Friday, February 3, 2012

Round, Round, I Get Around

We wanted to go downtown yesterday. If we had a car, we would have just driven, at least to a point where we could catch the Skytrain. Bangkok has many different means of transportation, the best of which is the Skytrain, an elevated, air conditioned train which runs every few minutes. To get there from our house we could take a taxi, a bus, air-conditioned or not, a tuk tuk, a motorcycle taxi or hop on what I refer to as the pick-up bus but is actually called a Songtaew.   Song is 2 and taew is row, thus two rows of seats.  Their seem to be countless numbers of these, unscheduled, and not bad on a cool morning. You sit inside a metal framework with a steel roof, handholds for those who have to stand and slightly padded bench for the rest of us. 


Morning in Samut Prakan
All around us was the constant flow of trucks, cars, motorcycles and various modifications of vehicles.  Samut Prakan, where we are this week, is a suburb of Bangkok, a few miles southeast of the city.  To get into town, we needed to first take the songtaew to the Skytrain station, about a half-hour ride in traffic like I show here.

The skytrain extended itself down closer to our house last year which is great.  Before, it took a cab ride of almost an hour, depending on the time of day.  The country has plans to have a network of skytrains going out to all the suburbs one day, but I think I may never see that day.  Such developments are quite expensive.

Once in town, we headed to find some moo yang, or grilled pork, a breakfast favorite.  Alas, we could find no moo yang.  We asked around and apparently we missed them by a few minutes.  Next we wanted some fried bananas, gluey kak, as best as I can spell out the word.  Again, none was to be found.  We stopped at a temple to pay our respects and I took a few photos.

We burned incense, lit a candle, paid our respects and off we went.

We had a disappointing lunch at one of the malls there and then ran to catch another bus, this one air conditioned, and went to Chinatown.  Her friend told her that we could find the food we wanted and we also wanted to see the Golden Buddha.  Another 20 minutes in traffic and we were there.  We considered a taxi but buses are much bigger and, in my opinion, safer, not to mention cheaper. 

We found the Golden Buddha, lit some incense and a candle, paid our respects and took a few photos.

Golden Buddha

Chinatown from the Golden Buddha Pavilion

The Golden Buddha has a great story.  Thailand and Burma were at war with each other and Burma was getting the upper hand.  This was a few centuries ago.  The Burmese were looking for gold and the King wanted to protect this particular Buddha.  He had it covered in concrete and made to look like a much simpler Buddha.  The Burmese didn't figure it out and the Buddha remained in concrete for years.  Later, after the Burmese were booted out, a crew was moving the statue when it slipped and fell.  Off cracked the concrete and out came the Buddha.  It is now a very highly respected representation.  Nee had never seen it and I had my first trip here as she sent me on a tour one day while she was at work.

In Chinatown, we managed to find some excellent pork satay (did I mention that I love Thai food?) and then wanted to head over to the train station to find out the cost of going north to Chiang Mai.  To get there we had to walk through construction and avoid getting killed crossing one of the busiest streets in town.  I saw the subway station and remembered we could get there via their tunnel as we had visited the station years ago.

We got to the station and asked about the trains north.  As we stood there, we began to have our doubts about wanting to spend 12 hours in one of the cars, even if it was airconditioned.  We needed to use the bathroom, so we went to find the facility.  When I got there, I found out I needed to pay 2 baht, about six cents, to use it.  Two ladies sat at a table directly behind where the men stood at the wall...well you get the picture.  Privacy in public restrooms is sometimes lacking, not to mention cleanliness.  When we re-emerged, we decided that maybe an hour flight for a few dollars more was well worth the price.  We made our plane reservations that night.

To get back home, we took the subway, connected to the Skytrain and then down to ground level for another songtaew.  By then, though, the heat was killing me, so we took a cab.  Still cheap, but more than a songtaew.  I got home dehydrated and quite hot.

Bangkok is a hube, crowded and confusing town.  I was so glad to have Nee with me as my company and interpreter.  Next week, we fly to Chiang Mai.  Before that I will make bagels with my brother-in-law and take a drive out the to Sea of Thailand. 

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