September 2002


This trip report began as e-mails to my friends and relatives in the States. They were composed at different times during the trip and sent from various Internet Cafes in Thailand. After we got back I stitched them all together into one report. The result is that it reads as a diary, which is pretty much what it is.

Monday, Sept 2, 2002

Well, we're in Bangkok. The flight was thankfully uneventful, though long. We're still fighting jet lag.

Sirivan is a great tour guide. Our hotel is in the neighborhood where she grew up. Yesterday we pigged out on food from various street vendors. The whole *town* is a restaurant. You never have to go inside if you don't want to. Lessee... I had noodle soup, mussels in batter with egg, a rice/coconut confection, Pad Thai ( a rice noodle dish you can find in Thai restaurants stateside), fried beef jerky, soy milk, a fried grasshopper, a silkworm grub, ice cream, deep fried whole tiny crabs, a drink called grass jelly (different!). That was during the day. We nibbled as desired and the meals kind of ran together. Last night we took a dinner/cruise on the river and added to the list squid stuffed with pork and garlic, curried duck, teriyaki pork, steamed fish and grass noodle salad. I must have put on five pounds. And yes, those two items in the middle of the list really were bugs. Not bad, either.

During the day we rode up the river on a water taxi to see the Grand Palace, built in the 18th century by King Rama I, and which is the site of the Emerald Buddha, a three-plus foot statue carved out of a solid block of emerald. I tried to capture the palace on my digital camera, but finally gave up and bought a bunch of post cards. We also strolled around, visited Sirivan's brother and her Alma Mater, Thammasat University.

Today we plan to see Wat Pho (a temple housing the largest reclining Buddha), the Indian district, Chinatown and have dinner with one of Sirivan's old friends. And, if there's time, we might work out at the local branch of 24-Hour Fitness.

Later in the week we plan to travel south to Phuket (pronounced poo-KET - shame on you!) to do some scuba diving.

That's all for now. We'll keep you updated as opportunity permits. I brought my laptop since AOL has a local number and the phones use standard US RJ11 jacks, but my modem doesn't recognize the local dial tone. We're stuck using the internet cafes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

We didn't make it to the Indian district or Chinatown yesterday. We made it as far as Wat Pho. Foreigners have to pay to get in; Thais don't. I bought a ticket. Sirivan walked around the ticket booth and turnstile, smug as you please.

We'd pretty much finished touring the place when we ran into the Luckiest Cat in Bangkok. Rather, we were attracted by it's meowing. The Luckiest Cat in Bangkok was maybe 4 weeks old; it's eyes hadn't quite opened yet and didn't look like they ever would: they were both badly infected and swollen. It was blind and trapped in a corner of a wall surrounding a bush. It was being attacked by ants. It was screaming louder than a grown cat, and whaddya know, it attracted the Softest Touch in Bangkok, yours truly. It had either lost its mother or, more likely, had been abandoned by a human owner on the temple grounds, a popular spot for that. I picked it up, took it to the men's room and washed off its face as best I could. I got rid of the ants, but couldn't do anything about the eyes. I put it down by a small pond, hoping it would drink. It wouldn't. Blind, it stepped onto a lily pad and thankfully had enough sense to retreat before it fell in.

About that time an elder monk walked by with two younger ones in attendance. Sirivan explained the kitten's plight to the senior monk. An old monk couldn't stand by idly and watch a kitten die. No siree. He had people of lower rank who could do that for him. He said something to one of the young monks who left in the direction they came from. The elder monk and the remaining young one continued on. In a few minutes a guard arrived, talking into his radio and using the word "cat". We showed him to the kitten. He picked it up, reacting somewhat to its condition. He put in down on a table. The sightless animal promptly walked off the edge and fell to the ground with a thud. The guard remained to observe things but otherwise did nothing.

It dawned on me that nobody was going to do anything to help. I scooped up the Luckiest Cat in Bangkok and with Sirivan's help, took it to the nearest Vet in a taxicab, clutching it to my chest all the way. There we named him Pho (pronounced "Po"). They cleaned him up, applied antibiotic ointment to his eyes, and dewormed him for good measure. We bought kitten formula and two kinds of antibiotics and took him home to Sirivan's brother's house where we fed him with a syringe. Finally we left him, quiet and snoozing, in the care of their maid Phong who also has a soft heart for strays and who promised to feed and medicate him.

That pretty much finished off our day. Last night we went to a super Japanese restaurant with a group of Sirivan's old friends, then finished off the evening at the hotel where we both got foot and neck massages. They sat us in reclining chairs and worked on both ends at the same time: a masseur for the feet and a masseuse for the neck. The bill came to $5.00 each for 45 minutes.

Today - Tuesday - we went past Sirivan's old (Catholic) High School and then covered the Indian district and Chinatown that we missed yesterday. In a few minutes we're leaving for Phuket, where we plan to stay until Friday.

Friday, September 6, 2002

Well, we've spent three action-packed days in Phuket.

We flew in Tuesday night and took a cab to the hotel, a 40-minute ride. The driver talked us into stopping at a travel agent friend of his, which turned out to be a good move. She told us everything we needed to know and organized the rest of our trip. Had we waited until morning we would have wasted a whole day.

On Wednesday bright and early we took an all day bus tour to the Phang Nga region to see James Bond Island. This is one of a number of unusual rock formations that rise straight out of the sea and which were featured in "The Man With the Golden Gun". We had to get there by boat, stopping on the way to explore some sea caves in an inflatable canoe. We had lunch at a Muslim fishing village which evidently makes more money selling lunches and souvenirs to tourists than by fishing. On the way back home we stopped to see rubber tree tapping and ride an elephant. After the elephant ride there was a show starring a trained elephant which, among other acts, massaged members of the audience. They lay you down on a mat and cover your back with a towel. Then the elephant - a young one - pats you up and down with one foot. Each pat was maybe 20 pounds of pressure and was actually pleasant for those who managed to relax. Sirivan and I both partook and enjoyed it.

That night we went to a restaurant specializing in grilled seafood. They had the most incredible display of live and fresh (iced) seafood right out on the sidwalk. They charge by weight. You pick out what you want and they grill it over charcoal and bring it to your table. The selection and quality of the fish and shellfish was amazing. I don't know any market in the States, let alone a restaurant, that could match it. I picked out three 12 inch Tiger Prawns and had them grilled and served with a hot sauce. The result was reminiscent of Piri Piri Prawns that we used to get in Mozambique and Angola. Sirivan ordered Thai dishes from the menu and regreted it. Tonight we're going back and she plans to order the fresh stuff. :)

Thursday we went scuba diving, or at least I did. Sirivan unfortunately suffers from motion sickness and started feeling poorly during the 1 hour ride to the boat in the back of a truck, which was closed in on account of a thundershower early in the trip. She was sick before she even got on the boat and was puking as we cast off. The trip to the island destination was an hour and 40 minutes each way and the seas were especially rough that day. She went through hell. Needless to say, she didn't do any diving that day. The next day she stayed at the hotel by the pool while I went diving again.

The diving was great. The water was warm and clear and there was plenty to see: lots of coral teeming with various forms of marine life. Not just the expected colorful tropical fish, but eels (I saw a Moray), sting rays, several varieties of sea cucumber and more. I made four dives over the two days plus spent some time snorkeling in between dives.

Tomorrow we return to Bangkok.

Sirivan called her brother's home and learned that Pho is doing well. His little eyes have opened and they're no longer red. He has lots of energy and has begun taking solid food, though in this part of the world that's not such a good thing: they feed their cats rice here and not much else. We admonished Sirivan's maid Phong to continue the formula for at least a week. I hope she does. Pho is quiet unless he sees people around, in which case he screams for attention. Well, it worked before, didn't it?

Well it's about suppertime now, so I guess this is a good time to close. I'll try to write again before we fly back on Monday.

Sunday, September 8, 2002

Lessee, where were we? Oh yes. We were leaving for dinner in Patong Beach on Phuket Island. This time we each had a basket of shellfish, grilled, containing a lobster, four giant Tiger Prawns, half a dozen large shrimp, some mussels and clams and squid. Sirivan couldn't finish hers, it was so much. Each basket came to $20.

We had originally planned to fly back Friday night, but you can't fly for eight hours after a dive, so we changed it to Saturday. After dinner we strolled around the bar district in Patong Beach. "Bar" seems to be Thai for "Red Light". Each bar, and there were over a hundred, was teeming with young Thai girls literally pulling guys into the bars to buy them drinks and discuss other possibilities. Even though Sirivan and I were holding hands, some of them were still grabbing me. In the interest of science (quit snickering) I walked down one lane of bars by myself. I was mobbed. Felt pretty good, too. Scientifically speaking.

We flew back to Bangkok Saturday, arriving around midday. After collecting the bags we left at Sirivan's brother's place and saying hello and goodbye to Pho, we had a lunch at a Hot Pot restaurant. These places have on each table an electric cooker containing chicken broth. You order raw meat, seafood, noodles and vegetables from the menu and cook them in the pot. Then you dish the items, along with broth, into your own bowl. Not bad. We also had roast duck on rice as a side dish.

After lunch we spent the afternoon in the so called Weekend Market. As its name suggests, it's only open on weekends. It must be the world's largest flea market, covering God knows how many acres with literally thousands of little vendor stalls. There is a framework that holds up a roof over each section, but there are no outer walls so it's adequately ventilated. You can't see the whole thing in one day - it would take at least a week. They have it organized into categories of merchandise so you can find what you want in a relatively small area. I found some chopsticks and holders that I liked.

That night we were hot and tired from travelling and walking around in the heat (it's 90 degrees here and quite humid) so we decided to take a short nap at 8 pm before going out to dinner. We woke up at 7 the next morning.

Today (Sunday) we toured the Teak Palace, residence of Rama V, and then went to the zoo nearby. Tonight we won't get much sleep, if any. We have to leave the hotel at 3:00 AM for a 6:00 AM flight. Ugh.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

We're home. In the end, I got one hour of sleep Sunday night and Sirivan got none. We left the hotel at 3:30 AM for the airport, the start of a 40-hour day.

Security on International flights leaving Bangkok is tighter than the US. They searched all of the checked luggage by hand as well as X-raying it. Then they searched and x-rayed the carry-on and patted down and wanded most of the passengers.

Sirivan had paid $90 to upgrade her standby pass to First Class standby. On the way over, I sat in First as far as Tokyo while she stayed in Coach; then we switched on the leg to Bangkok. Coming back, she insisted that I stay in First all the way so I could sleep since I had to go straight to work when we landed. (She still had a week of vacation.) It worked. I took some Melatonin and got a total of 8 hours sleep on the two legs home, waking about 7:00 AM Pacific time feeling pretty refreshed. Mitt met us at the airport and drove us home. From there I went straight to work. The next morning, I braced myself for the bad news, then weighed and measured: I'd gained 10 pounds and put two inches on my waist. It was fun, though.

Post Script

Two months after we got back, little Pho disappeared. He wandered off and was never seen again. Most likely he was run over by a car. You can't win 'em all. At least he didn't die that day, blind, starving, terrified and being slowly eaten by ants. Come to think of it, maybe we did win, after all.