Adrian Hall graduated from MAPH in 2006 and worked for the program as a mentor the following year. Recently he has taken off on a journey across the globe and he has been kind enough to divulge us in his travel stories (through which we can all now live vicariously….). Keep an eye out for frequent updates.
I’ve been in Bangkok for 5 days now and have just found an internet cafe here in the Sukhumvit subway station.
First, it takes a long time to get here. It didn’t help that when I started I was in the extreme southwest of England and had to take a train for 6 hours to London. Rugby mania is in full force with the Rugby World Cup on and at Heathrow I found myself in the midst of the English national team which was pretty cool, even though in my complete ignorance of the sport I at first mistook them for the New Zealand All Blacks because they were wearing all black track suits… Anyway, I got to checking my email at the airport and completely lost track of time. When I looked up the board said my flight to Dubai was in closing so I sprinted across the entire airport and all that summer running proved handy as hell. But then I got there and not one person had gotten on the plane yet so I looked like an idiot. I then got to sit on the runway for an hour and a half because of “engine trouble,” which is not what you want to hear when you’re about to take to the sky. But after a takeoff that had me and the guys next to me all scared, the flight was fine. The Dubai airport was not made of solid gold and diamonds as I’d hoped, but it was pretty damn nice all the same. Cooler was that on the way there you could see the flames from oil wells in Iran 37,000 feet below.
Yada yada yada, another six hours to Bangkok, and I was here and wanted sleep so, so badly after being awake for like 35 hours straight. My taxi driver from the airport to my hotel was freakin’ crazy and I was convinced that he was going to deliberately rear end cars at 80 mph on the highway on the way into the city. Apparently people around here in general, have a karmic view of driving and drive with according abandon, the idea being that on the day you are destined to die a feather can kill you so you might as well drive like a maniac. That said, outside of that one ride, all the state department cautions about the insanity of traffic seem overblown. I’ve been walking everywhere or taking the ultra modern and very cool sky train and subways, that and motorbike taxis, which are very, very fun. Much of the city doesn’t really have sidewalks so you just walk in the street and it’s fine.
All in all, Bangkok is pretty awesome. It’s really dirty and really noisy, but also really alive. The juxtapostion of super modern buildings, shopping, and super hip clubs with street vendors galore, night markets, and the old shanty pockets that dot the city is really cool. I can find my way around pretty well now but at first I was completely confused. The Sois that shoot off the main roads are where most of the stuff is going on but you can get turned around in them easily. I spent the first day here wandering aimlessly around the Sukhumvit district. It was cool to see all the golden statues of, I think, Krishna around with offerings of Fanta and other sweet drinks that people had put out in the morning. I managed to get a haircut and learn some Thai from the hairdresser that I immediately forgot because the language is really hard. (I mean, it has like 22 vowels, which are then surrounded by markings that dictate their tone. Basically, reading it just ain’t gonna happen and speaking it is very difficult outside of a handful of basic phrases.) I then couldn’t find my way back to my hotel and had to break down and get a motorbike taxi. My driver couldn’t then find it either because apparently I’m staying in one of the newest hotels (and it isn’t very big) in Bangkok and a lot of people don’t know where it is. So we rode all over the place trying to find it. I didn’t mind at all because it was extremely fun. That fare cost the equivalent of 22 cents.
Everything is cheap in general. Even eating in an extremely fancy restaurant costs the equivalent of like $10 a person. What hasn’t been cheap is beer in clubs. On Wednesday night I went to this place called Q Bar which was very enamoured with Jay Z and beers at 190 baht were not a very good deal. Still, it was cool as hell and a lot of fun.
Anyway, the highlights so far would have to be Q Bar because that was a ton of fun, taking the river taxi up the Chao Phraya to Tha Tien pier and seeing Wat Po, meeting up with a guy I know from my internet baseball dorkdom who lives in Singapore and was in Bangkok for the week, and this morning at the Chatachak weekend market which is absolutely amazing. HUGE, and you can buy probably everything conceivable except a car or a laptop. Maybe even those as far as I know; I didn’t even see the whole thing. I wanted to see the section selling fish and pets but I couldn’t and eventually gave up. I only bought some t-shirts and along the way met a Philipino woman because she complemented me on my shorts and asked me where I got them. I told her the USA and she told me her sister is just about to move to Chicago on a VISA to work at the Red Lobster downtown. When I told her I was from Chicago she was agog and insisted on buying me a Coke to chat about it because apparently her mother is really worried that her sister isn’t going to know anyone there. She then basically cajoled me into going over to her house for lunch tomorrow so that I can meet her sister and give her info about Chicago and set her mother’s mind at ease about the trip. It should be pretty interesting and it’s exactly this sort of thing that I was wanting. Temples and what not all sort of blend together after you see a couple of them.
On Monday I’ll take a train northwest to Kanchanaburi and find a guesthouse by the River Kwai. I’ll probably spend a couple of days there and then go further north to Chang Mai. What else? Everyone here is so skinny! Not malnourished or anything, just really skinny. It makes my feel like some kind of beef-cake in comparison and I am far from that. I was watching CNN and a news report about the American economy showed shoppers at a Costco or some such place and I was shocked at how obese they looked all of a sudden! The weather: it’s not that hot really, about 85 F most of the time I’d guess. The monsoon is still wrapping up, so there will be maybe one downpour around noon and then another one a little before midnight. I think this is a good thing because the city does need to be washed off. After walking around for a day you definitely feel pretty filthy and are convinced you stink and have to take a shower before dinner.
I hope you’re all doing well in your respective parts of the world.