Arrival in Bangkok

by David on October 29, 2009

bangkok-amarin-rooftop

The view from my guesthouse's rooftop

Well I’m here. Asia. I’m sitting in my AC-cooled, pistachio-green guesthouse room, taking advantage of their free wi-fi. This little room is my safehouse in the midst of the bustling, insane city of Bangkok. Outside it is probably blazing. It’s 11am now, when I went out at 7am it was already stiflingly hot.

Soon I will head out to find some laundry service and have my first street food experiment.

The Longest Day

“Yesterday,” which was actually two whole days, was a real marathon. I woke, at 9am, had my head shaved by a gruff-voiced barber with nautical memorabilia all over his walls, and took one last walk around Victoria. My last taste of Canadiana for a while.

I left my friend’s Victoria apartment in the early afternoon to catch the bus to the ferry terminal. I arrived at Vancouver airport about 9pm, and spent the next six hours waiting for my 3am flight. I wrote a Raptitude post, called home, wandered, read a little and soon enough it was time to fly.

I will say now, and probably again, that Cathay Pacific is a wonderful airline. Even my coach-class seats were comfortable for all fourteen hours (!) of the flight. Boredom was a non-issue. In each seat-back there is a television screen, and your choice of 100 movies, 800 TV-show episodes, hundreds of music albums and sixty video games.

The Chinese-Canadian flight attendants were friendly and efficient, and the food was very good. They even gave us socks and toothbrushes. 

Sleeping was difficult, I found the most comfortable position for me was to bunch a blanket around my left fist, balance a pillow on top of it, and rest my elbow on the armrest and my head on the pillow. I’m not sure I slept much, but I was a little refreshed after three hours or so of in-and-out sleep in that position. After that I was still extremely tired, but I read my Thailand guidebook, watched 30 Rock and listened to Bob Marley until we landed.

We touched down in Hong Kong just after sun-up. The sky was white, but you could make out the hills surrounding the city through the haze. It was too smoggy to see much of the city from the tarmac, but I did see dozens of those identical, cigarette-thin highrise apartments in the distance.

While Vancouver airport is gigantic, Hong Kong airport is like the inside of the Death Star. I had about an hour to make it to my connection, and I needed almost all of those minutes to get there. By the time I spotted gate 47 in the distance, I had taken dozens of escalators, several Jetsons-style conveyor belts, and a train.

The three-hour hop to Bangkok flashed by in what seemed like minutes, but by the time it was over I had gone 26 hours without more than a few minutes sleep at a time. It was 30-plus degrees (all temperatures will be in Celsius on DGK, sorry my American friends :) and quite humid. My cab driver dropped me off on the famous backpacker mecca Khao San Road.

The street is eternally bustling with vendors and backpackers, and I walked its entire length carrying my backpack, which signals to pushy vendors and tuk-tuk drivers that you just got off the plane. It was a bit of a gauntlet in that sense, but it wasn’t as bad as some experiences I’ve had in Mexico. But I was roasting and starting to get lightheaded from lack of sleep.

Finding the Inn

Nobody I spoke to had heard of my guesthouse, and the directions on the website weren’t quite adequate. It didn’t help that I had Khao San Road turned around in my head, thinking that my guesthouse was near the opposite end, when it was actually very close to where I was dropped off.

With bum directions and no contacts here, I was starting to lose my patience a bit. I was pouring sweat and exhausted, and not sure what I could do but scour the alleys and streets surrounding the west end of Khao San Road. Just as I recognized how needle-in-haystack this would be a Thai shop owner seemed to see my desperation and trotted out to talk me.

He opened with the same “Hey where are you headed?” that all the aggressive Khao San vendors use, so at first I answered vaguely and tried to tell him that I didn’t need any “help.”

He kept telling me to go to the tourist office down the street, and eventually I realized he was just being genuinely helpful and wanted me to find my guesthouse. He walked with me for a bit, and talked to me in his broken English. He kept saying “Go to tourist center. Government to help you. You can be safe. Not Khao San. They expensive… they don’t help. Government to help you.”

We got to the tourist office. We exchanged a handshake and a bow, and he bid me goodbye as two tourism agents greeted me with clear English and ushered me into the air-conditioned office. The clerk was eager to help and they eventually got me on my way. It turns out my guesthouse was on that same street, and I had already walked past it, only you have to walk down a six-foot-wide alley to get there.

The Safehouse

With great relief I walked up the steps to the front desk. I looked at my watch: 1:33pm, three minutes after I said I’d be there. I felt like I was three hours late.

The kind woman at the desk seemed not to have my reservation at all, but she said there is a room available for two nights, and I took it. It’s tiny, the bed is hard, but it’s clean enough and comfortable. The air conditioner, which has turned out to be a godsend, is modern, remote controlled, and virtually silent. The room has working wi-fi, and the shower even has hot water.

There is a television, suspended in a metal frame right in front of the bathroom door at about temple-height. I have not yet hit my head on it but I know it’s coming.

Almost as soon as I arrived I collapsed on the bed slept for about ten hours. I woke up at midnight, watched a bit of TV, which is mostly English with Thai subtitles, and took a little walk outside.

This little guesthouse is my respite from the heat and chaos of outside. Bangkok is, as one might say, not quite my speed. It moves far faster than my mind can adjust, set permanently on “ramming speed,” as opposed to Hollyhock’s permanent “drifting speed.”Still, it is quite an experience to be here.

Being alone, taller than everyone, and unable to speak a work of Thai, it’s fairly intimidating to head out into the city, though my short jaunts to the surrounding block are getting more comfortable. I’m about to wander to Khao San to find some food, and I know I will sweat through whatever clothes I am wearing. But in my little pistachio room, I have my AC, TV, and Wi-Fi, and I couldn’t be happier. So good to have a safe and cool place to return to.

Today’s only missions are to launder my clothes, and buy a ticket to Chiang Mai for tomorrow night’s overnight train. I’ll go back to the tourist office to get some help with that.

American Breakfast

I have only had one real meal since I got here, and it was an interesting experience. I woke up at 6am, famished, and headed out into the waking city to find some food. The only place that was open was a restaurant called “Korean Food” and on a chalk sign outside, it was advertised:

AMERICAN BREAKFAST

Two eggs, ham, sausage, coffee and toast. 99 baht.

I just needed some sustenance, so I went in. I was the only customer.

The menu contained only scary-sounding Korean food (I didn’t feel like squid for breakfast), and when the waiter pointed to the chalk sign, I nodded. After a few minutes he brought me coffee and orange juice, and the “American Breakfast.” On the plate sat two small slices of slightly toasted sandwich bread, a thin slice of processed sandwich ham, a pale hot dog wiener, two rather undercooked fried eggs and three cucumber slices. Just like America.

I wolfed it down, careful to avoid the least-cooked parts of the egg, paid my 99 baht (three bucks) and left. So far I am not sick.

I’m about to head out to find some lunch, hopefully something a little more Thai.

***

I will spend some time this afternoon processing and downloading pictures, so many people are asking for them. Sorry, it has been an extremely busy week. Just wanted to update you all first.

{ 13 comments }

Eric October 30, 2009 at 6:57 am

I can only begin to imagine how scary it must be to travel to an unfamiliar land, especially when you don’t speak the language. I envy your adventurous spirit! This thought just came to me… Have you ever checked out http://www.couchsurfing.org? I signed up to check it out a while back, but have yet to couch surf. It’s basically a database of folks who volunteer a couch or room to stay in while you are traveling. Even if you don’t stay with one of them, many people use it as way to contact some English speaking locals. I’ve read about many good experiences from folks that have tried it.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 30, 2009 at 2:51 pm

globalfreeloaders.com is another~ I’ve hosted all sorts of travelers here in Oz

David Cain October 30, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Yes, I am a member of CouchSurfing. I’ve hosted a few people, but have yet to surf. In two days I am going up to Chiang Mai and there is a group of couchsurfers that will meet next Saturday.

Tyler October 30, 2009 at 11:48 am

Really enjoyed 88 Important Truths I’ve Learned About Life. Just came across your blog. I’m traveling myself: http://www.actioninrelaxation.com and am currently a few hundred miles south in Ao Nang Beach, near Krabi or Phuket, Thailand. I’ll be in BKK the afternoon of the 2nd because I’m flying through to China. It would be really great to hear your story or plans as I have some great connections for you in Thailand, and New Zealand.
Cheers.
Tyler.

David Cain October 30, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Hi Tyler. I will be hopping on the train to Chiang Mai tomorrow so I will not be in Bangkok on Nov 2, but I would love if you could share and cool spots or suggestions about Thailand or New Zealand.

The best way to contact me is through my gmail addy: davidcain7 AT gmail DOT com

Lisis October 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Ha! Sounds AWESOME so far (and I have to second your opinion that Cathay Pacific RULES).

After your experience on Khao San Road, I think you have a pretty fair idea of what it’s like to be a woman walking past any construction site, or making it through the dating scene… it’s always a bit of a gauntlet. And then, finding that ONE guy who wasn’t trying to take advantage of you… it’s magical, isn’t it? 😉

I love this line: “But in my little pistachio room, I have my AC, TV, and Wi-Fi, and I couldn’t be happier.”

This is gonna be fun (for me)… I can tell already! I’d better get popcorn ready for your next installment! :)

David Cain October 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm

But my wi-fi stopped working! So I’m in an internet cafe down the block, and I don’t have access to my files. I’ll have to find a way to write and edit a post before I head up country.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 30, 2009 at 2:49 pm

If you don’t find the laundry I can vouch for the shampoo-in-the-shower method~ and your balcony looks breezy ~:-)

David Cain October 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm

That’s what I’ve been doing, washing clothes in the sink. It’s kind of fun.

Nadia - Happy Lotus November 2, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Hi David,

Looking at the picture brings back fond memories. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

Glad to see that you got there okay and now the adventure begins! Yay!

By the way, when I headed over to that part of the world, so many people warned me about food and getting sick since my stomach is really sensitive. For the record, I never had any problems with food and I ate in places that were way below health standards in the West. So be cautious but don’t worry about it too much.

Looking forward to reading about what happens next.

Have fun exploring! :)

John November 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Oh yeah! Very interesting adventure, David. I knew that there would be hardship down the line, but it was worth it, no?

Can’t wait to see the pictures and the next post!

Erin November 2, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Sounds like the longest day. Glad you have landed on this phase of your journey. A little rest will be in order. Remember to give yourself permission to have a day to do nothing along the way.. Let the journey unfold.

Sherri (Serene Journey) November 4, 2009 at 7:24 am

So glad to hear you’re doing well and making the most out of it. Loved your breakfast experience just like America. LOL

I love Lisis’ comment as well oh so true 😉

Have fun and I can’t wait to see piccies!

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