It’s my second time writing in the same day! I’m now in Bangkok, in case you didn’t gather that from the subject line. However, I did not make it to the Vietnamese Embassy today, because, as we were warned in orientation, nothing in Thailand ever goes as planned! It took me longer than I expected to get on the road, in part because I had some stuff to do at home and also because the van that goes to Bangkok didn’t stop to pick me up as I had called and asked them to do. So a good 2 hours after I had been hoping to get on the road, I finally did (I called again and a later van picked me up). The van ride also had a few stops to pick up additional people which slowed us down, so by the time I finally arrived here, the embassy had been closed for 12 minutes!
But alas, I made it in one piece. The van is awfully convenient, as it drops us off at the Victory Monument (as seen to the right), where there is a Sky Train station, so it’s super easy and cheap to get downtown (as opposed to the bus I took last time that dropped us at the bus station a ways out of town and required an expensive cab ride that cost more than the bus ticket to get into town!).
This time I opted to stay at one of the hostels run by that company I stayed with in Canada (Hostelling International)…I get a discount because I have a membership card with them and it was also less than half the price of the place I stayed last time (even with splitting the room). This room I think is something like 250 baht or so, thought it has 4 beds…they were just empty when I arrived. Well…the rule about getting what you pay for definitely holds true here! Oh well…I can survive for at least one night.
By the time I got settled in at the hostel it was nearly 6pm, so needless to say, today wasn’t horribly eventful. I rode the Sky Train back to Siam Square, the major shopping district to eat and look around a bit. On the way, I witnessed what was probably one of the most striking moments of Thai society I’ve seen yet! I got off the Sky Train and was in the station at precisely 6pm when all of a sudden, through all the chaos of it being the interchange station between lines, the Royal Anthem came on over a loudspeaker and everything literally stopped. People froze exactly where they were (literally!) and stood in respect for the anthem. When it finished, suddenly the whole world sprang back to life! It was pretty amazing to see!
I wandered around the Siam Square area for a while, exploring the various little Soi’s (pronounced “Soy”–side streets of a sort, though some are quite large, and others quite small) of the area. There a witnessed another fascinating ritual in front of the Erawan hotel, where there is a fairly large and very impressive Spirit House (which are very important in Thai culture–See the photo to the left). There were probably hundreds of people there lighting candles and incense and placing flowers around the shrine. There was also a traditional Thai band and traditional Thai dancers. I don’t quite understand why they were doing it, as Spirit Houses are for spirits whose powers don’t extend beyond their immediate location. It was also quite fascinating.
Finally, I rode the Sky Train back towards my hostel and decided to be brave and check out Bangkok’s most infamous district…Patpong…the “red light” district, which is actually where I am currently writing this email from. Talk about a sensory overload! Lonely Planet says its been toned down a bunch from its former heyday, but it was still quite the place. You can’t walk 5 feet without several people trying to get your attention about a “massage” (wink, wink) or live sex shows. The part I found most annoying, though have gotten good at ignoring, is that many of them (and the salespeople in the night market here) will actually physically touch you to try and get your attention. And there’s just a few prostitutes too! Patpong though, is also the site of a thriving night market, as I mentioned earlier. It’s interesting and very crowded.
Not quite sure about the agenda for tomorrow. Obviously the embassy will be first on the list, and then I think I’ll head towards Banglamphu, the area we’ll be staying in while were there and where Khao San Rd is, as I want to investigate that more carefully. I also may check out Dusit, the royal district (where the King currently lives) that was apparently inspired by similar places in Europe, such as Versailles among others. Not sure about Saturday either…may head down to the floating markets tomorrow night to get an early start Saturday, but we’ll see. I like this whole playing it by ear thing. Anyways, hope all is well! Take care!