©2012 Edward C. Lunnon
Written on Thursday 26 July 2012: 5 years 10 months on … Advantage ED
At 06h00 local time on Tuesday morning 26 June we disembarked and entered the ultra-modern Suvarnabhumi International Airport – straight into passport/ customs control and what would be our sauna for the next two weeks.
We were promptly met by our Royal Orchid Holidays tour representative, taken to our two air-conditioned mini-bus taxis and then left the airport.
As would become the norm throughout the trip, I sat in the front passenger’s seat next to the driver. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
The trip to our hotel in early morning rush-hour traffic took about an hour. Along the freeway into the city (driving on the left), as would also be the norm throughout the trip, there were pictures of the King and Queen of Thailand on elaborate bulkheads over the road, Shrines, Temples, run-down buildings juxtaposed by tall modern high-risers, green lush tropical vegetation, signs in the curvy Thai alphabet (usually also in English), and just more and more roads with more and more traffic!
The 40 year old Indra Regent Hotel was somewhere in the midst of a sprawling, busy Bangkok. At 07h00 we could not check in yet, so we completed the documentation, left the luggage and “hit” the City, hot and tired and in dire need of a shower.
First, we apprehensively ventured into the market in front of the hotel. This was our first taste of Thailand, and we reluctantly took those first bites.
“U wan t-shirtttttt … u wan t-rouserrrrr … u wan T-hai massaaaaaage … u wan t-ailormade soooot … u wan ping-pong ball shooooooowwwww … u wanna buyyyyyyy … wha tju waaaaan t?” would be the ongoing chant of the next two weeks, coming at you from all angles and from all sides wherever you went – a high-pitched cacophony choir of Thai merchants selling themselves and their every ware everywhere!
I think it became a bit much for us and, after a short while, we retreated from the shopping and regrouped at the hotel to plan our next move. (More and more and more and more … and much more shopping would come later as we became more acquainted and more adventurous!)
And so, against all advice we had read in the books, we negotiated a “good” price with the owners of two “tuk-tuks” right in front of the hotel to take us to our list of the “temple, the Buddha and the river.”
I sat with my map in the front, but decided very quickly to close it. There was no way that I could follow where we were going, what direction we were going or where we were headed! I’d rather just savour the ride and look at the City!
Every picture tells a story and all the pics we took will tell far better what we experienced and saw.
But for a long while, we did not see “the Temple, the Buddha or the River.”! We saw the clothing shop, the suit shop, the jewellery shop and any other shop that we later learnt were the obligatory stops on any such “well-priced, negotiated” rides. The bulk of the payment received for such a trip came in the form of petrol coupons from the owners of the establishments to which we, the gullible tourists, were taken!
But we were seeing Bangkok, and loving it!
It was only after some hours that we became emphatic and insisted that we had not yet seen what we had arranged with our drivers to see.
So we were then taken to the river, and to another “mate” of the tuk-tuk drivers who was just another component in the tourist supply chain – the boat owner!
Our ride continued – down the river and along the canals. Squalor interleaved by opulent temples and shrines were the sights of the morning. And in the quietest parts of the dirty canals we were introduced to the next cog in the tourist shopping experience – the floating shops that arrived from “no-where” and tried to sell us their wares – from beer to pot-plants!
The beers were passed into our boat (and would have been welcome given the heat and our jet-lagged thirsts!) but as novices to the bartering and negotiating skills required, we could not agree on a price and all the beers went back onto the “floating shelves”! (Later, some in the group, especially Phillip, became quite adept at negotiating “good” prices for anything and everything that one would possibly want to purchase!)
When we were dropped off to disembark at at a pier on the river, we were even approached by the “pier owner” to pay for those landing rights! It almost ended up in a scuffle when we refused to pay, and suddenly when people started appearing on the decks of all the boats moored there, I had visions of a Bruce Lee kung-fu fight taking place! Luckily not, and we were spared to continue to the Reclining Buddha and seeing one of the many temples and palaces.
Our weariness soon got to us and after two pm sometime we hailed a taxi (two) to take us back to the hotel to check in. We bargained a price (as one does for everything) and the children left in the first taxi and the adults in the second. I must say I felt a little bit anxious as I saw our kids drive off into bustling Bangkok!
What were a mere few kilometres on the map took forever, and at one stage we didn’t move for almost forty minutes. We just took in and savoured the traffic jam, the lanes of brightly coloured Japanese cars, trucks, taxis, bakkies, buses, tuk-tuks and scooters; the buildings; the parks; the shops and the seething mass of humanity that make up this smelting pot of human existence.
At last, in our room 1419 on the 14th floor, we had a shower, had a brief power-nap, and then ventured into the hotel shopping precinct, the Indra Shopping Arcade offering heaps of ready-to-wear garments and souvenirs, had our first Thai lunch, shopped and slept a brief while more.
Later that evening, we headed safely down a darkish street to find a suitable Thai eating place (always very tasty and very inexpensive), Singhas (many), red wine (from SA) and our many “cheers” on the survival of our first day in Thailand!
On our way back to the hotel, the traffic continued into the night … and the shopping continued in the night markets which had seamlessly sprung up and replaced the day markets when darkness descended upon the City.
At that stage, my humour left me and my surly side stepped in. No more for me … I returned to the hotel (bumped into and chatted to the Gotz’s from PLett in the lobby) and then crashed into my personal queen-sized hotel-bed. No wonder! It was Tuesday night and since waking up in Pretoria on Monday morning, I had been on the go for 45 hours (ironically, the number of ordinary hours allowed by law in South Africa for a whole week’s work)!
Thailand was called Siam in the past. The letter S seems to prefix many words that I could write much about. Suffice to say:
At an average temperature of 30 degrees and a humidity of 80%, we had sat, sauntered and swum on Day 1 in the steambath which is the society of Bangkok.
We had seen, smelt, sweated and savoured just some of the sights, sounds, splendour, sky, streets, signs, scooters, sidewalks, suburbs, swamps, skyscrapers, sunshades, supermarkets, shops, sanctuaries, sacredness, spirituality, security, salesmanship, service, salutations, speech, sincerity, spirit, sandals, shoes, shorts, suits, skirts, sarongs, satins, silks, sapphires, scenery, scents, smells, shelters, shrubs, suppers, soups, stir-fry, shrimps, sauces, Singhas, schools, scholars and souvenirs.
The shows would continue!