With Violet as our trusty alarm clock, we were up with the sun for our first morning in Thailand, at about 6:30 am. It doesn’t seem to matter if we’ve just crossed 3 time zones, Violet would always wake up at the same time. Being as we went to bed at 3am, we were all a little slow moving, but the excitement at being in such a strange and wonderful place gave us the energy to get going.
I for one love Thai food, and was excited to see what was on the menu for breakfast. Noodles? Rice? Noodles with rice? The possibilities seemed endless. With our excitement building, we made our way down to the restaurant and took a table beneath the picture of the King and Queen. To our surprise, our choices had been watered down to include such non-Thai items as French Toast, pancakes, cereal, and eggs with bacon. In fact, there was little else on the menu for breakfast options. We might as well have been at a hotel back in Vancouver.
Once again digging into our French Toast and pancakes, we resolved to have a more ‘Thai’ experience for lunch. As we crossed the lobby on our way back to the room, a man approached us offering a tour of the city. This is the sort of thing that the guidebooks warn you about; beware of the taxi driver with a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy some gems, or proclaiming ‘no, the temples are all closed today, but I know of a great place for you to see, only 500 Baht…’ but the man was well dressed, and actually had a desk set up with information about the sights of Bangkok, so he seemed to be on the level, assuming that the whole hotel wasn’t in on the scam.
We set up a meeting time of eleven o’clock, paid the 1800 Baht, and went upstairs to relax and freshen up. 30 Baht roughly equaled one Canadian Dollar, 34 to the US dollar, so the tour worked out to 60 dollars CAD. Seemed fair for a private chauffeur for the day! At this point, we still needed a direction, to either make for a tropical touristy island, or head north to the mountain city of Chiang Mai, and this was a pressing issue on our minds. Seeing what city life in Thailand was like might help us with that decision.
Our driver was very polite, and had a very standard, but fun sounding itinerary planned for us. Our first stop was to see Wat (temple) Phra Kaeo and the old Palace, in the old downtown, followed by lunch, and then a private boat tour of the river and canals. Next was a stop at Wat Pho, (one of the most famous temples in Thailand,) and a final stop at a market to stock up on some lightweight local clothing. They say one of the tricks to warding off jetlag is to keep moving, to trick your body into thinking that you are supposed to be where you are, when you are. This appealed to us, so off we went.
If you have never been to Southeast Asia, then nothing can prepare you for the mayhem and smog you will see on the roads. I have lived in LA, and it has nothing on Bangkok. Most of the vehicles, even the newer ones, seem to spew thick dark smoke. The lines on the road may as well not be there, as everyone drives wherever they can and want, and legions of motorcycles and motor scooters weave in and out of it all. It’s a wonder that anyone makes it anywhere alive, yet somehow they do, much to the amazement of Westerners. It seems hardly surprising that martial arts originated in the Orient, as we witnessed repeated display of ninja-like feats of prowess by everyone driving a vehicle.
We made a game of trying to guess what the billboards were saying, as the Thai script is so alien to us. It is more like Arabic or Sanskrit than Chinese, despite the Thai having originated from Southwestern China. Our driver was a great wealth of actual information, and filled us in on a great many things that are handy to know. “Many prostitutes and lady-boys” he would proclaim. “Woman on the outside, man on the inside.” Invaluable information for a family outing. “Stay away from night market. Not safe. Many robberies.” Feeling well armed with knowledge, we set off for the heart of the city that ‘makes the tough guys tumble’, (but apparently, that only happens at night.) We felt very safe indeed.