This is the first post, then, about my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos. Let me say congratulations, though, to Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the winning party in Thailand’s recent election, future Prime Minister and sister of deposed ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Hopefully, the election will help to unite the country and heal the wounds caused by all the strife there recently. Some commentators on Thai politics think it will be a good thing, but there are those who think another military coup is possible. I left the country just a few days before the election, and, while I did see more than a little campaigning going on, I didn’t see any demonstrations or acts of violence. Good luck, people of Thailand!
Next, I have to comment on the quality of Thai Airways. I used to enjoy flying with the “Smooth as Silk” airline, but lately their service has really declined. The quality of the food served on flights has gone down noticeably from, oh, say about five years ago; the attendants, while not surly, don’t seem as interested or caring; and the in-flight entertainment has become sub-par. On the trip to Bangkok, all we had were the overhead video monitors–no individual seatback screens with video on demand (older planes, I guess). On the trip back to Korea, we did, indeed, have the video on demand, individual screen system–nice. However, less than halfway through the flight, the system went down–no video, no music to listen to, nothing. That made for a much longer flight. Yeesh! I’m gonna have to start booking my travel on another airline, methinks. Sorry, Thai Air, you’re gonna have to pick it up quite a bit to keep my business.
Ok, I got that out of the way. I only stayed in Bangkok for one night, so I didn’t get around too much. One thing I always do in Bangkok is eat at the Bourbon St. Restaurant, which, as you might guess, serves mouth-watering Cajun cuisine. It’s only about a kilometer or so from the hotel, so I could have walked there. I felt like having a little fun, though, so I decided to take a motorbike mototaxi, a rather unsafe way to travel in Bangkok’s notorious traffic.
It was around 7 p.m. and Sukhumvit Road was experiencing its usual rush-hour jam, so taking a regular taxi probably would have taken around half an hour. On a mototaxi, it took about 10 minutes, with the driver weaving between the non-moving cars and buses, working his way to the front of the pack waiting for the traffic light to change. Then, at the green light, he roared to the back of the next stalled pack and again squeezed to the front. You have to really keep your arms and legs tight to the bike–you’re the meat in a sandwich and the buses and cars are the bread. It’s actually not that bad in a traffic jam, because not too many of the big vehicles are moving–just watch the arms and legs. I took a couple of videos while I was riding on the back, holding on for dear life with one hand and holding my compact camera with the other. I’ll try to get one of them posted here for your amusement.
So, I did make it to the restaurant ok and had a great meal of red beans and rice. Fantastic! Be sure to give the Bourbon St. a try if you’r ever in Bangkok. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Check their website for directions.
Another thing I like about Bangkok is all the surprising cultural trappings that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I walked back to Sukhumvit 11 (no sense pressing my luck on the mototaxis), and this statue caught my attention. It looks like it might be a shrine of some sort, and it was located across the street in front of a bank or department store–I really don’t remember which. I didn’t notice it on the ride down, but that was probably because I was too busy taking the videos and trying not to die. 🙂
More mundane transportation is the overnight train to Nong Khai. It departs from Hua Lamphong Station at 8:30 p.m. and arrives in Nong Khai around 8:30 a.m. The train is usually late by about 20-30 minutes, although it’s been on time occasionally on my past trips, but this time we were 2 HOURS late getting into the northeastern Thai city. Again, on the return trip, the train was almost 2 hours late arriving in Bangkok. Very unusual, but not a big problem for me, since I wasn’t on any real pressing time schedule. (Nai had a pretty long wait in meeting me, though.)
Here’s a shot of Hua Lamphong I took from a restaurant above the main waiting area.
I kind of like the rickety, over-aged night train–it’s seems like an escape to the past, when people weren’t in such a hell-bent-for-leather hurry to get somewhere else. On the train, it’s not the arrival that’s important, it’s the trip. The train has a dining car, so I rocked and rolled my way down a few cars and sat down to have a snack. You meet all sorts of interesting folks. I talked to one Norwegian guy who co-owns a guest house in Vang Vieng, Laos, and he told me that the police up in the “frat” town (about which I’ve previously posted) had clamped down on the after hours (closing time–midnight) partying there. That’s excellent news–it’s a beautiful area, but the young backpackers that seemed to party ’round the clock had turned it into something less than appealing to older folks like me.
I also struck up a conversation with one of the police who patrol the cars, checking passports, watching for thievery, and other such mundane chores. I took a photo, but for some reason I had the settings on my camera messed up and didn’t get a clear shot of him. However, it does give some idea of the swaying motion of the train, so I kind of like it anyway.
So, I’ll end this rather long post with my arrival in Nong Khai and try to get some more photos and stories up this weekend. Stay tuned.