Saturday March 21

Met new friend today, late-30’s-something Manuela Friedrich of Munich, Bavaria, Germany. She had been sitting looking bewildered in the “lobby� (well, sort of a lobby) when we walked in with friends from Bangkok who were about to check into our hotel (well, sort of a hotel). She accepted our offers of help, we discovered all her perplexities, and were able to help her quite a bit, as she had landed in our town by mistake, having wanted to disembark her bus at a city about 60 miles distant but speaking no Thai was not able to do so. She was to stick pretty close to us for the next five days.

Sunday March 22

This afternoon we showed the sights to our 3 Bangkok friends including a 3-hour ride downriver to its mouth at Gulf of Thailand courtesy of Khun Awt a very poor fisherman and member of the local church. Small cramped old wooden 15’ boat with no seats, powered by 13hp Honda lawnmower type engine with long tail direct drive propeller shaft. Sat cross legged on bottom of boat. Put approx 70 yr old bodies to the test, be assured. While in a “khlong� (canal) connected with the river and on way to his village we passed through long stretches of uninhabited mangrove jungle and in two different places passed within 30 feet of the most awesome lizards you can imagine. Rather than offer a questionable estimate I just went to Wikipedia for the facts: typical adult is 8 feet long, 170 lbs. Bodies look like those of alligators, but smooth, without their horny protuberances; heads like those of large snake or lizard. One was near water but on mud riverbank, the other was swimming near shore and then crawled out onto bank as we passed. The English name is Water Monitor, the English translation of the Thai name for these animals is “Silver-body-gold-body�. Got good photo; will post. The day was super hot, 90 deg., 50% humid, the boat had no awning, and we no umbrellas; however, the boat’s bow-spray thrown up over us kept us damp and cool…some of the time.

Wednesday March 25

In Bangkok for 2+ days, having come by bus yesterday from Samut Songkhram accompanied by new friend, Manuela. She had delightful experience of Samut Songkhram, her unintended stopping place for five days, due to our guidance. Manuela been in country for 6 weeks on her own, has travelled around alone in a manner quite intrepid. Her boyfriend/husband Peter (she uses both terms interchangeably) who’s still in Munich working, is due to arrive Thailand soon and they’ll proceed together for another month or so. We had pleasant dinner with her late this evening, and over the five days enjoyed her company.

We plan to stay in Bangkok April 12-15 prior to our Apr 16 flight out to the U.S. A friend called today asking if we were aware of just how inconvenient the annual Thai New Year, also called “Songkhran� (April 12-15) can be in the neighborhood of our Bangkok guesthouse. We were not. The festival is marked primarily by the indiscriminate throwing of water and colored powder by many people at many others in most locations, and by most people at most other people in our Bangkok district. At his behest we inquired of the staff in our guesthouse, then backed that up with questions of the staff in another nearby, and his alert to us was confirmed to the max. by them. So, the next several hours were devoted to identifying candidates and then checking out in-person some alternative guesthouses in other districts of the city, a task that initially seemed daunting, but proved pretty smooth due to the very effective resource that is our primary guidebook, Lonely Planet Thailand. If you’re a budget traveler, never leave home without your LP for wherever you’re going. They’re outstanding.

During guesthouse hunting, transport from one district to the other was largely by “sky train� from which one can get quite a view, looking down on city elements below. One station stop gave an excellent overlook of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club of which Chuck was once a member long ago and far away. T’was at RBSC that he played too many rounds of golf along with mad dogs and Englishmen out in the noonday sun when he should have been sharpening nose on grindstone at The Chase Manhattan Bank, Bangkok Branch. Here’s an attempt to describe the RBSC: just imagine 100 acres comprised of nine hole golf course surrounded by horse racing track and stands plus Olympic size swimming pool plus extensive tennis courts plus gargantuan club house…located at 4th and Union in downtown Seattle. That’s the RBSC. “Highest and best use� of land has no final say in this country, nor should it have (opines this editor).

Thursday March 27

Returning to Maekhlong, Samut Songkhram, today, we had our first adventursome taxi experience of this Thailand experience. Our cab for ride to bus station looked brand new, but upon becoming ensconced therein the engine commenced dying with disturbing frequency and emitting smoke of a darker hue than one might prefer, along with odors of burning rubber or somesuch not designed to lull one into complacency. Several times we insisted to cabbie in execrable Thai that we had to disembark and get another cab, one inducing a sense of higher probability of arrival at destination. And several times he insisted in what was probably perfect Thai, delivered most jocularly, that bailing out was just not on, and that he’d been having these problems quite a bit, and that they were all due to the heavy traffic and hot weather which diatribe was evidently supposed to put us at our ease and lead to our happily taking potluck regarding whatever results he could produce. He slowly wheezed, bucked, stopped, and started his way around a large open parklike area in which there was much evidence of red polo shirts being sold to the exclusion of any other clothing. This was a clue that it was the staging ground of the newly infamous “red shirts� political activists who support the government deposed several months ago, and confront and oppose the equally infamous “yellow shirts� who aggressively oppose said government and quite recently occupied and shut down Bangkok’s great international airport for a week, wreaking havoc. Both “shirts� oppose the new and current power-sharing compromise government whose brand new prime minister, who to us seems to have excellent credentials (but who are we to opine on Thai politics?), spends most of the time fending off demands for his resignation. Only at the end of the day back in Maekhlong did I open email and find a warning from the U. S. embassy that the “red shirts� would by rallying and marching today and U. S. citizens were to go nowhere near the area. In retrospect, as far as we know, the whole thing went off without serious incident. Having now told you we got back to Maekhlong is a clue that the taxi ride finally improved, the frequency of engine seizures dropped to zero once we got out of standstill traffic and the cooling system could function more properly, and the bus station hove into view, a most welcome sight. We felt badly for the cabbie, as the whole thing took a lot longer than he had planned, the paltry fare called for by the meter would be a huge disappointment we’re sure, and he probably doesn’t own the cab and thus cannot be blamed for poor maintenance discipline, so gave him a handsome tip evoking much pleasurable jabbering. What a joy it is to make bless others.

Saturday March 28

It has hit us like a tonne of bricks, the realization that the end of this beyond-fabulous experience is but 19 days hence. Sniffle…

Sunday March 29, 2009

You can be forgiven of any conviction that I might have a fixation on lizards, for here’s another story. While trying to escape the ferocious heat this afternoon without holing up in our a/c hotel room, we hied off to the hospital riverside canteen pavilion in search of a quiet shady place that might catch any cooling breezes wafting off the river. Whilst sitting there doing mostly nothing I stared dully at a nondescript stretch of sidewalk until jerked out of that “I think I’m about to drift into a nap� condition by movement of something rather large. A 5-foot long 40-50 pounder hove into view, Water Monitor, that is, shuffling his way along inside the fence separating the hospital gardens from the river. The only other person on the premises was a food vendor whom we’ve gotten to know so I sidled over to her and inquired. Her attitude was nonchalance, noting that sightings were quite common, frequent even, here on the hospital grounds. We followed his/her progress until he/she disappeared into shrubbery immediately next to a rear entrance/exit of a hospital wing. I’m afraid some poor staffer or patient’s visiting relative is in for a rude awakening as he/she ambles out the back way eager for a break at the riverside only to be confronted by an apparition akin to that of a smallish alligator.

Tuesday March 31, 2009

Thailand has long been famous for its sticky, unfathomable, labyrinthine bureaucracy. Thus far we have been spared entanglement with same. Until now, that is…

We have one-year Thailand visas. The rules explicitly require that every ninety days one report to the Immigration Bureau office in the province where one is staying, and, if that province has no such office then reporting to the provincial police station will suffice. Our province has no Immigration office, so today we walked a couple miles in the 90deg/50% to the police. 1 1/2 hours later, after what seemed most hopeful bureaucratic procedure, our hopes were deflated and we departed under instructions to go to Immigration 30 miles away in another province. We decided to go the 60 miles to Bangkok instead, thinking that there they are much more accustomed to this procedure with foreigners than are their colleagues in Samut Sakhon province to which we had been directed and which sees few foreigners.

Wednesday April 1, 2009

So off we hied to Bangkok today. Bus scheduled for departure 7:40am; we arrived 7:10. Ticket seller informed us “no have.� “Next bus 8:40.� Inauspicious start. Got 8:40 bus. 1+ hour bus ride to Bangkok outskirts, followed by 1+ hour taxi ride, in world’s most dense traffic, to the modern elevated SkyTrain, 10 minute ride on same, and 40 minute walk in 90/50 to Immigration. Had been warned the office shuts down promptly at noon for one hour lunch break. It’s 11:40. We’re given forms to fill, we complete them, and submit at 11:50. “Sorry, sir, madame, I see you’re from Samut Songkhram, so I cannot help you. You must go to room 507.� We hoist weary sweaty bodies up five flights and locate 507. It’s 11:57. Face behind window of 507 is that of a sullen “Little Napoleon� who has probably been too frequently berated by ugly ill-tempered peremptory selfish demanding foreigners and is not about to take any more such abuse, and, besides, she knows she has the whip hand. I hand our passports and the completed forms through the window. Sorry, my mistake. Ms Napoleon growls, in Thai, “I said, put them in my box.� Looking down I see a cardboard box on a chair and containing a few forms and passports. With reservations, mentally envisioning some lurking passport forger and thief ready to steal them for big money resale on black market, I hesitate, but, eventually I duly dump ours in. Ms. Napoleon now growls something to the effect, “go siddown an’ wait till you’re called.� Prominently displayed on her door is “Lunch break 12:00 – 13:00.� Promptly at 12:00 her window slams shut, her box disappears into the nether regions, and we “siddown an’ wait� assuming that the process of checking up on foreign visa holders will re-commence after much fried rice laced with hot chillies has been partaken. Not so, oh, we of little faith. In about 15 minutes that seemed like 45 in the non-aircon hallway, Ms. Napoleon, whom I shall no longer call Ms. Napoleon and to whom I owe a great apology for my negative attitude in light of her having spent lunch break minutes serving our need, emerged from within, and began summoning passport holders, not by name, buy by country, and very soon Mr. Laos had his passport safe in hand, then Mr and Mrs Malaysia had theirs, then Ms. India, and then, wonder of wonders, Mr and Mrs USA were given theirs replete with the necessary document stapled therein. She even cracked the tiniest of smiles when I thanked her profusely. How often I misjudge people based on scant flimsy evidence. Thence back into a taxi for a 1+ hour return to the bus terminal that turned into 2 hours. The driver had cheerfully acknowledged our pronounced destination, but once we got into the general vicinity thereof he fessed up that he really didn’t know exactly where the bus station was and spent another 45 minutes or so stopping asking people and poking around until finally she hove into view. The aircon was not at its best during the midafternoon 1 hour return ride and both of us were in pretty poor shape when finally we lurched off in Maekhlong, startled to discover that the hot afternoon’s fresh air outside the bus was more comfortable than “aircon� within.

One-off observations:

There are many things over-rated in life; the first, second, and third showers on very hot sultry days are not among them.

After three months active, full, fabulous adventure, our late-60’s frames now wilt in the humid heat by about noon daily, and thus declare, “it’s time to go home.�

Chuck & Judy Hazen
chuck_h@olypen.com
hazen@olypen.com