there's NOTHING like this back home....
30.10.2008 - 30.10.2008 26 °C
As the high from the carbon monoxide fumes begins to wear off, I find myself back at the hostel, guzzling water and picking black boogers out of my nose...today was quite a day.
There's no where like this in America. There is probably nowhere like this in the world. Bangkok is a city of unending surprises: new scents, smells, and sounds abound around every corner. There is so much good to be seen in this city of dirt and grime. There are so many possibilities!!
My first meal: I walked right around the corner to a Noodle Man with a Pushcart. I pointed to the ingredients I wanted, some fat noodles, watercress-something-or-other, fresh crispy bean sprouts, and a nice yellowy chicken broth. All for less than 1 American dollar. YUM-EE!
I ate at a row of outdoor tables with chopsticks and a spoon, then made my way in the general direction that I knew to be the embassy. It was in walking distance, and the owner of Soi 1 Guest house, David, had kindly showed me the way on a map. Walking beneath the skytrain and on ramp to the expressway might have been daunting in America, but here it was full of busy professionals making their way to work. (its about 7:15 am, by the way). Passing over the rail road tracks and looking down either way, it seemed like trains didn't pass that way often. For as far as the eye could see people seemed to be using the tracks as a kind of thoroughfare, and I don't blame them, as the roads are fraught with vehicles hurtling like meteors in every which direction.
I turned down Wireless Road and found the Vietnamese Embassy. When I got there, a bit early for them to be open actually, I realized that I didn't have any passport photos. OOPS! I asked a worker there where I could get some. I found it really difficult to understand what she was saying; through signs I figured I'd go left and after a few blocks came to a fancy building and the words she had been saying to me made sense: I found a Kodak office inside a large shopping center, and developed several passport photos: a little over 3 bucks for 12 photos was the package deal.
The Visa was expensive...2500 B...which is I dunno, 70 or so dollars. I guess its okay because Fiji and NZ and Thailand were Free, and I was told there was a 25NZD departure tax for leaving Auckland, which I was never asked to pay.
Finding the Irish Embassy was another challenge, as the name of the road wasn't listed on my map. Actually it was there, but spelled differently. I walked another thirty minutes and found the Lumpini, Q House Building and went up to the 28th floor and gave my name to the Irish Embassy there.
By now I was feeling really good. It was only around 9:30, and I'd gotten everything I wanted to get done finished. The day was beginning to get really sticky. The blue sky was already turning gray and threatened rain within the hour, i could tell. It was an hours walk back. I looked at the hundreds of motor bikes wizzing by. I gave one a try.
For 100 B, around 3 bucks, I hopped on the back of a motorbike (i wore a helmet Mom!) and it was FUUUUUN! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! Whenever traffic stops up, all the motor bikes slip through the cars and trucks to the front of the line and then take off. I gripped the handle behind me white knuckled but exhilarated, thighs squeezing maybe a little too hard on the little Thai man driver when he squeezed his way through impossibly narrow gaps in the cars. In a little less than 10 minutes i was back at the hostel. I almost forgot to give the helmet back to the driver i was so giddy from the ride.
I had just a block to walk from where he dropped me off, and stopped by another noodle stand and had yet another soup, but this time, though I tried to indicate "no meat" I got some mystery fish balls and pork and beef...i think. it was a fishy-porky-beefy noodley brothy concoction, which I ate. And it was good. The price was right.
I got back just in time. Once inside the hostel it began to pour rain. I rested for a while, talking with several of the other guests here. I befriended Michael, an aussie. Him and I decided to go for an adventure when the rain stopped. It stopped. We went on an adventure.
First we walked a few blocks to the canal. Wow. The water was the color of willy wonka's chocolate river, but not in a "good" way. It had lots of rotting vegetation and trash and the waves were really going, as every few minutes these canal boats would zoom (and i mean ZOOM) by: tearing away at a speed no US Department of Transportation Committee would ever allow for such a small canal. Needless to say the canal had that wonderful odor that crossed somewhere between wet dog, wet carpet, and three-day-old-wet towel- that -you -used -to -cover -a -dead -fish. No Bother. This is Bangkok.
We walked along a narrow ledge along side the canal, crossed to the other side, and got on a smallish dock, lined with tires to buffer the boats when they came along side. In a few minutes, a boat came sloshing to a halt, packed full of about 30 locals, us turning out being the old round-eyes to board. The boat hardly holds still long enough for you to get on; the transition must be made quickly, or the boat will start moving with you having one foot on the boat and one on the dock, and the very LAST thing you want to do is land in that water... ick!
So we ride down the canal for 12 B. Thats like -.02 cents. Yeah, I said it: its practically a negative number and its the BEST way to move east to west across the city. There's no cross traffic and nothing ahead to stop you except stops at docks, and as aforementioned, those stops only last about 1.8 seconds each. There's large blue tarps that you can pull up to keep from getting splashed with radioactive water, and their NEEDED, cuz those suckers haul ass.
All along the canal are rickety houses build right over the water, merely stacks of wood-the only indication of human habitation being the lines of cloths hanging from every available clothesline. Some were indeed bustling with activity, thai's stirring pots of simmering soups and children and animals scampering dangerously close to the edge of the overhanging wooden ledges. Intersticed with these habitations were long overhanging vines covered in flowers.
At one point we reached a dock and EVERYONE got off, so we did too, and EVERYONE got on another waiting boat, so we did too-joined by a few more round-eyes at this point. We zoomed all the way to the last stop, hopped off (quickly) and clambered up to street level.
Let me tell you a few things about the streets of bangkok. There is no rush hour. There is only rush hours. 24 of them. There is no such thing as a break in traffic, anywhere or at any time. 7/11s are everywhere. theres are more 7/11s in Bangkok than there was in New Jersey in the early 90's believe it or not. like a million more. Michael and I started playing a game where when we saw a 7/11 we'd have to be the first one to call it out. It was never-ending. And fun, because around any corner, would likely be the next 7/11...He'd call it, I'd call it, Then I'd call three in a row, then he'd spot on like 1 km down the road and I'd curse because it was so far away-how-the-hell-did-u-see-it-from-that-far, but then we'd see like 3 more on the way to that one....you get the point.
We walked down a street we came to call door street. Every shop, without exception made wooden doors, all hand carved and many were very intricate. We walked down several themed streets like this through out the day, Flag street, Golden Buddha Street, and Electronics Street.
We passed the Golden Swing, where I ran through a thousand pigeons at the base, only to have them come flying back over my head threatening to poop on me. We passed the democracy statue and many beautiful temples.
Then we came to Kao San Road. It was lined with hundreds and hundreds of street vendors. I kept one hand firmly on my wallet and another on my camera as I browsed through a milieu of objects, cloths, jewelery, pirated DVDS and CDS, and odds and ends, and of course the ubiquitous food vendors selling everything from whole fried fish to spring rolls to "fresh" orange juice. I bought several gifts for people here. Tee shirts run for about 3 USD, I got a silk scarf for around 4.50 USD and its GORGEOUS! I got a skirt for myself and I finally found AYN RAND'S ATLAS SHRUGGED in a used book shop.
bargaining is crucial here, but the key is to do it as nicely as possible. I keep a smile on my face and just look like I"m thinking about the price they give me and then just politely ask a lower price. Sometimes I will say "oooh, i just saw so-and-so down the street selling the same thing for x amount less." They come down, they *always* come down. If oogle and really like something, they'll come down a bit, but if you express hesitancy because you've spent a lot already they'll just ask you what you want to pay for it...and if its reasonable you might get away with a steal.
I wanted a really nice leather belt, which was quoted originally at 1500 B (45 USDish) He came down to 1200, but I was already talking myself out of it, as the belt would have taken up a lot of room and was heavy, and I wasn't sure how much I really wanted it. I apologized for taking his time and continued to browse. He came up to me a few moments later and offered to sell it for 1000, which is a really decent price, i think, just less than 30 USD, but by then I just didn't want to carry the weight of the belt on my trip, nice as it was. Sometimes you feel bad bargaining only to say no in the end, but that's just how it goes here sometimes.
We had sausage on a stick and shared some spring rolls as a snack. We then shared a nice cold Thai beer, which is the best tasting beer I've had yet on this trip. It's also not that Bangkok is so particularly hot, its just humid. You're face gets shiny and you're cloths stick to you in all sorts of disconcerting places. A cold beer really hits the spot. But its no substitute for water, which I've been drinking furiously ever since.
Michael and I decided it was time to turn towards home, and sometimes walking farther gets you nearer. We found the river: turbulent and brown snaking its way though the city. We followed it til we came across the canal again and began walking eastward to where we might pick up the canal boat again. We walked through really skinny alleyways into a labyrinthine maze of markets and shops where cats and dogs roamed as freely as people. Traffic got even more congested, which I didn't think was even possible, and the dusk was descending quickly.
While standing on a corner, a tuk-tuk stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride, and I asked how much to Sukomvit and he said 300 and we said "no thanks" and he drove off followed by ANOTHER Tuk-tuk who quoted us 200 and we said no and he drove off, then ANOTHER tuk-tuk drove up behind him and offered us 100, which sounded like a good deal to our weary feet. It was a longish ride, as we waited for a long time in gridlocked traffic while zippy motorcycles sifted through the lanes. We played the 7/11 game and wondered at the dimming architecture and twinkling lights as the city began to come alive in the night.
Once back at the hostel it was cool showers for us both. It felt great!! My lungs and throat just felt coated with city grime! I felt accomplished and proud at the same time for having navigated such a challenging city.
All fresh, I rejoined with Michael and one named Chuck, from Mississippi for some local Pad Thai from around the corner. It was, again, amazing, my favorite ingredients being red onion, those deliciously crispy bean sprouts, peanuts, and these little salty-sweet peppers topped off with fish sauce and sweet chili sauce. YUM-EE!
Then we got ice creams dipped in hard chocolate shells. What a great way to end the day.
I can hear a movie, the X-files, going on upstairs. I think I'll join them. My brain is tired. I need more water and to vegetate and then to sleep.
Tomorrow at 4 I pick up my Vietnamese Visa, and then get an overnight train to Chiang Mai in the evening. I think I"ll get a message tomorrow at Wat Po and shop for a few bobs and ends.
Lots of love to everyone, thanks for reading.