Current Location: Ayutthaya, Thailand
Current Weather: 88°F (feels like 97°F)
Days Gone: 33
I am no longer suffering from Conjunctivitus, woohoo! I had a lot of people ask me before I left, “What happens if you get sick?” This is what happens: step 1: get meds, step 2: get better. It’s just like at home, only cheaper, faster, and without air-conditioning. Now, granted, if I get something serious like Japanese B Encephalitis I’ll be in a bit of trouble – but the odds are (very, very) heavily against it and, well, in the game of travel, everything comes down to odds and risk management. So, newly healthy, I abandoned Koh Phi Phi and took a night bus back to Bangkok. And so it was that I arrived in Thailand’s capital at 5 AM for the second time in a month. This time I was slightly less clueless. Instead of finding a guest house to grab a couple more hours of sleep, I just bought a 10 baht Red Bull from 7-Eleven and wandered the streets while I waited for the public bus station to open (to head on to Nakhon Pathom). I watched as Bangkok woke up with the sun, street vendors sleepily dragging their carts into position and firing up their grills and woks. I talked to several drunken travelers on Khao San Road at the end of their night and watched rats scurrying back into their daytime shadows. Then I went to the 24-hour Burger King and had breakfast.
Fast food chains cannot offer the cheapest food here. It actually costs a bit more to have a meal at a KFC or Subway than it would at a local open-air restaurant. So why do they stay in business? They do have a few very important things to offer that the local joints cannot. Burger King was clean, quiet, and cold. Along with my chicken sandwich, fries, and cola, they gave me peace and air-con and a clean table all to myself, all for the low price of 99 baht ($3). This was my first Southeast Asia fast-food experience, but I can already say it won’t be my last. A little bubble of calm and little taste of home, I never thought a McDonald’s could offer such respite.
Then the bubble popped and once I found myself on the road again, headed rapidly toward the bus station in a cab. On the way I saw a shoe in the middle lane of the interstate, then a helmeted man running toward it, traffic swerving around him, then finally a blue motorbike on it’s side. The chaos was back. At the bus station I was going down an escalator when suddenly I heard a sharp whistle blow behind me. I turned a saw a uniformed man with a whistle in his mouth just as an orchestrated song began playing over the loudspeakers. Everyone stopped moving. All motion ceased. Except for me on my escalator. Four Thais had just reached the bottom and now they stood motionless as I slowly lowered toward them. I guessed (and have now confirmed) that the tune playing was the National Anthem of Thailand and everyone was stopping to show observance. So once I reached the bottom I too stood motionless (and rather awkwardly) inches from the group of four. Before the last note had died, everyone began moving again as quickly as they had stopped.
So off I went, found my bus, and headed on to Nakhon Pathom, where it turned out there wasn’t much to do. Some quick local shopping with the newly cheapened prices of the mainland provided me with shampoo, my first little vat of Tiger Balm (40 baht), and a delightful product called Prickly Heat (12 baht). I checked out a local temple, then walked back to the bus stop to move on, again, to Kanchanaburi. A pedal-bike fellow took me to a guesthouse, and then I wandered around and ordered “matabah” from a street-food vendor. I cannot find anything about this dish anywhere online. It was like a thin lasagna, breaded and fried, and stuffed with, I think, cabbage and pork (among other things).While in Kanchanaburi I also visited Erawan Falls and climbed to the 7th tier, got attacked by monkeys (they totally flanked me), visited the River Kwai Bridge, and drank 10 baht (30 cent) rum and cokes. While at the bridge I had a Thai couple want to take a photo with me, apparently just because I was a white guy with a beard. I’ve seen this happen to people with giant afros, dreadlocks, or costumes, so I guess I just looked unique for Kanchanaburi. I politely obliged and am now smiling foolishly in two photos on a strangers camera, always to be remembered as “the white guy on the bridge that day.”
Next I caught a bus to Ayutthaya (via a connection in Suphanburi) and talked my way into a free room upgrade at a local guest house where I’m only paying 150 baht ($5) per night. I visited a local night market for dinner my first night and had a crunchy catfish salad in green mango with rice for 60 baht. Snake head was on the menu but I was too hungry to risk it, maybe next time though. Then I found an ice cream shop that had 10 baht (30 cent) cones in about 15 different flavors. Low cost desserts will likely be the bane of my health before any foreign infectious disease.
While in the ice cream shop a kid ran out screaming and crying. I realized it was the first truly upset child I had seen in the month that I’ve been here. It turns out something was seriously wrong, he hobbled to the street and puked several times. This is what it took to force him into a crying rage. Back home I might see a kid scream like this because he didn’t get a candy bar he wanted. It made me stop and think about how quickly Thai kids seem to grow up from a responsibility standpoint. The boy who brought me my rice at the night market couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, and he was already working late hours with his family.
I spent today bicycling around the city and checking out several temples and ruins leftover from the 1300s. The bike rental cost me 30 baht ($1) for the whole day. I also cycled through some open air markets, where I found I could actually buy live snakes and frogs along with the usual fruits, veggies, and seafood. I’ll probably leave and head further North to Lopburi tomorrow.
Shout outs go to Bobbie Ann of Canada and her drunken friends from Brazil and Colombia who I found wandering Khao San at 5:30 AM. The pedal-bike driver who took me to my next choice guesthouse for free when the first one was full. And Tony, who braved Ayutthaya traffic with me on bicycle to reach the various ruins dotting the city.
Last thing consumed: Cantaloupe and a glass-bottled Pepsi (10 baht + 10 baht = 60 cents)
Thought fragment: I had KFC for lunch today, but I ordered a spicy Thai dish and rice (65 baht / $2). The chicken included was indeed of KFC variety, it was an interesting blend of cultures.
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