Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On to Asia...

I must admit I approached the Perth airport at 5:30 in the morning with some trepidation. I was to catch a Garuda Indonesia Airlines flight to Bali, before getting to Singapore that afternoon. It seems Garuda Indonesia Airlines had lost a plane the previous day. It had taxied off the runway upon landing and exploded, killing 23 people. Hmmm... Ah, well, when it's time, it's time. Anyway, I made it okay and, while waiting in Bali for my connecting flight to Singapore, I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger, an Englishman, who just happened to teach English in Bali. Amazing. I had a three-hour layover in Bali, which I spent at the airport. The Balinese hucksters kept trying to interest me in food and massages, but I stayed steadfast and held out for Thailand.

Got into Singapore around 4:30 PM. Their airport was organization personified. I managed to retrieve my suitcase, find the Bag Storage area, check in my bags, catch a taxi and get to the Singapore Zoo for the Nightime Safari by 5:30 PM. A new personal best! Of course, the first Safari tram didn't leave until 7:15, so I had some time to kill. The weather was so hot and humid, I quickly downed 5 beers in 2 1/2 minutes. The sweat just wouldn't stop, as the humidity had to be 97%. Anyway, I grabbed some dinner at one of the zoo's restaurants and sweatily waited my turn on the tour.

Finally got on the tram, and it was sort of an anticlimax. Oh, it was okay, but nothing special. not like I had been led to believe. The animals were cool, but it was dusk and getting darker, so we really couldn't see too well. Anyway, not too much to be said. I finished up and caught another taxi back to town and to the Long Bar of the Hotel Raffles. Now THAT was cool! Check it out on the Internet. Raffles was THE place to be way back when, and the Long Bar was where everyone who was anyone in the Far East met to exchange information, swap lies and tell stories. The ceiling was still full of those old rattan fans (although the air conditioner did more these days to keep the customers cool), the bar and chairs were all in dark wood, and the floor was marble tiles. Surprise - for such a classy place, customers are encouraged to throw their peanut shells on the floor! I had my Singapore Sling, then switched to beer. It appeared every first-time visitor to the Long Bar ordered the obligatory Singapore Sling, but it seemed no one ever ordered a second. I passed the time talking with a traveling Canadian, then decided I needed some rest. I taxied back to the airport, and spent the rest of the night snoozing in one of the hard-backed chairs.

Morning came slowly, but I managed to wake up and wander over to the Departures Board to check on my flight's status to Bangkok. Hmmm, my flight wasn't on the board. Double Hmmm. When the Garuda Indonesia desk finally opened, I checked in with them. It seems I had been switched to Cathay Pacific airlines, for reasons unknown to me. Whatever, as long as I got to Bangkok I was happy. So I finally arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, around 4:30 in the afternoon. Treated myself to a "limo' ride to my hotel, through some horrendous traffic. I thought it was bad just because it was Friday afternoon, but found out later it was always this bad. Motor bikes, scooters, cycles, and mopeds abound in Bangkok, and keep the cars always on the alert for their weaving and dodging tactics. Anyway, I finally got to take a shower and clean up, then hit one of the most well-known streets in Bangkok, a place called soi (pronounced "sawy") Cowboy. Lots of bars and clubs and entertaining young Thai ladies. And, if you're not careful, lots of young Thai ladyboys! I sucked down my Tiger beers and wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere. Grabbed a bite to eat and caught a couple of the shows in the clubs. It's truly amazing what those girls can do wiuth a ping-pong ball!

My room was OKAY in the Royal Hotel Bangkok, a three-star establishment located near the Royal Palace. My only window looked into an empty courtyard, but the air conditioning worked just fine. I walked around my general area for a few hours, catching the Royal Palace (I couldn't go in since I was wearing shorts). I decided to try and beat the heat somewhat (it was 98 degrees (37 degrees for my British friends) with 123% humidity - and while the temperature got hotter during my stay, the humidity never lessened. Reminded me of one of the many reasons I left St Louis, Missouri.

Next morning I found out my hotel served up a great breakfast buffet, including American pancakes, eggs, sausage, toast, croissants, etc. There was also a separate buffet for the early Asian riser, consisting of rice and other Asian goodies. It was all really good. Still brutally hot and humid (March is apparently the lowest of the Thai seasons, which are: Hot, Very Hot and Very Very Hot. Luckily I was there only in the Hot season!). Anyway I decided a river cruise was in order. It was cool and interesting. Saw many of the side canals off the main river, the Chao Phraya. Lots of rundown ramshackle houses, with some nicer ones thrown in. Kids were swimming in the river, which astonished me. Those kids must be immune to every disease known to man. I saw the Wat Arun temple, then found Khaosan Road, one of the main tourist areas in the city. Had a good lunch at Buddy Beer: stir-fry ostrich with garlic and black pepper. More Tiger beer. Then I walked slowly back to the hotel (running would have laid me out) and spent the next two hours in the hotel pool. Not lying on a lounge by the saide of the pool, but actually IN the pool. Damn, but it was hot! Next day was more shopping at Khaosan and more Tiger beer and another lunch at Buddy Beer. Love that place. The afternoon was spent in the pool again. Too hot to do anything else. But the evening crowd on Khaosan Road was something to be seen and enjoyed. I sucked down my Tiger beers at a streetside cafe and watched the entertainment. For the men, it was the Coolest Shirt contest. I saw shirts from Barbados, Trondheim, and Carlos & Charlie's in Puerto Vallarta. I thought my Tribunal Bar in St Petersburg (in Russian, of course!) shirt was in the running for the main prize, until I caught a shirt from Sheep-Shifter's Bar in Tierra del Fuego. Had to give him the main prize.

For girls it was the International Rear End Cleavage Bakeoff. All of the tourists and local girls wear their pants so low-slung that when they bend over to inspect some item of tourist junk, their rear cleavage (we always called it The Vertical Smile) is clearly visible for all to admire. Underwear styles included black, white, cotton, silk, thongs, American, German, French, etc. Never did get a winner, but got to judge a lot of contestants.

Dinner was shrimp, rice and more beer. While in Bangkok I was continually approached by taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, wanting to take me somewhere - anywhere - but especially to a favorite Thai Bathhouse of their acquaintance. My first encounter with a tuk-tuk driver (these are little motorcycle-like vehicles, with a sort of carrier cage built on to them, capable of transporting 2-3 people in much less than comfort; but they are a Bangkok experience, so one must do it sometime) was surprising and fun. As I was walking down the street in the evening, one of the drivers came up to me and said, "Tuk-tuk?" I answered "Mai Chai" (no) politely. Then he said, "Boom boom?" Caught me off guard and I laughed for the next 2 minutes. At least they're honest about what they have to offer.

Monday was a full 12-hour day. Picked up too early by the mini-bus for all-day trip around Thailand. Our driver, Fireball Kwok, proved his worth by breaking every speed record to get us to our first destination: one of the WWII cemeteries for prisoners of war who died making the Bridge on the River Kwai. Next on the list was the Death War Museum (odd name), which included a portion of the actual wooden Bridge constructed by the prisoners. Just down the road was the completed metal bridge, which I walked across. It was an experience. I then had to visit the Gift Shop on the River Kwai, and finally had to find the Toilet on the River Kwai. Fireball then drove us madly to an isolated train station, literally in the middle of nowhere, where we caught a train for another isolated station. (Ed Note: Fireball had the disconcerting habits of passing on curves, tailgating and playing chicken with oncoming cars when he tried to pass another car. Gave us some moments, but, for all that, he was actually a pretty safe, smooth driver. No worries, Mate!) Anyway, the train was great; all the carriages were made of wood, including the hard-backed seats. Windows were pulled down to admit the hot rushing air. We bounced down the tracks for about an hour, met our minibus at the last station, and broke more speed records to get to our floating restaurant on the River Kwai for lunch of rice and chicken.

Next stop was "one of Thailands best and most beautiful waterfalls." I gave it a C minus. It was okay, nestled in a sylvan setting, but their were kids swimming in the pools and it was bare dirt all around and the waterfall was just fair. No big deal. I guess you have to go with what you've got. But our final stop of the day was the best: the Tiger Temple Sanctuary and Conservation Project. Pictures are available for interested parties of me petting a tiger and holding a tiger's head in my lap. I wasn't as nervous as I looked. The facility also had hordes of wild pigs, bullocks, horses, peacocks and a couple of really cute baby tigers. Cool place. We got back to the hotel around 6:30 and I raced to the shower (I was getting better at racing the humidity by now). Aaaahhh. Had another good dinner near Khaosan road, of lobster bisque and stir-fried shrimp with pepper and garlic. Yummy.

Tuesday I did a couple of more tourist sights: the Jim Thompson house and the Sampeng market. The Thompson house was interesting. Jim Thompson was an American who, after WWII, moved to Thailand and was almost single-handedly responsible for promoting the international Thai silk industry. When he was 61 years old in 1967, we went on a trip into the Malaysian mountains and was never heard from again. But his house is truly beautiful. I picked up a six-place setting of amazing Thai silk dinner napkins for Morgan - ask to see them if you visit her. The Sampeng Chinese market area was also fun, and I found a really nice Chinese jacket and some soft, cool shirts for myself. The rest of the day was spent at the pool. Dinner was once again in Khaosan, as it was easy to get to and the food and ambience were great.

Since I had pretty much done all I wanted to do in Bangkok, I decided to immerse myself fully in the Thailand experience and go to one of the "Thai Baths." This is where you can choose one (or more!) young Thai women who will attend to your every need for a couple of hours: bathing, massages, etc. What the hell, when will I be back this way? And, of course, when in Rome...Needless to say - but I'll say it anyway - it was a fun and relaxing and interesting experience, one I won't forget soon. Just what the doctor ordered for poor, tired old travelers.

Finally, all I wanted to do was relax around the pool for my last day in Bangkok. It was still too damn hot and humid to walk around outside, so I lazed and read and sunned and generally took it easy my final day in town. An early dinner and a stroll around the area near my hotel, and I was finished with Bangkok. Next stop: India.

A few final observations. The general ambience in the tourist areas was grubby, dreadlocked, young men in flip-flops and their sweaty female counterparts. Lots of backpackers. Got caught in the smoky haze near Kanchanaburi (River Kwai Bridge site) due to the Thai farmers' burnoff of their excess vegetation. Everyone was smiling and friendly, some of them probably even honestly so.

Okay, Readers, that's it for Thailand. Hope y'all have been keeping up with my adventures and are continuing to live vicariously through me. It's still a gas. Take care, more to come as the adventures continue to pile up.

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