Test of Strength

When Sara and I planned this trip with Tom and Maggie Mulvihill, our friends asked how our friendship would survive a month of spending every day together. But we’ve been close for many years, and were sure we could handle each other’s quirks, warts and baggage. And everyone contributed to the process.Luca

Tom spent months researching and planning itineraries, must-see sights, logistics, etc. He accumulated a file folder that was an inch thick with information. He and Sara also searched for hotels and flights, seeking the best rates to fit our preferences and schedules. But even with all that, there were many unexpected disappointments, and difficult situations. And overcoming them became a large part of the adventure. Bangkok, while beautiful and full of amazing attractions, was so congested that it was near impossible to go anywhere without hours of traffic delays. And the air was so polluted, breathing was uncomfortable, and the skyline obscured. As result we cancelled our planned final week return to that city.

Upon leaving Bangkok, we rented a van to travel to the seaside community of Pattaya before heading north to the mountains. Pattaya turned out to be an even bigger disappointment than Bangkok. The beach was very narrow, and so packed with beach chairs that walking along the surf was nearly impossible. And the city was just as traffic-jammed and dirty as BK.Beach Chairs So once again we changed plans, and drove to the other side of the country to a seashore town called Cha Am. And while this beach was wide and uncrowded, it was overrun with dogs and cats. And guess what they used for toilet facilities? We stayed overnight and then turned around and headed north. Our plan was to get halfway to Chang Mai that day, but we only covered about 20% of the distance.

So let me tell you about the driving. Cars and trucks drive on the right side of the road, and have right hand steering and controls. Motorcycles drive wherever they want,including sidewalks and shoulders. And go in any direction they want. T&M Elephant RideWhile the roads are clearly marked, none of us can read Thai. The English translation, when it appears on road signs, is very small. Tom brought his GPS which he had updated with current Thai driving information. For some reason, instead of a Garmin, he bought a brand called Tom Tom. None of the addresses he put in came up on the GPS. So we approximated the area on the map where we thought we were going, and we used the iPhone’s GPS as a backup. The Tom Tom was mounted on the windshield, and I held the phone, giving Tom instructions. Can you see where this is going? Well, neither could we. WeSara Mike Selfie would drive for an hour, check the highway exits, and possibly change direction, not knowing exactly why. Tom was getting frustrated. I was giggling. Sara kept saying, “Why don’t we stop and ask for directions?” And Maggie would say, “Sweetie, did you take your medication this morning?”Maggie, Sara

Tom also dictated a rule that we would never let the tank go to less than half full (which I agreed to at first). This despite the fact that there was an occupied commercial or residential building every fifty feet along the highway. We were not in the untamed jungles far from civilization. And every time he used his directionals, the windshield wipers came on, which made me giggle. After a few hours of aimless driving, and considering what I just described, it was getting a little tense in the car. At one point, Tom was so stressed, he said, “I need a piece of gum.” Sara offered him some of hers, but he wanted his own brand. So we pulled over, and he opened the tailgate and started going through his luggage, looking for gum. And Maggie commented, “We’re not doing this shit anymore.” And Sara said, “Shouldn’t we ask for directions?” And I giggled.Tom-Mag Banyan

Maggie pulled out a map from one of the tour books, and suggested we go to the Kingsri River Hotel in Ayuthaya. She thought it wasn’t that far away. So we made a decision to find that city and go to that hotel. At that point I was really feeling for Tom, as it was a frustrating ride. Truth EntranceWe found the hotel with no trouble. They had two rooms, but for only one night. We took them, and went to the dining room for lunch, and a drink. After a relaxing lunch, the girls suggested we change plans again, and skip Chang Mai in the mountains, and go to Cambodia next, instead of at the end of the vacation. No one wanted to be driving on the road again. Sara thought we should consider the beaches at Phuket for the last leg of the vacation. Despite being much more expensive, we all thought that area may be the only location to end the trip on a high note.

Maggie & ElephantWell Cambodia turned out to be a wonderful surprise, not because of the temples at Ankgor Wat, but the delightful hotel and staff where we stayed. And then Patong Beach in Phuket became the highlight of the vacation. Unfortunately Tom got sick in Phuket, and spent a day or two in his room, putting a damper on his last few days.King's Dancers

In summary, Sara and Maggie enjoyed the shopping, the sights and the people. They especially liked hanging out at the various pools, and the excellent restaurants we visited. Always being up for an adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed the country, the people, and finding humor in everything I saw. Tom appreciated the marvelous architecture and other attractions, the challenge of the driving, and the fettuccine carbonara, which he had at least twice a week. The relationship? It’s as strong as ever, despite the challenges and the stress. And it proved our mutual love and respect.

Patong Sunset

Further Impressions

The Tourists

Sixteen million tourists come to Bangkok every year from all over the world. From there they scatter around the country to the major attractions. We were fortunate to see a good cross section, although it was difficult to photograph them. So you will have to visualize my descriptions.

One of the most interesting visitor stories we heard was from the owner of an Italian Trattoria. In addition to the restaurant, he owns a farm that supplies meat and produce for the eatery. All year long he stocks his freezers with brains and testicles. And every November hordes of Siberian men vacation in Thailand and clean out his entire stock of these two delicacies. Makes you wonder what deficiency is causing this? Or maybe they are just trying to reinforce what they think they really have.i-nostri-salumi

Every city we visited had its share of middle aged men with a beautiful, young Thai woman as their companion. The incongruity was so obvious that you wonder why they are not embarrassed walking around. At our last stop in Patong, there was a group of Pakistani men, all with their attractive playthings. They drank and frolicked from 10 in the morning til late at night and then they went to bed (I guess).

The hotel lobbies and airports had the usual mix of very wealthy travelers, impeccably dressed, alongside grubby, grungy backpackers that smelled like gym socks gone bad. Some of them were so offensive that you couldn’t be within ten feet of them. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to sit next to any of them on the cramped local flights.

An unusually higTatsh percentage of men (and women) visitors have tattoos in Thailand, and there’s a ink shop on every street and alley. The men have most of their bodies covered, and for the most part they look grotesque, but that’s my undefiled body’s opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Women of Southeast Asia

We found the young Thai women to be beautiful with light skin and slender bodies. When they speak it is soft and melodic. Saying hello (Sawasdee Ka) comes out more like a sigh than a word. They are also obsessed with their skin color, keeping themselves covered in the sun. Many of them use whitening cream to make their pigment even lighter. By contrast, all the Caucasians are lying in the sun reinforcing their dark tans in an attempt to achieve the American Indian look. It is obvious that the older Thai women are not focused on looks or weight, and they develop loud, screechy voices that assault your hearing. They make great street vendors, which many of them are.Attendants

Flight Attendants

Food VendorBangkok Lady

 

 

 

Breathtaking Beauty

Throughout these posts, I’ve shared photos of the crumbling buildings and shabby, corrugated sheet metal housing. But by contrast, Thailand has some of the most modern office buildings, and temples and sculptures of sheer beauty. The immaculate temple complexes are everywhere, like churches in the USA, and the Buddhist-inspired art can be found in the most unusual locations. The stature below was in one of the smaller terminals of Don Mueang Airport, the older of the two Bangkok airports.

Airport Statue G Building Lego BuildingBuilding

Roof Detail