14. Bangkok again - Last day of the year

I arrived in Bangkok about 1:00 PM and proceeded to make my way to the hotel I booked. It was rather involved, had to switch two trains on the Sky Train, go down to the MRT (subway) and then make a 10 min. walk to my hotel. Really should have caught a moto for 20 or 30 baht rather than walk that last leg, but figured I needed the exercise. When I arrived at the hotel, I was hot and sweaty and my back was killing me.

Pretty upscale hotel, with cloth napkins and everything
I found it on Agoda, a place I've had pretty good luck with in the past. When I'm in the states, it's a little slow getting feedback, refunds and such, because they are in Bangkok (I think). I started to use services like Orbitz or Hotwire eventually because they have a toll-free number and it's nice to talk with someone at times. Anyway, I searched Agoda and found the Amari Atrium Bangkok Hotel for a very good price, about $60/night all told (did not choose breakfast included). It's rather fancy, and I suspect the price might be three times that if you walked in off the street, but I guess you can get pretty good last minute deals booking unsold units online right before a holiday. Very nice room, and the bed wasn't too hard. Very nice Jacuzzi here, that's appreciated. I just hung around the hotel, soaked in the hot tub for an hour and had a couple beers, went back to the room and took a nap.

Jeab (pronounced Chee-ob) called me in the evening and informed me that she and two of her friends from college would pack me up and take me with them to a wine buffet in the evening. I have never been to one of these and didn't know how it worked. You pay one price and drink all the wine you want. I might have drank a lot more wine if I understood that. The girls talked to me part of the time in English to be nice, but the more they drank the more, faster and louder they talked in Thai. I just took it all in. Some really nice appetizers. 

Three very lovely and entertaining ladies: Moo, Tuk & Jeab.
Jeab was by far the loudest.
Moo informed me that speaking English was, for her, a sobriety test. They understood all too well exactly what a wine buffet is. It was hilarious being ignored and listening to them. Afterwards I was deposited back to my hotel stone sober and proceeded to watch television until I fell asleep. I probably would have slept well, if not for a few pesky mosquitoes in the room.

I went looking for breakfast this morning in the hotel, seated myself at the bar and asked the tender to make me an espresso. It was 110 baht, but she gave me some free cookies, the sweetheart. I asked if I could get some coffee and a croissant or something over in the breakfast area, and she quoted me a price of 640 baht for all you can eat breakfast. Wow, that's about $21! I told her it's too much, and she instantly (and inexplicably) changed the price to 320 baht. I asked the front desk if they had internet computers, and I was directed to the "business center", a room where you could rent a computer for 300 baht/hour ($10). I thanked them all, finished my coffee and set out on a walk. 

Right around the corner in an alley I found what I was looking for. It is a tiny little building just past the 7-11 (they are everywhere) selling espresso for 30 baht, extra shot for 5 more baht. Right behind it was a little stand that made pretty yummy thai food for 30 baht. Across the street was an internet gaming cafe, but they weren't open yet. 

I spent about an hour here tanking up on espresso and
waiting for the internet cafe across the street to open
It seemed to be a family run spot, auntie making flower
necklaces at the front, watching a young child
Some pretty yummy pork and greens with rice and my
third espresso, all for about 120 baht. Got a bag of ripe, juicy papaya later for 10 baht.

They told me the internet cafe across the street opens at 10:00 AM, but they opened late. It's a four day holiday here, kids were hanging around outside waiting for it to open so they could play games. 

Kids playing games next to me. It's pretty noisy in here right now.

It a coin operated thing, never saw that before. A five-baht coin buys 30 minutes, so I guess the kids can play all day for next to nothing.

I think I got 10 minutes for free
I'm afraid I'm getting boring for you now, aren't I? There hasn't been any temples or museums or palaces for quite some time now, just boring little places. Sorry, just haven't been much interested in doing many exciting things lately. It seems all I want to do is walk around and take pics of everyday life, spend time talking to regular people and seeing how they live, try to imagine if I could live like that. I think if it was just me, I could live like the average Thai, though it would take me some time to acclimate to having much, much less.

I just saw a guy sitting under a walkway drinking a bag of coke. It was a thin, clear plastic bag that stood up by itself, sort of, and a straw. Why don't we have that in the US? A little less to throw away.

Well, the internet cafe has turned into a war zone, gamers everywhere putting body english on the mouse and shooting everything in sight. I suppose tonight I'll buy into the hotel's fancy party and countdown with the rest of the hotel people, or find something less expensive at a club somewhere. I probably should not spend New Year's Eve in Bangkok watching TV in my hotel room, eh? It's noon now, maybe go over and soak in the hot tub again, get a massage and take a nap, try to catch up on some sleep so I won't conk out too early tonight.

13. Hua Hin day 2 & 3

I checked out of my hotel (guest house) this morning. That damn bed was the hardest one so far. The hotel was really over-priced for what was offered: slab of marble for a bed, no bedside light, no phone, no internet computers, wi-fi does not work, highly insulated comforter for the bed and that's all (had to put A/C on arctic so that I would not burn up under it), no breakfast, and no food offered within 2 miles before 10:00 am--all for the princely sum of 1,800 baht.

Three blocks south I found a little place that has computers, sheets, includes breakfast, phone, bedside light, and still only 2 minutes walk from the beach for 900 baht. Just goes to show what you can find if you have a little time to look around. A weary traveler fresh in town, toting a backpack and craving a cold beer is not the best state to be shopping for a good deal on a place. This is...what...the third time it's happened? Oh well, I said I was not going to plan things out carefully this time.

I woke up before 7:00 AM this morning with an aching back, so I went out looking for coffee. Stumbling around in my flip flops about 3 km on a circuitous route for about an hour hunting for some coffee put me about 1.5 km south of the hotel in a residential area, still rather north of the center of town, but I eventually ran across the market. This is the most intense one I've seen so far with all manner of meats being butchered and just about anything else you want. I wound my way slowly through it, experiencing sensory overload before my coffee. I came out the opposite side on the west and was relieved to find a little coffee shop with delicious fresh coffee, two eggs, sausage, ham, toast & strawberry jam. I tanked up on the coffee and, feeling strong, hit the market again.

This little place had a nice breakfast for 50 baht and good coffee. That's more like it.
It's just a few paces south of the west entrance to the market.

Just everybody, buying everything.

People knit in Thailand. I tried to tell her I knitted my first scarf.

Some areas were really packed, yet scooters were still winding their way through past the
shoppers. They were delivering stuff, just amazing they are allowed to ride them in here.

Scooters were threading their way through here too.

I've seen the shells of these things on the beach sometimes.
I think they're called horseshoe crabs.

I smelled the most wonderful fragrant smell, turned around and saw this
old guy slicing and arranging his fruit. Could it have been quince I smelled?

Chopping and cleaning fish, but you can get your Transformer toys here too.

These were really nice little packages of small fish, each container about 4 inches in diameter

This lady was doing some delicate work on what looked like a doily. She was a moto taxi driver, and apparently
a grandmother. I gave her 40 baht to take me back to check out of the hotel on the back of her scooter.

Brand spankin' new army truck parked in the shade, still smells like fresh paint.
Got a trooper sacked out in the back there, it's about 10:00 AM

All checked in to the new hotel now, room number 007 at the Immueang Hotel, 12/9 Naebkeharst Rd. I took the key downstairs and goofed around with the ladies there, acting like a secret agent and shooting with the key. They just shook their heads. Lighten up ladies. Directly across from the hotel is a short street, can see the beach from here. At the corner is a little stand, and lots of tables and chairs behind it there. Some people I met while eating there told me that stand has been there for 33 years. The food was good and cheap. Had a beer and got sleepy, went back to the hotel to take a little nap. Hotel is fine, everything I need.

 I leave tomorrow morning, decided to spend New Year's in Bangkok, so just booked a room in a big fancy hotel a little while ago, the Amari Atrium. It got excellent reviews, but all I hope for is a comfortable bed.

I've decided I'm tired of Hua Hin. Though I did meet some nice folks there, it's really only so long I can hang out with new friends and make a nuisance of myself. I felt I'd spent enough time there to get a feel for what it's like. I suppose I'd enjoy living in Hua Hin if I could get out of the noise of town, like in a condo or rented apartment in the foothills or such, and find some sort of activity to keep me busy. I went to the so-called "maze" last night, a criss-crossing of alleys and narrow streets in the vicinity of the Hilton, consisting of mostly bars and massage parlors. It took about 30 minutes, walking amongst the tourists, and was not very interesting. Then I saw a McDonald's and yielded to the urge for a burger, fries and coke--it tasted pretty good. Caught a moto back to the hotel for 40 baht and went to sleep early. Packed it all up about 9:30 AM or so and caught a van back to Bangkok.

I've grown weary of these 12 passenger vans. They're cheap,
but this is what you see if you're my height. 
The two hour trip went pretty fast. These vans drop you off at a place called Victory Monument, parking around the monument. It seems to be a place where few tourists go. I've been there several times now and always a little trouble finding someone who speaks English, but it's not too big a problem. Everybody's as helpful as they can be.

12. Hua Hin day 1

I went to have coffee at a shop down the street from Sascha's Uno Hotel the very first day I arrived in Bangkok few weeks ago. I met a Dutch man there and we chatted about different places in Thailand. He told me that he liked to spend time in Hua Hin, even for months on end. So I decided to take the 2 hour van trip down west of Bangkok on the coast to check it out.

Really nice gate. I didn't pay attention if it was a residence or a guest house.
It's a nice place, much less hectic than Bangkok, but more touristy than Rangsit. They tell me it's very popular with retirees and golfers, and it's larger than I thought.

Street scene near the bus station
I met some new friends on the trip, Jerry and Shannon. They are Canadians living in Islamabad, Pakistan and teaching at an international school there. Jerry talked with me the entire trip, and they both informed me that Pakistan is a great place to live. Of course I inquired about the violence and kidnappings you hear about on the news, and they both insist it's a bunch of overblown hype.

When we arrived at the Hua Hin bus station we started walking around trying to get our bearings and thinking about the best way to go about finding their guest house. I just tagged along since I didn't feel like reinventing the wheel. I'd take a look at their place and see if I wanted to stay there too.

Just looking around. Lots of traffic, like everywhere else.
They took a room at this place, and I did too. It's way more expensive for what you get than any other place I've stayed at in Thailand, 1,800 baht. And no breakfast, internet computers or even a place to eat breakfast nearby. But it's 2 min. from the ocean and it seems very luxurious. If I don't like it tomorrow, I'll move. Then we all took a walking tour of the downtown area and part of the beach, ending near the Hilton, a real palace of a hotel.

This is Huff, not sure if that's how you spell it. He's a photo journalist
posing here with a copy of his travel book of Pakistan (it's not in English)
I got to meet Huff, a really interesting guy and old friend of Shannon. He runs a nice little bookstore called "Rhythm & Books" selling jazz records, art, etc. There's a write up on him here, halfway down the page.

Not really a very good beach today...run for it dude.
There were high winds the last couple days, very unusual, and some tide walls were knocked down.

Our guesthouse is on the north part of town, this is looking south along the beach.

Winds were kicking up a little.
The avenue we walked down, towards the Hilton.

Our bus came in about 2 PM, and it was around 3:30 when we started walking.
Lots of kids getting out of school. This one kid was really conked out. The other one
wasn't really as dopey as she looks, I unfortunately caught her in mid-bite.

Always fascinated by these different kinds of bicycles they have over here.
As far as I can tell, this is a Thai Santa sporting boxing gloves

Our walk took us by this one restaurant way out on the end of a pier, with some nice scenes. We hung out there about half an hour and drank a beer.

11. Return to Bangkok - Rangsit

Back to Bangkok. I thought about traveling all the way to Hua Hin on down along the western coast past the city, but then I thought maybe I'll try staying in the outskirts of Bangkok for a night. I think I'll have a look at Rangsit, which was pretty hard hit by the floods. I don't think any place around there is flooded anymore, but we'll take a tour and have a look. I'll surely want to visit the old capital at Ayutthaya while I'm in that area.

View from the top floor of the Hotel Manhatten in Rangsit, looking across
a landscape of factories, warehouses, residences, and rice paddies.

Family dining facilities in my hotel room, Japanese style. 

The trip back to Bangkok was fast and easy, high speed freeways all the way and about a two hour trip. I did not want to stay again in Bangkok proper just yet. I had a choice of continuing on westward along the coast or stop for a while. I prefer my travel in small chunks after the cruddy bus ride from Sihanoukville to Pattaya, so will stay a bit off the beaten tourist path. Rangsit is north and slightly east of Bangkok city center about 45 minutes, home to large complexes of factories and warehouses inbetween rice fields and residential areas. It was boring and that seems to be OK with me today.

My plans for the evening? Just relax, walk around and see how regular Thai people live. I topped up my phone with 100 baht credit at a little shop. Found an internet cafe that caters to gamers, and all the chairs were a type of recliner I never saw before, designed so you can slouch and play computer games I guess. I smile and say hello to people, and some can speak a little English, are happy to try. I'm trying to learn some Thai, not a language with an overabundance of words like English, but the meanings can change with inflection and pitch, all of which I'm clueless about of course. Some are rather odd concepts, like the words yes and no: chai for "yes", and mai chai for "not yes"! Of course we have similar odd things in English, don't forget. There are no signs in English in this part of town...no one trying to sell me anything. Only sincere people asking "Where you from?" (I've learned most of the time it's the calling card of the tout).

I'm staying at the Hotel Manhattan, a bit older hotel situated in an area that had about waist-deep water last month. The streets are still dusty and there is piles of debris still in front of once thriving businesses that have closed because of the worst flooding in 60 years. After I got settled it's out for a walk in the neighborhood, and watch the sun go down.

Apartment buildings with store fronts in the bottoms as far as the eye can see.
The tall building in the distance is where I stayed, Hotel Manhattan.

Many stores closed due to the flood, and cleanup efforts ongoing. Dark line on
the side of the building indicates high water line, about waist deep to me.

Dusty, dirty streets from dried water, flooded only weeks ago

Hotel entrance ramp to reception. Hotel narrowly missed getting flooded.

Closed businesses didn't clean up, just left. Other businesses sweep their
debris over next door if there's no one there now.

The night market was fun. It just started to come alive when I got there, lots of people getting stuff to take home for dinner. Only regular Thai people shopping for the evening meal at the night market, walking around with their babies, turning their heads to look at me when they think I don't notice.

Many families at the market, everybody very friendly,
nobody trying to sell me something I don't want. Refreshing.

I stopped at this little place and bought what I thought was chicken breast.
It was some kind of cut that was anything but meaty...maybe it was a back. 
On past the market were many other stores, all of them in the bottom of the apartment buildings, and most all with metal roll-up doors exactly like a storage unit back home. Most were specialized in what they sold.

This shop sold only eggs. They were priced many different ways, not sure why.
They all looked like chicken eggs to me, but about half were dyed different colors.

General store

This one seemed to sell only rice products, all different kinds 

Back to the hotel and try to find something on TV, but no HBO. Most of the time I watch Al Jazeera news. I'm impressed with the global network of this new organization and their in depth coverage of news from around the world. I've always been disappointed with the lack of world news coverage on American television. I'll have to watch it more when I get home. I finally get sleepy and hit the hay, but the bed is hard as a rock--surprise! Makes my bones ache.

Next morning

Woke up about 7:00 AM and headed downstairs looking for coffee. It was a pretty good breakfast, but few American breakfast items like sausage or hashbrowns here, only toast and cold poached eggs. It seems to be how Asians prefer eggs, that or hard boiled, though you can ask for them cooked another way. Plenty of stir fried offerings with rice, same as dinner or lunch food. Coffee was OK.

The hotel does not have computers I can use, but the receptionist graciously allowed me to sit at her desk and use her computer in the back office as long as it was only to check email (I'm sneaking in some typing here), and no photo uploading. 

After checking email, I walk around slowly outside and watch the morning. There are babies everywhere, all bundled up with little gloves on. People have sweaters and scarves on. I saw a bus driver with a stocking cap. The temperature here feels like 72 degrees F with a gentle breeze, absolutely delightful for me, but for them it must seem like a real chill.

Since it's early, and this is definitely not a tourist part of town, I'm not quite sure what to do this morning. I might hop on a moto if I can find it, and have him just scoot around the area so I can see some parts. A helicopter ride would be ideal if I were not terrified of heights. I suppose I'll just put my shoes on and take a hike down the street. I walked around a lot last night in my flip flops, but the streets are very dusty and dirty from debris and dried flood water just weeks ago, which had a lot of diseases in it. Are all the germs dead because it's dried up? I don't know. People here don't seem too concerned, but some do have the surgical masks on.

I don't put the shoes on, nobody else does. Go for a walk, southwards I think. Found an old guy to run me around for a while. He was standing around waiting for a fare and said hello to me, one of the few who could converse a little. We chatted a while before I decided to hire him to take me around for half an hour or so. We haggled on the price for a little while, finally settled on 100 baht. I don't know if it's too much. He said something to his buddies who laughed. Did he tell them, "Hey look guys at me guys, I got me a whopper!" or "This stupid farang doesn't know how to dicker!" As we rode off, I yelled "Too much!" and they all busted out laughing.

This moto caught him a whopper. Bet I weigh as much as some entire Thai families

These machines are quiet, smooth, economical, and ubiquitous. 

Factories and such, along the canal

He drove me around until my butt hurt, pointing out this and that

More illegal structures built out over the canal

An ENORMOUS food market

Each avenue seemed to carry only one thing

Strawberries I think

Durian fruit: "Tastes like heaven, smells like hell"

Finished up with the taxi ride, walked some more to work out the kinks. In the car park of the hotel I find the attendant having tea with his wife in the booth, and hanging outside were about five small bird cages with some pretty little birds in them. Some were singing.

Anyone know what kind of bird this is?

This one was sitting atop the hood of an SUV in the parking lot and was not singing, just turning somersaults over and over again--don't know if he was stir crazy or just having a good time and showing it. Here's a video of him, hope it works OK for you.

Stopped at a fruit stand because the seller said hello and asked where I'm from, just being sociable. I try to chat with him, but he doesn't know enough English to talk very long He hands me a small citrus fruit, looks like a "Lil' Cutie", very ripe and delicious and 100 baht per kilo. I chose a container of sliced papaya. They say papa-YA.

The papaya was not as sweet as I've had before, but it was good
so I ate all of it. 20 baht. I'm a little behind on my fruit

Not far down there was a canal, and a little past that a freeway so turned back and walked along the canal a bit. All along it were squatters who built shacks out over the water with their front doors on the road. I'd read about the "illegal structures" built in the canals which had hindered drainage of the flood waters...don't know if that's these or some other kinds of structures. Supposed to be a crackdown on them but not yet, apparently. I guess people need to live somewhere, but do they have to bring their
!?%$#@ roosters??

Housing built out over the canal

Shut UP you FREAKIN' ghetto, mangy bird. Struttin' around like MICK JAGGER
squawkin' your stupid lungs out.
Did I mention how much I hate roosters? Goddamn little sleep killers.

Walked around a little and found an internet cafe that was opened, so posted these photos and typed some. It's just about noon now, tired of this, thinking about lunch. Maybe a beer. Later today I'll try to head over to Ayutthaya for a tour, it's straight west of me I think.

I never did get to Ayutthaya. Maybe next time, still have a few days. Was informed it's swamped with tourists anyway since it's still so near the new year. However, I did get lost in a monster mall and stopped in to meet some angels in a hospital.

Pen, Prayer, and Kan. Prayer is pretty proud of the dress Kan made for her doll out of NOTHING.
Well, out of a napkin and a pin. These people are geniuses. 
Prayer is an 8 year old whose mother is an emergency room doctor. She speaks stunningly excellent English. She informed me she learned it when she lived in California. I assumed her mother was an intern there or something. She said she was born in California, but does not remember what city. Her parents left California when she was three. THREE?? I don't even remember anything when I was three. How can you learn perfect English by age three?? She told me all about her neighbor's dogs that she likes, and what she studies in school, and how much she likes dance, and opera--she covered her mouth and made a little squeak and I asked her what that was. She said it's an opera voice but she didn't want to get too loud. I hit my lowest tone and rose an octave in barely-tone splendor and turned heads in the waiting room to show her I like opera too.

And now, some more pics of the regular, daily, everyday, no problem, everybody has one, no helmet, cheap, excellent, and IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND IN THE USA bicycles you find everywhere in Thailand. I remember as a child my friends and I "pumping" each other on the handlebars, or middle bar, or banana seat of our crappy stingray bicycles. Who remembers banana seats? Anybody? High five me. I remember offering a lift to some certain un-named people in my office when I had my bicycle. You know who you are. I wasn't kidding. You missed out, buddy.

This beat up machine has seen some. Wish it was mine. Just look at it.

This one is the exception. A rack instead of a cushioned pumper seat. Love it.

Some guy pretty pleased with himself in his fancy new polo shirt

Rangsit...at first I thought it was a good idea. Then, as the day wore on and the next day started, I thought "Why did I do this?" Now, as the second day draws to a close, and I've had a taste of how regular Thai people live, I'm really glad I did this. Tomorrow I head southwest to Hua Hin to the land of the retirees and golf courses.