June 11, 2011; 11:40
Location: Bangkok ThailandWhy: What are Mangosteens?
I got into Bangkok tired and aching after more than 24hrs of time travel which included three separate flights with 3hr layovers between each flight and two time zones. After an hour of customs and luggage collection, I was dismayed to learn the public transit that was supposed to take me close to my hostel discontinued on June 1st. I was a week late. Now what?
No sooner had I started pacing back and forth at the taxi terminal when a Thai woman approached me and offered airport taxi service with her company. After some negotiating, what I thought was a good deal to get dropped off at my location later turned out to be a serious rip off. I had paid 800Baht (B) for the “Airport Taxi” service when I could have haggled with a regular metered taxi for half that price. No matter now, considering my mental state, I was just glad to get through the humidity in a comfy, air conditioned taxi. And in a few weeks, it won’t even faze me anyway.
Well, what can I tell you about Bangkok so far? It is an assault on the senses; in all sense of the word. Worlds collide here in a steady stream of chaotic order. My heart races at the pace motorists whiz by on the often crowded sidewalks and crooked side streets. This is a city of visual overload, every corner a new surprise awaits the eyes - good and bad. It is also Election Season and there are 40, count 'em 40 candidates! That’s a lot of billboards.
With my limited knowledge of Bangkok, I may have done myself a disservice by staying near the tourist ghetto of Thanon Khao San. Fortunately, I am staying a couple of streets off that at the lovely Nap Park Hostel on Thanon Tani and the Orchid Hostel on Thanon Rambuttri. There is a certain comfort in being close to other Western travelers but mostly, I feel somewhat let down. Perhaps by my insecurity of traveling solo in a frenetic city. But definitely by the characteristics of these types of travelers. They are the same as they are at home – they stick together, are loud, brash, and all they want to do is drink cheap beer all the time. Am I generalizing?
Bangkok is a big , dirty and polluted city. My lungs are blackened from riding in the tuk tuks, darting across the multi-laned streets through never ending traffic and walking by the countless vehicles idling the shit out of their gasoline. I have enjoyed the myriad of street vendors offering up all kinds of delicious aromas that tickle my taste buds and attack my nose. Some smells have left me with a slight gag reflex while others have invited me into bowls of warm goodness. Where else can you get a plate of fresh shrimp phad thai and veggie spring roll for only B60, a mere $2 – yes, this is true. Or how about a piping hot bowl of noodle soup made to order for B40? That vente sized sweetened ice coffee for B20 had me drinking it for hours while browsing the insanely cheap fares for sale at Pratunam’s market. Ever have a mangosteen? Delicious!
On my 1st full day of June 9th, I met up with my cousin Jenny who is also on holidays with relatives that I was to meet for the first time ever. A posse of aunts, uncles, cousins and their children greeted me when I arrived at the Bangkok Centre Hotel via taxi – B150 for a 5km trip. Do the math, it’s cheap – and that’s the “tourist” price. In fact, I’ve been able to get around by taxi steadily at this rate. I’m sure I can haggle down to B130 but when extreme heat is on your back and the dogs are barkin’, I usually just want to get into a car with AC and forget the traffic frenzy.
Back to family…I met an Aunt who looks so similar to my Grandmother, it reminds me that I, myself, am my mother’s daughter. I am still blown away by how much my Uncle resembles my father. The way their hair kind of flips up at the back, the thoughtful walk with their hands clasp behind their back. But mostly their face and facial expressions, it is uncanny to the tee. Probably the one difference I see in them is while my dad is more outgoing and vocal, my Uncle is more reserved with a quiet demeanour. It is so lovely to meet new family members. I look forward to more when I visit Vietnam in the coming months and discovering my roots.
Speaking of which, today, I tracked down the Vietnam Embassy to get my Visa for such mentioned trip. I was B100 short of the B1800 needed to process the form. Fortunately, a cute Californian named Jeff bailed me out after I just got done detailing him the difference between the express and regular process price. Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed but he was totally cool about it. These are the little moments I love about travel. Now I wait for 5 days until my Visa is ready. While I wait, I will check out the obligatory sites. But after four days in Bangkok, I am ready to leave.
I almost forgot to mention one of the best things so far in Bangkok was meeting my bunkmate, Judith, a 25yr old from the Netherlands. We hit it off right away and exchanged stories of how we got to where we are. I showed her the Thailand episode on Departures which she enjoyed which makes me ecstatic. And like that episode, she is making her way to Ayutthaya. I will likely follow suit once the Visa clears.