Culture Shocked

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

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, March 6, 2006

Hello from Bangkok! I arrived yesterday at noon after a pleasant flight on EVA Airways. I'd never heard of them before starting my planning for the trip, but gave them a shot as they were always the cheapest flight to Bangkok that Yahoo Travel could find. I highly recommend them for travel to Asia. Great staff, on time departures, decent food even in economy class, new aircraft.

After landing in Bangkok, I headed for the bus stop outside and bought a ticket to get me to Khao San Road, the backpackers mecca (ghetto) here. I'm actually at a guesthouse a short way from KSR, but figured it would get me close enough. During the half hour wait for the bus, I struck up a conversation with Savina, a woman from New Mexico, now living in NYC and pursuing a career on Broadway as a dancer. A few years out of college, she's meeting her college roommate here and heading for the south for some time on the beach before moving on to Vietnam to see parts of the country where her dad was stationed back in the early '70's. We traveled together to KSR, parting company when my trusty map and I headed off for my GH.

OK, I pride myself on my map reading skills, so this is hard for me to admit, but I got lost. Carrying a backpack and daypack in 90 degree heat, I must have been a miserable sight as I squinted at my map and looked around, dripping sweat and looking completely lost. Eventually the heat won out and I flagged down a tuk-tuk for a ride to my GH. A tuk-tuk is a three wheeled suicide cart with a non-english speaking driver who answers every question with "Yes, yes, I take you." After 10 minutes of tire squealing, exhaust belching low level flight around the Banglamphu district, I start seeing things that seem familiar. That's when I realize my driver has no idea where the New Siam II GH is, and we're just driving in circles while he searches for the place. I start shouting in his ear "New Siam II! New Siam II!!" I think he realized the jig was up, and so pulled over to a group of lounging tuk-tuk drivers and started asking directions. Turns out it was just around the corner, a five minute walk from where I got off the bus, and a 2 minute ride. We pulled up to the entrance at which point I shoved some bhat in his hands, grabbed my bags and RAN for the front desk, where I was greeted by the friendly, welcoming, ENGLISH SPEAKING staff. 5 minutes later I was in my room testing out the A/C.

My GH is a little slice of heaven. The lobby area has a travel agent, internet service, and restaurant, which is largely why I picked it. Within an hour of arrival, I'd handed over my passport to the travel agent to arrange my visa for Myanmar (formerly Burma) and bought a ticket on Thai Airways for the trip to Yangon (formerly Rangoon). With that out of the way, I chugged an icy cold Gatorade, stuffed two bottles of water in my daypack, and headed out to stroll around the neighborhood.

I wasn't half a block from the GH when I got hit up by my first tout. Touts are those guys who strike up conversation with you in order to steer you to tours or shopping where they'll get a commission. Never having had to deal with this, and not knowing how adamantly one can say "NO" without seeming rude, I went along with it. He suggested going to the night market, which I'd heard about and planned to see at some point, so all seemed well. He flags down a tuk-tuk, and off I go. Easy enough, right? Yeah, well, not quite. We spent more time in the wrong lane going around stopped traffic than in the flow of it. You've seen those movies with the car chases where they're going the wrong way up a one way street? Yeah, like that. I won't say it wasn't fun, and I'm sure I had a stupid grin on my face for at least part of the ride, but it was still a huge relief to arrive (alive) at the night market. I've had my last tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok. I'll wait for a taxi from now on. (Quick note on Bangkok traffic; it makes the traffic in Rome look slow and orderly. 'Nuff said.)

The night market was interesting. It's a cross between a mall and a flea market, and it's huge. I wandered around it for a couple hours and probably only saw half. It also has a large open air food court/beer garden where I grabbed some pad tai and a Heineken, and people watched for a bit. Live music, an interesting mix of westerners and locals, overall, a pretty nice place to burn off a couple hours.

Took a taxi back to the GH, turned in early and was up by 6:00. Grabbed some breakfast in the GH restaurant, stocked up on water and was out wandering KSR by 7:00. Already 80 degrees and humid, I was quickly drenched in sweat. I covered most of KSR and it's various branches before heading out towards a local plaza near the National Gallery. Police and military everywhere, apparently the Prime Minister is going to be giving a speech sometime today. He dissolved parliament and called new elections last week, so things could be interesting on the political front over the next month.

The touts were all over me while strolling around. They all work off the same script, so they're easy to recognize. "Hello friend, where you from. How long you be here? What you see? You should see..." Not sure yet how far I can go in asserting myself with them. So far I've obviously not been assertive enough, as they'll follow you as you walk, persistently pushing their offers. Though with the last guy I did pretty much just keep repeating no, and went so far as to turn and walk away, dodging through traffic to make my escape. These guys definitely make doing things on your own a bit challenging, and try your patience. All part of the experience though.

It's lunchtime and I'll probably wait out the heat of the day here at the GH before heading out again. Don't yet know what I'll do tonight, but I'm sure it will be interesting. Oh, and I started my anti-malarials yesterday. So far no major side effects like paranoia or hallucinations, just a slight headache, a little lightheadedness, and uncontrollable drooling. Luckily the drool just blends in with the sweat, so no one notices...

Anyway, all's well here, having a great time despite (or maybe because of) the stranger in a strange land effect.
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