Village Voice - March, 2006

E-mail from Thailand

Amy Salmon is in Thailand.  This is her final submission as Village Voice Editor. 

I’m leaving tonight on the sleeper train to Chiang Mai, and then staying in a guesthouse there for twelve nights.  For three days and two nights I’ll be trekking in the jungle, including an elephant ride, woo-hoo!  It’s all very safe and I’ll be with a group and a guide, and the guesthouse in Chiang Mai is a nice one, catering to tourists.  I’m very excited and looking forward to meeting some fellow travelers.

My first few days in Asia—Bangkok specifically—have been exciting and overwhelming.  Bangkok is like a very loud sauna—and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It may be even busier than New York, and certainly more run down.  The motorcycles never stop, the streets are full of taxis and buses and passenger cars and vehicles called tuk-tuks (motorized three-wheeled carts that are another kind of passenger taxi).  They’re open to the air and the fumes, and are prone to overcharging tourists, all reasons why I’ve avoided them thus far.  But the whole thing together is enough to make you dizzy, especially given the ever-present, stifling heat.  I’ve been taking it slow and sticking to air-conditioned metered taxis, which are very reasonable and don’t overcharge, and are a nice safe place from which to watch the chaos that is the streets of Bangkok.

Yesterday I ventured out for a walk for the first time and promptly got lost.  I have to admit that all of the streets look exactly the same to me—a blur of markets and people and clothes hanging out to dry or maybe for sale, grimy buildings, stray dogs and cats, and shrines to Buddha in incongruous gleaming gold.

As I was finally finding my way back to a main street, I passed a group of Buddhist monks in their orange robes, walking in the same direction.  I frantically tried to remember the rules regarding women, especially Western women, and monks, but just tried to give them a wide berth so as not to do anything unintentionally insulting.  They left me alone, and no one else said anything to me or gave me any dirty looks, so I guess I did all right.  After that, on the main street, I flagged down a metered taxi, showed him the name of my hotel written in Thai, and he took me back safely where I had started, a whole five or maybe six blocks away!

Later that day I went to get my vaccine taken care of at the Adventist Hospital; no problems there.  After that I went to the mall, since I needed to pick up some things before going out into the jungle—most importantly sunglasses, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, a backpack with actual shoulder straps, and shorts.  The Thai version of the mall is a lot like those in the U.S., only with more kiosks in the middle and the signs in Thai.  Most of the signs are also in English, at least the most helpful words, like Taxi Stand or McDonald’s or Starbucks, all of which I saw in the mall.  It’s surreal to see one word in English, usually an American brand name, and the rest in (to me) unintelligible Thai.

I’m also working my way up to Thai food…so far I’ve not eaten anything not Western!  That’ll change soon enough, I’m sure, because I’ll probably run out of choices.  But I’m riding this horse as long as I can.  And so far, no stomach problems…coincidence?  I don’t think so.

I’ll keep Daniel Vestal’s advice in mind, and depending on how much longer I’m in Thailand I may look up the CBF people.  I also still plan on looking up the Peace Corps, maybe when I’m back in Bangkok for a couple of weeks.  This time I just needed to crash.  When I finally made it to the hotel after a delayed flight out of Taipei and two very hot hours in the airport getting through immigration and customs, I took a hot shower and slept for at least fifteen hours.  I think I’m still adjusting to Thai time—I’ve been getting very sleepy in the early evening and then waking up long before sunrise. 

Expect another short email with the info for Chiang Mai.  The guesthouse there has internet access, too, so I’ll be able to keep in contact.

Till later, Amy 

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