Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bangkok! What a surprise.

As much as I love to travel, I really should not be surprised about the interesting sites, culture, and people of the places that I visit, but travel always amazes me. Not only am I surprised about the differences, but also the similarities with our life and country. I had not been in Asia since the Viet Nam war, and so I can be excused for thinking that seeing Thailand in 2004 would be like my experiences in 1970. Many things reminded me of my travel all over Viet Nam during the war, but most of what is happening in Thailand is a whole new ballgame. There is so much to say about this vacation to Bangkok, maybe the best way to vicariously visit, would be for me to give you some snapshots of the trip:

 My, what a long flight, but if you do it overnight it seemed ok. Surprisingly, because of some flight number problems, our luggage had the advantage of also visiting Hong Kong, but it arrived in Bangkok from Hong Kong twenty minutes after we arrived. That must be considered a minor miracle.

 I know it isn’t the truth, but it seemed that 90% of the 8, 10, or 12 million residents (who knows how many there are) of Bangkok are under 25 years of age. What beautiful young people, all with cell phones, and dressed far better than the comparable U.S. age group.

 Buddha is everywhere and the temples are overwhelming. Gleaming gold and precious stones with towering stuppas. Most everyone in Thailand is a Buddhist and so there is a temple on nearly every corner. At the temples you must move fast to avoid being included in the photos of all the Asians taking pictures of each other, rather than of the temple or grounds. A fascinating custom is the presence of a spirit house on the corner of nearly every piece of property, so there is a place for family spirits to live and protect the property.

 When reading up for the trip, every writer said Bangkok was impossible to get around because of the terrible traffic. Well, now the city has a wonderful sky train and new subway, which makes it very easy to go all over the city. Getting to the old district of Bangkok, in the area of the Grand Palace and Chinatown, is still a bit of a challenge. However, the sky train gets you to the Chao Phraya River, and then you can just take the water taxis up and down the river to your destination. Now, this assumes you know how to use the express water taxis. My technique was to watch and see what the other American tourists were doing. We only got kicked off a private tour boat once!

 My impression is that the Thais eat all the time. There are sidewalk vendors everywhere and they are always busy. The Thai people eat the same staple foods for all their meals, so breakfast is interchangeable with dinner or a late night snack. This brings up learning about Thai cooking. As I was not familiar with Thai food, it was a mystery as to what I was eating at any given time. I can attest however, that you want to watch out for those red peppers that are mixed in with everything. My eyes and nose are still watering! To help solve this problem in the future Mary Ann went to a Thai cooking school. I still don’t think she can recognize all of the ingredients, but she has a nifty Blue Elephant cooking school apron. By the way, the world class shopper did very well in what must be one of the most prolific shopping cities of the world!

 One of challenges of Bangkok is fending off all the salesmen selling practically everything. From our hotel we ran the gauntlet several times a day past the guys standing outside of their stores and who never missed a beat when enticing us with more luggage, tailored suits, Thai massage, or to take a ride in a Tuk Tuk (3 wheeled motorcycle taxi) to who knows where. The regular sidewalk salesmen of course recognized us on every pass, and it became a good natured game to tempt us to stop and shop.

Our seven days in Bangkok, included two excursions outside of the city. One was to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya and the second to the Damnoen floating market and Royal Summer Palace. It was a wonderful trip, and with the dollar staying strong against the Asian currencies, very inexpensive. Mary Ann and I are looking forward to another Far East trip soon.

(This article was published in the spring 2005 issue of the ABA Judicial Record newsletter.)

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