Addressing the Nation’s Transportation Needs

Every vehicle in Thailand, regardless of its intended purpose is frequently used to transport people. And apparently, there are no safety rules. For instance, in the US we have infant car seats that can withstand a high speed head-on collision. And toddlers must be in one of those car seats. (In a previous post, I showed an infant being carried in a spackle bucket on the arm of a motorcycle passenger.) In Thailand, if you can fit in or on a vehicle, you’re good. Except of course if you’re an American. Then if you’re not wearing a seat belt, you’re subject to a “fine” payable in cash, with no receipt provided. Kids in America wear helmets while riding trikes on the sidewalk. In Thailand, it seems only foreigners wear helmets. And driving on roads is not required.

Red Jitney Box Truck

Dump TruckFight TruckMuslim PickupSidecarThigh CartTruck on Beach

Impressions of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Children

We encountered a surprising number of young Asian families vacationing in both Thailand and Cambodia. They were all well dressed and stayed at the better hotels. I’m guessing that most were Koreans, but there were also many Thais, Filipinos, Malaysians, among others. The kids are all adorable and very photogenic. The parents are very affectionate with their children and spoil them terribly. Although most are very well behaved, some are incorrigible.

Asian GirlChild in Jeans Mother & Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Positive Thinking

In communicating with the locals, even among those speaking some English, there is a major barrier. Their pronunciation is very strange, and they go back and forth from English to Thai. And no matter what question you ask them, you get a confused look, a smile and a nod, and then an affirmative, “Yes!”

“Is this necklace 18 carat gold or gold plate?” “Yes!”

“Will I die if I walk down this alley to get to my hotel?” “Yes!”

“Is this Spicy Pepper Dragon Rice with Curry and Habanero mild enough for Americans to eat?” “Yes!”

Relative Safety

In every US City, as well as the capitals of the world, there are streets that you would never venture down. But in Thailand, the most intimidating alleys are frequented by tourists and locals alike. It was in one of these dark, dank passages that Sara came upon a stand exhibiting several cases of beautifully designed silver jewelry. Alleyway Jewelry StoreDespite an inventory of tens thousands of dollars in precious metal, the emporium was unmanned. Sara asked the people at the tee shirt stand across the way about the jewelry store owner, and the guy laughed and said, “In Toilet, be back.” So as we’re browsing the tee shirts, I spot this guy that looks 16, has an Odell Beckham haircut, and is sporting piercings in both ears, one nostril, one eyelid,  and one eyebrow. I say to Sara, “You’re about to meet Harry Winston.”Odell

Sara found a couple of bracelets that she liked, and an excited Odell thought he was making a double sale. Lowering the price for each, he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. I kept shaking my head, no. But after playing hard to get, the way she did with me when we dated, she kept squeezing his ingronies and finally bought the one she really wanted at an incredible price that even I couldn’t believe. When we left him dazed, and bleeding profusely from his wallet, he learned just how dangerous that alley really could be.

Bracelet

 

A Clean Sweep

I’ve previously chronicled the dirty conditions in Thailand, but there is a paradox. These people are obsessed with sweeping. There are stores, stands and and rolling carts selling brooms in every size and configuration, and it seems half the population is employed as sweepers. They sweep streets, sidewalks, hallways, nature paths and even the beaches, all by hand – every day.

Street SweeperSweeper

Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Angkor Management

Just when we thought we were all temple and shrined out, we arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the largest temple complex in the world. It was built over a period of time during more than three centuries, with hundreds of structures occupying a 250 square mile area. We only got to visit a handful of temples and other buildings, and stopped to photograph others, but barely saw one percent of the sprawling ancient kingdom. The photos below will give you some idea of the construction effort, but you will not be able to appreciate the size of some of the towers that reach up to 700 feet (70 story building). Using hand labor, rocks the size of cAngor Thom Gateaskets were piled up and cemented into place, forming endless walls, homes, shrines,and temples.

 

SOMEONE SNEEZED

SOMEONE SNEEZED

Angor WatAngor Wat Wall

 

 

 

 

Dancers

 

Home

 

 

 

 

 

Small TempleTemple Towers2

 

 

 

Temple Tower

 

 

Wall Decor

The Temples of Doom

River View

The River is Green

Ayutthaya is an ancient city, founded as the capitol of Siam in the 13th century. We spent five days here, exploring the ruins and hanging out at our hotel. The hotel is situated on the river that separates the ancient city from the modern one. Here’s the view from our hotel window. The building on the other bank only look like they were built in the 12 hundreds. They are more recent, but could use a little updating.

Prang

Early Saturn Rocket

The size of the area comprising the old city is enormous, and the remains of the structures are nothing less than amazing. Some of the spires rise over 100 feet in the air. Most of the structures are temples with surrounding buildings, walls and statues.Tall Temple

And with all the tourists, there are dozens of buses. And they are sights to be seen as well. Each is a work of art, and are all individually designed with outrageous graphics.

Bus

Buses

 

 

 

 

 

Fal Doun Soon (Leaning Tower of Siam

Fal Doun Soon (Leaning Tower of Siam)

Wat Dat Chit (Heads Will Roll)

Wat Dat Chit (Heads Will Roll)

 

 

 

 

 

Courtyyard

Towers in Village

Observations of a Curious Traveler

Shopping in Thailand. There are two venues for shopping in Thailand. There’s the malls, which are beyond huge, often taking up an entire square block and rising seven to nine stories. They contain everything from stands, to shops, to designated concessions in the larger stores. The food courts are immense, sometimes taking up two floors of a mall. And there you can find everything from fine dining to ice cream stands. The other shopping opportunity comeMarkets from the endless number of stalls and stands that line the streets, alleys and highways. At these entrepreneurial, dust covered establishments, you can uncover just about anything from tee shirts, to building materials, to airplane parts. And food! There is no shortage of push carts with people preparing unimaginable and odorific selections of fish, fruit, soups, and meat dishes. The entire country comprises the world’s largest flea market, fleas and all.

A Word About Security. Getting to Thailand required us to go through three airport screenings – Tampa, JFK and Beijing, the last requiring four separate screening stages, including a pat down. The Chinese official commented in Beijingese that he thought I had firm buns. At least that’s what I think he said. Arriving at Bangkok, we got checked through customs, and then the next day when I went back to retrieve our lost luggage, I needed my passport just to get into the airport, and then the luggage was scanned and my passport again checked, before I could leave the airport.

On the second day of our trip, we went to the other side of Bangkok to tour the palace grounds. Near the site, we encountered and an unannounced, make-shift identification check of everyone (several hundred) walking doRoad Checkwn that street. Foreigners were required to get on one line and show their passports, and locals had to show identification on another line. To everyone, except us Americans, all of this security seemed routine. Traveling anywhere in the world, this protection is accepted, and getting more intense. So it makes me wonder why we are protesting against securing our own borders, when we have so much to lose.

Air Quality. We have now traveled to several parts of Thailand and the air goes from bad to horrific. There is no control over emissions from any road vehicles, including tarps over dump truck materials. Fires are burning everywhere, from cooking to underbrush burns. Combine this with the heat and you have temperature inversions creating smog that envelopes the landscape in a constant haze. A large number of people wear face masks, not to prevent the spread of germs, but to keep all these particulates out of their lungs. After a while you can see the black soot building up around the nose and mouth portions of the masks. The cities are the worst, but even on the open road, the mountains are barely visible in the distance.

SmogMotorists ride on a road as thick haze from wildfires blanket the city in Pekanbaru, Riau province, Indonesia, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. The haze, which has shrouded parts of neighboring Malaysia and Singapore for about a month, also spread to Thailand on Monday, the first time it has reached hazardous levels so far north. (AP Photo)

Dining in Thailand. There are several types of cuisine available throughout the country. Thai, of course, including everything from mild American style, to super-hot dishes that will burn holes in your clothing. The Chinese food is much closer to the authentic food from China, rather than Chicken Chow Mien. We haven’t tried the Indian cuisine, as none of us are into curry. And the Japanese dishes consist of noodles, soups and entrees made mostly with fish. The sushi is very good, and the wasabi has the same effect as swallowing a radio-active pellet. I saw a Scandinavian woman put an ice creams scoop of wasabi on two small pieces of sushi, and I sat there waiting for the 911 call for an ambulance. Believe it or not, one of the most popular types of cuisine in Thailand is Italian, and it is really well done. The pizza has been excellent, as have the various pasta dishes with a multitude of authentic sauces. We’ve probably had more Italian food here than at home.street-food-thailand

We have deliberately avoided the street vendors, as the smells and the filth are a major turn-off. While the fruits and vegetables look really good, and some of the meat selections are appetizing, it just seems too risky. And if you stand on a sidewalk and eat a piece of chicken satay on a stick, it immediately gets covered with soot, so it looks like you put too much pepper on it.

Caving In

We drove down the west peninsular of Thailand to Cha-An Beach in Phetchaburi. The most interesting attraction there was not the beach, which was overrun with dogs and cats and a couple of chickens. We didn’t want to walk a beach that was actually a mile-long pet toilet. Instead we went to Luang Mountain, which holds the Khao Luang Cave. At the base of the mountain, parking is free. The parking area however, is crawling with monkeys, scavenging for food, hats, sunglasses, cameras, and anything you are overrun that they can steal. So you have to pay the monkey monitor 40 bahts to feed the monkeys and keep them occupied while you tour the cave. He has a bag of corn cobs, cut in sections that he tosses to the dozens of monkeys that he has trained to both steal your belongings, and sit on your car and scratch the paint.Two Monkeys

A jitney truck took us to the upper staging area, where we hiked up to the entrance of the cave and climbed down into the chambers. The interior of the cavern was set up as an underground temple, with Buddhas arranged in the various rooms.  The largest chamber had a huge Buddha with an oversized prayer mat set in front. I was afraid to kneel down and meditate, because with my luck, my kneecaps would be covered in bat guano.

Cave Opening Cave Buddhas  Sitting Buddhas Buddha Inserts    Giant Buddha

Thailand’s Criminal Justice System

We previously related the extortion caper with the taxi driver, but this one is even better. Being aware that even good driving gets punished in this country, Tom was especially careful to stay well within the bounds of the traffic rules. It was like he was taking his driving test all over again.

We were cruising along the coast, taking in the sights. Tom stopped the car so I could jump out and snap a couple of photos near the water. I got back in the car, and less than a block later, we were pulled over at a roadside traffic stop. The polite police officer pointed out that my seat belt was not fastened. He showed me a piece of paper on his clipboard with handwritten scribbles and pointed to the number 500. Knowing the drill, I reached in my pocket to retrieve a 500 baht note ($15), but Tom said to the constable, “500 bahts? How about 200?” Not knowing if he understood the American sense of humor, I couldn’t tell whether the officer was going to laugh or pull his weapon. Fortunately, he started laughing, took the 500 baht note, and slipped it under his clipboard. I then asked for a receipt. “No receipt for you.” “OK. Can I take your picture?” He shook his head, obviously running out of patience. He then gave us a salute and waved us on. As we drove away, we returned the favor and gave him a salute.middle-finger_11

The $15 photo was worth it.

Beach

The Mean Streets of Thailand

After several near-death experiences while walking and riding taxis in Bangkok, we are now driving a mini-van in Pattaya and the region surrounding it. If we’re going to die, we want it on our terms.

First Lesson – Rule #1. There are no rules. Traffic lights, road signs, directional markers on streets are all suggestions, and you obey them at your own risk.

Lesson Two – There arBiker Familye no traffic laws that apply to motorcycles. They can drive on sidewalks, against traffic, and through people’s property. They can also carry as many people as they can on the bikes, with or without helmets (another suggestion). And they are involved in 80% of all vehicular accidents, although we have yet to see one fender-bender.

Cargo Biker

Lesson Three – Don’t mess with buses. They are huge, double-decker vehicles that take up the entire two lanes of traffic. And they stop for no one.

Cycle1Lesson Four – Traffic Lanes. Most streets have painted lane lines, but they mean nothing. The narrow streets (alleys) have no markings, and by necessity are one way. That doesn’t stop the bikers from going the wrong way, and walkers to clog the entire street. Driving down one is an experience. Two lane streets always have cars illegally parked in one lane and every other vehicle squeezed into the second lane, except motorcycles. They weave in and out of the traffic, drive in the oncoming lane, and on the sidewalk, if there is a sidewalk. It is more dangerous to walk on the sidewalk then in the street, and the street is really risky. Most sidewalks are about two feet wide and are made with paver stones, which are uneven and loose. Every 20 feet or so, there is a raised cement step in the middle of the sidewalk, that’s there for no apparent reason. Utility poles and signposts also occupy the sidewalk. The sidewalks are also infested with street vendors, selling everything from clothing to jewelry to unidentifiable food. Now picture tBangkok Streetwo-way pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks.

Lesson Five – Traffic Signals. Traffic lights are red for a minimum of 2 minutes, and then another two minutes for turning traffic, and sometimes another two minutes for pedestrians. When the light finally turns green, if you’re still awake, you charge through the intersection in the midst of a crush of bikers, who have all snaked their way to the front of the queue. You have to move quickly, because the green light turns red in 20 seconds. Yea, I couldn’t figure that out either.

Clogged StreetLesson Six – Get out of Dodge. By now you have realized that there is no way to navigate any of the streets in the urban jungles by any mode of transportation. Yes it’s much safer dealing with the elephants, tigers, snakes and zika-carrying mosquitoes of the inland jungles, then to set foot out of your hotel in any of the cities.

A Golf Experience

Tom and I played at the Laem Chabang International Golf Course yesterday, and it was truly international. The foursome in front of us were surly Pakastanis, and the group behind us were from the Philippines. The couple we played with, Lee and Helena, were South Koreans.

Each golfer had his own cart, driven by his caddy (all female – at least we think so). My caddy, Dienne, was the most experienced, having done this for 18 years. She was excellent at giving distance in yards, and reading greens. And she was very protective of me, catering to my every need. This included water, ice, napkins, snacks, etc., plus selecting my clubs for each shot.

Our playing partners, Lee and Helena were delightful and fun to play with. He complained about his age causing him to lose distance on his shots, and comparing my youth with my long drives. When we learned that we were both 76, he was as surprised as I was. Helena was a good golfer, despite her lack of distance. She was making incredible chip shots to save strokes, scoring a better hole than Lee. At one point I went up to her and said, “Helena, I am so very sorry. I had assumed that Lee was the better golfer. But you are too good for him.” She expressed shock, and then couldn’t stop laughing, trying to tell Lee what I had just told her.

The girls were obviously trained to take every opportunity to touch us with gestures. I think it’s supposed to increase their tips. When Lee was in a sand trap, his caddy came up behind me, grabbed my waist and held me, saying, “Careful Mr. Mike. Lee hit ball not good.” Tom’s caddy kept fanning him, and they all found reasons to fondle his arms, waist, back, etc. To them, he was bigger than life. Early in the round, Dienne grabbed my arm, pulled me to her ample breast, and held me there. I turned and looked her in the eye, and said, “Dienne, it’s too early for sex.” “No, Mr. Mike. Golfer hitting ball at you now!”

DienneCaddies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Fan Helena, Lee

Truth Be Told

Our first excursion in Pattaya took us to the Sanctuary of Truth, an incredibly ornate building decorated with the most intricate carvings I’ve ever seen. We entered the property atop a cliff that looked down to the temple, which was situated inside a parapet wall at the water’s edge. A set of wood steps with rope railings wound down to the entrance of the complex.

As we stood at the base taking pictures and watching the sculptors and craftsmen refurbishing the façade, a guide came up to us and asked if we wanted an English-speaking tour of the property. We accepted her invitation, and she brought us to a small building with a model of the temple. This beautiful, Catherine Zeta-Jones lookalike introduced herself as Om. There she explained how the entire structure was built of wood, without any nails or other metal fasteners.

We found her Thai-accented English to be excellent and her wit sharp. It also didn’t hurt that she was stunningly beautiful, with expressive eyes and a warm smile.

As we toured the many chambers of this huge building, we kept guessing as to its age. And we were stunned when we learned that construction on this ancient temple actually began only 35 years ago using wood that was over 100 years old. And we wondered where you find artisans in this age to create the detail of these beautiful wood carvings.

In the center alcove of the building was an alter atop five steps. There, Om explained that the steps represented the five laws of Buddhism, similar to our Ten Commandments. Within the five laws, she noted that there was none about coveting. Once we learned that, Tom and I found ourselves uncontrollably lusting for Om.

At the end of the tour, which took over an hour, Om showed us a brief video on her iPad. It was a story of a little Asian girl and the conflict caused by her love for her father and his efforts to support their family. The message of the video was “truth” and it reinforced the symbolism within the temple that our host had described. When she clicked off the iPad, we stood there holding back tears, and began to ask her about her life. Tom asked if she was married, and if she had kids of her own. She hesitated, smiled and said, “I must always tell the truth. I am a lady-boy.”

Sanctuary of TruthTemple Side Temple Entrance

 

 

 

 

 

Wall Carving Temple Exit