March 18, 2008

Thailand Vacation - Bangkok First Impressions

Our trip from Kansai International to Bangkok was terrific. Thai Airways is a fabulous airline. Not only is their official color purple (Jacob’s favorite color), but the service and food was extraordinary. Jacob and Lauren each got Thai Airways inflatable airplane toys, we were served lunches that included Unagi and Soba Noodles, there was ice cream served an hour before we landed, and they even had a complimentary cognac service!

In Bangkok, we had booked a room at the Holiday Inn. We weren’t expecting much considering it was under $90 per night. As it turns out, the Holiday Inn Silom Bangkok is a beautiful hotel with a stupendous lobby, an international breakfast buffet, swimming pool, and beautifully appointed rooms. It was like staying at a four-star hotel. Terry cloth robes in the rooms and all. The Thai greeting is called the “wai” – pressing your palms together and clasping them near your chest. It is a very soft and warm expression. We were being wai-ed left and right at the hotel, and we learned to wai back to people pretty quickly!

Bangkok is basically the antithesis of Japan. Whereas Japan is clean and safe, Bangkok is dirty, polluted, and bustling. Traffic rules either do not exist or are not obeyed (meanwhile, in Japan, people wait at corners for the walk signal even when there is not a car in sight). Whereas Japan is homogeneous, Thailand is like an international smörgåsbord of cuisines and people. There are many Westerners here, but we have not come across anyone from the U.S. Many are from Europe and Australia, and, of course, there are many Asians visiting from neighboring countries. English is spoken much here more widely than in Japan. (Jacob was again excited to encounter so many English speakers.) Whereas melons and fresh fruit are wildly expensive in Japan, fruit in Thailand is abundant and dirt cheap. Whereas Japan is pretty buttoned down, Thailand is outgoing and liberal feeling. The Thai people are very friendly and warm. (One similarity, however, is that people still love our children here. In fact, we were stopped several times during our first day here by Thai people requesting to pose with Jacob and Lauren in pictures! And we also encountered some Japanese tourists – murmuring the now familiar “kawaii, kawaii, kawaii” refrain.)

The hustle bustle of Bangkok is bit overwhelming to the senses, but very exciting. There are hundreds of motorbikes on every street corner, three wheeled taxies (called samlo or tuktuk), and buses with missing doors that are absolutely crammed with people and look like they are falling apart. It is cheap, and bargains abound in street food, exotic fruits, jade, carved wood, art, leather, tailored suits and shirts (handmade suits made to order in 12 hours for $80!), luggage, clothing, and tons of souvenirs. The exchange is about 31 Thai Baht to the dollar.

After unpacking a bit, we headed downstairs to walk around a bit and find some dinner. After a delicious and refreshing fruit smoothie, we decided to walk towards the river to find a Thai restaurant. It turns out that was the complete wrong way to walk. We found ourselves is a distinctly non-touristy part of Bangkok, among many Thai street food vendors. There were no restaurants in sight. So we sat down at a hole in the wall place (and when we say hole in the wall, we mean literally it was a tiny alley with some tables set up and a stovetop for cooking) where we had fried rice with chicken, chow fun noodles with chicken, and iced tea (all for 90 baht). We completed our meal by sampling some of the street food, including various meats on sticks (30 baht for 6 sticks of meat) and dumplings (4 for 20 baht) on our way back to the hotel. With the two hour time difference between Japan and Thailand, we were pretty zonked and went to bed early. This worked our perfectly, since we were to meet our tour guide at 7 AM the next day.

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