King's birthday celebration

Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
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18
Trip End Feb 04, 2005


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Flag of Thailand  , Bangkok,
Monday, December 6, 2004

Sawat-dii kap,

Greetings from Thailand.  I'm loving it here.  Arrived safely in Bangkok and at my hotel.  My first impression was how similar it was to Africa:  the heat, humidity and the smells on the street.  On the plane flight over I hooked up with a Canadian guy on vacation too.  Coincidentally, he's here for two months also.  Eventually, I had to ask him what kind of job he has.  Ends up he's a professional paintball player.  Anybody else ever hear of that?  The league is big enough it's been on ESPN and the Canadian equivalent, CSN also.  Anyway, his season is from Feb-Oct so he's off to play now.

Day 1 in Bangkok, we take a taxi across town to the historic section.  It's an adventure getting around!  Few traffic rules and the streets are not organized.  Many taxi drivers don't speak English or even know where a place is, even when given the Thai name.  Eventually, we made it to a pier and caught a slow boat ride along the main river (Mae Nam Chao Phraya) through town.  Saw kids swimming and men fishing along the banks.  We got off at the end of the line, about an hour later.  Across the street was a big market so we got off and walked around.  No white people, no tourists, no English, just an interesting experience.  The food vendors had everything - buckets of live eels, frogs, turtles, crabs, etc.  Some had raw meat, fish, shellfish and whatever else ready to cook right there in front of us.  Anything you want to buy, it's for sale.  Right in the middle of a string of clothing booths was someone selling hydraulic equipment.  Most of the name brand merchandise is counterfeit.  We eventually caught the boat back and walked through the most famous tourist trap of all - the Patpong district.  Pretty seedy but had to see it.  Briefly, that is.  Later, we ran into a couple of Australian guys who actually went in to one of the bars.  After only one drink they tried to leave but were bullied into a bill for several more they never received.

Next day, saw the National Museum.  It's a great first stop for learning about a country's history and culture.  Across the street was a huge field with booths giving away free food and drink.  So, I went over. It was the King's birthday.  He is highly revered here.  A 5-day celebration that I stumbled onto.  At first it looked like locals only.  Some Thais quickly ushered me into line to join the celebration.  Further down the street was a stage with little kids dressed up in traditional outfits.  They were dancing and singing.  BEAUTIFUL costumes.  So I started taking pictures.  Lots of pictures!  I think these will be some of my favorite ever.  Every time I turned around there was another group of kids.  So I kept meandering closer to the front.  It was soooooo much fun watching them all.  Their parents were getting them ready right next to the stage so I just stood among them.  The Thais are so polite and friendly.  There were chairs and barricades for most of the audience.  At one point, there was an MP standing right next to me.  After glancing over, he just smiled and gave a thumbs up.  He even directed me to the front of the stage for a better shot of the performers.  It was a fun festival and I got caught up in all of it.  Had plans to see other main sights, but realized they'd always be there.  This celebration won't so stayed all afternoon.  Later that night, I met up with Andy at the newest, biggest theater in Bangkok for a musical.  Didn't understand it, but the costumes and the music were a treat.  After wards, Andy told me that we'd been getting ripped off right and left.  Thought I read all the scams in my guide book.  Nope.  Basically, everything is bargaining and if the other person is happy, you got ripped off.  Some more naivete here.  We got hotels in the expat area.  Saw lots of American men with Thai women.  Finally, I get it.  The differences in age, weight, interests, dress, etc...they're not expats settling with locals.  After eavesdropping on a few conversations I realized how little they had in common.  It was kind of sad to see the Thai friendliness being exploited like that.

Day 3 the karma starts.  Went walking for sunglasses.  Talked a guy down from $8.50 to $2.50 for a pair of Prada.  As long as they have UVA and UVB, I don't care.  Later, Andy and I arrange a tour of the city.  Got to see some of the less-touristed sights that easily get missed.  Along the way, we met three people independently who were talking about the Armani factory.  They had a one week promotion that was advertised on radio and TV the night before.  So, we make a detour to get measured.  Three hand-tailored suits and shirts (with ties and shipping) for a fraction of what it would normally cost back home.  After a couple more wats we go back for the next-to-last day of the King's birthday celebration.  Yes, more little kids.  I got about three more rolls of pictures.  This time there were some parents dressed up too.  Turns out they're schoolteachers who brought their classes in.  I was just giddy being around it all.

Bangkok certainly has its drawbacks:  pollution, chaos, crooked taxi drivers among others.  But there are many friendly people here too.  I've tried being open to the non-vendors and it's amazing how helpful and kind-hearted the Thais can be.  Already, I've traded email addresses with two locals I just met by coincidence.

Eric
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