Feb 5, noon
I just checked out of the Trinity Silom hotel and I’m sitting in the lobby catching a breather for a few minutes before heading out to the train station. I was at an Internet cafÃ© this morning, making the final arrangements for my hotel in Ayutthaya. Because I left everything until the last moment, it was all a bit scary, but it seems to be under control. I’m going to try planning my next few days in a little more detail. For instance, I know I’ve booked my next two nights in Ayutthaya, and then I’ll probably spend all week next week in Phuket. I am discovering that a little bit of forethought goes a long way in making life easier and less stressful. I guess I was just trying to escape the predictability of life back home, but the prospect of having nowhere to sleep at night shook some sense into me. I’m seeking that happy balance somewhere, and I think I’ll find it soon enough.
Yesterday turned out to be another very full day. I spent the morning on my river boat journey, as I described earlier. In the afternoon, I confirmed that I had a place to sleep. The hotel was very gracious, and let me stay in my suite so I didn’t have to move to a smaller room. I had a quick shower and then hit the road again to look for t-shirts at the MBK Center, where I found my cell phone the previous day. Remember how I told you that there was a whole floor dedicated to t-shirts and other inexpensive clothing? Do you think I could find it? I wandered the seven floors of the MBK Center for hours looking for it. Imagine a mall almost as big as the Toronto Eaton Centre, but seven floors high. Every floor is completely packed with Thai people, because it’s a local mall, not a mall for foreigners. Most of the stores are tiny, and are packed close together. The escalators make no sense. They’re not all located in a central area. They’re scattered seemingly randomly about the mall. So, to get from the first floor to the seventh floor, you must do a lot of walking around, seeing a ton of different stores on your way to wherever you’re trying to go. I think the place was designed by Ikea. I really enjoyed exploring though. I found several food courts, and stopped fo a sushi lunch. Eventually, purely by luck, I stumbled upon what I was looking for: a maze of stalls selling clothing. I picked up a few cool t-shirts and collared shirts. It costs about $3 to $5 for good quality shirt that I’d probably pay about $40 for in Canada. The clothing here is quite unique. I’m enjoying shopping here much more than I do in Canadian malls, where I find things to be quite monotone and conformist.
While I was shopping, I got a few calls from Tan. I arranged to meet him at the hotel that evening.
Tan showed up with his cousin Guy. He’s been staying at Guy’s house near the airport for the last week or so. Guy drives a really nice Mercedes, so we traveled in style tonight. We were meeting a couple of Guy’s friends for dinner, so our first stop was a restaurant called Lemongrass near a high end mall in the Sukhomvit area of town. As we waited for Bee and Nat (Guy’s friends) to show up, we looked around at the crowd. They were all foreigners (like me and Tan). The menu was entirely in English. The problem was exactly the opposite of what I had experienced wandering the local markets looking for lunch yesterday, when I found that I didn’t know what or how to order because everything was raw and there was not help for someone who didn’t speak or read Thai. Anyway, we decided this was not where we wanted to eat. If we had wanted Thai food prepared for foreigners, we would have stayed in Canada. We waited outside for Bee and Nat (only Bee showed up) and then headed to a uber trendy spot called To Die For in the H1 complex. Admittedly, To Die For didn’t serve Thai food; it was a very upscale fusion restaurant that had a blend of Thai and French cuisine. However, no one was complaining. I had some kind of martini with lychee juice and ground mint leaves. For dinner I had medallions of roast duck breast with a cashew-nut gravy. The entrÃ©e was about $7.
Here’s a note about eating in restaurants in Thailand: Prices of food here relate more directly to the cost of ingredients, rather than the “soft” costs like reputation and style, like they do in Canada. So, a meal in a fancy restaurant costs only a little bit more than in a cheap restaurant, because the ingredients are marginally more expensive. Meanwhile, you get to eat in a fancy restaurant with all the ambiance and expert preparation that you’d expect. It’s totally worth it if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
After dinner, we went next door to the H1 complex to a bar called Ashley’s. It was a rock bar with a younger Thai crowd. It was loud, hot and sweaty in there. A band blasted out Thai rock ballads and covers of English songs, while drunken Thais swayed and danced and drank. People were buying entire bottles of Chivas Regal Scotch and were mixing drinks for themselves and their friends. Soon, people were pressing drinks into my hands. Someone challenged me to a race him in chugging a double of Chivas mixed with water. It was great stuff, but a few of those are a definite recipe for disaster. After that, I tried to hide from the booze by standing away from the people with bottles. I wasn’t going to make it through the night if I kept it up at that rate. We left Ashley’s after about 30 minutes because Guy and Bee were wearing expressions of extreme distaste. They prefer a more upscale environment.
Our next stop was Q Bar, a high-end bar. Bee has VIP status there, so we breezed by the line and into the club, where Nat was waiting for us. It was pretty nice in there. It had a great sound system, trendy lighting and tiny cloth towels to dry your hands in the bathroom. Tan had bought a bottle of Finlandia vodka there the previous night, so we mixed our own vodka and Sprite all night.
1am came pretty quickly, and the bar was shutting down soon. We quickly got out of there and headed over to Silom Soi 2 to meet up with Guy, who had gone there to find some of his friends. Tan didn’t want to tell me what Soi 2 was, and the girls were giggling a lot whenever it was mentioned. Soon enough I discovered that Soi 2 Silom is a very popular gay hangout. We found Guy and went to DJ Station, which is the wildest bar I’ve ever been in, straight or gay. There was a constantly moving sea of people, crushed together and gyrating like snakes. It was impossible to stand in one place, because the constant pushing of the crowd just forced you around the club. It was like being pulled out to sea by a tide. There were men dancing on top of the speakers with their shirts off. Nat and Bee tried to get me up there, but I politely declined. My continous mantra was “I am secure in my sexuality. I am secure in my sexuality.” After getting used to the madness of the crowd, and the semi-clad, gyrating men, I actually enjoyed DJ Station. There was an unpretentious mood of non-threatening fun in the club, and no one would try to do anything that you didn’t want to do.
We got out of DJ Station at about 2am and had a snack of noodle soup by the side of the road. By 3am I was back in my hotel room, and collapsed into bed with relief.
Here are a few random notes from yesterday:
– I learned some Thai words. “Sanook” means “fun” and “Song” means “two.” At this rate, I’ll know Thai in about… 70 years.
– Foreigners are known as ferang. This is because the French originally tried to colonize Thailand. Thais successfully resisted colonization.The word ferang comes from the word francais, which Thais can not pronounce.
– Thai people don’t wear shorts, even when it’s 30 degrees C and dripping with humidity. They’re all wearing jeans. They leave the shorts to the ferang.
– Driving in Bangkok is perilous. Many large intersections have no traffic signals whatsoever. The most aggressive driver gets to go first. Motorcycles and scooters weave through traffic, often doing 90 degree turns to get through spaces between car bumpers. Apparently motorcycle accidents are among the leading causes of death in Thailand. Despite all of the squeezing-by and cutting-off that happens in Thai driving, you seldom hear horns honking. Thais just don’t get upset in traffic.
That’s it for now. I’m going to make my way to the railway station, and grab a train for Ayutthaya.
Feb 5, 6pm
I got to Ayutthaya after my 1.5 hour train ride. The train departed from the Hua Lampong Railway Station in Bangkok. On the way there in the cab, I saw it spelled Hua Lam Phong and Hua Lamphong too. When spoken, it doesn’t sound like any of those.
Taking the train here was like stepping back in time. While Bangkok is modern and bustling, the train was very down-to-earth. The windows were wide open, and I was jammed shoulder to shoulder with Thais of every description. The windows were wide open, letting in a slightly cooling breeze, but it was still as hot as Hell in there. The train made its way between rural stops on the way to Ayutthaya, giving me a glimpse of Thai country life. Villages of tin-roof shanties stood on stilts in bogs and marshes. Rickety wooden platforms connected homes together. A couple of times I coughed from the smoke of fires, burning wildly in dry fields as farmers renewed their land. Men and women selling food and drinks from heavy baskets pushed their way through the train, from one car to the next. They sold a variety of snacks, from Coca Cola to flattened, dried “squid jerky” on a stick. I could smell the latter from the next car.
Upon disembarking in Ayutthaya, I tried to orient myself a bit. I knew I needed to find the ferry to the city itself, because I knew the city was on an island, separated from the mainland by the Lopburi, Pasak, and Chao Phraya rivers. After walking the wrong way for a while, I turned around and found the ferry station down an alley, just across the road from the railway station. To call it a ferry station is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more of a set of squeaky wooden stairs leading to a pier that looks like it might sink at any moment. The ferry was a skinny wooden boat powered by what looked like a car engine mounted in its midsection. It’s nothing to complain about though. The one minute trip across the river cost the enormous sum of one Baht (three cents).
After crossing the river, my next challenge was to locate my hotel. People here don’t speak English, and can’t understand my horrible pronunciation. Most of them were too shy to help. There were the usual crowds of Tuk Tuk drivers (small, 3-wheel taxis) harassing me to give me a lift, but I thought I remembered the directions from the website, and that it said the walk to the hotel from the ferry station was about 500m. Unfortunately, there was no website in sight at that moment, so I didn’t have any more precise directions than that. I think I walked in every incorrect direction for at least an hour, dragging my suitcase and camera gear around behind me in the hot sun. I was soaked with sweat and nearly out of patience when I spotted a couple of tourists and asked them for directions. They spoke French, and were kind enough to point me in the right direction. Coincidentally, they were also staying at my hotel.
My room here is just a regular one. It’s kind of threadbare and run down, but it feels like a palace right now. I’m about to head out and look for something to eat, and then for some Internet access so I can post this entry…