I’ve been in Thailand for a week now after flying direct from Chengdu to Bangkok on a flight that arrived at 3:30am at the new airport in the Thai capitol. Although I hadn’t ever arrived in that airport before (it opened several months ago, and now all Bangkok flights are routed to the new location), after having arrived in Bangkok so many times before it felt much more routine and ordinary to arrive in Bangkok than I had remembered it.
On the Air China flight I was seated next to two Chinese women who were going to Thailand on vacation – one who had been before, and one who hadn’t ever been outside of China. Neither of them spoke any english, so we chatted on the flight about where they from and where they’re going in Thailand in between informal English lessons for the girl sitting nearest to me. When we arrived I took them through the airport to the passport check where Thai immigration issues 30-day visa stamps and the girl that I was sitting next to told me that she was scared as she was waiting in line to get her passport stamped. I didn’t know why, but sure enough, when she made it to the front of the line, she was pulled aside and taken to a desk where she was interrogated and photographed by a Thai immigration officer. I didn’t know what this was about, but one of the police officers there told me that it was because she was from Fujian province where apparently many Chinese come to Thailand from. Very odd – I helped her to translate for 20 minutes before setting off alone after I knew she wouldn’t have to do anything else but wait.
And so, on the bus at 4am, headed for Banglamphu. Both Chinatown and Khao San road are in this western segment of Bangkok, both of which I thought should be easy places to find simple accomodations. I thought I was being clever at the time by going straight to Chinatown, trying to find some Chinese speakers, and ask for nearby accomodations, but I didn’t see anything but Thai on the street. With few remaining options (short of spending $100 on a hotel room) I went to go to Khao San road, walking the dark streets and dodging transvestite hookers and late night street food salesman. The first few places tried to trick me into paying an outrageous amount of money for rooms barely bigger than a twin bed, so it took an hour to find something agreeable.
I slept very well, of course not jet lag because I only had to adjust 2 hours, and awoke and immediately set out for the German embassy. My German passport has been expired for 5 months and I haven’t been in a city with a German embassy since I was in Washington DC. They were supposed to remain open until 5pm, but a Thai man behind bulletproof glass told me I had to come back the next day, after strangely greeting me with gutentag. Not wanting to spend another day in Bangkok, I went to Golden Mount to meet with a monk friend, Tony, before going straight to Hualamphong train station where I boarded a train to Chiang Mai, northwest Thailand. I was seated near a Chinese-speaking Thai man and two Germans from Berline – Olav and Andreas. We chatted for a few hours about Thailand, Germany, and China, before the seats on the train were unfolded into comfortable bunk beds and the lights were turned off. I slept very well, as I always do on trains in Thailand (the trains here are so smooth!) and woke up in Chiang Mai at 7am.
I knew that two friends from Chengdu, Jovian and Dave, were both here in Chiang Mai, and if not sleeping at this hour, then about to go to sleep any moment. So I went to eat breakfast with the two Germans, eating Thai food, where they began ordering beers. It seemed like an unnaturally early time to start drinking, but I suppose the combination of vacation and being German inspired the order. Before I knew it, we’d each had two large Beer Leo’s and were afterwards wandering around looking for a Thai massage place. We found one before long and got Thai massages, which I was looking forward to. Not just because massages are great, but because I was especially interested in making a comparison between Thai and Chinese massage, which isn’t something I’ve ever paid attention to. As it turns out Thai massage, aside from lying on a mat on the floor, involves the use of elbows, knees, and feet, as opposed to Chinese massage. It also heavily incorporates stretching into the hour-long session. After that hour, I felt to sleepy and relaxed to continue walking around. I called Jovian, boarded a tuk tuk after negotiating the fair with the driver, and headed for a guest house called The Whiskey.
When I arrived at the Whiskey I wanted to check it, drop of my bag, and connect with Jovian and Dave. I walked to the check in desk, if that’s what it could even be called, where there was a short, dissheveled looking dark skinned Thai man grinning at me cross-eyed. He was clearly drunk. “Room?” he says, still smiling. I nodded yes and he led me up a flight of stairs to what looked like a utility closet. No doorknob, only two planks of wood held closed by a small padlock. The doors swing open to reveal a small room with two beds and nothing else. Great, I thought. I asked how much it cost a night, to which he replied 100 baht. Feeling happy about not having to spend much money on simple accomodations, I took out my wallet to hand him money but he told me not to worry about it. I dropped my backpack on one of the beds and stepped out of the room when he fumbled aimlessly with the padlock to close the door. I ended up having to help him get the lock shut he was so drunk. Moments later I met up with Jovian and Dave and have spent the last several days hanging out with them in Chiang Mai.
Soon I’ll head further east to Laos, either by train to the Laos capitol of Vientiane, or by boat along the Mekong to Luang Prabang. I’ve been to both places already, but I need to pass through either of these areas to continue further east to Vietnam, which is what I’m really looking forward to.
I’m so happy to get out of Chengdu just as it starts to get cold there! I have plans for a winter migration to SE Asia after I return to Chengdu to tie up some loose ends. Just like 3 years ago, I’m looking forward to a warm winter – this time in SE Asia instead of Los Angeles.