Friday, April 29, 2011

From Hua Hin to Bangkok

The old train station in Hua Hin, restored.

We spent a morning at the beach in Hua Hin, making an effort not to get too sunburned.  After a shower, we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  The train back to Bangkok was scheduled to leave at 2:10 pm, so we decided to stop at a bookstore, get some lunch, and then meander slowly to the train station.  We did just that.  Once at the train station, we discovered the train was delayed, and was not expected to depart until 3:30 pm.  So we bought our tickets, found a small cafe and ordered cold drinks.  Waiting.  Drank our cold drinks.  Waiting.  Decided that the cafe was hotter than the outside air and walked back to the train station.  We found a spot in the shade where every now and then a breeze would cool us off.  I settled into some quality people-watching.  Sometimes, I get so absorbed with watching that I forget to take photos.  So I missed a photograph of an old monk lighting a cigarette.  The younger monk with him smiled a sweet smile at me, and I found myself wishing I could paint his portrait.  Women are not supposed to sit near monks, nor are we to touch them or their belongings.  I don't know why.  We also got to watch a photo shoot with two young Thais, a young woman and a young man.  They were wearing bright yellow t-shirts that said "I'm so happy."  I did everything I could not to be in any of the photographs.  There was even MORE waiting.  3:30 pm came and went.  The train ended up being about 1 hour and 50 minutes late. 
Waiting on the pink train.
Non, tippy seats on the sunny side of the train.

At long last we were underway again.  This time, we were wise enough to look out for tippy seats like the one I sat on for the journey out.  We also made a concerted effort to sit on the shaded side of the train.  Everything played out like a reverse of the day before: uniformed ticket puncher.  (click, click)  Drink and food vendors.  Landscape and scenery whipping past.  Stops at small train stations.  Etc.  Here are some of the things I saw:
A huge patch of lotus flowers.

You would think with all this green, the cows would be fat.  ???  I have yet to see a fat cow in Thailand.

Green and more green.

Cars waiting for the train.  I felt compelled to wave at all of them.
The young food vendor we bought spicy noodles from.  He did not get on the train.

There were a few things we passed too quickly for me to photograph.  One was monkeys that M pointed out to me.  I didn't see them until the last minute, and then I had the wrong lens on my camera.  I am also quite certain I saw a couple of alligators, swimming in water.  There is some debate about what it really was.  I had my eyes peeled for more, and I am pretty sure I saw another on the return trip.  It was dark by the time we reached Bangkok, and the glittering wats (temples) were beautiful in the dark night.  The return trip didn't only leave late, but it also took nearly one hour longer than the journey out.  It was fun, but we arrived exhausted, and of course sweaty and dirty.  We are back in the bustling, steaming Bangkok.  I will be here for a few more days, and then I have the long airplane ride to look forward to.  Hang in there, Pono - I am coming home soon!!!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

To Hua Hin on the train

Bang Sue Station in Bangkok
 We took a train to Hua Hin, where we stayed for one night before coming back to Bangkok.  I love trains!  Riding trains in Thailand is a great way to see a lot of the country, but you will only enjoy it if you are blessed with infinite patience.  If you are in a hurry, don't do it.  The train leaving Bang Sue Station in Bangkok was late.  M informed me this was the norm.  We did not take the more expensive, air-conditioned train to Hua Hin.  No, my friends, this train was a windows-open, no air conditioning kind of train.  The part that will really amaze you is that we paid more to take the subway from M's condo to the train station than we paid for a ticket to Hua Hin.  Hua Hin is a city on the coast, approximately 200 km from Bangkok.  If you want air-conditioning, it is more expensive and also a little bit faster.  According to M, the train we took provided the best adventure.   He was right.
There's a lot of waiting.
 This is how the day went:  get up fairly early and hoof it over to the subway.  Ride the subway to Bang Sue Station.  Walk over to the train station and buy tickets.  Wait.  Wait a little more.  Decide to use the bathroom, as a precautionary measure.  The train arrives.  I think it was only a half hour late.  Not bad.  Climb the metal steps.  Find seats.  Sit down.  The train slowly begins.  After a while, a uniformed gentleman comes to punch a hole in your ticket.  You know he is coming because he clicks his hole puncher all the way down the aisle of the train.  "Click"  "Click click click"  "Click click" 
The ticket puncher guys.
You then discover that the vinyl seat you are sweating on is broken, and tilts down toward the floor.  M offers to trade, but you don't want to sit backwards, so you learn not to wiggle too much.  Once the train is moving, the air coming in the windows actually feels slightly cool.  There is so much to see!  I find the rhythm of trains to be infinitely soothing.  If I weren't so busy LOOKING at everything, I would look just like this man:
While chugging through Bangkok, the train stops ALL THE TIME, and it feels like we will never get anywhere.  However, once we are outside the city, the train really does pick up speed, and I am encouraged.  A chubby little boy across the aisle from me eats sticky rice out of a plastic bag.  We mutually stare.  His mother is busy with the long-legged baby, and I can tell he is missing the undivided attention that was once his.  Food vendors walk up the aisles saying things loudly in Thai that I don't understand.  Some of the food I can figure out, but some of it is a complete mystery.  M has been on the train before and tells me what he has tried.  We buy a sweating soda from the drink vendor who carries a bucket of drinks and a handful of straws.  I practice taking photographs out of the window of a speeding train. 
The further we travel from the city, the nicer the little train depots become.  People get on and off, including new food vendors with new and exciting food.  We eat really spicy noodles and a big piece of satay chicken.  We pay more for the chicken than we paid for our train ticket.  There is a tiny old lady who collects trash, and M says she is the same one he saw the last time he rode this train.  She stays on the train for the entire ride.  Some of the food and drink vendors also remain for the entire trip, although there are vendors who get on while we are stopped and quickly get off before the train starts up again.  Between each station we have the clicking of the ticket puncher.  A note of caution:  even though there are announcements before each stop, they are all in Thai.  So if you are a foreigner, it is really important that you pay attention to the signs in front of the depot.  You don't want to get off on the wrong stop.

The uniformed conductor at one small depot. 
Our spicy noodles, wrapped carefully.
Train lunch.  I was too hungry to take a photo of the chicken.
 It was a long, hot four hours before we reached the beach town of Hua Hin.  We arrived, dirty and sweaty.  Immediately after checking in to our hotel, we donned bathing suits and walked to the beach.  We couldn't wait to get into the water (Gulf of Thailand).  I never knew ocean water could feel so warm.  Hot, one might even say.  It still felt great.  I am sorry to tell you I didn't take one single photograph of the beach or the sea.  It wasn't such an impressive beach, being quite close to Bangkok and rather touristy.   I still have plenty of photos of the journey home the next day.  You will have to wait for the second half of the journey.  I'm all worn out now!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hong Kong

We spent a day in Hong Kong.  What a fun city.  It was significantly cooler in Hong Kong than it has been in Bangkok.  M loved the cool temperatures.  I would have loved it if I had worn my sweater.  Fortunately, the day did become warm enough for me to enjoy it, sans sweater.  We spent quite a bit of time riding the subway, but we also got to ride the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor. 
A shot of Kowloon, taken from the Star Ferry.

Blurry Ferry in front of Hong Kong.  (I was on a moving Ferry, that's my excuse.)
Anything involving water is usually high on my list of fun.  Hong Kong has been reclaiming land on both sides of Victoria Harbor since the 1890's.  This practice has developed some opposition, especially by environmental groups in recent years.  If you are interested in reading more about the opposition, wikipedia has a good article about the opposing group, the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, here.  The ferry ride seems shorter than it was when we were here in past years.  Or maybe I was just taking too many photos.
Land being reclaimed (interesting word, isn't it?)

People getting off the ferry.
Any time I am surrounded by tall buildings, I spend a lot of time looking up.  I don't know why, but I love the way it feels.
There's more red in Hong Kong than in Bangkok.

I can't seem to get the formatting right with blogger AGAIN.  I must be doing something wrong.  My frustration is causing me to want to discontinue writing.  I just discovered my old blog posts from my visit in 2007.  If you want to read some of my posts from the last time I was in Hong Kong, you can find one of them here.  And another one here. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fun signs and flowers

 I fear that in my last post I didn't paint Bangkok in a very good light.  This is not a bad place!  It's just different.  There are plenty of things here that the desert doesn't have.  For one thing, food here is REALLY inexpensive.  M and I can eat in a sit down restaurant for under $3.00 total.  I am not talking about a burger and fries here.  A spicy plate of pad thai for M and a plate of stir fried noodles with chicken or shrimp for me, with drinks.  Spicy, yummy, and not something you could find in Joshua Tree.  Made to order, no less.  It's Good Eating, and the best part is that it involves no cooking or dishes on my part.  Those of you who know me well will understand how much I enjoy this. 

The humidity here is really nice for my skin and hair.  I rarely put lotion on here, and I think my skin looks at least 5 or 10 years younger with the moist air.  It has also rained several times since I have been here, and as a desert dweller, I have enjoyed the rain.  Then, there are the flowers.
This was my first time seeing the lotus flower in person.  These pink ladies were next to an Isuzu car dealership.

One thing about the Thai people that is refreshing is that they rarely raise their voices.  They speak softly and smile a lot.  If I make an effort to use one of the five words I know in Thai, their faces light up.  I read in a guide book that licking (as in eating food or licking your fingers) in public is taboo.  So now when I see I Thai person with an ice cream cone, I watch carefully.  So far, I have yet to see licking of any kind.  (I have also learned how to eat an ice cream cone without licking.)   You are also not to lick the stamps.  An image of the King is on the stamps, and it is disrespectful to lick the King's image.  To the Thai people, only animals lick things.
A restaurant downstairs from M's condo.

The same restaurant downstairs in M's condo.  We can't figure out if it's called "I'm Yummy" or "I'm Fine." 
 In the elevator during Songkran, these signs were reminding people to shut windows, turn off air conditioning, and unplug appliances.  Most of the time, the translations are accurate, but this one got lost in translation.

"please also close your doors and windows to prevent reins from leeking..."
We went to Hong Kong for a day and a couple of nights, so I will be sharing some images from Hong Kong next.   As ever, thank you for reading and for your comments!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The City

Differences between life in Joshua Tree and life in Bangkok:
1.  M's condo is on the 30th floor.  It's the top floor of the building, so we spend quite a lot of time on elevators. We also spend a good deal of time on escalators when riding public transportation.  Don't have either of those in Joshua Tree.
2.  My workouts have changed from running sandy, rocky desert trails with my dog to running on a treadmill in a small, steamy gym.  No air conditioning.  This was my first time EVER on a treadmill, that's how completely un-urban I am.  I spend most of the workout worrying that I am going to fall off the end of the machine.
3.  Bangkok has few parks for such a large city.  I have gone from bumpy dirt roads and lots of open space (Joshua Tree National Park is a 5 minute drive from our house) to concrete, subways, taxis and almost no open space.
4.  The view out of our window in the desert consists of creosote, cacti, desert creatures and mountains in the distance.  The view out of the window here is like this:
This was taken last week, during the holiday (Songkran)  Notice the lack of traffic.

There is one little patch of green with water directly out the window, which M has told me is inaccessible.  I stare at it longingly.
 5.  In Joshua Tree, all the faces at the post office and grocery store are familiar, and I know many of the names of the people who help me.  Here, all the faces are unfamiliar, and not only do I not know the names of the people, but it's unlikely that I could pronounce them, even if I did.  
6.  It took a 10-minute walk to the subway, a short subway ride, and a 15 minute walk to get to the post office today in Bangkok.   It only takes about 5 minutes in the car to get to the post office in Joshua Tree.
7.  There is a 7-11 right downstairs here.  Joshua Tree doesn't have a 7-11.  (although many of the things they sell in the 7-11 here are unrecognizable to me.  (oh, and you can get a bacon-wrapped hot dog at the 7-11 here.  Haven't tried it yet, but I have wondered about it...)
8.  In the desert, the sky is nearly always blue and clear, and at night you can see tons of stars.  Here in Bangkok, the sky is nearly always a hazy white from the humidity, and I have yet to see a star.  (Although part of that could be blamed on jet-lag, I suppose.)
9.  Going outside in Bangkok is an assault on the senses:  Noise (traffic, horns, whistles, people), Smells (exhaust, trash, the occasional sewer gas waft, smoke and food), and sights (cars, signs, buses, buildings, faces, telephone posts, shrines, stray dogs, overpasses, etc.)  It tires me.  I don't know if the desert has less impact on my senses, or if I am just used to the sights, smells and sounds.   I believe there is less of it all in the desert.
10.  This isn't a city vs. rural thing as much as a foreign country thing, but I am eating a LOT MORE RICE.  Oh, and food spiced with red peppers and basil.  Food that makes my mouth burn for about 10 minutes after the meal is finished.  (it's delicious.)

For some reason, blogger is being very disagreeable with formatting today, and I have decided to call it quits now.  I am sure more differences will occur to me as my time here lengthens.  For now, SAWA-DEE KA!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Revelry Continues

Songkran in Bangkok, Day 2. 

Having gotten our feet (and everything else) wet the first day of Songkran, yesterday we decided to go where the real action was.  We took the subway down to Silom, a district in downtown Bangkok.  We made sure to wear clothes that could survive the water and talc, and we made sure all of our valuables were safely ensconced in a dry bag.

We started out on an overhead walkway, staying dry and getting the birds eye view. 

A table of talc - only 10 baht.

As you can see, you could get talc anywhere.
Weapons of Mass Soakation.
There is a point at which we asked ourselves, are we going to stand here on the sidelines and watch, or are we going to take the plunge.  We took the plunge.
It's hard to see where the water is coming from in the video, so I will explain that there were firemen with hoses, spraying the crowds.  We stayed on the far side of the street.  It's not like we needed help getting wet.
Here I am after we walked the street, soaked to the bone.  Notice the talc on the escalator.
Nothing was spared from water and talc, with the notable exception of the food vendors.  Somehow, the food seemed to be spared.  I consider that almost miraculous.
I think this wall was outside of a bank.
Even though the street was cordoned off, there were a few cars that slowly made their way through the crowds.  I don't know who was in them (wimps!).  Dignitaries?  But you can see that the cars were prime targets for talc and water. 

It was an atypical pleasant and non-humid day yesterday, so the buckets of ice water (and yes, ice) that were thrown were quite chilling.  We forgot to take photos of it, but the entrance to the subway was blocked by a gate, and women standing next to buckets of water. Everyone was handed a wet towel.  You had to pass inspection before entering. 

A big thanks to M for not only letting me use his camera, but also for providing many of the photos and videos on this post today.   I may get brave today and take the big camera down to the heart of the city.  But maybe not.