slice-of-thai.com Journal 2/15/99: Bangkok and Ayuthaya

This is an entry from my travel journals about Thailand and Laos.

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2/15/99

[Before arriving at Bangkok I took about 10 adult Sunday school Thai language classes at Wat Buddhanusorn in Fremont, CA. This first journal entry is a letter to Kun Nui, my afternoon Thai teacher.]

Kun Nui,

Your lessons have been very useful. I needed a dive watch and I bargained and shopped it down from 6400 B to 3000 B ($81). You'd be proud of me. Also I found that dictionary you had, and I also found another nice small dictionary (at DK bookstore) with ping (cheating!).

So far it has been difficult to use Thai because everyone switches to English immediately, but I'm sure that will change as soon as I get out of Bangkok. I got interviewed by some school children doing a project at the Grand Palace and they were pretty excited by anything I said in Thai or English! I did manage to order some things and occasionally (but not usually) I can understand the answer when I ask for directions. Ah, well, that will improve. Also, so far I have not heard a single person say 'yindii tii dai ruu-jak', and I have seen only two sets of people 'wai' one another [, "glad to meet you," and a respectful prayer-like gesture, two customs which Kun Nui told me were critical]. These city slickers are just so uncivilized :)

The grand palace was very cool...actually everything is very cool at this point, have seen many things unbelievable to an American farang.

I think it is shameful what has happened to Wat Po—amidst the beautiful structures and Buddha images, they have created a gigantic capitalist tourist trap. All the maps and signs have Pepsi logos on them, there is a huge waterfall built in the middle of the compound which was bought entirely by the Coca-Cola company, the tour guides include various promotions ("Thai" silk, etc.) in their tour, and they have introduced so many "opportunities" to donate to the temple all along the tour (physically in the way!) that it seems to step beyond the bounds of dignity—they should call it 'Wat Disney'. However, the Grand Palace tours etc. are very cool and dignified.

I've been figuring out the bus system; most people here are amazingly nice. One guy saw that we had no clue. He took us on the right bus, paid for us (despite our attempts to refuse in Thai!) and rode with us all the way. I do not think he was going to take our bus at all.

Taxis and tuk tuks are certainly easier to locate but so far I have found taking the bus very rewarding in terms of seeing interesting places and how the Thais interact. It's been more fun trying to figure out the bus than to fend off the various taxi/tuk tuk scams (have only had 2 offers for "promotion" stops so far).

Stayed at the "First Hotel" for a night then went to some nice 450 B (air con hot shower!) guesthouses in sIam Square (I recommend A-1 Inn guesthouse on Soi Kasem San 1, mostly because of the incredibly helpful host. Make sure you go to the A-1 Inn Guesthouse and not the A-1 hotel, where the taxi driver is more likely to take you).

I'm typing to you from the Khao San road area; what a trip this place is!

Khao San Road (on a very quiet day): If image does not load automatically, click link below.
Khao San Road (on a very quiet day)
Click here if image does not load automatically.

There's only about 30 internet cafes within 400 feet of me. It's a traveler ghetto, or maybe bayou. Some people call it "hippie heaven" but I think it's really just traveler heaven. It has all the cheapest hostels and travel agents. It puts anything I saw in Fiji or New Zealand to shame in terms of density of traveling shops and folks, though it certianly is .. rustic!

Speaking of which, Patpong [Bangok's red light district, and also a night market] puts New Orleans to shame. It's so weird to see people selling clothes, food, trinkets, etc. at 2am in random order and randomly scattered around bars, go go bars and brothels. The latest girl-bar gimmick has to do with ping pong balls and bananas and I'll just not elaborate.

Haven't eaten a fried grasshopper yet but they sell them right outside my guesthouse (as well as lots of other yummy stuff).

2/26/99

I spent until around the 21st in Bangkok and have been traveling around the northeast since then. Most towns have had little or no outside link. I have found a town with an internet cafe but no international phone service!

In Bangkok, I visited more touristy things like Jim Thompson's house, Wat Arun, the national museum, and others. When I was at Wat Arun (which is still under heavy restoration), I met some monks who apparently wanted to practice their English. They were thrilled that I could say anything in Thai and we blabbed on in both languages for some time. Eventually, I left with some of them and we went to their wat by taking two ferries across the Chao Praya river. Their wat was a big primarily Chinese-Thai wat with a huge Buddha. It was the second day of Chinese new year and the place was stuffed with Thais making various kinds of offerings. I was the only farang. In the temple, they had a huge tum (low drum) which they each hit three times. They also had various cymbals and things to play. There were large yellow sashes which they wrote their name on and which the temple folks then draped over the main Buddha image. There were little bronze metal strips which they wrote their name on and put in a pot, which was (supposedly) then going to be melted and used to make Buddha images. The environment inside the temple was quite surreal, especially with the incense and how the tum and other noises resonated around the temple.

I asked a monk about the sponsorship at Wat Po (see last entry). He was convinced that the donations were done by the Thai subsidiaries of Coca Cola and Pepsi for legitimate merit reasons. He of course also realized that both companies get big advertising out of it, but didn't seem to think these things were in conflict. In fact, he was much less worried about capitalist encroachment in general for Thailand and more worried about the IMF seizing control of the country. He was concerned about superficiality and violence from western TV, movies, etc. and said that kids were paying much less attention to Buddhism than he did (he was around 30 I think). I went with another monk to his wat in Chinatown and we talked more about this stuff. All in all a very satisfying day off the tourist track.

Oddly enough, the abbot of Wat Buddanusorn in Fremont, CA, where I had studied some Thai before coming to Thailand, was a monk at the northeast Thailand temple of one of these monks I met at Wat Arun!

During Chinese new year I was sort of expecting dragons and firecrackers but didn't see any. Instead, there were huge, crowded processions with singing and (of course) markets. Somebody said they have big dragon/firecracker type parades in Pattaya because that is what the tourists expect!

I had lunch and dinner with Leonard Cohen (thanks Spencer! no, not that Leonard Cohen), with whom I went to college. He's been in Bangkok for a year and it was interesting getting his perspective. I went to see a little Thai kickboxing (had to leave early for dinner). Definitely something I'd want to go back and see for real (the good matches are towards the end). Thai boxing is like a karate match with a mob of mad gamblers in the audience and cool Thai music to speed up the pace throughout each round!

I went to check out this 6-floor computer hardware and software market. Hardware was about the same price but 99.9% of the software there was blatantly pirated. They had CDs with 10-50 commercial programs on them (Windows, Photoshop, ...) for 10 baht (25 cents). You pick a titile off the shelf and they go to the back and copy it for you! They also have lots of unreleased beta versions of Windows 2000 and other packages, as well as some software packages that do not exist! Someone guessed maybe half the CDs actually work.

I went to a 1-hour tryout Thai language course at the Bangkok AUA (American University Alumni, an organization that offers Thai, English, and other courses to all). They have this weird philosophy which is that you go there and they speak Thai to you. They never speak English, you never speak at all, you are not allowed to have dictionaries or take any notes. They estimate that after about 200 hours (at 80 baht/hour, $2.50/hr) you are ready to start trying to speak, and after 200 more hours you can sort of speak and understand Thai. The lecturers are like standup comedians and they make the class very enjoyable, but I'm not sure I buy the teaching method. There is another AUA in Chiang Mai which teaches Thai using more traditional methods.

On the 20th I went to see Ayuthaya, one of two ancient cities with ruins from past Thai capitals. The ruins were really amazing, but it was more amazing that they just let everyone climb all over these 440 year old structures.

Ayuthaya: If image does not load automatically, click link below.
Ayuthaya
Click here if image does not load automatically.

Buddhas in Ayuthaya: If image does not load automatically, click link below.
Buddhas in Ayuthaya
Click here if image does not load automatically.

One of the structures, probably 120 feet high, was a huge chedi containing the ashes of a brother of the king. At some point, some people burrowed into it and stole the treasure. They left the burrow open, and you can go into the center of the huge tower and see the tiny chamber where the ashes and treasures were. On the wall are some intact 440 year old paintings—really neat. I took a longtail boat around the canal that surrounds Ayuthaya, which was nice. I highly recommend renting a bike as soon as you get to Ayuthaya (on the train station side of the canal). Tuk tuk drivers are like mosquitos here, even worse than Bangkok. Oh, and don't stay at the U Thong hotel—it's a dump.

I lost my Lonely Planet so had to back to Bangkok. I stayed at a guesthouse in the middle of the Khao San travel ghetto which was straight out of Snow Crash, right down to the sliding door (but clean).

General Bangkok/Thailand observations:

Support
This Site
More than 1000 hours of work have gone into making this site. Please support my work and ongoing site improvements in one of these ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.

get the best thai-english phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get the best thai-english dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app for iOS, Android, Windows.
get a cool thai-english paper dictionary
Don't leave home without the Thai-English English-Thai Compact Dictionary I co-authored.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guidebook to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get the best chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.
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