Saturday, June 05, 2010

Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok and a Bike Tour

I’m in Bangkok!

After three easy-going (but long) plane rides, I arrived in Bangkok around 11:00 pm last night. Once I got on the airplane in Denver, my nervousness of recent days went away. I read a book, started a second one, watched some terrible movies (“Leap Year” really is awful), and slept for a few hours on and off.

My two arrival worries were both, thankfully, needless – my suitcase made it right along with me (albeit doused in face cleanser, since one of my travel bottle leaked over everything), and there was a guy waiting for me at the designated arrival point with my name on a sign. He took my suitcase and took off through the crowds (a familiar thing while traveling). It was when I saw the giant warrior statue with the fierce face and the pointy outfit that I thought, “Holy crap, I’m in Thailand!”

The fellow took me to a taxi cab where I discovered that Thais drive on the left, like the Brits! Who knew? I sat in the back (air conditioning! Blessed, blessed air conditioning!) and the fellow sat up front next to the driver. They chatted the entire way while I took in the strangeness of the sights.

The hotel is in Chinatown, and you know what? It totally feels like a Chinatown. Weird. I’m sharing a room with the other volunteer, Jenna. She’s a very nice 20-year-old nursing student from Buffalo, NY. She arrived earlier that night, having flown the other way around the world, through Dubai. The fellow left me with some money for breakfast and the instructions to be at the Golden China Princess Hotel by 7:00 AM for the bicycle tour.

And so, a little after 1:00 AM, I curled up in bed. I slept on and off, but I kept waking up thinking it was time to go (the curtains made the room pitch black).

Finally, it was. We woke up at 5:30, had breakfast in the lobby (I had toast, pineapple, and a little serving of noodles with brown sauce), and headed out the door for the other hotel.

And promptly got lost.

About 20 minutes later, thanks to some helpful people on the street who pointed the opposite way we were going, we found the hotel and met Bas, our bike guide, and three Dutch backpackers on their last day of holiday.

Bas went over the three rules of the bike tour:
1. Stay on the left and bike in a single file line. If someone is in your way just say, “Hello!”
2. Remember your bike number.
3. You can take photos of everything – just yell, “Bas, photo!”

And away we went!

Really, it was an awesome way to see the city. We didn’t do anything especially touristy – it was all back alleys, markets, a variety of neighborhoods, and riversides. We stopped off at one Buddhist temple (one of many – they’re like churches in Yaroslavl or Provo) where the monks were chanting. Bas explained it was a “Buddha day”, which means the devout go to nine different temples in one day to get all of the blessings. The temple we were at was for “Bon Voyage”.

We biked through poor neighborhoods where people rented rooms just big enough for a bed and did their eating and washing and everything else out on the alleyway.

We biked through markets where eels were squirming in orange buckets and young women were hacking at huge fish along their spines. Bas bought us some fruit to try - jack fruit (like durians, but with longer spikes) and mangosteen (?) a relative of the leachy nut.

We biked through temple grounds with their swoopy roofs and marigold decorations and the basketball courts of the schools that are always next to wats.

We biked along a river, then loaded our bikes onto a motorboat (the kind with the big pointed front and a green canopy over it) and rode down the water, seeing hundreds of potted plants, houses built on stilts, people feed the catfish for good luck, and even a few alligators.

We biked through farmers’ fields, stopping to pick and smell lemongrass and pandan (?) leaves.

We stopped for lunch at 10:30 at a small, local restaurant along the river – fried rice, chicken with red curry, mixed vegetables, and such. I was not feeling so well at that point, so I only managed to eat a little rice and a few bites of watermelon for dessert. I did drink a bottle and a half of water, though, in addition to the two bottles Bas had given us so far on the road. The Dutch dug into their food, and the guy in the group piled on the hot sauce.

We biked down busy city streets with Bas holding his baseball cap high aloft to signal the traffic to stop to let us cross. Weaving through more markets and alleyways and wound our way back to the Grand China Princess hotel. Altogether, it was a five-hour tour that I would highly recommend. And the Thai people really are as friendly as I’ve heard – everywhere we went, people waved and smiled and called out “Hello!” “Morning! Hello!” One older, somber monk even winked at me as I passed him walking in his saffron robes carrying a silver bowl to collect alms.

I’m in the hotel right now, self-medicating with a cold shower, a huge bottle of water, and a Sprite. I think my not-wellness is due to dehydration. Hopefully it’s not a sign that my waterbottle-with-purifier isn’t working. Jenna and I stopped at a 7-11 right under our hotel (after getting lost again), and I got water, soda, and juice. I’m feeling better, but not up to heading outside again. I’m debating about starting on the antibiotics I brought, but I’m guessing it’s more related to jetlag and the gallons of sweat I’ve shed than a water/food issue.

I hope that’s the case, at least. I’m not up for eating yet, and I’m not keen on heading outside again. There’s all kinds of things to see (Bangkok!), but I want to feel better more. Right now, I’m enjoying dry clothes and not having a coating of sweat all over me (to which my new passport responded by bleeding blue ink all over my money belt and garments. Fun!).

Jenna’s on the other bed, huddling under the blankets while she cruises the internet. She’s in a tiny, strappy tank top and short shorts. To which I growl, “Garments!” and shake my fist and wonder how different their design would be if the church had been re-established in a tropical place instead of New England.

Also? You should be proud of me for the bike ride. Because, seriously, I haven’t been on a bike since Jason and I went to Chincoteague years ago, and that was a pretty rare thing then, too. I did well, though. I didn’t fall over once despite the throngs of people, zipping motorbikes, stray cats and dogs lying languishing across the road, the slick and slimy spots in the fish markets, and the sludgy, sludgy ooze that was on either side of the narrow path through the farmers’ fields. I’m sore right now, and between the long, long hours of sitting on planes yesterday and the hard bike seat for five hours today, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.

Oh! And before I go, I should tell you about the smells, a la Elanor Lavish. Biking really brought them out, I think, since you zip through places quicker. You know that smell when you walk inside a spice store? That. That all over. There’s other smells mixed in – bursts of fruit and brine and, of course, gross city things. But it mostly smells like overwhelming, heavy spices all at once.

I’m in Bangkok!


  1. Mangosteen!!? You got to eat a mangosteen?? Don't you realize that those have been my latest fruit obsession for the past three years (after durian and then mirable berries)? They are supposed to be totally delicious, "the Queen of Fruits." But they are not available in the US at ALL. Am jealous.

  2. Much love for the Eleanor Lavish reference! Happy (and safe) travels to you--you are living my dream!