Thailand, Spring 2006
Bangkok – Sunday, November 12, 2006
I got back this afternoon from a couple days in Pattaya. This is a beach resort city that combines the best and the worst of Thailand. I won't go into details but suffice it to say that this is where the U.S. Navy sends sailors for R&R then stations shore patrol to keep them from getting into too much trouble.
Getting there was an experience. I packed a small suitcase for the weekend, took a motorcycle taxi to Sukhumvit, walked a short block to the Times Square, took the elevator to the third floor, walked across the bridge to the Sky Train station, rode the train three stops to Ekamai, walked another block to the Ekamai bus station and caught a bus to Pattaya. I wish the story ended there but Alas, I was suckered into taking the wrong bus. Oh, it went to Pattaya all right, but it was the local that made stops at seemingly every intersection and what should have been a two hour ride took four. And to top it off, they didn't let me off at the Pattaya bus station or anything resembling it. No, I was unceremoniously dropped at a simple street bus stop. There was very little in the way of notable features so I could describe where I was to Barry and Rudy, who were picking me up. Eventually though, they found me and we went to Rudy's relatively new house in Pattaya.
I wish I had taken some pictures of the house because it was quite nice. Three stories, three or four bedrooms, a kitchen that was never completed (no cabinets or appliances but for Barry's refrigerator) and in the back he has a huge swimming pool with grass, coconut palms, and several other plants I didn't recognize. Over the eight months since his divorce, his ex-wife and her family were staying in the house and they trashed whatever could be trashed. They had removed several dumpsters of trash and repainted the house inside and out by the time I saw it. The air-conditioners were not yet working so I opted to stay at a hotel for the weekend. Most of them were full but I found a delightful little place a block from the beach for less than $20 per night. While not elegant, my room was large enough for a queen sized bed and was clean and had all the important amenities. The shower was tiny and I had to put my arms to my sides to turn around. The whole bathroom was about five feet square but nicely done in granite and new western style facilities. Traditional Thai toilets were not build for people who cannot comfortably squat and stay balanced. They are porcelain fixtures about a foot high with what I think are places for ones feet on either side of the elongated bowl. They have ridges that would prevent slipping which is what leads me to believe that they are for the feet. Many of them don't have a flushing mechanism, relying instead on a bucket of water with a dipping bowl for a manual flush. I've had to use these devices a couple of times.
That night, Friday, we went to dinner for Thai food, never Barry's first choice. The food was good and the atmosphere of the restaurant was marred only by the oppressive heat. After dinner, we walked around Walking Street and ended up at an open air bar drinking soft drinks and watching the continuous parade of interesting people walk by. I walked to my hotel from there and the others drove back to Rudy's.
On Saturday, I slept in and had a very nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was listed as an American Breakfast #1 (there were three) and it consisted of two eggs bacon, toast, juice, and tea. I spent the rest of the morning and into the afternoon wandering around the shops and galleries. One of the things I really like about Pattaya is the number of art galleries. There is not a lot of original art unless you want a picture of a Buddha and I'm not sure about those, but you can find beautifully done reproductions of the great masters at very reasonable prices. There are a lot of works by Van Gogh, a few by Klimt, several by Monet, quite a few by Dali, and my favorite, Vermeer. I didn't see the one I wanted, Girl with a Pearl Earring, but I got the email address of the gallery with several wonderful Vermeer copies, asked if one could be made for me, and was told that it would take about a week. I decided to order it via email and will pick it up next time I come to Thailand for my last dental visit. They offered to ship it to the U.S, but I'd rather pick it up because that way I will know if it is as well done as the others. The cost will be in the range of $150 U.S. If the quality is like the others I say, it will be a steal. I found an oil reproduction on the internet for $500.
Before calling Rudy to pick me up, I had lunch at a street stall. I had a pork stuffed omelet and a plate of enormous tiger shrimp fried with garlic. Delicious!
Back at Rudy's, I put on my swim suit and joined Barry, Rudy, and Rudy's two young daughters (about 3 and 5 years). The water was perfect and felt wonderful. We stayed in until our finger tips looked like prunes. After getting cleaned up, we went to dinner at a restaurant called Bruno's. It is a very nice European style restaurant with excellent food and prices to match. I would have rather had an adventure with more Thai food or at least something exotic, but I understand the others desire to eat something other than the local food day after day. To me it is all still somewhat new and always wonderful. The meal at Bruno's was really good, I must admit.
Pattaya is different from Bangkok in many ways. One that is noticeable immediately is that there are almost no taxis. Instead there are "Baht Busses." There are pickup trucks modified to have a covered passenger compartment with two rows of bench seats. These travel around and around in a circuit. You catch one by first asking the driver if he is on the circuit you want then you hop in the back and pay him 10 Baht (about 25 cents). When you want to get off you press a buzzer button and he stops.
Sunday, Rudy picked me up about 1 pm and we listened to comedy recordings on the drive back to Bangkok. Rudy called me later to ask if I would join him in a foot massage and dinner which, naturally, I did. The massage was relaxing, I almost fell asleep. Dinner was at a nearby Lebanese restaurant and it too was excellent. I had chicken that was marinated then grilled. There is a sizeable Middle Eastern neighborhood not far from where I'm staying and lots of interesting restaurants. I've now eaten at two with lots more to try in the future.
Bangkok – Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Only two days until I leave the Land of Smiles to return home, or at least to the country of my birth. I will again spend a weekend visiting my family in southern California. For now though, I am doing some final shopping and having a good time.
Monday was relaxed, I had a nice lunch them worked for a while. Barry and I joined Rudy and his possible new girlfriend for dinner. Jen lives about three miles north of Bangkok and they met via a computer dating web site. This is Jen's second or third time to visit Rudy. She's sweet and cute and speaks a little English. Fortunately, Rudy is fairly fluent in Thai.
Tuesday, Barry packed up his computer and some other things and went back to Pattaya with Rudy and Jen. John stopped by and brought Subway sandwiches. It's surprising how many U.S. brands you see over here. Naturally, there are McDonalds. There are also Burger King, A&W, Subway, Starbucks, KFC, 7-11, and others.
After they left I worked a little more then went and had a cheap but delicious dinner. I stopped in to chat with George, my tailor for about a half hour then went around the block and had a two-hour body massage for about $10. They serve a delicious green tea at the end and I asked to see the box so I could buy some. I did this also last time I was there but couldn't find the tea in the stores. This time, I paid careful attention to the design of the box and the lady told me I could buy it in Tops, the supermarket in the basement of Robinson's department store a couple of blocks away. Naturally, that was my next stop and I picked up six of the small boxes for about thirty cents each. From there I went to Suda restaurant, again only a couple of blocks away.
When I describe distances in blocks, it is useful to note that the blocks here are of inconsistent size and don't always represent the distance one must actually go to reach the destination. Sukhumvit road is a major street and is divided one side from the other. In most places the median divider is planted with low growing plants and has a fence to keep people from walking across. Add to that that on one side, the traffic goes one way but on the other, it is two way. If one wants to walk across the street, there are a couple of choices. You can dodge the crazy traffic which will usually try to avoid hitting you, you can wait for a break in the flow and sprint to the median, or you can wait for the traffic to grind to a halt, which is sure to happen. I have used all three but prefer the last.
As I was driving a motorcycle rather than walking, it is even more complicated. To get to where I had dinner, I drove up Soi 12 to Sukhumvit and turned right (they drive on the other side of the road than we do in the U.S.). Two blocks later, I had to have crossed three lanes of traffic to the far right so I could pass through to the other side in a place that is blocked off but which has space for a motorcycle to get through. This is the expected places for motorcycles to make a U-turn, even the motorcycle taxis and cops do it.
The other way to make a U-turn starting the way I was going was to drive several more blocks to a signal in which you can shift to the other side while still going in the same direction. One then pulls into a driveway for the U-turn or just turn around when there is a lull in traffic. Yet another way is to continue past the signal to another of these semi-blocked places and turn there. That was my intended strategy today when I had to get gas for Barry's motorcycle. The gas station is just past that aforementioned traffic signal so I had to continue in that direction. Actually, there are other ways but are too complicated to go into here, suffice it to say they involve driving on the sidewalk.
Anyway, I left the gas station heading for the turn-around only to find it completely blocked. Ok, I thought, I'll just find another further along. I drove for quite a while before being able to turn around but I did it. Returning in the direction from which I came, I suddenly found myself directed to the side of the road by a police man directing traffic. So far as I knew I hadn't done anything wrong (that he could have seen), I was puzzled but I pulled over. He told me that for about fifty feet, the road is for busses only and since I was not driving a bus, well… This was obviously the Thai equivalent of a speed trap and was designed to improve the income of the local constabulary. The cop told me that he would write up a ticket for 400 Baht (about $10) and would take my license (Oregon drivers license) and the ticket to the police station where I would have to go to pay the fine. He didn't actually write up a ticket, he just wanted me to believe that he would. I asked if I could pay him instead and after a microsecond of resistance, he agreed. Lacking 400 Baht but having a 500 Baht note, I gave that to him. Naturally he said that he didn't have change but he gave me back my license and stopped traffic for me so I could be on my way in the direction I wanted to go.
Later Barry told me that it is a 200 Baht fine and if you make a game of it and play along, you can get it down to 200. He said the cops are nice guys, not hardened like many in the U.S. and they will play along. Who knew? Anyway, it cost me about $13 to be on my way. Barry also told me ways to avoid that spot in the future.
I did finally make it to the restaurant for lunch and now had to make yet another U-turn to return home. This one is easy though. Only a block from Robinson's is a traffic signal that allows U-turns. Signals here are interesting. They alternate from being on a timer to being controlled by a guy in a booth. When on a timer, some of the signals have countdown timers so you can see how many seconds until the light will change. It can be several minutes wait whether in timer or manual mode and the timer can be deceptive when it counts down from 99 seconds only to start another 99 when it reaches zero.
Anyway, that brings me up to the present. I will conclude this chapter here and begin the final chapter next time I feel the urge to write.