Monday, August 12, 2013

This land is Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand-- This will probably the last post we will have while actually abroad, unless we are so bored on our excruciatingly long journey home (Chiang Mai-Bangkok-Tokyo-Dulles-our car in Alexandria-drive to the Burgh!). We are now in our 9th and final hotel, the Maninarakorn of Chiang Mai, just a 10 minute walk or so outside the Old City.

Thailand is pretty nuts. Well, we thought that Cambodia would be just a palate cleanser between the sophistication of Japan and the refinement of Thailand. Not so. Bangkok was like a much bigger, louder, crazier version of Siem Reap. Behind the five star skyscrapers and fancy new Skytrain, Bangkok is very much a third world metropolis. Traffic and exhaust fumes everywhere, and a concentration of people like we haven't seen...ok, maybe like in Osaka. We found Bangkok to be very far from Thailand's charming reputation. So much so that at one point, I was sure that the title of this post would be "a survival guide to Bangkok."

Grand Palace, Bangkok

After a couple of days (including my birthday where EVERYTHING went wrong), we finally hit a groove, but our mistakes along the way were long and somewhat painful. We found that any Thai in Bangkok who could speak English was in some way trying to scam us. We got double and triple charged for taxis, creepy men tried to sell us things on the street, no one would help with directions, but by far the worst was trying to book the overnight train to Chiang Mai.

Wat Arun, view from the hotel!
We got to the station, exhausted from a 90min trek through construction in Chinatown, to find that we were getting the "last two" tickets to Chiang Mai from Bangkok on Saturday night (this was on Thursday). These seats, of course, were on opposite sides of the train, not air conditioned and not in the sleeper cars. From there, some teenage girls in "uniform" brought us up to the travel agency where they magically found us 2 sleeper bunks, but after a dog and pony show, told us the price was doubled. We would have happily paid the $50 per ticket from the counter downstairs, but they "had to call the travel agency" and "make special arrangements" in order to get us our tickets. Mysteriously, they needed to do this for the other 20 or so tourists in their crammed office as well.

The fancy Sleeper Car.
Clearly their company buys up all the train tickets immediately and sells them at jacked up prices. That, though shady, we understand is business, but the false regret and corruption we encountered were what bothered us. The crookedness spanned top to bottom, from the ticket takers to the police to these teenage girls with colored contacts and long painted nails "booking tickets" on their cell phones. They kept us captive for over an hour, but we did finally get our tickets to the sleeper bunks...Of course the train ride was a rocky sixteen and a half hours crawling at what we later figured out to be 26mph. Man!
View of jungle from the train.

Ultimately, the highs certainly have outweighed the lows in Thailand as we got to enjoy a drag show with all the Thai "ladyboys," see all the famous wats, taste the delicious foods, meander the sprawling flower markets and even spend all day today with a troop of rescued elephants.
They wouldn't listen to our commands, but were very friendly.

Betz enjoying a ride on Superman.
We have to say, though I'm not sure why were were expecting something different, Thailand is not what we thought it would be. The parts we saw anyway are much grittier, louder and less friendly than expected. "Land of 1,000 Smiles" yeah, right. Perhaps we are getting weary or perhaps we aren't feeling as well. This Thai food is delicious, but it packs quite a punch (note that we never got sick in Japan-not even a little). We've have indeed enjoyed our time here, but find it to be exhausting and are looking forward to coming home- to the good old USA!

1 comment:

  1. Love the titles! Love the pictures! Love the stories! Sh. and family.