Thursday, September 14, 2006

Trip: Thailand
Date: September 13, 2006
Place: Chiang Mai

So I am giving up on the photographs. I have tried at several different places doing it several different ways and it just isn't working. I am going to see if Don might be willing to upload my blog onto my website. Sadly for you, this blog does not make as much sense without the photos!!

Is this a picture of a famous Thai monument? A private teak mansion? No! It is the AIRPORT in Sukhothai!! We took these cute little shuttles with wooden seats through the garden (yes, garden!) to the airport main building.

Would you believe that this is an airport bathroom?! There were orchids, flowers, and fountains everywhere!

Bangkok Airways is now my favorite airline. The people are really nice they give you free food and drinks in the gate area along with free internet! This is in addition to the food that they served on both legs of the two hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. (We had an additional stop at Sukhothai – world’s most beautiful airport.) Also, before the plane took off, they gave us cool, scented towels. Ahhhhh…. Oh, did I also mention that they let you bring water on the plane?

Overall, I have found the transportation in Thailand to be quite good. Bangkok has these great little ferry boats that take you up and down (and across) the Chao Phraya River. It also has both a subway and a sky train. I didn’t take the subway, but the sky train was very clean, well designed, and extremely easy to navigate. I haven’t taken the bus or train yet, but I will give you an update after I do! Tomorrow I rent a scooter!!

Taxis are easier to find in Bangkok than they are in New York. Indeed, if you dally too long in one place, a taxi driver will offer to give you a ride somewhere. This morning while I was waiting for the shuttle bus to the airport, a taxi driver came up and offered me and the guy I was waiting for a ride to the airport for 200 baht – a very good price as we had paid 100 baht each for the shuttle bus which was 20 minutes late. We tried to explain to the driver that we had already paid for the shuttle, but he was very cute and really persistent and kept holding up a sign that said AIRPORT 200 BAHT, except the middle zero was missing from the sign so it read AIRPORT 20 BAHT. We kept teasing him that we would go for 20 baht (about 50 cents).

Tuk tuks are a popular tourist mode of transportation. I was going to hire one for the day a couple of days ago, but the driver kept wanting to take me to shopping centers (where he no doubt got a commission on whatever I purchased) instead of the places that I wanted to go. I kept telling him "no shopping." Finally I said "I will not buy anything." After I said that, he said, "if you no go shopping, I no go!" So, I got of out the tuk tuk and grabbed a cab the rest of the way to where I was going. Several other travelers have told me similar stories, so my advice is, just take a cab. They aren’t that expensive; the meter starts at 35 baht and goes up slowly. I think that the most that I paid was $3. Just confirm that the meter works before you start. As in Morocco, some drivers claim that their meter "is broken" in order to charge you much more. The problem isn’t as ubiquitous as in Morocco, but I would definitely check first.

While we are on the subject of scams, I should probably also mention the "it’s a Buddhist holiday" scam. Thankfully I had read about this one in my guidebook, so I was prepared when it happened to me. In this scam you are walking to see one of the sites and are stoppe3d by someone who asks you where you are going. When you tell him, he syas, "Oh, it’s a Buddhist (or national) holiday; the (site) doesn’t open until 2pm." Then the person will offer to show you some other sights (meaning souvenir shops). The few times this happened to me, I just said, "No, I know that (site) opens at 9am; I called ahead." Usually they will then just walk (or stomp) away.

The final scam that I know about is the gem scam. This didn’t happen to me, but it did happen to a couple that I met at the Floating Market. In this scam someone (or in their case several people working together) tries to get you to buy substandard gems at a "discount price" to export back to their home country to sell for a lot of money.

With the exception of the few scam artists out there, however, I generally find the Thai people to be very friendly and hospitable. They really enjoying practicing their English with foreigners. I have been stopped by several people on the street who ask me a bit about myself and then say "Enjoy your stay in Thailand!" and then leave.

One of the most interesting people that I got to talk to was a monk at a monk school. I saw this large sign next to Wat Chedi Luang:

So I decided to stop and chat with a monk! The gentleman that I spoke to was 21 years old. He explained to me the difference in the color of the monks robes (they are different denominations of Buddhism – similar to the difference between Catholics and Protestants). He told me that there are three levels of monks: 1) children who go to the temple school 2) men who take short breaks in their life to spend time in the monastery and 3) men over 60 who come to spend the rest of their lives in the monastery. There are also men who chose to spend their lives in the monastery, but apparently it is more the norm for men to come for short periods and then leave. Most Thai men apparently spend some time in as a Buddhist monk. To become an ordained monk, you need to go to temple school for six years. My friend (I forgot to ask his name!) was 21 and was on his seventh year at temple school. He was going to leave in five months and wanted to become a stunt man!!

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