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November 20, 2004


I breathed in deeply, and internally asked myself: "are you ready for the jungle?" just before I stepped off the airport bus on Sukhumvit road in Bangkok. After just a few steps on the sidewalk all my senses had been overlaoaded with data. My tired brain was trying to deal with the audible chaos, the odors tainting the hot humid air, and the sight of begging amputees and incredibly beautiful Thai women all at once. I navigated through the swarm, declining offers for massages and other services, and found refuge in my hostel. In just a few minutes I had already experienced a lot in Bangkok.

After checking in I lay on my bed torn between indulging in the overdue comfort of being horizontal, and the desire to experience this wild new world just outside my window. In a few minutes the excitement was pushed aside by fatigue and I succumbed to sleep.

After a night of deep sleep, I enjoyed the hostel's complimentary breakfast while chatting with an Alaskan who turned out to be a member. Amazingly enough, we had adjacent posts on a thread at the member's forums! While I enjoyed socializing, I had a mission for the day: take possession of my tickets for the flight home.

Stepping out of Suk11's sanctuary made me vulnerable to hawkish entrepreneurs with dubious offers, but all that was soon left behind as I turned off of Sukhumvit. Nobody paid any attention to me as I strolled through residential neighborhoods on my way to the non-descript office building. I enjoyed observing Thais going through their daily activities of picking up children from school and buying goods and food from street merchants. I claimed my ticket upon reaching my destination but realized that I had still not eaten lunch.

Perhaps I have spent too much time reading about the warnings of eating food from street vendors, but I felt I had a hard time finding a cart that offered something I was comfortable eating. Vendors cook a stack of skewers then let them sit there on a plate all afternoon. I found a lady who actually had her grill going, so I assumed the stack was freshly cooked. I purchased a skewer of something (don't know what) and eagerly sank my teeth in it. It was barely warm so I threw it out.

For dinner, Winston (my acquaintance from breakfast) and I hunted around for a decent yet inexpensive place to eat. We found a westerner-oriented outdoor food court and ordered a plate of fried rice with seafood. While we were eating we were being offered all sorts of goods, like rip-off sunglasses and silly mechanized pets. We declined as best we could but often a simple "no" didn't work. I had "top quality" shades placed on my face while I was trying to eat. The adult vendors were annoying, but the kids who were trying to sell flowers were just too much fun. They would call us "bad boys" for not buying then pretended to punch us for declining the shoe shine. The kids spoke excellent English, so seeing as they wouldn't leave us I asked the boy to teach us some Thai. "How do you say 'no' in Thai?" I asked, then I got punched again.

After some time the kids realized that although we were not buyers, we were less of a pain than some of the other patrons who shooed them away with less patience, so they hung around and ctually taught us to say "no thank-you". Winston and I would try to use that phrase to fend off the hawks on our way back but we mostly drew blank stares or laughs.

The next day we followed the recommendation of another traveller and took a river boat towards the North. After a stop-over in China-Town for a 75 cent lunch (including soft drink) we arrived at pier 15 where we hoped to interact with Thais shopping at the market. The owner of the very first tent we stopped at gave us a little more than we bargained for: he was openly homosexual and wished to tell us how handsome we both were. He was very nice, and we picked up a little more Thai pronunciation thanks to him, but after a couple of kisses got blown in our direction we politely shook his hand and walked on.

The main part of the market, assembled under tarps too low for this six foot frame, served up a visual and olfactory experience that could cure any famine in a westerner. We saw frogs still breathing after their stomachs were cut open and their innards spilled out, water-borne creatures that stirred up a foam in their holding buckets, and piles of supposedly edible goods that I could not recognize. The shoppers largely ignored us, but a smile was often returned twice as large.

Tub Full of Eels(?)

Chilis on the street.

No idea what any of this is.

Winston inspects a turtle.

Market lady.

Winston wanted to go further North to get away from the last few westerners who were lingering around Pier 15. At Pier 21 we did indeed succeed in being the only white boys around, but unfortunately the Thais in this area did not return a single smile. In fact a shop keeper even displayed some annoyance at Winston's attempt at buying a bottle of water without a word of Thai. We were a long way from Sukhumvit.

Back in our home area again, we were able to practice some more Thai with the kids during dinner. We both felt as though we could get a lot more from this country with just a little bit of Thai, but we were starting from nothing, so it would be a slow, painstaking process.

After dinner we found a vendor of fried insects with a couple of eager patrons and several astonished tourists around him. The cart displayed piles of cockroaches, larvae, grasshoppers, and other creatures. While the camera-happy westerners asked each-other if they had tried anything (nobody had), the two Thai girls were happily feasting away. One of them mocked me a little for taking pictures of the buffet so I chatted with her. She was beautiful; she had long jet black hair, big brown eyes, clear skin, but off the corner of her mouth hung the last leg of a partially eaten invertebrate. We had seen all we could handle, so we headed towards the hostel.


On our way back we practiced our "no thank-you" and found that we were finally understood. The face of a woman selling jewlery lit up with a smile and a look of surprise and admiration when we declined in her language. A much more aggressive hawk grabbed Winston's arm and thrust a glossy photo with lots of skin in front of our eyes. "Mai ow Khrap!" we said firmly. At that point he threw his arms up in the air and laughed. It was as if we had pronounced a magic phrase that freed him from the need to be a devious leech towards foreigners. The glossy disappeared and very casually, with apparently no hidden intent, asked us where we were from and what our plans were for Thailand. After a quick chat, he waved goodbye as we marched off. We were amazed by how much effect a few words of Thai can have. The next morning I bought a phrase book.

Here are a few more pictures of Bangkok:

Giant lizards that we saw in a park. The larger one was 4 feet long.


At this restaurant, the fish could almost leap into the plates of the patrons.

Here is a backlog of NZ pictures:

-Abel Tasman Park:

Seal. (This is zoomed and cropped; I don't have that good a telephoto!)

Catamaran and Kayakers.

Little bay.

-Ferry to the North Island:

From the ferry, a nice racing sailboat.

Ferry riders enjoy the sunset.

Bye bye South Island.

Posted by piegu on November 20, 2004 05:35 AM
Category: Thailand

It looks like the unidentified picture is of dried seafood products. They're salty and a popular snack.

I'm a friend of Nico's who lived in Thailand briefly. He mentioned you're traveling there and shared your blog with me. I love your entry for Bangkok.

Happy journeys,

Posted by: Ellen on November 23, 2004 12:16 PM
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