Report from Tomorrow - Vol 22
1USD = S$1.75 (S$1 = 0.57USD)
We three (Mary, Terry and Gretchen) took a week trip to Thailand in early July. The entire trip was planned ahead, but we were not on a tour. Various people (expats and locals) had given advice and the consensus was to spend a couple days each in Bangkok, Chiang Mai (northern Thailand) and Chiang Rai (even further north) - so that's what we booked.
We had free time in each place and also tours which we chose when we arrived there. We were the only people on the tours (in most cases) since this was "off season" (Nov-Feb is high season), so most times we had our own "private" van, driver and tour guide.
Before the trip when asked where we were going, I replied, "to sweat for a week in Thailand". Indeed, we had been warned by several sources that Thailand was going to be much warmer than S'pore. That seemed to be an impossibility, but nonetheless we tried to prepare for it. We brought the lightest clothes in our wardrobe along with hats, sunglasses, bug repellent and sun tan lotion.
Our preparations were largely for naught. A huge weather system descended on Asia (from India to the Philippines) and took the entire week to clear Thailand. What this meant for us was that all our days were cloudy and overcast and it rained (usually sprinkled) most all the time.
As we moved north to Chiang Mai/Rai, we were all in jeans/pants and Gretchen was cold. The temperatures stayed in the 20's (70-80F) the entire time. It was plenty humid, but cooler (well, not hot). That was the first of a number of welcome surprises.
We arrived in Bangkok after a two hour flight from S'pore on Thai Air. Upon landing, we wondered just how we'd know where to go, but the problem was solved as we walked out of the gate and saw a hand held sign with our name on it (even spelled correctly). It was our introduction to a week of being catered to by various guides and experiencing service only dreamed of by S'poreans. All in all a very pleasant time!
Our first guide (Thanaporn) took us to our hotel (Marriott Royal Garden Riverside Hotel) which was really quite far out from downtown. The distance was not a burden for several reasons - we weren't staying there long, the tour bus provided most of our transportation needs, the hotel provided a boat ferry from near downtown to the hotel, and lastly, taxis are really cheap in Bangkok. The hotel was brand new and just gorgeous and provided a very pleasant escape from the bustle of Bangkok.
Bustle nothing! Bangkok as a place to live is pretty down right unpleasant. It's a city of 7-8 million spread over a gigantic area. In contrast to S'pore there are few tall buildings. Most all the buildings are 2-3 stories high (contributing to the spread, I'm sure), pretty run down, and packed together on crowded, noisy pollution strewn (air, noise and everything else) streets.
The air quality in Bangkok is the worst I've ever encountered anywhere. The streets are filled with endless streams of motorcycles (usually two cycle), spewing blue exhaust and noise everywhere. Anyone working downtown (especially) wore a mask over his mouth in the hope it would make a difference. The air tasted metallic. Yucko!!
The streets were filled with vehicles, including your normal air-conditioned cab, seemingly a million motorcycles and tuk-tuks (a seat welded to a motorcycle). More on traffic later.
Back to the story. Our tour bus dropped us at the hotel and offered to drop us anywhere else we'd like to be (since the rest of the day was ours). Thanaporn gave us a map and circled several areas that we expressed interest in. The van dropped us near an area called PRATUNAM - the "home" of most all western clothes in the world.
Bangkok is at the very bottom of the garment industry chain for the USA (at least). Seemingly all the clothes we wear are made here - at least based on the range of labels we saw. PRATUNAM is where you can buy all the clothes before they get exported to the USA. Here you can wander through thousands (no exaggeration this time) of open air stalls and buy every sort of clothes you can think of - from Armani and Tommy Hilfiger shirts to Nike or Reebok sports shirts to old woman's ugly blouses and pants.
It's also home to a big collection of tailors who will make you hand-made shorts, pants, and suits and deliver them to your hotel, all within 10-24 hours. Thanaporn took us to "her tailor", a pleasant Muslim man who spoke excellent English and... well, so I got some pants and shirts. This turned out to be the start of a LOT of clothes shopping by us all over the next day or so. More on prices later.