Thailand, Spring 2006
Today is Friday, May 26, 2006 and I've had a very interesting day. It started relatively early, about 10:30. Hey, I said relatively. With a small motorcycle I borrowed from John's ex wife, King, I followed Barry through the insane Bangkok traffic en route to a wild area just across the river from Bangkok. At one point, there was a police checkpoint and Barry stopped short to go around. I saw it too late but zoomed past it without a problem. I don't have a Thai driving license nor did I bother getting an international driving permit. I think the registration on the bike was expired as well so I guess I was pretty lucky. Of course, the "fine" is paid directly to the policeman and I'm sure it is never reported.
Via cell phone, Barry gave me directions to where we could reconnect. Well, the directions left something to be desired and I took a wrong turn and ended up amidst large trucks heading for the port of Bangkok. At this point in my narrative, I should mention that motorcycles here pay even less attention to traffic lanes than do the cars and they hardly notice them. We go between lanes, even driving in the lane of oncoming traffic, while its zooming past! If there is room for the handle bars, there's plenty of room to drive. I followed the other bikes even driving on the sidewalk when traffic on the road was stopped. It makes Mr. Toad's Wild Ride positively tame.
A second cell conversation tried to get me straightened out but took me in a whole different direction. The third call was from a location Barry recognized so I waited there for him to find me. I was actually in a small median in the middle of a large intersection. There was room for about two motorbikes which is what it held when Barry eventually rescued me. We made a sort of U turn and finally made our way to a ferry crossing the river. It was a pedestrian ferry but also took motorcycles squeezed in between the standing and sitting passengers. It was nuts but it works and only cost 9 Baht (about 23 cents US).
The other side of the river from here is a sort of peninsula, almost more of an island, formed by big curves in the river. According to my map, there are several temples, a couple of roads, and not much else. The size is approximately three miles by five and is irregularly shaped. At the neck of this place, where it connects to the regular land, is a small town, the name of which I don't know for sure but it might be called Phra Pradaeng, pronounced Pah Padang by the locals.
Once on the other side, there was a refreshing lack of traffic and we sped off down the road and into an area of semi-dense jungle. Because of the swampy nature, there is very little built there. I was extremely surprised when we pulled off the road and onto a raised concrete "road" only a meter wide, if that. It was about 2 meters above the jungle floor and in most places there was no guard rail. Most of the time, this was not a problem but there are a few residences back among the maze of these paths and sometimes there were motorcycles parked on the railed side when there was a rail. It made for some nervous driving to get past them without falling into the swamp. Also, the sharp 90 degree turns were a bit of a challenge. We stopped several times to take photos. Unfortunately, a place that Barry wanted to take me was closed. Way back in this jungle is a family business that makes incense. He'd stopped there before and was welcome by the family.
We returned to a real road and drove to a place where there is a Wat (a Buddhist temple) and, on weekends, a floating market. Being a Friday, it was vacant but for a few empty boats. It was about 90 degrees and very humid. We were loosing a lot of moisture and we needed to rehydrate so we stopped at a small shop for something cool to drink. We could have gotten something to eat there but decided to drive into the small town of Phra Pradaeng to see what we could find.
The town was interesting. We parked the bikes and walked its downtown area. We sought refuge in the air conditioned optometrist's shop and Barry, as is always the case, charmed the women who worked there. I don't speak much Thai so I only caught about ten percent of what went on. He translated some of it for me and one woman spoke a little English and asked me about my glasses while Barry was selecting some prescription sunglasses they said could be ready in an hour. It actually took only 30 minutes and after a bit more schmoozing, we were on our way. On the way back we made a second pass through the remarkable raised jungle roadway then made our way back to the ferry.
Once on the ferry, I got a call from the dental office asking if I could come about an hour and a half earlier. That gave me just enough time to make the harrowing drive through rush hour traffic back to the apartment to clean up and catch the sky train to their office. On the way I stopped into a 7-11 to buy a liter of much-needed drinking water. I finished it before seeing the dentist and even polished off a large glass of water they offered me in the waiting room. This was the final visit for this trip and was to remove the last of the stitches from my surgery. The surgeon also clarified for me some things I didn't understand about the procedure he had done.
Later in the evening, actually in the wee hours of the morning, Barry and I went out for some food. I wasn't too hungry and just got a plate of fries, a relatively expensive item here because, apparently they don't grow potatoes here and have to import them. Then make them well though and I risk clogging my arteries by having them with mayonnaise, which I first had in Germany. We finally returned home about 3am and I made it to bed around 4am.
When you sleep until almost noon, the day seems to go by really fast. We went to lunch around 3:30 in the afternoon and it was almost five when we finished. Talk about the day speeding by, whew! I went for my second two hour massage (wonderful), picked up some spare glasses I had ordered, and stopped in to see George (the tailor) for a few minutes before returning to the apartment. I have to say, I really like the mobility of having a motorcycle here but the driving here takes some getting used-to.