Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thailand: the new adventure

Life doesn’t get more interesting than this!

Ever since I wrote a report on Thailand in the 6th grade, I’ve been intrigued by this place. Now I’m on my way to this beautiful country…I’m sitting in Row 23, seat A of EVA Air’s Elite class, waiting for takeoff.

When I arrive, I will leave Bangkok straightaway, since I’m told it’s so polluted that people wear face masks, and go to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s 2d largest city, located in the cooler north of the country. It’s population is only a quarter million, IMO a manageable size.

The state of my teeth, and the over-the-top expense of dental treatment in the UK, has prompted this trip. It doesn’t hurt that Thailand in many ways is dirt cheap as opposed to the very pricey UK with its increasingly chilly climate.

The plane is OK. I’m in a slightly better than coach seat, more comfy than United business class but less leg room, less tilt to the chair. Dinner OK, better than US economy food (not saying much I know). Movies plentiful but screen tilt poor resulting in a dark and disappointing view. Lots of music to choose from and I nap to the best of Chris Isaak.

I awaken halfway through the flight and we are flying into a lovely peachy dawn. A city covers the dark earth beneath me and the interactive map on my screen reveals that its Tbilisi.

We pass over an unknown stretch of water north of Tehran. Clouds like rifts and waves float with grace over the land to my left, even further north of our flight path.

It’s another beautiful day…later, though, it turns cloudy. 4 hours out of Bangkok, the sky clears. The country below, in Pakistan, is hugely ridged and folded, massive mountain ridges, deep and threatening.

We eat breakfast. I help the elderly English lady seated next to me, Violet Walker, open her tiny plastic tub of creamer; she is having difficulty with it and describes it as “naughty.” So British. Out the window I can see the ocean and the jagged coast of Burma. Now we are an hour away from landing. It is 7:40 a.m. Uk time, 3 p.m. local. I am thrilled.

The land appears to be gently rolling and broken by a muddy river. The Irriwaddy?

3:30 local time and we are falling through the sky, approaching Bangkok. The land below gleams with water. Rice paddies? Makes no sense since I believe its harvest time. Then a gentle mist, humidity perhaps, obscuring detail.

The plane turns, dives, lands. It is 93 degrees F, 33 C and hazily sunny.

5:45 local time…Airport is wacky, busy-busy but everything is easy until I try to get a flight to Chiang Mai. Everything is booked but I call Brett who assures me that Thai Air will get me on a plane. They like their flights jam-packed. I am on standby for the 7:00 flight and find a restaurant. I’m parched so I order a drink, soup and a salad. I have gained 15 lbs since leaving California less than two months ago and the diet starts now, where I hope to be aided by the local (healthy) cuisine.

Friday 8 November: I am staying at the Vingbua Mansions in Chaing Mai for $25 American per night and everything I need. Slept excellently last night, ate breakfast and then my friend took me to a spa his wife recommended. A body scrub, a Thai massage and a facial later and I’m a sleepy but happy woman. After a bite to eat and a nap I’m even better.

Chiang Mai is a bit like Mexico 30-40 years ago but much safer and without the horrible poverty cheek-by-jowl with wealth that characterized parts of Mexico. Crowded, busy, streets full of cars and scooters, plus lots of open taxis called tuk-tuks. It is not, in general, a pretty city, though some streets, especially the ones with canals running down the center, are nice. If they’d buried the utility poles and planted more trees, it would be a much nicer place.

Traffic regulations appear to be advisory rather than mandatory. Double yellow lines are suggestions, and people drive on rather than in between the white ones…my late father, bless him, would have been right at home.

Though the streets are untidy and the air polluted, the Thais are very clean. I have yet to see a dirty toilet. They also have a strong aesthetic…the spa I visited was lovely, with shining wood floors and walls; the showers not only were tiled but had decorative stones and plants all around.

My hotel room is quite nice, more like a suite than a room. A small sitting room with a love seat and a TV; then a bedroom; then a little dressing room with adjoins the bathroom and the balcony. Not much of a view, alas.

The loveliness of most interiors contrasts with the ugliness of most of the exteriors. The wats (temples) are interesting and often richly decorated, but many buildings are outright horrid. Perhaps I notice this since I was just in London, one of the world’s most architecturally fascinating and beautiful cities. Almost anywhere suffers by comparison. Most parts of Sacramento are certainly no treat for the eye.

I sit outside as the day wanes in the little garden that fronts my hotel. It has a few small tables, a scrap of lawn and several large urns with floating flowers.

…bless him, the waiter brings me a beer, served with a chilled glass filled with ice.

Saturday night, 11 Nov 06:

Last night we went to a restaurant, really nice, the kind of place that normal middle class Thais frequent, or so Anong and Brett said. Lots of wood, matting and plants. Pretty good band doing soft rock covers, lots of C&W--apparently Thais love C&W.

Today was busy. Brett picked me up on his scooter (everyone seems to drive one of these) at 10 a.m. and took me to his dermatologist, who referred me to a plastic surgeon. We went to a couple of malls, had lunch with Anong and then I got a desperately needed haircut--a fairly short pixie cut so I don’t have to deal with it for awhile. I am not sure I like how I look but I rarely have liked how I look, so why not have a convenient haircut?

Then we went to Brett’s dentist and I made an appointment for Monday. Also booked a 3 day, 2 night jungle trek for next week.


Back to the hotel…wandered around a bit, bought a charger for my phone and replaced its SIM card. So I have a working mobile. If anyone wants to phone, email me for the number.

Took a shower and rested before dinner. It’s hot here and that’s tiring, in addition to the very busy day.

Brett, Anong and her daughter Manau, who’s about 13, picked me up and took me for dinner to a place that seemed like a giant outdoor barbecue, Thai style. A bunch of tables were outside under a giant awning, and each had two braziers, one with a pot of water and the other with a grate, with wood coals. Long tables were set out with various stuff to cook, and we grilled shrimp on the barbie and made soup and cooked meat over the other brazier. Vendors were grilling chicken satay stick and I must have eaten at least 10. Other tables offered fixings for green papaya salad.

It was awesome. We drank Heineken out of huge bottles with ice, and peeled and ate shrimp until bursting.

Later I had to shower again since every cell and pore were permeated with smoke.

At twelve midnight unbelievably couldn’t sleep and even more unbelievably, was hungry. Broke into the minibar and ate the Lays potato chips--Thai chilli flavor.

I have a new addiction…so much for the diet.


Post a Comment

<< Home