Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 20th

After such an exhausting day, I was looking forward to being able to rest. Needless to say, that did not happen... with Adam around there is never any rest for the weary. He quickly informed me that one of his friends, Bow, was expecting us at the main canteen (their version of a cafeteria). Little did I know that she was expecting us at 8am the day after my sleep schedule was turned upside down by a 12 hour time shift! Luckily, Adam is quite the morning person and we were able to get to the canteen at the scheduled 8 am in the morning. Once there, however, Bow was no where to be seen... we wandered around aimlessly for 10 minutes pretending to know what to do. Finally we decided to sit down and hope that she would be able to find us amongst the other students at the canteen.

Moments later I was surprised to be approached by one of Bow's friends, Coke, who was able to call Bow, who told him that she was on her way. Now knowing that we were in the right place, we decided to eat while we waited for Bow to get here. Unfortunately, all the menus here were in Thai and I had no idea what to get nor how to get it. Since Adam had been here for two weeks already, he had learned how to say several different types of food, which he ordered for himself. Meanwhile, Coke was able to help me order some vegetarian fried rice and water to quench my never ending thirst in this inferno of a climate. Once we had sat down and began to eat our meal, another of Bow's friends arrived on the scene... Boy. After greeting each other, the four of us engaged in friendly conversation until we finished our meals which is conveniently when Bow arrived. The five of us fed and anxious to explore, we set out on our day's journey: the exploration of Bangkok.

In Thailand, there are several different modes of transportation that students frequent: taxi,
bus, van, motorcycle, tuk tuk (sp?, pictured below), and similar to a pick up truck with roof
thrown over the back. We decided to take as cheap a route as we could (which is not hard to do in Thailand btw...) so we left the canteen and walked 5 minutes to the campus van station. Here, students (and their friends) gather to take vans to various major attractions for both locals and tourists alike. To get to Bangkok, we had to take the van to Victory monument, which took approximately one hour. Thankfully, similar to Morocco, the long drives here never leave for a dull moment, there is almost always something new to look at out the side window (and make you truly appreciate how lucky you are to live in the United States). Nevertheless, no matter how enjoyable the ride, cramped space and little leg room always leaves me anxious to get out of the vehicle. Sadly, once we got out of the van, I learned that we immediately had to catch a taxi (the most expensive form of transportation here) to take us to our ultimate destination: the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace hosts a remarkable amount of different important historical elements of Thailand, leaving me itching to get inside, but as we were trying to get in quickly, Adam and I were shocked to be stopped by the guards (wielding rifles). Thank God we had Bow, Coke, and Boy there to interpret for us! They informed us that we could not enter the Grand Palace for one simple reason... we were wearing shorts! This common practice in American society is apparently considered quite rude here in places of education, government, or religion. Their solution? We had to go into this locker room type building and put down a 200 Baht deposit to rent someone's sweaty pants to put on, leaving us to look idiotic carrying around our short pants!

Finally ready to see what warranted such respect, we proceeded to enter the grounds of the Grand Palace only to be stopped once again (thank God for Bow, Coke, and Boy for translating once again!!!) at another guard post. Apparently students and natives of Thailand may enter this area free... but not me. So I had to turn around and go to wait in this ridiculous, condescending line pictured below. After paying an obnoxious 350 Baht, I was definitely ready to
enter and see what all this fuss is about! Little did I know that this was almost exclusively a Buddhist temple, not a palace. All along the walls were floor-to-ceiling paintings that depicted the history of Buddhist/Thai legends involving war and magic. Coke, who knew quite a bit about this history, was able to explain to us most of the stories behind these pieces of art (some below, rest on facebook!!!).

After absorbing this artistic timeline, I was expecting the tour to be over, little did I know that it had just begun! When the path of beautiful art ending, it was only to be replaced by a huge
courtyard which encompassed buildings of every size and shape, all dedicated to Buddha. Sadly, they quickly grew monotonous and blended together. However, one impressive characteristic was that in one of these temples sat an idol of Buddha which the king himself visited each year and changed his clothes (Again, all the pictures here are on Facebook also).

Once we finished here, we ventured to the main Thammasat campus in Bangkok (which was also an enormous campus!) where we found some much needed drinks to rehydrate us after a day of walking the scorching sun. Once our thirst had
been quenched, Bow, Boy, and Coke took us to a nice little restaurant that was hidden away in the upstairs of an obscure building in the maze of markets. With our translators at hand, we were able to order an interesting Indian style vegetarian meal which was quite good but sadly did not fill us.

Nonetheless, Bow, Boy, and Coke were not about to allow a little hunger to get in the way of the rest of the tour... so we set out again to visit a few more sites in Bangkok. Sadly, most of these were Buddhist temples that required me to pay for access since I was neither a student nor a citizen, but all in all they were good experiences... though a little overpriced.

After visiting these temples, we decided to change things up a bit and go visit the floating markets. The main way to get to them? By boat! Since we obviously did not have one laying around, we had to go find one of the many entrepreneurs trying to sell rides up and down the river. Now, these entrepreneurs were indeed very interesting. Since we had Bow, Boy, and Coke with us, we were able to get a good deal on the prices. How do I know? While they were trying to sell us the rides, they showed us a brochure of the different "packages" or deals they offered to people and their prices for each deal. Understandable, right? Not exactly, amidst their
excitement to get us as customers (or their lack of caring... not sure) they neglected to hide the other brochure. Expecting to see different options, I quickly read through it with an eerie sense of déjà vu... the only difference between the two brochures were the prices listed, a difference of 800 Baht...nearly 30$!!! I quickly gathered that those brochures must be the ones that they show to blissfully oblivious tourists to wring them for every possible dollar. With a sharp taste of disgust in my mouth, I handed over my money (the cheapest deal thanks to our native friends!) and boarded the sketchy contraption pictured to the right. Though I instantly noticed a hole in the
boat, the atmosphere was nice and I immediately knew I was going to enjoy the experience. Around 5 minutes down the river, we came upon another boat that had stopped in its tracks... at first we did not know what was going on; however, as we approached, we soon realized they were feeding a massive conglomeration of enormous fish. We soon learned that this river is absolutely full of giant fish, which explains why all the fish in the markets are so cheap (they are also probably cheap due to the less than pleasant levels of pollution in the river...). Sadly, as we continued to drift down the river, we were reminded of the dire level of poverty that plagues this country as we saw countless shacks that were surely on the verge of collapse (pictured below) and in fact we saw a couple that had indeed collapsed... However, it was still quite exciting to be able to see all the exotic types of fruits that we buy in the USA hanging naturally, ready to be picked, from trees in every direction we looked. Once we finally arrived to the "floating market," Adam and I
were disappointed to learn that it consisted of only about 5 boats selling cheap tourist-type gifts. Nonetheless, our spirits were instantly revitalized when we saw the huge Buddhist pyramid-thing that we were quickly approaching.

Once we had arrived, we were allowed to get off the boat and climb (little did we know that each stair was around 1-2 feet high... making for an extremely exhausting climb), but once at the top- it was instantly obvious how worthwhile the climb had been. We could see so far in each direction... allowing us to take in a great deal of Bangkok--- which from here resembled downtown of any big American city, which only added to the awe-factor... an extremely old stone pyramid like structure in the middle of downtown Bangkok... remarkable. After absorbing the magnificence all around us, we once again hopped on a boat and continued to the docks.

Once we were again on dry land, we caught a taxi and headed home. However, our drive home was far from boring since Adam decided to practice his Thai with Bow. He would read random phrases in Thai out of his Thai book and they would have to tell us what he had just said... let's just say that did not go so well, lol. They could not understand a word at all if he did not pronounce it perfectly since Thai is a tonal language. What this means is that many of their words are spelled or pronounced the same, the only difference is the way in which they are said. For example, in English we use a rising tone to indicate a question whereas a normal tone often indicates a simple statement. In Thai, a word, for example nahm, can be said with a rising tone or a normal tone (there are a total of 5 tones in Thai) each of which denotes a completely unrelated meaning. Therefore, when Adam was trying to pronounce phrases, if he got the tone of one word incorrect in the sentence, the native speakers often had no idea what he was trying to say (in which case they would read what he was trying to say and then say it correctly in Thai-- which almost always sounded nearly identical to what Adam said but made the difference between comprehension and cluelessness.

After this amusing ride home, Adam and I stopped at a lovely street diner (in American terms, this would not be considered lovely at all since its basically a stand with a tarp thrown over it, literally right next to a speeding highway) where we eat our cow pot pack man sabee raht (vegetarian fried rice) every night for almost under 1$. With full stomachs, we returned to our apartment and again easily found sleep after another laborious day in Thailand.

شكرا على القراءة
Steven Henson
ستيفن هينسن


  1. So I'm dying to know: Were you a #1 Foreigner, or a #2 Foreigner?

  2. I am really enjoying your descriptions of your adventures. My friends said you could probably write a column for the paper.