teonk, a new friend from Hospitality Club, which is a website you should familiarize yourself with if you have any interest in really experiencing local culture while traveling. He whisked us immediately away (on the left side of the road) in his Toyota Camry, so I felt immediately at home (for those who don't know, I have a Camry with nearly 190,000 miles on it), weaving in and out of crazy Thai traffic, which certainly gives Taiwan a run for it's money for the trophy for driving insanity. (I highly advise against driving here.)

We ended up at what can only be described as a shopping megalopolous called Bangkok Future Center. This place was overwhelming... isn't Thailand a developing country? What's with all the shiny floors and new stores and the supermarket that doesn't smell like a fishing boat?

We were largely concerned with getting food at this point, and as I would soon find out, we were in luck. No, we were in more than luck. We were in heaven. You see, food here is stupid-cheap, and outrageously delicious. We're talking fresh fruit vendors selling you half of an incredibly sweet pineapple, chopped up to order in a little plastic bag and long toothpick instead of a fork, for 10 baht (or you can buy the while pineapple for not much more.) A quick visit to your local neighborhood currency converter shows that this costs 25 cents. Grilled skewers of meat cost on average 5-10 baht. A dish of fried noodles like phad thai or phad see ew costs on average 25-30 baht (64 cents). One all-you-can-eat noodle place in the mall was advertising for 50 baht. That's $1.28 for all-you-can-eat noodles. If you know how much Eva and I love to eat, perhaps you can see how this place is a paradise for us.

Teonk took us back to his house, about 45 minutes outside the center of Bangkok, and we spent the night there. Teonk's neighborhood is surprisingly suburban, with wide streets and large houses that are certainly not what you would expect (at least not what I had expected). Homes had long driveways and gates, and it was easy to believe that we were somewhere in America.

The next day, Teonk and his girlfriend took us into the city and helped us find a place to stay. Throughout southeast Asia, small hotels are called guest houses, and Teonk's friend owns a guest house called the A-One Inn, and we secured a double room with private toilet/shower, air conditioning and TV for 500 baht (under $13) per night. Not bad for a hotel in a capital.

Although there is a subway and sky train (elevated subway), they do not reach the tourist centers of Bangkok. Ordinarily this would be an expensive problem, but in Bangkok it is not. Here your options are taxi or if you feel like living more dangerously, there is the mad three-wheeled open air tuk tuk which is basically a hybrid motorcycle rickshaw that sounds and moves like a go-kart while spewing similarly horrible pollution into Bangkok's already polluted skies. Tuk tuk drivers are known for their scams, as are the taxi drivers known for driving in circles to up the meter fare. However if you're going to be scammed in Bangkok, I'd rather do it while sitting in an air conditioned Toyota. However, remember that the average taxi ride across town costs about 50 baht, so if your cabbie runs you in circles you're really talking about getting scammed out of a dollar or so. All in all, not so bad.

There really too much in Bangkok to discuss in this travel blog, so we'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Turn now to the photo album!
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