Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
272Trip End Ongoing
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So the parents take the 22 hour flight from Chicago over to Bangkok and they got off the plane just about on time and looking pretty good considering the travel hell they had just gone through. Leah was pumped on adrenaline I think and dad was just making it by sheer will power alone. The mandatory hugs were dispensed with and we made it down to the taxi stand to head off to their hotel. Now I am a man of Spartan accommodations and have grown used to roughing it across most of the Asian sub-continent. It's not that I wouldn't love to live like a king; it's just that if I want to stay out here all winter I have to be a frugal son of a bitch....or as the Thai's call it "ki nok farang" (literal translation is bird shit westerner). The parents on the other hand had reserved themselves a room at the Millennium Hilton right on the river in the middle of Bangkok, which truth be told, as quite the palace. The taxi pulled up to the glorious high rise and the parents blearily stumbled out as the bell boys gathered the luggage and herded us towards the check in desk.
A brief word about the luggage situation. I advised the parents that maybe backpacks would be of greater use since they would be trudging across beaches and up hills. In these conditions the traditional suitcase and even the more modern "roller bag" fail the common traveler since they get bogged down in the sand or get wet as you pull them through the surf as you jump off of a long tail boat. Being 60 I doubted my parents would heed my advice but they surprised me and had indeed packed giant backpacks. The problem was they also brought the roller bag in ADDITION to the backpacks. To sum it up, my poor folks were loaded down with way too much shit and they were going to be going hell and half an acre while in Thailand. Oh well, what was there to do?
We got everyone settled for the night and after a brief conversation I assured them that I would be back in the morning to take them on the first of many sightseeing trips. So here I am at my wonderful day at the grand palace again. If someone could have just shot me in the back of the head I would not have complained much because let's face it, after the first 6 times, the palace is just not as magical as it once was. Today proved even worse since it was a Sunday and it just so happened that the king's sister had just passed away. As part of the official ceremonies, the crown prince was making an appearance at the palace. There were thousands of mourners, all dressed in black, lined up for the official viewing of the princess and also to see the crown prince. It's hard to describe the absolute adoration the Thai's feel towards their royalty. Yes the British have their royal family but you can always argue whether or not one of them is a slut or if one them is a complete idiot. There is none of that in Thailand. The royal family is loved and you better not show any disrespect in that regard.
We waited around for about a half hour in the blazing sun to see if the prince would indeed show up but we soon grew tired of this and decided to go see wat pho which was close by and housed the giant reclining Buddha which is truly beautiful. We would come back later to the grand palace after it had thinned out a bit and wasn't so hectic with the expectation of royal visitors. Tours of both landmarks went well with the usual ooing and awing at the appropriate places. Dad was struck enough with the beauty of the buildings to forget he was sweating for a bit. The Thais really go all out when it comes to their temples and the parents were dually impressed which is nice to see since my father is world renown for his blasť attitude towards anything that doesn't involve sports. The parents first lunch was at a little Thai food stand where we were the only farang which is always a good sign. To see my parents crammed into this little food stand while we ate some of the more creative of Thai dishes was a surreal experience for me. Like I have said before, the only way I know my parents is in the environment of the Chicago area and now they were ass deep in Thailand, sucking down noodle soup and eating grilled meat which was advertised as pork but who really knows. It was surreal but in the pleasant way and I had to smile at the sight of my dad diligently eating his soup while sweating like a stuck pig.
It was soon after this meal that we headed over to the nearby khao san road just so I could show them where I stayed in Bangkok and what my environment was compared to life over at the Hilton. It was only about 4 in the afternoon so khao san wasn't quite full speed yet but it was still quite the spectacle. We walked over to my travel lady so I could introduce them but also because we were going to buy a little package tour for the next day taking us up to the tiger temple and to the bridge on the river kwai. I figured Leah would really enjoy the tigers and dad being the movie buff that he is would enjoy the river kwai. I had to find something because I honestly didn't know what I was going to do with them for 5 days in Bangkok. It's a big city for sure but the tourist sights are pretty compact and you can knock a lot of them out in the same day. Having introduced my now famous travel lady and hearing her give the obligatory "oh pom poi how are you?" we bought our tickets and grabbed a cab back to the Hilton.
Now I could just end the description for this day right now but the last thing that happened really pissed me off so I thought I would share it with you. I don't know that many places to eat in Bangkok because I eat most of my meals off of food carts and the like. So we thumbed through the lonely planet and found a couple of recommendations for dinner which looked pretty good. We headed downstairs and the parents went over to the concierge to see if we could get a taxi line up. At this point the concierge went on and on about how the food at the restaurant we wanted to go to was very spicy. Now this line was complete bullshit because any restaurant serving a large amount of farang can water down the spice if they already haven't. The concierge was just playing on the fears of people who have never been to Thailand. Instead of the place we wanted to go he recommended somewhere else and said it was great traditional Thai food. Now I've been in Thailand a long fucking time and I know the games that these schmucks play. I don't care if you have the title of "concierge" on your shirt; you are still just a high priced tout who is probably getting a commission for sending us to this place. I tried explaining this to the parents but they insisted it wasn't a big deal and that they were paying for it so I shouldn't worry. The place proved me to be right of course and was overpriced to the gills. I will admit the food was good but anytime you need to pay 300 baht for a 60 baht curry, you should be able to shoot someone. The parents were happy with the meal though so I bit my tongue the best I could and did my best not to interject too much negativity into being ripped off.
The next day was the big day trip out to the tiger temple and the bridge so the parents met me down on khao san road at 7am where the mini bus would be picking us up. Amazingly enough, the mini bus was only about 5 minutes late and we obediently packed ourselves into it. It was about a 3 hour ride up north and to the west a bit before we reached the war cemetery that makes up part of the tour. To be honest I didn't even know that this was on the itinerary but I was game. To my surprise I think I found the cemetery much more interesting then the bridge itself. The land has been donated by the government of Thailand and the actual upkeep is done by the British government. Something like 5,000 people are interred there and the grounds are immaculate. There is something about military cemeteries that I find intriguing and very moving and this one was no different. The small and simple headstones were engraved with the usual name and unit but many also had small personal messages engraved by the families and these were quite sad, especially when you read one after another and another, thinking about all the lives that were cut so short for such bullshit reasons.
After about 30 minutes spent at the cemetery were packed up and headed towards the bridge itself. I'm a pretty big history buff and I enjoy historical sites but other than the movie I didn't see the big deal about this particular site. I know I know, I'm being a bit callous what with the number of people who died building this railway but I'm just saying that this was not a particularly inspiring site. Especially since a bootleg CD store had opened up right next to the bridge and was blaring ABBA of all things. ABBA is definitely a killer of the somber mood. The parents walked around quite a bit and seemed to enjoy the overall sights despite the music and the oppressive heat. They did fail me a little bit when they didn't want to walk across the bridge due to the lack of safety measures such as railings and safety nets over the water lol. Their level of self preservation was very cute.
After the bridge itself was a short drive to our lunch which was on a floating barge which was doing wonders for dad's sea sickness lol. The meal was the usual "free lunch" fare of fried rice and lots of vegetables. Not too bad really but I'm more of a meat eater and enjoy a more hearty meal of well cooked animal flesh. Had a nice view though and was able to watch the river speed boats fly by taking people here and there.
After the meal there was a slight breakdown in vehicular transportation, or in other words, our minivan broke down. But no fears, we packed into the back of a pickup truck taxi and headed off towards the tiger temple. Now I am used to this sort of shit and it really wasn't all that bad but watching my parents loading into the back of a pickup truck for a 30 minute drive was pretty amusing. I was a bit upset to tell the truth because I was hoping for the least amount of hassle for the p's as possible and the last thing I wanted was a car to breakdown in the middle of nowhere on their second day. It wasn't a major catastrophe but I could have done without it for sure.
The tiger temple proved to be a serious pain in the ass. First of all I think we can all agree that when it comes to hugging and hanging out with tigers, you should be afforded more than an hour with the little beasties. I honestly could have hung out there all day, playing with the 4 month old cubs that they had out and walking about. The second bit of pain in the assness was that unknown to me and the parents, the $10 entrance fee was not included in the price for the day tour so we got footed with that bill unexpectantly and just to top shit off, they didn't want to allow my mom entrance to the place because she was wearing a tank top and this was a "temple". Now I know about the proper dress thing and I am a big supporter of following local customs but this was complete bullshit because it really wasn't a temple and you spent the entire time outdoors and nowhere near any sort of holy place. I think that this was just a ploy to make you buy a tshirt to "cover yourself" with. Of course this worked because mom wanted to go in and see the tigers so she was stuck buying a $10 tshirt.
Once inside we went down into the little area where they have set aside 7-8 tigers to get your photo taken with them. Of course there was a long and winding line and we only had an hour to spend all together in this place so it was a bit frustrating. The tigers themselves were very cool and I mean how many times do you have the chance to pet one or have a cub sitting on a bench next to you? I love being able to get that close to the "wildlife" here. I suppose there is no way that it will ever happen back in the states due to lawsuits and safety aspects. A bunch of the western "volunteers" had a few scars from when a tiger "got them" so these were not completely tame and docile. I think dad had gotten a bit pissed off with all the hassle as the day wore on but that is just part of the Thailand experience so to speak and he didn't lose his cool too much thankfully.
The next day the parents left off for Cambodia on their 3 day mini adventure. I had given them the business card of a friend of mine that owns a hotel in pehnom phen (read the blog where he's doing heroin in the bathroom LOL) but I was a little worried sending them off by themselves into the third world. Well they are all grown and they have to leave the nest eventually. When they flew out into the great unknown I was left in Bangkok by myself....until ninny showed up out of the blue the next day. She had been saying she wanted to come and meet the parents but since she had gone completely bat shit the last few weeks I just wrote it off. Well apparently she was serious because now she was in Bangkok and ready to meet the parents. Oh shit