Settling In

Trip Start Mar 04, 2006
Trip End Apr 13, 2006

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

I'm happy to say I'm starting to get this place. Culture shock definitely got in the way at first, but I'm getting over that, and enjoying the experience.

Yesterday I spent most of the day just wandering around. On foot, this time. Starting out from KSR, I just headed out at random, turning down alleys and side streets, getting away from the immediate tourist area. It was interesting to see the locals just going about their lives, not catering to tourists. I left the camera behind as it sometimes gets in the way of seeing things. You're always looking for a good shot instead of just looking. Since I stayed away from the tourist sights, there were no touts to be seen. The only interactions I had were nods and smiles.

After 3 or 4 hours of walking, I ended up back on KSR, and was about to call it a day when I bumped into Savina, the girl I'd met at the airport. We ended up getting together for dinner, and catching up on each other's adventures while gorging on great Thai food. I came away with some great advice on getting around on the local buses, and she left amazed by my idiocy with the tuk-tuks. Overall, my best day so far.

This morning I tried to line up a place to stay on arrival in Yangon, Myanmar. I haven't heard back from them yet, so for now the plan is to show up on their doorstep and beg for a room.

After lunch today I headed for the river, looking to catch a boat down to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, home of the giant reclining Bhudda. I eventually found the dock, paid my 18 bhat, and headed off. If you ever end up in Bangkok, I recommend traveling on the river when possible. Cool(ish) breeze, away from the constant spew of exhaust on the streets, fast, and an interesting preview of life along the river.

In the end, I only managed to see Wat Pho. I got so caught up with everything there that I ran out of time to get into the Grand Palace before they shut the gate for the day. Not that big a deal as I'll be back in Bangkok at various points during the trip and will have a chance to catch it again.

Wat Pho was great. Home of a 45 meter long, gold plated reclining Buddha. I wasn't expecting much, but it's actually really impressive in person. Not just a tourist attraction, but an active Buddhist temple, worshipers mix in with the tourists, lighting incense and candles, and offering alms. In the midst of all the video taping and flashes, they just do what they came for.

Since it's spread out over several acres, Wat Pho never felt crowded, no matter how many tour buses arrived. It's an amazingly peaceful place, especially once you get away from reclining Buddha, the main attraction. I wandered for hours, just taking it all in. There are numerous minor temples, often empty or with a lone worshiper. I spent quite a bit of time in them, seeking relief from the sun, and just enjoying the peacefulness of it. Always under the watchful eyes of golden Buddhas of course. As you'll see from the pictures, there's no escaping him. He's literally everywhere.

I was pretty burnt by the end. I ended up scoring a seat in the shade, resting against a tree, and just people watching while I cooled off, gave my feet a break and killed off another bottle of water.

Two tout experiences today. The first on the way to the temple. He tried the "temple is closed" opening gambit. I told him he was wrong and kept walking. I must have had an interesting expression on my face, as he gave up right then. I shed the second one by lying repeatedly. Every time he tried to get traction, I answered with whatever I thought would stump him. "You see Grand Palace?" "Yep, 4 times." "Oh, um, you like shopping?" "I spent all my money already and I'm going home tomorrow." He dropped off after about a hundred yards. It was kinda fun actually.

Also got my first taste of haggling today. After perspiration induced sunscreen failure at Wat Pho, I decided it would be smart to invest in a hat. I picked out a baseball cap at a vendor outside the temple and asked how much. She started with 350 bhat. I countered with 100, and she looked at me like I'd just suggested she sell me her baby. She countered, then I countered and so on, with each of my offers resulting in reactions from her that made it clear I was stealing food from her children's mouths. In the end I paid 200 bhat (less than $5), which was probably still 50 bhat more than a skilled haggler would have paid, but I had fun and the extra dollar definitely meant more to her than me.

Looking back over my first few days, I realized all the things that were so frustrating or daunting, only were the first time. The foreignness of it all amplifies how difficult things might seem, but once you do it, every time after is easy.

I'm catching a flight to Yangon tomorrow. Internet access is sketchier there, but I should be able to send updates fairly often. Mom, that means don't worry if you don't hear anything for a few days! Really. Probably no pictures though, unless I find a broadband connection.

Next update from Myanmar.
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