Bangkok Reunion: Susan and Jim

Trip Start Jun 14, 2010
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

After a week of tranquillity on the island beaches of Ko Chang, we packed up once again, boarded the ferry and crossed back to mainland Thailand, destination Bangkok. Thailand knows how to "people move" and they do it in the same grand style I which they conduct their annual festivities.  Our bus was wildly decorated in fuschia and plush with every comfort for the traveller as we cruised at a speed along a smooth, mulit-laned highway back to big-city life.

Coincidentally and surprisingly, we met three fellow travellers from small-city Victoria on the bus—two men and a woman travelling separately, and these were the only folks we talked to on the bus! Maybe everyone was from Victoria! Now we have more contacts for when we eventually settle there.

The bus dropped us off in the familiar backpacker neighbourhood of Banglamphu where we had a short walk to our second stay at the New Siam I Guest House.  This time we had a high level of comfort and familiarity as we made our way through the food stalls, street shopping and, yes, Westerners—lots of them. Since most of our best times have been away from farang (whitey) concentrations, I think Terence and I share a little ambivalence when we step back into it; but it wasn't long before we settled in once again with services that were decidedly Western. And then it was to counting the hours before we reunited with our dear friends from Calgary, Susan and Jim, for breakfast.

Bright and early on March 9 we waited in the lobby of Susan and Jim’s hotel in anticipation of their appearance. Down the stairs they came….my eyes brimmed with tears.  Much as I have enjoyed these past nine months of travelling and making lots of new international friends, my body had a joyful reaction in seeing their familiar faces. After some hugs and many hours of catch-up chatter about their ten months of camper touring Australia—city and outback--we finally set off to visit some of built-up Bangkok. We found it odd playing the role of tour guides in the small area of Bangkok that we had previously explored—a little bit of familiar neighbourhood that in some small way had become our neighbourhood.

We decided to spend some of our precious time together touring the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew.  We avoided this tourist attraction on our previous visit to Bangkok, partly due to the expensive admission fee and partly because of the crowds that we’d become sensitized to after our bombing experience in December.  But the spectacular rooftops gloriously showing over the Palace wall called for us to eventually arrive.

The Palace grounds, consecrated in 1782, encompass more than 100 buildings designed in the old Bangkok style of architecture known as Ratanakosin.  The English translation of this would be “ornate”; so a sort of Asian baroque might be analogous.  The key attraction in the grounds is the Emerald Buddha which is always cloaked in seasonal attire for the hot, cool and rainy seasons.  From the breathtakingly detailed Ramakian murals, to the crown jewels, to the weapon collection, to the magnificently manicured gardens it was a stunning visual experience.  Many of the buildings are used today by the monarchy for various royal ceremonies, as Thailand loves its King; and there seems to be a general concern about succession as his health deteriorates—the prince is not popular at all from what we can gather.  As we wandered around with our cameras shooting at speed, we were ever thankful for digital technology and couldn’t imagine the limits of previous technology that permitted only twenty-four or thirty-six exposure reproductions.

Our visit to the Palace ended in a rainstorm—one of those blessed cooling afternoon events so frequent in the tropics as the year begins to heat up.  We returned to our air-conditioned room (a rare room selection for us) for a shower and a nap before meeting up again with Susan and Jim for some local cuisine.  The visual and olfactory stimulations of walking down Khao San Road are hard to describe with the limits of language. Terence and Jim, who love to cook, seemed to be constantly alert to what was going into the recipes.  By the way Bangkok, and indeed Thailand as a whole, is not a place to consider turning vegetarian. The fragrances of barbequed meat of all kinds are constantly wafting around in currents of temptation. We ended up eating at a restaurant opening onto the street where we could still watch with delight the ongoing activities of the neighbourhood. We even had a street vendor stop a short distance from our table who was selling roasted crickets, scorpions, and other insects, along with deep fried, juicy grubs.

The next morning Terence and I took time to sort through our backpacks for excess things we had accumulated since our last mailing from India.  I am always surprised at the forgotten gifts, rocks from one beach or the other, missing laundry, or a strange looking beetle that we have been transporting on in our large backpacks.  With Terence’s packing expertise after discussions of compromise, we packaged up as much as we could for our “final” mailing and shipped it off to Canada in hopes of avoiding any extra baggage fees once we collect the luggage left in England and board for Canada; but as is usually the case, a cleared out backpack means room for more purchases. Right? And so we wandered the streets with Susan taking Jim in tow and purchased a few cooler tops for the beginning of the hot season just around the corner.

Later that afternoon, we initiated Susan and Jim into the delights of river boat travel--destination Chinatown.  We wandered the streets at dusk, just as the town was springing to life.  Shops were unloading their wares, roadside pots were steaming, woks were sizzling, and evening crowds were beginning to mill.  We managed to beat the rush and headed into a rather classy Chinese restaurant where we each ordered an unknown dish from a menu entirely in Chinese and Thai and where none of the very efficient staff spoke any English. Superb! We could not figure out many of the culinary mysteries, but we dined in something approaching ecstasy.  Emerging with full bellies and wide smiles into street activity in full swing, we felt like we were in Times Square on New Year’s Eve--the lanterns and crowds festive on a typical Chinatown weekend. Finally, we threaded our way back to the pier and boarded our riverboat for Banglamphu.

Our two days of hugs and laughter with our dear friends had come to an end.  They were heading off eastward to China and Vietnam; while we were heading off westward to Kanchanaburi and Sangkhlaburi.  It was with the benefits Wi-Fi email and Skype that we were able to connect with them at all—even from the outback of Australia--our international paths crossing for just a couple of delightful days.  As we said our goodbyes, we held on to the reality that we would be seeing them again soon enough on our return to Canada.
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