Trip Report: Thailand
November, 1997

20 days in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket

I left Bangkok at 6 am Thursday, arriving in San Francisco at 7 am Thursday. Hey, time travel is easy!

BANGKOK

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket ... I traveled alone and it was quite an adventure!

I flew in and out of Bangkok ($700 roundtrip), an 18-hour flight. A very big city (11 million), growing daily, they say it has the worst traffic in the world. One way theyíve devised to handle the problem is the motorcycle taxi; you have to hang on tight as they weave in and out of traffic! They also use the river (the Chao Phrya) for commuting (10 cents each way). Tuk-tuks are also great fun; 3-wheeled covered motorcycles, they freely change lanes (even into oncoming lanes) to zip speedily along.

Like other dense cities, drivers have adopted tactics to increase capacity of the asphalt infrastructure; as Iíve seen in New York, Ankara, and Rome, roads marked for 3 lanes would be crowded with 4 lanes of cars.

CHIANG MAI

Chiang Mai was next. Itís north, and in the mountains, so it was blessedly cooler. It serves as a base for excursions into the mountains and the Golden Triangle. I joined up with 10 others (mostly Australians) for a trek to see the hill tribes. We backpacked for a couple days, then rafted the river for a couple more, and finished the final leg of our journey by elephant! Food, water, and sleeping quarters were pre-arranged at 3 remote villages. Things are primitive back there — no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no roads. (The four day trip came to $45 total for food, lodging, transit, guide.) We saw fields of newly sprouted opium that will take a few months to flower — didn't get to smoke any.

PHUKET

Lastly on to Phuket, land of beautiful beaches and, of course, the hotels that followed them. The beaches are still unspoiled, but the highlight for me was a kayaking trip to see the "hong" of Phang Nga Bay; these are "rooms" in limestone islands, hollowed out by millennia of rain, reached by inflatable "sea canoe" (at just the right tide) through volcanic tunnels.

I went to a Muay Thai kick-boxing match (the excited crowd was deafening!), had a full-body massage, snorkeled off a perfect beach, took several boat rides, saw giant golden statues of Buddha in many postures, and explored many temples decorated with bright color and glitter.

FOOD

I love Thai food. Of course, in Thailand itís much more varied than what we know of it in the U.S. I found much regional variation; in Chiang Mai, the Chinese influence appears in a delicious curry chicken noodle soup ("kao soi") — this is almost a sub-industry with carts at almost every other corner (50 cents a bowl).

Just to demonstrate how cheap prices are in Thailand, this restaurant meal cost US$7.50: a couple fresh oysters (buttery!), soup (spicy!), a clay pot crab, a fried frog, beef noodles, and 3 beverages.

Thailand is the land of street food. Mobile carts are everywhere offering (for 25 to 50 cents) fresh fruit (pineapple, watermelon, papaya, etc.), soup, omelettes (oyster!), chestnuts, and food-on-a-stick: satay, squid, carved hot dogs, sausages, rice-filled sausage casings, and batter-fried fake crab — my favorite.

SPOTTED

Many American companies thrive there; I spotted Macdonalds, Burger King, 7-Eleven, AM/PM, Shell, Levi's, and Pringles.

SHOPPING

The shopping was fun. The devaluation of the Baht starting in July effectively put the whole country at half off. I bought a bunch of Christmas presents as I went: Wildly printed cotton "pajama bottoms" (US$3.75), silk scarves ($4), silver bracelets (30 cents — from a hill tribe), decorated candles, candy, custom-tailored man's suit (double-breasted, cashmere, $150), silk ties ($2.50), tourist T-shirt ($2.50), music cassette tapes ($2.50), and a hard shell wheeled carry-on case ($33) to lug it home.

BRITISH

Traveling with an English woman I met, I learned some British-English vocabulary:
  • muzzy = mosquito
  • elastic = rubber band
  • chocy = chocolate milk
  • plasters = bandages
  • pudding = dessert
  • bum = butt
  • fanny = vagina (say "bum bag", not "fanny pack")

CULTURAL NOTES:

  • The hot climate clearly influences their food; soup is very popular, and they salt many of the things we would sugar (pineapple, orange juice, candy).
  • Many things are served in plastic bags: drinks, fruit, stick food.
  • This is the land of no napkins; I never saw a cloth napkin, and the best I found in the whole country was identical to toilet paper.
  • I saw no obese Thais; they are a trim and handsome people.
  • Western dress is common and many wear uniforms (school kids, service workers).
  • The police presence I saw (airports, boxing matches, etc.), public visibility of the king, and the prevalence of uniforms suggests to me a degree of oppression.

THE TECHNOLOGY REPORT:

  • Yes, you can check your e-mail from almost any city on earth now, it seems.
  • ATM machines worked for me just fine in every town I visited.

Of all of it, the most fun was my trek in the mountains outside Chiang Mai — rafting the Mae Tang river was great (another raft capsized with backpacks, and I fell in once), and I got to ride an elephant!

Happy travels,
Kendall

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