Southeast Asia Thoughts: Thailand

Ten days in and our stay in Thailand comes to an end.  From Bangkok we traveled north through Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Chiang Rai, and Chiang Mai.   Each of these cities contain the rich, Buddhist dominated, history that was once the Kingdom of Siam. It is not the country of Anna and the King of Siam.  While based on a true story, the Hollywood version, like most movies, is far from the truth.

That is not to say Hollywood hasn’t had any influence here.  The movie, Bridge on the River Kwai, actually caused the change of the pronounciation of the river.  Known locally as river Kwai, pronounced KWAY, they changed the name to accommodate the tourist influx after the movie release, since everyone wanted to see the River Kwai.  It is indeed a small world.

One of the most interesting parts was our crossing the border into Myanmar, aka Burma. Once you cross the border under the watchful, but unobtrusive , local Myanmar authorities you are in a vastly poorer country than one can imagine. And yet, the people smiled, waved, tried to be circumspect in not staring at for what many of them was their first view of the strange westerners. Visiting such a place where, for less than the price of a cup of coffee from Starbucks, one could sustain a family for a day puts the fortunes of being born in America in perspective.

Living in a country where the borders are there to control entry is an entirely different life than living a country where the government works to keep the people in. The Myanmar government even set the local time to 1/2 hour earlier than the time in Thailand, just to make a point of who runs the show. The people of Myanmar, when they can, cross into Thailand to get basics for survival. It is an eye-opening experience.

Now we are on our last night in Chiang Mai. We are here in the midst of the old Thai New Year and the Water Festival. The streets are lined with both Thai and tourists, armed with the world’s largest collection of squirt guns (or buckets if needed), dousing everyone with water as a symbol of good luck. Tourists are their favorite target, all in the spirits of fun.

Even the cops wear body length rain covers; no one is exempt.

If I had to sum up the country of Thailand in one word, relax. The Thai, while going about the daily business of life, have learned to relax and enjoy their life.

We could learn something from that.

Here are some images of Thailand, I won’t bore you with descriptions of each one since they speak for themselves.

Suwadee khrap (Hello/Goodbye/How are you. You hear this, and they all bow with the hands pressed together, all day everywhere.)

 

On to Laos

 

Southeast Asia Thoughts: Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, the capital, is known by the locals as Krungthep. They claim it translates to City of Angels, I think it translates into “permanent traffic jam.” A 5 mile ride takes an hour, mostly jammed in with other cars intermixed with occasional short bursts of reckless speed. 

If driving were an Olympic sport, drivers from Bangkok would be banned for life. Motorbike drivers would be considered assassins. They make Boston rush hour drivers look like a 3 year-old on their first tricycle. Every road has six lanes, some marked, some just assumed by the driver’s mood at that moment.  

They may run all in the same direction, sometimes divided with little logic into opposite directions, or used as one sees an opportunity to gain ground toward their destination. Motorbikes do not follow rules. They seek their own path, weaving in and out of traffic, sometimes alongside of you , sometimes on either side in both directions. Sometimes using sidewalks and marketplaces as shortcuts.

Pedestrians are legal targets. Not only do they not have the right of way, they’re considered a nuisance, like a pothole, avoided if possible, run over when necessary.  Yielding to anything-oncoming traffic, ambulances, cops, or red lights-is a sign of weakness.

Bangkok is a huge city, 10 million people. They all seem to go to work at the same time. Our first day we wandered around on the sky train and subway (at rush hour which is an experience in itself) ending up a a huge open air market. Everything from vegetables, to freshly cut meat, to live fish and chickens waiting to die (which they do right in front of you assisted by cleaver-wielding Thai market vendors.) 

It was so interesting we went back for more pictures.

All in all an interesting experience.

Now on to Ayutthaya, the old Thai (Siam) capital and world heritage site 90 kilometers north on our Thailand tour.Next.jpg

Another Journey…

We have stayed in one place for almost a month, so it’s time to head out again. Starting early Tuesday (1:50 a.m.) we board a plane from Boston to Hong Kong and on to Bangkok, Thailand.

Cathay PacificWe’ll spend the next 27 days touring four very unfamiliar cultures in some exotic landscapes of some countries with familiar names; Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

While I am looking forward to all four, it is Vietnam that intrigues me the most. Growing up in the sixties, Vietnam was a significant part of the nightly news. Images of helicopters, women and children fleeing the fighting, and the dead and the wounded flooded the screens. But they did not convey the reality. It was America’s first TV war.

Some of the Vietnamese were the enemy, some were allies, and some were trapped between the two. Our innocence and naiveté a cushion to the reality of war and our reasons for being there. As we grew older from 1965 to 1973, that innocence was shattered.

By the fortunes of birth this is my first trip to Vietnam. Had I arrived just three or four years earlier, my anticipation of traveling there might be different.

It will be another opportunity to experience an entirely different culture that, given all I’ve read about the people of Southeast Asia, will also reaffirm my belief we are all the same.

I shall endeavor to write about our adventures, post pictures, and let you come with us as we travel around.