Not that there were many beggars in Thailand, at least not much different from Austin where they are standing with signs on many intersections or say in New York asking for change or sleeping in the streets. In Thailand those we saw were not aggressive.
Walk down Sukhumvit Soi 11 and over to the apartment you see three 7-11 stores which in Thailand are like Starbucks in the US – everywhere. In fact Starbucks are found in Thailand along with McDonalds, KFC and a host more US stores. In revenge they sent us Red Bull.
From the traditional market we climbed up to the Sky Train, a high tech commuter train that runs above Sukhumvit and traveled smoothly, with a transfer, to the Chao Phraya river. Here Eric arranged a khlong tour by the oddest form of transportation we tried, the long tail. The tail, a long housing for the propeller shaft, runs back from the large engine mounted on a gimbal and all controlled by a tiller combined with the accelerator that pivots the engine and tail side to side or up and down. It can move quite fast, so without restraining the driver your tour could be just a blur. Houses mixed with a few stores, encroach on the khlong. Some are new in various styles, many old with some of these sagging toward the water. No matter what condition, every house revealed a garden or a profusion of potted plants. Every few blocks there would be a Wat .
We circled back to the river and stopped at our favorite wat, Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn. The impressively tall spires reveal a style more like we were to see in Angkor rather than the more common Thai look. The demons, monkeys and other figures play important roles in Hindu mythology which mix easily into Thai Buddhism. There is an exuberance of detail to feast the eyes, much of it formed of porcelain. At the top of a steep stairway, you are rewarded with a panoramic view of the river.
Walking on, we came to an area of several blocks of small shops that rebuilt car transmissions, suspensions or brakes. Each specialized shop overflowed with piles of old parts stacked along the walls and onto the sidewalk. Frequently a mechanic squatted in front of the shop fitting gears and shafts into a transmission.
We planned to leave on a trip to the Khao Yai national park on the 30th, but the Green Leaf Guest House and tour company said they would not conduct tours on the 31st because of the holiday crowds. We were warned there might be crowds of New Year’s travelers. Crowds, understated our experience.
New Year is a popular holiday in Thailand so they have three. In addition to our familiar celebration they have Chinese New Year and the three day Thai New Year in April. You occasional see the Thai year, 2551, posted, but 2008 was more common.
So we rushed out the door at 6:00am on the 29th and took the Sky Train to the Northern Bus Station. Even at that hour the crowds were massive, filling this large building. Private cars seem to have become a big deal only recently; you see few old cars, so buses go everywhere and are cheap. Few farang (foreigners) take buses; English assistance negotiating the bus station was limited. Fortunately, information booths offered some small help. We were traveling to Pak Chong where we were to meet the ride to Green Leaf. We needed to climb to the 3rd floor to find the booth that sold only tickets to Pak Chong out of scores of similar booths offering tickets to some other place. Finally, tickets in hand we returned downstairs to locate lane 81 where the bus marked Pak Chong would be boarded. We found 81 but could not reach the end of the line in the crowd. We waited and waited without seeing a Pak Chong bus. Two or so hours later someone came by, looked at our tickets and indicated we were next. It turned out that several Pak Chong buses identified by a different city had filled up and left with travelers who arrived before us.