Eric, Jan’s cousin, works at the US embassy in Thailand. We frequently mused that to visit while he and his wife, Annie, were there would be a great way to see the country but never imagined that time and money would line up to allow such a venture. Last summer when we realized that his tour there was about to end, we decided to go - ready or not.
After many internet searches and a few phone calls we found a not outrageous plane fare and worked to squirrel away some spending money. We knew also that we would need some clothing and shoes for traveling light in that area, and a few shots and pills for our health. We did not imagine what the immunizations and pills would cost. It turned out to be the biggest expense of the trip after air fare.
If you have the time and money, and we did not, I would recommend stopping a day or two on the way. The first leg from Houston to Tokyo was tolerable and the stroll through the mall that doubles as an airport was refreshing. However, the next several hours to Bangkok turned into agony. Like the rest of the flights we took, seats were small and nearly all occupied. All that was forgotten when we arrived and Eric was there to drive us to their apartment.
The new airport has a modern architectural style and the skyline and freeways resemble many US cities. Only when we drove onto the streets did we begin to see this newly constructed city mixed with a city of much different life styles and traditions.
Jet lag proved not a big problem traveling West even when going almost half way around the world. To reset our inner clock Eric took a couple of days off to drag us out into the sunshine while showing us some basics of the city. There are many ways to travel in Thailand; a short walk from the apartment took us to one of the most unusual, the khlong taxi. This somewhat narrow boat with a strong inboard engine and a bunch of bench seats runs up and down the khlongs or canals that cross through Bangkok. When it pulls up to its stop the crew grabs fast to the pier while you quickly scramble to a seat. Khlong water is not exactly sanitary, even if the kids do swim in it, so a plastic curtain can be pulled up to catch the splash of a passing boat. Some of the bridges over the khlong were low enough that the awning over the boat had to be cranked down to clear.
The ride ends near Wat Saket. A wat is a Buddhist temple complex. You see many, many wats in Bangkok and through out Thailand most with some uniqueness that distinguishes it from the rest. This one features a spectacularly large hemispheric golden dome set on one of the few hills in Bangkok. The neighborhood around the Wat is devoted to many workshops dealing in teak, They sell doors, furniture, flooring or raw lumber. Later, we came across many areas dominated by a single type of business.
Early morning is best for shopping at the wet markets. We followed Annie through the Sukhumvit area to a walkway that led to many small, dark stalls selling meat, fish and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Every item looked very fresh and clean even if the setting did not.
Sukhumvit is one of the main streets in Bangkok and a center for tourists. In the evening the sidewalks are crowded with stands selling souvenirs and tee shirts. Side streets, called sois, are usually numbered. The apartment was on a street between Sukhumvit Soi 3 and Sukhumvit Soi 11. The sois in that area were full of restaurants, hotels, travel agents. Also shops for currency exchange, Thai massage and tailors. Sukhumvit Soi 5 was unusual because it catered to Middle Eastern tourists. Arabic signs appeared frequently. Some business reassured the devout with signs such as ‘no alcohol served in this restaurant’ or ‘strictly nonsexual massage’. Here the beggars wore head scarves.