Thailand, Summer 2007

This is an account of my trip to Thailand June 15 to July 9, 2007. Click one of the links to jump to an individual chapter or back to the photos page:
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Chapter 1

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

If you don't count preparations (and I don't), my journey began about 5:00am on Friday, June 15, an hour that no civilized person should be awake. That's the time I met my friend Joel who waw driving me to the airport in Portland. We went in a borrowed van because he was supposed to pickup an arriving canine competition judge who, as it turned out, missed his flight. This we learned as we sat in what passes for a food court at PDX. Joel got the call as I was munching on a toasted sesame seed bagel with cream cheese, my normal weekday breakfast. I was delighted to see that said fare was available and, further, that I could get the bagel toasted. I really hate cold doughy bagels but dearly love ones that are split and lightly toasted. The one on this morning was perfect, a sign, I hoped, that fortune would smile on me for the rest of my journey.

The flight from Portland to Vancouver, BC was only slightly bumpy. In Vancouver, I was surprised that I had to go through customs before transferring to the second leg of my flight. On arriving at customs, surprise turned to dismay as I looked ahead to see a huge, slowly moving line weaving back and forth approaching the customs agents. Fortune did indeed smile on me at that moment when an agent indicated that those transferring to international flights should go instead to a very short and fast-moving line off to the side. I passed this checkpoint quickly and after about an hour wait at the gate, I boarded the flight to Tokyo's Narita airport. On that flight (9.5 hours) I got about four hours of sleep which made up for the sleep I didn't get before I left.

The first two flights were on AirCanada. Their service was friendly and pleasant and the seats had sufficient leg-room to accommodate someone of my size. I wouldn't hesitate to fly with them in the future. The final hop (if you can count almost seven hours in the air a hop) was on Thai Air. Their service was even better than AirCanada's. The airplane was an older 747 and I managed to score an exit row where the next seat in front of me was perhaps six feet away. Plus, I was the only passenger in my row. Ah, luxury.

I arrived in Bangkok about 9.20pm on Saturday (Bangkok is 15 hours ahead of Oregon during daylight savings time, 14 hours otherwise) and was picked up by my friend Peggy, one of the Thai students who studied a OSU this year. Her boyfriend drove and got me to my hotel quickly. With fortune smiling on, the hotel upgraded me to a mini-suite. I'll post a couple of photos that, unfortunately, do not show how nice it is. Soon after checking in, I went out again. There is a 7-11 right next door and I bought a new SIM card for my Thai cell phone (the old card had expired in my seven month absence) and loaded it up with minutes. In Thailand, most cell phones use a SIM card to determine which service you use and what your telephone number is. Each card has a programmed phone number and in some places, they display long lists of the available numbers for each service and you can select your number. The more "beautiful" numbers, those with lots of 9s, several repeating digits, or easy-to-remember patterns, cost more. At 7-11 it cost me 199 Baht (about $5.00) and included a free can of Pepsi. Of course, the Pepsi was the clincher.

Back in my room, I unpacked the necessities, read for a while and finally went to sleep around 1:30am. I slept pretty well, especially considering the large time change. I was awakened at 9:20am Sunday morning by a beeping cell phone alerting me to a text message welcoming me to the new cell phone service.

After my morning shower, I decided to try the hotel restaurant for breakfast. I ordered pancakes, and got four small ones, a tall glass of orange juice (actually tangerine which is better) and tea for about $5 It was ok but not what I my mouth hungered for. After breakfast I walked over to George's (my friendly local tailor) and ordered some new shirts and one pair of slacks. I also bought some polo shirts, the ones with the open collars I usually wear in warmer weather. He also sells luggage so I bought an inexpensive travel bag I'll use when I go up to Chiang Mai. It doesn't make sense to lug my huge suitcase for a four-day visit and the hotel here said they can keep the big one for me until I return.

Although my breakfast was well prepared and tasted fine, it was not what I wanted so I was especially disappointed when I tried to go to Suda for lunch and found it closed. Undaunted, I went to Took Lae Dee instead and had a delicious omelet stuffed with pork and served, of course, with rice. Add a Pepsi (sorry, no Coke) and the total was about $3. I've described both of these establishments in journals from previous visits to Bangkok.

In Thailand, nahm prik (the R is silent) is the word for a variety of hot chili sauces. In some cases it consists of sliced hot Thai chilies in vinegar. Thai chilies make jalapeños seem cool be comparison. The sauce might be sweetened, but who can tell because it is so hot. Another, and my favorite, is similar to ketchup but made with chilies instead of tomatoes. One brand, believe it or not is Heinz, the same as the maker of my favorite brand of ketchup back in the U.S. There are several brands of this condiment but, like ketchup, they are all similar. They are orange rather than red and have varying degrees of heat. I have found a couple of brands at the two Asian food stores in Corvallis and one is pretty good but much more expensive than the same thing here. On my last visit, I found it available in a plastic bag that held about a liter. I am going through it quickly so I'll get some more this time, closer to my departure. By the way, it's good on lots of things. I often use it as a hot sauce on burritos, over plain rice, or on scrambled eggs. I wonder how many bags I can fit in the suitcase before I go over weight on my luggage allowance.

For any Thais who may be reading this, please forgive my poor transliterations of Thai words. In my defense, there seems to be little uniformity in how Thai, which is a beautiful but completely incomprehensible written script, gets written in the western alphabet. Adding to my confusion, the western versions don't appear to be actual transliteration as speakers of English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, or Spanish (and probably others) world write it. For example, there are written sounds that are silent in spoken Thai though the same combinations of letters would be vocalized in the western languages I'm familiar with. Take the name of their new airport, Savarnabumi. The closest I can get to the proper pronounced is sa-WAN-a-boon. Of course, one always has to keep in mind that Thai isn't an accented language such as English where different syllables in are differentiated with volume, rather it is tonal with changes of pitch rather than loudness. Tonality isn't easy to convey in written English. Even the IPA (international phonetic alphabet) doesn't do tonal languages well. The way Thai words are written in the western alphabet makes my already poor pronunciation laughable. Doesn't stop me from trying though.

Speaking of Thai being a tonal language reminds me that on one of my previous visits, I told a young woman that I thought she was pretty. Anyway, that's what I thought I was telling her. Being a good sport about it, she laughed and told me that I actually said that she was bad luck. On reflection, for me it may be the same thing.

Later on Monday, I called my friend Noi and we met for dinner at Suda which, she reminded me, doesn't open until late afternoon on Sundays. We had a great meal and were too full even for sweet sticky rice with mango (kow neow ma muang). If you have never had it, you are missing one of the simplest yet most delicious dessert treats to be had anywhere. Over dinner, I learned that Noi is studying marketing at a local trade college. She was also delighted to inform me that her 43 year old sister just got married for the first time. Weddings here are a huge party and in her small town, almost everyone turned up. She had lots of photos.

After dinner, I called John, a friend and lawyer who handles international trade issues for countries and large companies. We went to a local beer garden which is a large, mostly enclosed bar/pub, with lots of people and several big-screen TVs tuned to different stations, mostly sporting events. I had a local brew, Singha Beer, (which one orders as Beer Sing). We talked for a couple of hours then John had to take his leave so he could be rested for a big meeting the following morning.

Monday morning I breakfasted at Took Lae Dee then returned to the hotel to brush my teeth before going to see my dentist. After the torture sessions I endured on previous visits, this one was easy, several x-rays, impressions for making my new teeth, and waiting; a lot of waiting. I was there from noon until after 2:00pm. I'm not sure I completely understand the process but I think they will be first making the base on which the teeth will be placed. Then, on my next visit, in about a week and a half, they will do another set of impressions of my upper and lower together so that they can align the bite. Finally, about a week after that, they will put in the final appliance and I will have new teeth. Hooray! I'll keep you posted.

From the dental office, I took the Sky Train to the MBK shopping center. My destination was their wonderful food court. I got a dish of fried Thai basil, shrimp, and hot chilies over rice with a fried egg on top. I asked for it to be only a little hot and to their tastes it probably was. To mine, however, it was hot enough to cause me to break out in a sweat and make my nose run. Delicious! A roving vendor had Chinese Dim Sum and I got a small plate of shrimp sui mai, a deliciously mild finish to a very spicy meal.

Tuesday morning was a repeat of Monday in that I had breakfast at Took Lae Dee. I guess I was feeling unimaginative because I ordered the same thing. But it was soooo good! After breakfast I bought some sweet fried sesame balls from a street vendor on the way back to the hotel. Afterr turning the air conditioning, I powered up the computer and began writing this missive. Later, I made some tea with which I ate the sweet treats I picked up earlier.
After tiring or writing, I phoned my friend Madee, a Thai student who studied at OSU last year, and found that she is managing a furniture store owned by her family. This is a new store but sells the same furniture as the store at MBK where I met her mother last year. Their furniture is not at all ordinary. It is very beautiful and ornately decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Most of it is in a Chinese style and the workmanship is outstanding. They have their own factory and designers here in Thailand. The new store is in a new shopping center, what we would call a mall. This one is very upscale and I am told is the largest in Asia. I am not surprised, it is huge.

I called John on my way back from seeing Madee and he suggested we get together for dinner. That sounded good to me. He needed to wrap up some things at work and that gave me enough time to bring this chapter up to date. Which it is.

I want to end this chapter with my departure from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and am writing this from the Don Muang airport in Bangkok. Don Muang is Bangkok's old airport, Savarnabumi is the new one. Don Muang, which was originally scheduled to close to passenger travel was reopened almost immediately for domestic flights. But I get ahead of myself.

Last night I met John and his family for dinner. The family consists of King (pronounced Ging), his ex-wife (they are still close); their son, Peter (age 5); Ging's son, Brook (I guess around age 8); John's daughter; Joanne (age 14); and John. We were to meet at an Italian restaurant within walking distance (if you like walking) of my hotel. As day faded into evening, the intense heat of the daytime had eased so I did walk. I had a hard time finding the place because I misunderstood John's directions and was looking for an Indian restaurant a couple of blocks away. When I finally found it, I went inside and got a table for six. I waited about 45 minutes for the Fotiadis clan to arrive. It turns out that they were next-door looking into getting lifetime memberships at a gym, one of which was next to the restaurant. They hadn't yet made up their minds. Well, John and Joanne had but King was not sure. The gym staff were gifted high-pressure sales people and the gym manager, and American, actually followed the family into the restaurant and later came to our table to give John his business card.

Dinner was terrific. The food was very good, the service attentive yet unobtrusive, and the atmosphere very pleasant. Also the prices were quite reasonable; my plate of spaghetti alla carbonara was just over $5 U.S. The only pricey items on the menu were the imported meat items such as Kobe beef and Australian Lamb but even those were not expensive by our standards. Another plus is that the place is open 24 hours. Great for night-owls.

After dinner, the children were taken home by their driver (tough life) and John, King, and I moseyed to the gym so they could sign up. The gym, called California Wow! is part of California Fitness back in the States and their lifetime membership includes all locations worldwide. What really stuck me was the intensive sales efforts they gym used. They have a dedicated sales lounge with separate areas for each potential customer to pretend to be relaxed while being worked on. The sales staff on a Tuesday evening appeared to number around twelve to fifteen people and as I watched, they were working with about five prospects.

We separated after the gym and John and I met again at a local bar to watch a mildly erotic and mildly amusing strip tease show. It was also mildly quite by which I mean that the music was deafening to the point that I wished I had brought the ear plugs I use when I fly. We finished our drinks (Diet Coke for me, Heinekin for John) and left . From there we went to a place John had heard about so we could get massages for our tired feet. Surrendering to the pleasures of foot reflexology, we also consented to facial massages at the same time. They said it would make us look ten years younger. The combined ministrations were thoroughly relaxing. John fell asleep and I think I nodded off a time or two myself though the brief lapses into slumber were punctuated by moments of agony when the masseuse working on one foot or the other forgot that I asked for a gentle touch. Still, it was relaxing overall but afterwards I still looked just as old. Darn!

That just about wraps up this chapter. My morning started with another lackluster breakfast at the hotel after which I finished getting ready for my jaunt to the north of Thailand. Here I sit in the terminal awaiting my one hour Nok Air flight. I got here ridiculously early but I prefer waiting at an airport to the blind panic of being late for a flight and running through the terminal only to arrive at the gate just as they are sealing the plane for departure. Yeah, it happened once and, although they let me on that flight, I don't want a repeat performance. So I get here early and read or, in this case, write this down for you and for posterity.

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