Feb 8, 7:30am
I went to the MBK Center yesterday afternoon and bought myself a nice little suitcase for 900 Baht. I wish I had thought of this earlier because it would have been very handy in Ayutthaya. I’m planning on packing as lightly as possible for my trip to Phuket, and leaving the rest of my stuff here at the Trinity.
My super-secret Thai uniform is working like magic. I was wearing a pair of long pants and a t-shirt. I carried my daypack on my back, instead of in front of me. These subtle changes made it difficult for the Thais to tell I was a foreigner. If I approached anyone, they would first start talking to me in Thai instead of English. The tuk tuk drivers didn’t bother me at all. It was a fun little experiment.
Last night I was just going to stay in and watch a movie on HBO, but during dinner I realized it would be the perfect night to shoot Bangkok after dark. I was so excited about it that I forgot to take my leftovers from the restaurant.
I grabbed my camera from the hotel and hit the road. I walked a few blocks to the famous Patpong market area, which is flanked by sex bars on all sides. Seedy con artists harass you aggressively at every step to just come in and have a look. Prostitutes call from the sides, trying to strike up a conversation. The garish neon signs and generally dirty atmosphere, combined with the gaudy T-shirt and souvenir stands made for some interesting images. Normally, the con artists will follow tourists (myself included) for blocks, trying to entice them into the strip clubs with a relentless torrent of “What you look for? Many girls! They do anything! Free to look!” But tonight, because of my super secret Thai uniform, they mostly ignored me. If any of them came close, I showed them the camera and said, “You want picture?” which would make them back away slowly.
Next, I walked another few blocks to a quad of pedestrian overpasses that I thought would be perfect for some long exposure photos of traffic. I really hope these turn out well. It’s hard to tell if I was able to avoid camera shake, because the LCD on the camera only shows tiny detail. I didn’t bring a tripod with me. I just brought a monopod, which I leaned against the railing. The exposures were 10-15 seconds, during which time even a small movement can cause a blur.
After that, I decided to try to take a few pictures of the MBK Center at night, since it’s been such a great friend to me. As I was preparing to buy my Skytrain ticket, a couple of tourists walked up and gave me their all-day pass, because they were done with it for the day. What a lucky break that was! It was only about 9pm, so that gave me tons of time to explore the Skytrain system. I snapped some shots at the MBK Center, then went to the opposite end of the Skytrain route to photograph the Victory Monument. The monument is surrounded by a traffic circle, which again would make some nice long exposure night shots if they’re not blurry.
I rode the Skytrain for hours. The Skytrain stations are about 4 stories above street level, and you have to walk up a lot of stairs to get to them. I carried the camera up and down, in and out of numerous Skytrain stations in the simmering heat of the Bangkok night until nearly midnight. I was beat by the time I got back to the hotel.
Today’s going to be another busy day. I’ve got to pack my small suitcase, check out of the hotel at noon, arrange for storage of my big suitcase, then make it to the airport by about 2pm for my flight to Phuket. But first… breakfast!
USEFUL FACT OF THE DAY
Purell hand sanitizer instantly stops mosquito bites from itching. I was suffering from multiple bites I got in Ayutthaya, and regretting that I didn’t spend more time looking for my lost stick of After Bite before I left home. Out of desperation, I tried the Purell, and voila: itch gone!
Feb 9, 1pm
I’m in Phuket! Right now we’re in the Patong area, which is a gaudy, neon town in this tropical region. Our hotel, the Burasari, was hit by the tsunami, and just recently reopened. Tan found us some rooms for an incredible 1000 Baht. Normally these rooms go for 5000 Baht, so that’s quite a deal. It’s a level of class above what I’ve seen so far on my shoestring budget. It’s kind of nice for a change, but I don’t want to get too used to it, since I can’t really afford to stay in this kind of place for the rest of my trip.
As I mentioned earlier, this hotel was hit by the tsunami, as were several blocks along the waterfront. The town is basically flat, so water just washed through everything. The Holiday Inn across the street took the brunt of it though, and is still under renovation. It looks like it’s almost ready to open again though.
Anyway, I’m in a bit of a rush because I have to be back at my scuba lessons in half an hour. I’ll write more later.
Feb 9, 7:30pm
Wow. I’m exhausted. I just got back from scuba lessons and had a shower to wash the sea out of me. I think I have saltwater in my sinuses. They take this PADI scuba training pretty seriously, even in laid-back Patong Beach. I’m glad about that though. A lot of stuff can go wrong underwater, and I already feel more comfortable knowing how to deal with various emergencies.
Feb 9, 10:45pm
Ok I’m back from dinner. And, I’m sitting in my hotel room, using Tan’s laptop computer with the hotel’s wireless Internet connection. Life is sweet. I get to work on photos tonight, and it makes me endlessly happy.
Let me fill you in on the last couple of days. After checking out of the Trinity yesterday morning, I made my way to the Bangkok airport and met up with Tan. We bought a couple of tickets to Phuket for 2000 Baht (about $62) which sounds cheap, but if we’d booked 2 days in advance, the price would have been 300 Baht. No one seems to want to go to Phuket after the tsunami, so they’re practically giving the tickets away. It’s working. Our flight was completely filled.
It’s beautiful here. Sunny, hot, and it looks like paradise. The areas that were hit by the wave are still mostly non-functional, but the Holiday Inn (across the street from here) took the brunt of the disaster in this town,and deflected most of the water. It’s still out of commission, but the rest of the town is slowly getting onto its feet again. Everything is clean and sparkling, and debris has been swept up and put away. My dive instructor says the beaches haven’t looked so good in decades.
Patong Beach, where I’m staying, is a pretty touristy place. There are tons of open-air, neon-lit bars. Many of them are what are known as “lady bars.” Women come out into the street to talk to passers by, and try to get them to come have a seat. After you sit down, immediately one to three Thai women will drape themselves over you and start sweet talking you. They’re pretty skillful, actually. They’ll joke around, flirt, play Connect Four and other games with you, trying to get you to buy them drinks. The whole situation is really silly, when you think about it. But, there were tons of men who were lapping it up, feeling like James Bond. If you keep your head on straight, and realize it’s all about the money, then it can be fun. I played a few games of Connect Four. It’s impossible to beat them. They’ve all played the game thousands of times. They would also challenge you to a hammer and nail race: they’d start a couple of large nails into a huge block of wood, then you would take turns swinging a chisel-ended hammer at your nail, trying to be the first to hammer the nail all the way into the wood. I lost a lot of games and bought a lot of drinks.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I get to work on photos tonight. Here are a few unedited photos from my trip so far:
Here’s the airplane I took from Chicago to Bangkok. This is at Tokyo Narita airport during a refueling stop.
Morning rush hour in Bangkok.
Commuting by river boat on the Chao Phraya River.
My suite at the Trinity Silom in Bangkok.
Clearly a ferang.
Motorbike: the perfect family vehicle.
Market scenes from Ayutthaya.
If that’s the Big Guy you’re talking to, put in a good word for me.
Night scenes from Bangkok.
My room at the Burasari has either a window into the bathroom to the main room, or a window out of the bathroom into the main room. I haven’t figured out which yet…
More to come. 🙂