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I'm an American living in Japan for three years while my wife is on assignment here. (Three years has come and gone so I should probably say three years and counting.)

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bangkok

I'm finally getting around to sharing my experiences of a trip we took to Bangkok in early February. I should mention that a couple of months before our visit, Thailand had experienced a bloodless coup. This sounds much worse than it was and we experienced no threat or inconvenience as a result. However, when we first landed in Thailand and were taken to our hotel, it was a little un-nerving to be stopped by guards at the entrance to our hotel and have the car checked for hidden explosives.

The guards carried mirrors on long handles to check underneath every vehicle. Some vehicles also had their trunk and engine compartments examined.

Anyhow, thanks to Marcia's work, we stayed at a very nice hotel/spa/compound on the Chao Phraya River.
At least six different restaurants, beautiful outdoor pool and grounds, convenience stores, and other shops were all available within the hotel and grounds.
Lobby entertainment...



I could have spent the whole week there and never left the grounds. However, that definitely would not have been representative of Bangkok. Our hotel was on the other side of the river from downtown Bangkok and the hotel provided a shuttle boat that departed every fifteen minutes from our dock.
The boat ride took about fifteen minutes and was very enjoyable. The river is definitely one of the main avenues of transportation. There are water taxis, water buses, private boats and, of course, the commercial shipping type of vessels.



It makes for a very busy river. On land, I used an overhead rail system and a couple of times a three wheeled motorcycle taxi called a tuk tuk.

The slowest way to get around the city (besides walking) is any type of transportation that involves using the streets. Traffic is very congested which also makes for some pretty heavy pollution at ground level. You'll notice in the pictures that have a distant background that it appears quite hazy. That's the air quality not my camera.
It's always fascinating going to different countries. Since I'm living in Japan, I can't help but make comparisons to my "home" country.

Fact: Japan is cleaner than any country I've visited.
Fact: Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world.

Bangkok is not a very clean city. Both street trash and air quality leave a lot to be desired. That being said, I had a great time exploring and relaxing in this country. For one thing, Thailand is very inexpensive. An hour long traditional Thai massage cost me 300 baht. About 10 dollars U.S. I haven't had a lot of massages in my life, but I found out that a traditional Thai massage is very different from what I consider a typical American massage. In America, I've never had the masseuse climb up on the table and twist and pull my body in directions that I didn't think were possible. The positions that I was literally "thrown" into defy description. It's an experience similar to my days on the college wrestling team! I was tossed around like a rag doll by a woman who was at the most five feet tall. Obviously she was quite strong and knew how to use leverage to her advantage. However, I must say that at the end of the experience my body felt very stretched out and relaxed.

She's stronger than she looks.

People are very cheerful and appear to be quite helpful to foreigners. Notice I said "appear". In Japan if you're standing on a street corner looking at a map, someone invariably will come up to you and ask if you need help, then give you directions and be on their way. In Bangkok very friendly people will come up to you, ask you where you are going, and proceed to "help" you. Here's where things get a little different from Japan. The friendly, cheerful, helpful stranger will tell you that where you are going is closed for the lunch hour, day, or whatever and then suggest some other sight that you might want to see. They will call a tuk tuk for you and make sure you get on your way to their suggested special viewing sight. This is all subtlely choreographed and you are gently misdirected eventually to, in my case, a "special" wholesale jewelry store that is open to the public for "today" only. Here's the interesting part. I didn't buy any jewelry but, I was with a friend whose husband works with Marcia and she did do some buying. She had her purchases appraised later and they were worth much more than the price she paid. So even though we were misdirected and felt manipulated,we really didn't get ripped off. Also in the course of being misdirected, we were given a great tour of a temple of Rama IV by a man who eventually suggested the jewelry outlet.


Sakda Yindee our unintentional "guide"....

Rama IV...


I think that there is a desperate scramble for tourist money. I think that the philosophy is: "if tourists are going to spend money, it's much better if they spend it in establishments that are owned by my relatives or friends". As you leave well known tourist attractions, people yell out directions (i.e. misdirections) to the next attraction. Since I obviously looked like a tourist I learned to ask official guides at tourist booths or policemen for help. I also learned to very secretively look at my map when on the street and to always act like I knew where I was going.

Bangkok had many interesting tourist sights: the Reclining Buddha, the Grand Palace, and countless temples, not to mention a gazillion shops to explore.


Reclining Buddha at the Wat Pho Temple...

46 meters ( 151 feet) long and 15 meters (49 feet) high....


The feet and the eyes are engraved with mother-of-pearl decoration, and the feet also show the 108 auspicious characteristics of the true Buddha.

Inside the grounds of the Grand Palace....

A symbolic guard....

Wat Arun, Temple of the Dawn...

Wat Arun....

Besides wandering through the city, I also got to spend some time with Marcia. We did some evening shopping and exploring and on our last day in Bangkok, we took a private boat tour on a long boat.

Exploring....

Getting fortified for more shopping.....
Sitting with Marcia is Chigusa Kawanami. A co-worker of Marcia's and an excellent travel companion.

The long boat tour...

Parts of Bangkok are very similar to Venice in that canals are everywhere, like city streets. The longboat tour took us out of the city into the more residential rural areas. The locals use the river canals for everything: transportation, recreation, bathing, garbage disposal, and whatever. The housing on the river ranged from very poor shanties to walled luxury homes.





This brief blog certainly can't give a complete picture of Bangkok, but I hope I have at least given a glimpse of a very interesting city.

Ja Mata,
Gary

129 comments:

Raven said...

Gary, this was a very interesting post. Great descriptions and images from Bangkok.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see photos of the two of you, Gary. You're so fortunate to have this opportunity. Joy

Ken Ragan said...

Your trip to Thialand sounds incredible and a dream come true. Wow what a time you guys are having. Wish I was there.
XX
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Gary - Nice recap, entertaining, two thunbs up. You might be amused to learn that I am reading your blog via BlackBerry while sitting in the Futamatagawa drivers license center. As you will soon learn, sitting is something that is done quite a lot here. Bring your camera, there is definately some blog material here.
Downstairs Neighbor

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