Day 4 - Welcome to Thailand Land of Smiles - ๐ŸŒ MWT 2017

Thursday August 31st, 2017
Hiked 5 miles

3:00 am

Well I made it to Bangkok. Checked into the Great Residence Inn, and am laying on a fairly soft mattress in an air conditioned room.  It appears slightly dated, but well taken care of.  Some items had slight damage to them, but were clean.

So when I got off the plane I had no idea what to do so I went with the flow.  The flow eventually opened up to a well lit, very clean, open terminal with bright fluorescent colored lights presenting a tropical feel. It felt bright and welcoming.  There were plants in the secure immigration area.  It was relaxing and felt peaceful. I got in line with Montana when we were reminded by the official in line that our arrival cards need to be completely filled out.  I had left off my signature and Montana left off where he would be staying because he was an awesome backpacker going with the flow.  

I offered the address of my hotel to Montana and lent him my pen.  A pen is valuable to have when traveling. I signed my card and we proceeded easily through immigration.  No one was worried about us and we felt they trusted us. As I stood by the curb, checking out transportation cost to the hotel, I realized that when I thought I would stroll the few miles to the nearest airport hotel that I had no idea how tired I would be, or that most of the sidewalks and streets happened to be flooded from the those thunderheads full of lightning we just flew through.  They were warm torrential shower heads that had just cleaned every street in Bangkok. 

I stood in the very warm humid air by the curb where all the taxi's were waiting patiently. I liked how the very large structure adjacent the terminals was lit up in bright, but very subtle and classy purple. My phone connected easily to data and I was looking for a car service.  Montana came up while I was looking for an Uber and had no idea where to go so I suggested he can stay at my hotel with me as I have two beds in the room.  He accepts and we climb into the Uber.  The driver is playing some Johnny Cash music but does not speak English much. I sat in the front seat and was pleased that this older car was taken so well care of and smelled of a lavender air freshener stuck in the vent. 

The streets had an unusually dark appearance to them.  Everything was soaked and not a single person was on the street or sidewalk.  It was a long desolate raised road from the Airport.  It would have been an adventure all in it's self to have hiked, but we both were exhausted from our trip. 

The Uber driver exited the highway and we drive down an unfamiliar exit on the opposite side of the road than we were used to. At the bottom of the ramp, the raised highway continued on and dripped over a darkness that completely enveloped the shadows. There was one ultra bright bluish light shining on a pole that left ripples in the landscape of water that consumed the road in front of us.  To our right was an abandoned car 3 foot deep in water.  The driver makes a grunt as his car enters the water and he hits what sounds like a decent pothole. He slows way down and I can clearly see a wake halfway up the door on the car.  The driver is very attentive with his American cowboy music playing softly. We pull up to a very large rectangle shaped building that we can see is our hotel by the large red lights on the top. The rooms all look empty with the lights off.  I think maybe that is because everyone is sleeping. 

Busy intersection near Khao San Road.
The red lights reflected down the entire long building,  There were no other lights, except a porch light by the dimly lit lobby. We pulled up close to the front door, thanked our driver, and instantaneously were greeted by the doorman, wearing that Thai smile we heard about. He welcomed us into the office where the manager was standing proudly as if he was awaiting our arrival right there at attention. He ask about my reservation.  He spoke good English too, I was surprised.  He didn't smile as much as the doorman, he was a bit more stern. 

$2.17 Original Uber Fee with tip on app.
$6.89 Uber ADJ additional charge on my account. (I don't know what this is, but the guy deserved an adjustment for using his car as a boat.)
$9.06 Total

I explained in my plain American english that I had reservations for tomorrow night, and not the current morning, but wanted to know if it was possible that I could check in early for tonight since we were both very tired.  I stopped there, but in my mind continued. "Besides we are stuck here, and unless we want to swim in whatever is flowing down the street and is creating potholes in the road. We are either going to sleep in your lobby or a room."

The Manager said, "We have a room, but the price has gone up since you made your reservation."
"That's fine." I said immediately.  This was my first lesson, and it cost me. 
"How much?".  I enquired.
"1 thousand bhat.", he said.
"Ok.", I replied way too quickly. Several moments later as he is giving me a guest card to fill out and he says, "twelve hundred bhat".  
I looked at Montana and then said, "I thought you said one thousand."
He didn't even bother repeating what he said. For the first moment I felt that no one understood anything I just said.  That last statement in particular.  You could hear drops of water drip from the porch outside in the silence as I handed over 1200 bhat cash.  I am happy to hand him cash instead of my card and there is no problem with it.  I am relieved.  Montana chipped in half, after I paid which I hope I remembered to thank him for. 

Neither one of was was awake enough to tip the smiling doorman that helped us to our room, opened the door, showed us that the water was free, as well as the snacks, turned on the air conditioner, and made sure everything was clean.  Both myself and Montana were extremely tired, but surprised by the extreme service this man was giving us.  In retrospect I regret not giving that man a tip for his service, but hopefully the manager shared what he got using his wits with him. 

The bathroom is actually a shower. There is a sink right next to a toilet. On the wall there is a shower hose and nozzle so you can clean your entire bathroom while you shower.  The shower was heated by a small on-demand electric system mounted right on the wall.  The tap water was just as warm as the air so I turned this thing way down before I showered.  The air is so humid that you are wet before you get in the shower and never really get dry when you get out. At least that is how this Californian felt. 

We turned on the TV and there is an American Movie playing with Thai voice overs. It is interesting to watch, comical at times, and well.. just interesting.  Montana is taking his turn in the shower. I have already washed off the travel and am feeling refreshed, so refreshed it is hard to get to sleep. Well I know I should be beat, gonna try to go to sleep. Excited to see this place in the morning. 

3:00 pm

The sun was shining in the blinds and we both just sort of got up gradually. We woke up about 9:30 this morning and I went to the bathroom.  As I am sitting there getting my composure from traveling I read a sign that clearly says in English.  "Please do not flush toilet paper down the drain, place it in the bin next to the toilet. " I wish I would have read that last night.  I came out of the bathroom and told Montana, "Looks like you can't flush toilet paper here, their systems can't handle it." He replied, "Yea,  I have to admit I was guilty of that once."

I learned that Montana actually went by a name. They called him Josh back home.  We exchanged names finally in the morning. Everything went so fast the night before, being awake felt unusually refreshing.

I mentioned that I have this room reserved another night if Josh wanted to make use of it. He said he wanted to get into downtown Bangkok and find a Hostel.  It looked like a good idea, because we never saw another single guest the entire time we stayed there. We walked downstairs and checked out of the room.  The Manager said the restaurant next door was nice for my voucher for one free breakfast. As we turned to walk out the door a Taxi driver held the door for us and ask us where we were going.  Josh said, "I kind of want to check out Khao San Road."  He says it is a popular backpacking destination.  I am just impressed to have a destination and ask the english speaking taxi driver, "How much to Khao San road?" He think he said $35 and it was an hour drive. We tell him we will see him after breakfast if he is around.  It was twice the price of a Grab car, but there two of us and he obviously needed a return trip to the airport hotel.

The breakfast was some stir fry that was fried much earlier. Hard boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt, and bread for toast with two types of jelly, both are crystal clear and taste flowery like a syrupy paste. We ate and when I was done it was hard to tell what to do with my dishes because no one else was in there.  I ask the waitress where I take my plate and she just giggled and pointed to herself, "I do."

We walked outside and the same taxi driver just happened to be walking right toward us. "Ok, you ready to go?", he said. 

We got into his 4 wheel drive Toyota without much conversation and he started driving toward downtown Bangkok.  I was impressed to see that we were surrounded by buildings everywhere.  All around us it looked like mirror imaged of an older version of Manhattan, with several great new architectural masterpieces going up among them. The lines in the road are obviously only suggestions, as the road signs, sidewalks, boundaries, borders, and fences. As soon as we hit Bangkok we immediately hit traffic.  everyone kind of paid attention to the order of traffic signals, but there is always going to be a few that want to keep the traffic going, and occasionally just do not care.  This country has the worlds bravest moped drivers.  Every day they all wear the daring protective gear of a hat or the optional helmet.  The helmets seemed to be primarily for the passengers. Occasionally I would see someone drive by looking like a power ranger.  I was amazed at times to see just how many people foreign cars can carry.  I would see up to 12 people in the back of a pickup.  They did not let the standard bed size limit them.  I would see metal welded together in amazing ways to create enough room to take 12 adult workers, and 6 more women and children on the floor.

The semi-trucks there are all masterpieces of art.  Airbrushed and finished with all symbols of faith and guardianship to protect them on their meandering way through what appears to me as orderly and efficient as an organisms blood system and looks much the same.  Order is not the priority, efficiency is and everyone is living the moment in Bangkok. If you are not you will get driven over. Someone will come out and see what karma did to you, and call an ambulance. I noticed an ambulance or two drive with precision and speed through what seemed to be solid traffic.  I saw double buses drive their daily routes with such confidence and trust that they needed no more than a few inches between him and any material object outside his vehicle. From afar they look like barges floating along a sea of boats.  You don't really have look for the cross walks.  They are easily recognized because they have little animated legs.

Once we left the highway, the traffic came to a crawl.  It was slow enough to walk among the cars and there were many doing just that.  They carried bags, and pulled little handcarts around; shouting something in another language.  Our taxi driver rolled down the window and flagged one of them over.  An older lady approached the car window and they exchanged something.  He reached into a white bag he just received and pulled something out.  He passed the bag back to us and said, "You try."

I pulled something warm and fried out of the bag and handed the bag to Josh. I bit into it and recognized it as a fried banana.  It was pretty good, but so new to us that Josh and I only ate one each to be polite and returned the remaining to the driver.

Mopeds drive on the sidewalk and pedestrians use the highway.  Your vehicle speed limitation will never impede your route.  As I watch the traffic I wander to myself how wonderful it must feel to show up at work everyday knowing for certain that guardian angel riding on your shoulder is the only reason your alive. 

We get out of the cab, right at Khao San road.  It is a normal street, but one where there are particularly more tourist lining both sides of the street and flowing back and forth up the gauntlet of the middle. Booths line the sidewalk, completely covering it.  It is hard to tell where the brick and mortar stores start and the tents begin.  Tents are of all kinds.  Some are just made of tarps.  There is the smell of awesome stir fry all around. Every other person is frying up something, and several people are walking around with black burned scorpions on a stick for sale. 

One of many 7/11's on Khao San Road

Not 25 feet down Khao San road a very happy, smiling, looking man introduced himself to us.  He said his name was Jack and he went to University of Miami. He ask what we were here to do.  We replied with, "I don't know."  Mr Jack knew exactly what we wanted to do.  He was very enthusiastic about it. He ushered us back from the busy Khao San road.  He said many things, but all I could make out was it was very important for foreigners to register with the official tourism office.  The office of the government. Of the king.  

At the corner he introduced us to another very large smiling local named John.  John looked like he moonlighted as a bouncer at a night club there, but harmless and friendly.  

I ask John why I must go to the tourism office.  He said, "They show you everything to do, they will get you a better price. It is important.  You must do it first."

He looked me right in the eyes and seemed serious as a heart attack.  I said, "Great, we will go there, but we are right here at Khao San road, one quick walk up the street and we will go there next." He smiled and nodded so I walked toward Khao San road. He immediately got in my way and pointed behind me toward the tourism office.  "You must go there now."

I insisted, "Why? Why do I need to go there now? Why is it important?"

"They close at lunch.. must go quick before lunch."

Jack showed up again next to us.  He offered to escort us down to the tourism office.  I am curious to see where this goes. As we walk down the street what ends up seeming like a half mile, Jack is smiling and looking at us as we walk.  He seems to understand any rubbish we say.  At least for a moment,  as long we are walking with him.  It felt like we were somewhat captive. We walked right into an office I would have never found without Jack. We were welcomely introduced to a lady named Amy.  She smiled a lot and wore a little golden buddha pennant around her neck.  I saw a very large picture with an extravagantly decorated frame of the royal family mounted by the door. The office was a large dated room with several desk and five other consultants all sitting at desk without anyone in front of them.  There was no mistake as we entered who it was we were there to see. Amy sat at her desk and she made herself comfortable, just as happy ever to have seen us.  She had such enthusiasm. It felt she was waiting all week for us.  Josh and I sat down at her desk and I made a comment that we were together, but separate.  She started with Josh as I had just learned Montana's name. She told us about the full moon parties on Ko Pha Ngan, and tours to every part of the island.  She mentioned going to Chaing Mai, but I was interested in going south to the paradise island I saw on "The Beach" with Leonardo Dicaprio. 

While she made a meticulous schedule that spanned a good two weeks of Josh's trip for a price that seemed to build enormous value for every dollar it went up.  My friend trimmed back the trip to what he was comfortable committing to, and I reviewed the fancy tour book.  I saw Ayutthaya, and that tour particularly interested me.  I thought I might get some answers about Buddhism. 

When it came my turn to plan my trip I said, "There are a few things I have not planned yet. I want to take the Ayutthaya tour and then I need to get a train ticket to Phuket." She looked surprised and ask me why I wanted to take the train, it was slow and dirty.  I told her I wanted to see the countryside, the local folks.  In fact right behind her I could see a poster board with the first class train cabins on it. She said the train ran overnight and I wouldn't get to see anything, a plane ticket is the same price. 

I insisted that I wanted to ride the train, but she just knew it would not be a good experience for me.  She bought me a plane ticket for probably what I would have paid for a first class train bunk, and sold it to me for double that.  I believe in service though,  I probably paid $120 or more for Amy to get us excited about our visit.  Her service was complete and she placed all the documents that were necessary for our transits into their own envelope for whichever day I needed it.  You will pay a little bit for the tourism offices services, so if you are a miser do not bother or you will feel robbed, but if you want to feel welcomed by a smiling local that knows the country and can speak english definitely go to one. Amy even ask if we wanted to see the ladyboys, she laughed and we laughed, we shook our heads no, and laughed a little more.  I was not here for that, but apparently there is a place that you can go where that curiosity fulfilled. The farther off the tourist route you go, the less english you will hear.

What sold me the flight to Phuket was when Amy said that I should fly out early, get the early ferry to the island and get settled into my room. She closed the deal when she said, "Don't you want to be welcomed to the airport by someone holding your name on a card?" 

View of Bangkok from the hostel.
The deal was that we should come back in an hour and she would have all our documents ready. Josh paid with his card, and I pulled out $300 US cash I had stashed in my first aid kit. The price was exactly what I had stashed.  It must have been destined.  She looked very carefully at the currency.  She held up a hundred dollar bill and ask, "Is this a hundred?"  

She rejected half of my twenty dollar bills saying they had very small imperfections, and her bank would not take them if they were bad.  My friend had 5 twenties that she would accept and we traded bills. 

Everyone was still smiles as we exited the streets into Bangkok and toward the hostel across the street Amy highly recommended and reserved for us. It was amazingly nice.  So new that it could have been made yesterday.  When we entered there was about 5 soldiers all enjoying their lunches at the tables in the lobby.  They didn't even seem to notice us as we entered.
These little envelopes took us everywhere Amy promised.

We sat on a comfortable bench as we checked in. We were given a keycard, and locker keys. The bathrooms were very clean, and the air conditioning refrigerated the room in 10 minutes flat.   We both made ourselves comfortable in our room.  There were four beds in the room, but it so happened that Josh and I are the only ones in it so far.  The hostel Amy recommended is excellent. Better than the hotel I stayed at last night, and half the price at $15 US a night.

After our expensive but satisfying talk with Amy we walked back to Khao San road. We went to a 7/11 and I got a water. Josh got a sim card and while he was messing around trying to get it to work I stood outside the store and watched the people.

It did not take long to be offered my every desire.  While I stood outside and watched everyone pass by a guy walked up to to and ask me what I wanted to do, I thought I recognized him as Jack but couldn't be sure so I started talking to him.  He ask if I wanted girls, shows, suits, clothes, or food.  I said I was just waiting for my friend.  He then patted his back pocket and clearly said, "You want some Kratom?"

I had learned about this from reading on the internet and apparently it has an opium effect.  I was not here to get high and told him no.  He smiled and left. I continued to wait for thirty seconds more for Josh, and another man was suddenly standing besides me.  He was very polite and smiled a lot.  He ask what I did and I said,"IT". I ask what he did, and he said, "Police Officer."
I keep getting these at 7/11.  Little stamps that belong to a
game I cannot understand, and don't know what I win.
I keep giving them back to the cashier. 

His english was very good and I hope he remembers me as friendly. As he stood there with his arms crossed I felt safe playing in the street in front of him.  I believe we found out we were the same age. He had a young kid though and mine much older.  I think he was married and I am not. Our conversation was short and impressive.  I have to believe he was a cop because he got me to recite all my drivers license information, plus my family status, and goal for visiting Thailand in about 30 seconds without me feeling threatened in the slightest.

When I realized how much information he got from me so quickly I was suddenly distracted with an orange pair of shower shoes.  They seemed of good quality, and I was seeing a lot of the orange color around me. I excused myself and approached the vendor.

"How much?", I said.
"250" she said."
I said nothing and was fumbling with my cash and then I hear out of nowhere, "200."
I gave her a 500 bhat bill and she returned three hundred in change.
I felt like I had won a negotiation I did not know I was having. "Ok.. nice.", and I smiled.

Josh was in the 7/11 and the register was still frantically flipping through the settings on his phone, trying to get the sim card to work.  My new friend was still waiting for me. I call him John, if he was a cop I don't want to blow his cover.

We stood for a moment and I took a drink of my water, then I ask John, "So you keep an eye on all the tourist and make sure they are not getting into trouble?".  He said, "Yes."  It made sense.

There was a moment of silence then he ask, "How much did you pay?"
I think like an American and say, "They cost about 200 or 250, maybe they were on sale?"
"Ok", he said.  We were smiling at each other a lot so I felt he meant no threat.
He ask what I was doing and I let him know we went to the tourism office and they made sure our trip was complete. Everyone knew of the local businesses.

"What are you doing right now?" he said.
"Waiting for my friend I suppose."

I said, "You know.  I do want to learn about Buddha. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Standing Buddha.  Have you seen standing buddha?", he started to pull up photos on his phone.
While he was looking I said, "Why is he standing? Why?"
He said, "You want to see laying Buddha?"
I was just off the plane so I said in plane english, "Why is one standing and one laying? is there a different meaning? Is one resting?"
Our total ride in a tuk-tuk was about 30 min.
We walked a total of 4.2 miles.
Including walking Khao San Road

This does not translate well so we return to silence. Then he says, "I will tell you what,  I will take you to see standing buddha, quick, there and back for what you got in your pocket. 30 minute tuk tuk ride."  I reached in my pocket and had about 5 bhat.

He said, "Fine, 5 bhat, as soon as your friend comes out we go."

Josh came out and said he got his data working on his phone, but the calls don't work. I mentioned this guy was going to take us in a tuk tuk for 15 minutes in this propane powered tricycle urban utility vehicle. Josh and I jump in the back of the tuk tuk and we whisk off into traffic and shoot down the road and all across downtown Bangkok. During the ride the only thing that John said was, "That was a good price on the shoes."  It was nice of him to say but I could have bought them in the US for a dollar and I paid the equivalent of 6 US dollars for shower shoes. It was a kind thing to say though.  It was a good price for somebody.

Riding in the back of a tuk tuk.
We get to a dead end road and he pulls over and tells us to walk around the fence, and ask how long we needed?  I guessed only about 10 minutes.  He assured us he would wait on the road.

We walked around and looked at the very large standing buddha.  It seemed to have real gold.  There were gold flakes all around. Stuck on bricks and over smaller statues of buddha.   We walk around, respectfully, and then take a quick photo, and leave. I did not see anyone performing any ceremonies, but I also did not go into the temple.  I had shorts on and I wanted to remain respectful. I watched another tourist walk in with shorts on and I might have blended in, but John confirmed during our conversation that it is respectful to wear long pants and cover your shoulders.

I was amazed at how long it must have taken for someone to carve some of the statues.  They were so detailed it might have been a man's entire career, his life's work. I noticed a stray cat.  He looked mangled, but confident.  I knew I was in his territory and he was not worried about me.  I did see one stray dog pee on the hand carved monument.  I told the dog I felt that was disrespectful, but I don't think he spoke english.
Me standing by standing buddha.

We came back out to the tuk tuk which was parked in the shade.  We sat in the back seat and John told us he needed to use the bathroom and would be back in a few moments.

Facing toward us was a man in a very nice shirt sitting on a dirty lawn chair.  He introduced himself as a lawyer at the county defenders office. He said he was waiting on his wife who was in the temple praying.  He tells us about his shirt, and how he has had it for two years.

"Wow!" I said.  Honestly, he did not have to boast.  It was truly a very, very nice shirt.  It looked well sewn together.  I commented on how the collar did not have a single hint of discoloration and that was truly phenomenal on a two year old shirt. I could still see freshly starched creases, or maybe it was just the best quality fabric in the world.

I was impressed but assured the man we would most definitely see that suit store.  I told this gentleman that our driver, John, mentioned that he would take us there so he can get some gas.

John came back just as our conversation was coming to a halt and we whisk away to a very nice, clean, and fancy looking tailer shop.  We get out of the tuk tuk and John introduces us to a couple of gentleman sales professionals dressed like royalty.  Lucky was my custom tailer.

As luck would have it Josh needed to get a new shirt for his long arms, so he could use the custom tailored experience.  While Josh was off getting measured for his shirt I sat down on the couch and picked up a shirt catalogue.  Lucky sat across from me.  He mentioned the quality and service of their product.  I assured him I would expect no less from such a finely astute, and refined establishment.  He assured me of their service, and how they will personally make sure it is where you want it and when you want it to arrive.  He told me their prices where the lowest in the world.  Apparently there are some very important names that are making a habit of going to Thailand to get their suits.  He named someone that he said was a Rugby guy.  I don't know rugby.  He said he wore a very fancy suit they made.  I told him we knew Football, Basketball, or Baseball. He said another name I can't remember or think I heard completely.

So I said, "Dennis Rodman?",  I don't know why I thought to say that name.  I thought I remembered him wearing a cool purple suit once.  Lucky did not know who I was talking about either.

I told Lucky during a moment of silence,  "I am not interested in this.  Suits. Material things. I want to know about people, buddha, values."

He said the path is like a hall with many rooms. Each room is different.  Christianity is different. Muslim is different. I thought this was very interesting.  I understand everyones path is different. Then I ask him about respect and Buddha. He confirmed that long pants will be necessary to respect the buddha and should be worn entering the temples.

My friend was all measured and they were even personally going to deliver his brand new shirt to the hostel that very afternoon. Our conversation immediately came to an end. We shook hands and were graciously escorted out of the very trendy, lit, shiny hall to the exterior.

We get outside to find John waiting patiently to take us home.  Without delay he whisk us down the street.  We stop at the fuel station where it takes him only a moment to fill the LP tank, and we are heading back to Khao San road.  He stops and we both get out.  I left him an extra tip of 100 for his very awesome and efficient service.  It only took us two hours to see half of downtown Bangkok. We walked up and down Khao San road, finally making the gauntlet without delay or distraction.  It smelled delicious.  We both were tired so we went back to the hostel to cool off.

After writing this I am pretty cooled off now.  I think I will head back out for a walk.

 4:48 pm

This last two mile walk was very interesting.  I saw very tiny, very efficient living spaces.  I saw families cooking exactly enough food for their family's meal. Josh was still awake and had decided to go with me.
Our second hike was only 1.8 mile,
and generally surrounded our hostel.

We went for a walk around the block. Several blocks later I turned on my GPS and we headed toward the river. Then we turned to walk along the river.  Along the other side of of the river is a very long multi-level brick building. We see that every other store has military gear and apparel.  You could get slings, rank, uniforms, and any thing a combat man might need. We crossed the street to see what the river was like.  We walked along it for awhile. It did not look very clean and I am pretty sure it holds the cities grey water.

We were kind of looking for some food and our options were running low.  We decided to return and cross the street.  While we were waiting we happened to meet a gentleman that quickly introduced himself as working for the ministry of defense.  He pointed to that large building complex across the river.  He ask if we wanted to see something and then made a suggestion.  I can't remember what it was as he tried to show me a picture on his phone with a Buddha in the sunset.  He told us that it right right around the corner and we should see it at sunset and hurry before it closed.  Josh and I both thanked him and walked off as he waved at us and flagged down a passing tuk tuk at the same time.  He looked disappointed as we walked away.

The lobby of the hostel.  Very nice.
Dinner was sponsored by a little family owned place next to our hostel. It was affordable and tasty.  Josh commented how well the seafood was cooked and how fresh it was.  I somehow doubted a Montana mans opinion of seafood, but it is still a compliment.

Now I am back in my rack and tired.  I think Josh has retired for a nap.  I will set my alarm for the morning just in case, but I kind of want to see Bangkok at night.  Going to rest my eyes a bit.