Monday, January 12, 2009

A tree grows in Bangkok

I love being reminded of the extremes in life. Take the long weekend I split between Bangkok and Khao Sok National Park. On the one hand you've got a crazy city, overwhelming and loud, and on the other hand you have this:

If you ever have the opportunity to spend the night in a tree house, I fully recommend it. Of course, let's be honest, the sleeping arrangements aren't that different from other places, insofar as there's a bed and a bathroom. But the huge staircase and tree through the middle of your deck...well, those are unique.

It was lovely to play Swiss Family Robinson for an evening. In fact, it was lovely to be able to feel cut off from the "real world" again, after a week in resort-land.

Our Jungle House brought me back to the land of lanterns and flashlights. After dinner, Katie and I stayed up, drinking Singha, while she taught me how to play rummy. I suppose there is hope for me in my old age.

I've always thought it would be fun to be one of those grandmothers who has friends over for card games or board games, chit-chat and cocktails. I'd also like to be a grandmother who can whip out a gorgeous pie at the drop of a hat (my own grandmother is a prime example), but I think I need a bit more practice on both the card games and the pies.

The following morning, after gobbling down a bowl of rice porridge with poached chicken, flavored with ginger and fish sauce, Katie and I took an elephant tour out in the jungle that included some time in a waterfall. As I said in my last post, there aren't nearly enough opportunities for waterfall swimming, so I helpfully forced Katie in.

The elephant guide also helped, dragging both of us up to the top of the waterfall to jump into the pool below.

I also find that there aren't nearly enough opportunities to sit up on the elephant's neck and walk with him through the jungle for an hour, pretending that you're a queen. You can bet that I took advantage of this one.

After getting back to the tree house and packing up, Katie and I decided to take our chances in catching a bus over to Surat Thani in order to find space on either an overnight bus or train to Bangkok for the next day.

We waited by the side of the road with our backpacks for a couple of hours before a minibus pulled over and the driver hopped out, waving us in.

We exchanged a look and a shrug, then threw our packs into the back of the bus and boarded, laughing. After a few exchanges of "Surat Thani?" "Yes?" "We need to go to Surat Thani?" "Yes, yes, okay", we were sufficiently comfortable to sit back, enjoy the rest of the ride and wonder where in Thailand we were going to end up.

Two hours and about 20 additional passengers later, we made it to Surat Thani, where a travel agency had an overnight bus to Bangkok set to leave in a few hours.

Hungry beyond belief, Katie and I asked for the nearest market, set off in that direction and found decent pad thai at the food stalls.

The next morning, at 5:30 a.m., we disembarked in Bangkok. After various inquiries and a bit of bargaining around the train station and the bus agency located on its top floor, we secured tickets on an overnight bus up to Chiang Mai for that evening. That, of course, meant we had an entire day to kill in Bangkok with no shower, a terrible night sleep from the previous evening, and another terrible night sleep to look forward to.

How did we get through it?

By walking the streets of the city in the early morning, stumbling across fruit vendors and markets.

Even the biggest, craziest cities have a period in the early morning when few people are out, and those that are, are quietly setting up their stalls and straightening their stores.

The rest of our day in Bangkok is a bit of a blur, to be honest. I remember stopping frequently for coffee and snacks to keep energy up and mutual frustration to a minimum.

I also remember heading to the city zoo only to be warned away by a riot signing detailing a policeman shooting a protester. It's certainly one way to discourage protesters. Didn't work, of course, but it kept us away from the area.

We wouldn't even have noticed the sign were it not for a motorbike driver hanging out on the side of the road. He looked us up and down, glanced down the road in the direction that we were going, caught my eye and slowly shook his head "no". It was that friendly intervention that brought my attention to the rather graphic warning sign, and in turn caused our abrupt aboutface.

After the zoo fiasco, we decided that a Thai massage and a friendly neighborhood hookah bar were in order. The massage was easy to find, but we had to deal with a conniving tuk-tuk driver who had us stop at two different stores (so that he could get a commission and we could get a free ride), and then dropped us off over a mile away from where we wanted to go!

We finally found the hookah bar and promptly collapsed into our metal chairs. An hour later we were off and running again (though not literally, thank goodness), heading to the train station for our bags.

I cannot say that Bangkok was my favorite place on my trip, but I made it through alive, and sometimes that's all you can ask for.

1 comment:

JB said...

Sounds like a great adventure!!