Ok, finally I’m going to get started on the vacation journal that I promised. I returned a few days ago and have been getting organized ever since (those of you who know me well–quit laughing). I’ll make entries over the next few days (or weeks) and add photos to the blog and to the Photo Gallery on the main page, so keep checking back. I’ll probably just keep appending my journal entries to this post, so keep checking back. Without further ado, as written in my journal at the time, with a little editing . . .
I had a smooth flight from Incheon Airport in Korea, leaving about 10:30 a.m. Flight time–seven hours, but since Bangkok is two hours behind, I arrived in Thailand at 3:30 p.m. Bangkok definitely needs a new airport and they are, indeed, building one. The flight stopped in Hong Kong, and from what I saw of the city from the air, it looked impressive, with modern high-rises and surrounding mountains, which reminded me of Missoula and its encircling mountains (no “M” on the side of any hills, nor even “HK”). From Hong Kong to Bangkok the flight took us over the South China Sea. Popcorn clouds speckled the blue waters to the horizon, towards the unseen Philippines. From 35,000 feet I could see toy ships painting white, feathery wakes on the blue canvas below. The ships had to be huge tankers whose gargantuan sizes were belied by the altitude.
So, it was into Bangkok in the mid-afternoon. My first impressions of the city were that it was crowded, congested, exotic, dirty, and a mixture of old and new–amazing Buddhist temples (wats, as they are known in the Thai language) and modern skyscrapers. The traffic going from the airport to the guesthouse at which I stayed was a nightmare. In Thailand there is left-lane driving, but it seemed that vehicles, especially the myriad motorbikes, were taking whatever space they could find. The motorbike drivers (daredevils, I would later find out firsthand) and pedestrians weaved in and out of the clogged streets, the bikes poking their noses between buses and automobiles to wend their way to the front of the pack stopped at the traffic lights. They have their own little space at the front, and when the green light signalled to go like a bat out of hell, they did, racing ahead of the taxis and buses to get to the next red light. Amidst all the traffic was the occasional vendor; I saw one girl, who looked no older than 12 or 13, walking down the middle lane against the traffic, selling what looked like yellow paper flowers, or perhaps it was pineapple cut into flower shapes.
After about an hour-long ride, the shuttle bus from the airport dropped me off at Siam Square, one of the main shopping and entertainment districts of Bangkok. It was a fairly inexpensive ride, about $2.50; many things in Thailand, like food and transportation, are very cheap. As far as I could calculate, the price of gas here is about the same as in the U.S. Thanks to my friends Andrew Loader and Stephanie Gibbons, inveterate Thai travelers, I was able to find my way to Wendy’s Guesthouse with very little effort, although walking against the human tide for a few blocks threatened to exhaust me. I will stay at Wendy’s for the first night, paying 550 baht (the Thai currency, 40B = $1, about), about $14. Wendy’s is a small, clean, friendly guesthouse tucked away on one of the side streets of the Siam Square main road, Thanon Phra Ram I. Thanon is the generic name for street, so most of the main roads begin with its abbreviation, Th. Thus, Th Phra Ram I. Wendy’s is on Soi Kasem San 1, soi being the designation for a smaller street. So, off of Th Phra Ram I, you might find Soi 1, Soi 2, etc., or streets with other names, like the Soi Kasem San 1 of Wendy’s. I won’t try to get into the address system too deeply; it can get quite complex. Luckily, I have with me a couple of Lonely Planet guidebooks, complete with maps. So, I stayed at Wendy’s and later went out to eat my first Thai food, dinner at a small open-air restaurant just a few doors down from Wendys. I had stir-fried shrimp with rice and a Pepsi for 60B. Good price, great food. The menu was in English and Thai, so it was a simple thing to avoid squid, which I do avoid like the plague. I’ve had it in Korea and I don’t like it. I’m as averse to eating it as I am to eating cauliflower (note: later, I would eat both and not mind them too much). Tomorrow, I go on to Ko Phuket (poo-KET) (Ko = island), where I hope to stay at Benjamin Resort on Hat Kamala (KAH-mah-lah) (Hat = beach).
Siam Square, with MBK Shopping Center on the right
(where are all the motorbikes?)
6/30 – 7/2 At Hat Kamala
I was going to leave Hat Kamala for Hat Raileh, a roadless beach area further east on the Thai mainland, near the town of Krabi. However, I decided to stay a while longer at Kamala–it’s very peaceful here, not too many other tourists and pretty laid back, but many places are closed because it is the low season. I visited Patong yesterday (7/1), which is the main tourist beach on Phuket. What a mess! Very crowded, very touristy, very noisy, with everyone trying to get your money–come in and buy this, buy that, take a tour here, hire a taxi to go there, and, of course, all the sex shops. Even though Kamala is only about 6 miles from Patong, it is a world away in terms of ambience.
On Wednesday (6/30) I took in the nightly performance at Phuket Fantasea, which is just up the road from where I’m staying. Wow! It’s a Vegas-style show that focuses on Thai mythology and culture. It is very well done, quite impressive, including Cirque du Soleil type aerial acrobats. There was a pleasant buffet proceeding the event, and though it wasn’t great, it was adequate and filling. Unfortunately, my table companions, from England, were a bit gruff and they didn’t seem like they wanted to make small talk with me. The main show, however, was worth the price of admission (2000B). I wish I had brought my camera along to take pictures of the park the event was located in, even though cameras and other recording devices were confiscated at the entrance to the auditorium; I knew this in advance, which is why I didn’t bring my digicam. The banquet hall seats 4,000 people and the auditorium, I believe I read on the website, seats 3,000. The show was a celebration of Thai culture, history, and mythology. It incorporated trapeze acrobats, high tech lighting and special effects, 20 elephants, water buffalo, goats, chickens, and doves flying through the auditorium. When the cast came out for a bow at the end of the performance, there must have been easily more than 100 members. Orchids (I think, maybe some other kind of flower), were floated down from the roof of the auditorium, as were scented soap flakes at the end of the show. The show detailed the kidnapping of a princess and her subsequent rescue by a prince. It featured a huge battle scene as the finale, complete with cannon fire and dragons. The hero wore an amazingly beautiful suit of lights and he had a magic elephant to help in the victory, the elephant levitating and disappearing in mid air as its chores were finished. There was much, much more, but, overall this is a great spectacle, and I highly recommend it if you ever get to Phuket.
Benjamin Resort gets a good recommendation, too. There is a nice deck outside my spacious room (600B/night), though the view of the beach is blocked by palm trees. The surf sound is melodic, providing a sweet symphony to lull me to sleep at night, and the veranda/deck provides a dry haven from the daily afternoon showers, which rattle on the roof, sometimes drowning out the shuushing of the ocean. The resort is right on the beach, which is about 2-3 kilometers long, and is delineated by rocky headlands at its north and south ends, which are home to very upscale resorts. Even farther north is the very exclusive Amanpuri Resort, costly at $1,000 per night. The Amanpuri provides a fairy-land look at night, beautifully lit in the distance.
Tomorrow I’m off to Phuket City to catch a boat to Ko Phi Phi and on to Krabi for the night, there to take a longtail boat to Hat Raileh, if the seas aren’t too heavy during this monsoon season. That’s the nice thing about the low season–you can journey just about anywhere in the country and have no problems with getting decent accomodations. In the high season, approximately Nov.-Feb, although this varies in places, it is usually necessary to make reservations well in advance.
Kamala Beach, looking south toward Benjamin Resort, way down at the end