Thailand - escape from Bangladesh (July 26 - August 3, 2003)

After Bangladesh, Thailand is what it feels like to stop banging your head against a wall. Nobody stares at you, there is no stench, cars honk rarely, women look you in the eye and smile, and if you're a woman, you don't have to look at the ground all of the time. You can drink the water, the fish aren't full of tiny bones, and there are few beggars.

Because travel is so cheap here these days due to SARS, wars and terrorism, we went relatively deluxe, by our standards. It was pretty easy, I must say. We stayed for a couple of days in a snazzy hotel on the river in Bangkok: see the view from our room ...

a room with a view ... Bangkok


Previously I'd stayed in the fleshpot districts (Patpong, Sukhumvit) so traveling by river was as much a novelty to me as to Pepa. Several major tourist lures are best accessed from the river, eg, skyscraper temples that make rococo look plain.

just another wat.

The Kings of Siam maintained fabulous fleets of ceremonial barges that they'd arrange in a flotilla on the river of no less than 50 vessels to celebrate special occasions. The larger ones are almost 50m long, powered by scores of paddlers. Here is a figurehead of one of the bigger barges, some Hindu god with a cannon for a dick. (note for research: Why Hindu? I thought they were Buddhists.)

royal barge figurehead

After the Royal Barge museum, we headed over to the Grand Palace. I'd read warnings that tuktuk drivers will mislead you to believe that the Grand Palace is closed at the moment, so they can lure you off on their agenda. When we were told the place was closed I had to verify it with somebody else, who turned out to be in on the conspiracy also. So we went off with the tuktuk guy and had a pretty good time even so. First we went to a temple built on a hill constructed for the purpose. Here you see Pepa on the roof harassing a celibate monk.

city wat

On the spiral path down there are bells to ring. The amiable tuktuk guy took us to a jewel store, then to a store that was like Pier 1 Imports only infinitely better, then to a tailor who'd make you a silk suit that would cost a grand in Vancouver, for $150 by tomorrow morning, the tuktuk guy all the while picking up bakshish (or whatever they call it in Thailand) from the store owners. I started to get the picture and demanded to be taken to the Grand Palace chop chop.

The Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaeo were the highlight of Bangkok for us. They're ornate down to astonishingly tiny detail, building after building of brilliantly coloured and intricately textured ceramic, glass, mirrored and metalled surfaces with, in the large, elegant and exotic forms. The wealth required to create them is only a little more impressive than the likely maintenance cost. I'll go there again, I'm sure.

somewhere in the Wat Phra Kaeo

wall details in the Grand Palace

more Grand Palace wall details.

the Hermit Doctor.

the devout rub gold leaf onto sacred objects

Condorito goes Thai

We went on a dinner cruise, sharing a table with an american IT guy based in Singapore and his rent-a-girl. He spends most of his weekends in Bangkok because, he said, Singapore is a bore. His girl friend was a knockout. You see lots of geeky foreigners with exquisite Thai women on their arm: beautifully featured, slim, well-formed, sexy. The dinner was nothing special but Bangkok by night slipping by on each side of us was spectacular. I think of Bangkok now as the Paris of the orient because it has a river running through it with many famous buildings on its banks, distinctly charmed districts, fabulous restaurants, amazing shopping and is visited by people throughout the world. Of course, I haven't been to all the cities in the orient so Paris may have a closer match elsewhere, but so far I favour Bangkok. Pepa took this Grand Palace by night picture from the deck of the dinner cruiser.

the Grand Palace from the river.

We didn't actually ride in a long-tail (next couple of pictures} in Bangkok because the alternative transport was so much cheaper but I was impressed with the concept: half a ton of V-6 balanced precisely on a transom-mounted turntable/pivot, with a control tiller projecting forward and long milkshake-maker propeller trailing back. They go like stink, unmuffled, crashing through the wakes of other boats and probably sink like stones in frequent fatal high-speed collisions. I'm only speculating.

long-tail hotrod

the business end

Next day we flew to Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand about 60 km from the mainland, not quite as far south as Phuket. We stayed in a couple of hotels on Chaweng Beach, first a ritzy one for a couple of days and then we moved to a funkier one for half the price.

putting in beach-time

in the garden of the Imperial Samui hotel

leering tiki

We went on an island tour and met some non-native species.

Barbar's banana bullseye

This monkey is a plantation slave. He scampers up the palms to dislodge coconuts, as many as 400/day, for room and board and no pay.

this guy picks 400 coconuts a day.

Easily the high point of Koh Samui for us was a daytrip out to Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago about 35km to the northeast, 2.5 hours in a tour vessel. Once there, they launched us in kayaks and we paddled for about half an hour to a tropical shore, incidentally a location in the movie "The Beach", with an inland salt lake joined to the sea by a mysterious submarine passage, which was moderately interesting.

Ang Thong National Park

We had lunch and motored to another place where we launched again, this time for a 45 minute paddle into a landlocked lagoon only reachable at low tide, and on to other islets with sea arches, sea caves and spectacular cliffs. After that we snorkelled in the shallow coral bay. Great day.