Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grand Palace, Saranrom Park

My first meal in Bangkok, very appropriately, was a banana pancake. It's appropriate because Khao San Road, where I am staying, is one of the most notorious stops on the backpackers' "Banana Pancake Trail" through southeast Asia. It's not really Thailand, which is part of why I decided to stay here. Tuesday after trekking across the street to the 7-11 to get water, and down the street the pharmacy to get Valerian root so that I could sleep, I went back to my room and slept. I actually slept this time, with real dreams rather than the frustrating daydreams that end with the air conditioner clicking me back into reality.

Wednesday, which is today, I woke up early again (around 6 ish?) but that's okay because I had been in bed for about 18 hours. Seriously. I showered and had breakfast (eggs and toast) and decided to walk to the Grand Palace.

This is the courtyard of my guesthouse where I eat breakfast:

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The morning smelled like car exhaust, street food, incense and decay. I thought that I would get lost, but I made it. Lots of Tuk-Tuk drivers (Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled motorized rickshaws; I don't know if they're made from motorbike parts or golf cart parts or if someone actually manufactures them as-is) tried to tell me it was closed, which is a common scam that I already knew about.

I (surprisingly enough) made my way to the Grand Palace and hired an English-speaking guide. He was amazing. I think his name was Boomsong. Here we are together:

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I think I am like a foot taller than him. He took my picture in front of the various buildings and explained which ones were built during the reign of which king.

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He was very proud of this picture with the flower in front:

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At the end of the tour, he took some time to show me on my map the other things I should see, and told me not to believe anyone telling me that something is closed until I go in the gate and see for myself, and to always take a meter taxi. I knew these things but thought he was awesome for telling me anyway.

Across the street from the Grand Palace is Saranrom Park. I strolled around the park a couple of times and admired the scenery. All of the flora is different here. Even the grass is different. The grass has very wide leaves and is flatter than grass in the USA. The trees were all different, and there were some neat looking birds and interesting bird calls. I did see lots of standard US-issue pigeons and a squirrel that looked a lot like a regular US squirrel.

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Neat looking tree, ungrass.

There were a bunch of guys fighting with wooden swords in the park. They would line up in two lines facing each other, and wave their swords and yell taunts at one another, then another fellow counted "neung, song, sam" (this I recognized from Rosetta Stone) and they would all try to kill each other! Some things are universal.

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There are lots of stray/semi-stray cats in Bangkok. They make me a little homesick because my kitties are staying in a strange place right now too. I thought this was cute:

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He is perched in the wall around the park.

After visiting the park I got very mixed up before making it back to Khao San Road. I ended up at Democracy Monument where I got my bearings.

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I had my first Thai Iced Tea which was served in a plastic cup and not a plastic bag (boo!) and some Pad Thai from a cart. It was good. The lady who made it changed the price from 25b to 30b (still less than a dollar!) right after I got mine.

Someone on the wise, vast expanse of the Internet said that one who visits Thailand can either watch very closely what they eat, and avoid ice and street food and all that and get sick in 2 weeks, or eat whatever they want and get sick in a week and a half. I decided to be part of the second group, but I still cringed a little bit inside while watching the man prepare my iced tea.

And most importantly, since I was completely drenched in sweat by this time, I made it back to Khao San Road:

Now I take refuge in my air-conditioned room during the hottest part of the day (91f according to the Internet.)

Monday, September 28, 2009


I guess I can't sleep in Asia. Weird. Monday morning I woke up at about 5:30 and could not get back to sleep. After my complementary breakfast courtesy of Asiana I went for a walk. I stumbled on Dongdaemun Market, and as it was still pretty early in the morning, folks were sawing and drilling to make their displays and deliveries were arriving on trucks and motorbikes. It smells like leather and fish and perfume. Everyone smiled at me and I think a lot of folks were happy to practice their English with me. I had lots of "Hi, how are you, have a good day" and actually no "come buy stuff from my shop."

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Dongdaemun Market. The Internet says it's something like 10 acres. There are lots of real stores and also vendors set up on the streets. You can buy clothing, sunglasses, fresh fish, handbags, and...

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Korean Ginseng in pretty bottles at the market.

I also walked by the Bank of Korea musem, which is a very pretty building which is closed on Mondays. An underpass map had a palace listed on it, and I couldn't find the thing and was getting thirsty so I went back to my hotel to look it up online and I learned that all the palaces in Seoul are closed on Mondays too! What timing I have.

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The museum.

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This is a fountain near the museum. It was covered in flowing water when I saw it from across the street, but after crossing through the underpass it was off when I reached the other side.

I got very very tired all of a sudden around noon, but could not take a nap. I tried sleeping at the airport after arriving there at 5, and may have dozed some. The 5 and a half hour flight to Bangkok seemed more cramped than the one to Seoul, but I think I may have slept for a few minutes.

I knew I was going to be completely exhausted on arrival in Bangkok. I had a very clear series of tasks for myself: Pee. Go through immigration. Get baggage. Go through customs. Find ATM machine (my card worked, what a relief.) Buy bottle of water. Find taxi. I managed to complete these tasks and was very satisfied as I got in the cab that I would be sleeping soon.

It was about 1 am when we got on the road, so the highways were pretty empty. This was a very scary cab ride! The driver straddled the line between the lanes a lot of the way (I saw other cabs doing this too.) No signal or anything, just drive on the line for a bit until you make a decision. I reminded me of Toad's Turnpike on Mario Cart. Anyway, we arrived at Khao San Road. Taxis don't go down the road, so I got all my luggage out and trekked into the backpacker ghetto.

It was bustling at 1:30 or whatever. There was a circle of people around a guy who was breakdancing in the middle of the road. He wasn't on cardboard or anything, just spinning on the pavement. I heard a hoard of people singing along to U2 and it was so heartening, but I needed to get to sleep so I didn't investigate.

I found my hotel (can you call it that at $19 a night?) and checked in. It is a stark contrast to the fancy hotel I stayed at in Seoul. It's tiny. The walls are dirty and gray, and there is a frightening reddish area above one side of the bed on the otherwise purple headboard. The bathroom is the shower, so toilet paper has to live in the bed area or it will get soaked. But this room has three very important things: a bed (well really a mattress and boxspring on the floor, but close enough,) air conditioning and wifi. I'm set!

I can't sleep though. I took some benadryl last night in the hope that it would make me drowsy but still woke up at every little noise the air conditioner made. I woke up for good a little after 7.

I don't have high expectations for myself today, but if I can make it to the 7-11 down the street I would like to get some Tylenol pm or something.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I am in Korea!

I spent 11 and a half hours in the sky, and the sun never went down on Saturday--it just kept on shining into Sunday as I tried and failed to fall asleep on the plane. I was excited when I opened my vegetarian meal and saw rice and broccoli and yellow curry. Curried what, I wondered. It looks like rice but it's next to rice. It was curry sauce on a garden burger. Yum!

I had trouble figuring out where to go when I got off the plane since I knew Asiana had made a hotel reservation for me, but I didn't know where to get the information. Angel was an angel though and met me at the airport and made me happy on the bus to my hotel (which is, by the way, the fanciest hotel room I've ever visited. It has heated toilet seats and lots of other toilet buttons which I have not pressed.) We walked around a bit in the area around my hotel, which is very busy and musical and bright for being 10 at night.

My ears still need to pop and I'm very tired now, so I'll leave you with a picture of me. Unwashed, sleep-deprived, but in Korea.

Tomorrow night I leave for Bangkok!