Thai for Two – part 1 (Just Add Sweat)

***I’ve put this off long enough, so hopefully anyone (Achebeyo) who might have remembered it differently will just go with my version.***

March of last year, Achebeyo and I went on a pre-super-malaria trip to Thailand. I was planning on waiting until we went this year to write up my memories from that last trip, but it looks like Nature is giving us the double-knuckle  bird with this drug-resistant bug. I’ve got enough sweating and fatigue right here at home, thank you. Even though I’ve slept a few times since then, I suppose I could wrangle up some damp memories from our previous visit. Maybe it will help me forget that I’m slogging it out in the trenches in (insert metaphor, simile or other comparison to employment-based hell here).

As tends to happen once enough time has elapsed, and vivid dreams endured while taking over-the-counter cough(alcohol) syrup ensue, I’ve blanked out the 18+ hour flight across the globe. Any time you have to spend more than four hours in a metal room crammed to the rivets with other meatbags, there should be a complimentary and mandatory sedation service…mainly for kids, parents and anyone who feels compelled to perform drum solos with their feet on the back of your chair. Also loud-talkers. Seriously, just gas the whole plane and let us sleep in pants-messing peace. I, for one, won’t miss the fun of “choosing” the one menu item left after everyone else in front of you took the “good” option for in-flight meals, but we do have an assortment of cheeses and deli meats for $40 if you like constipation. I’m telling you, once teleportation is a safe reality…

We landed and did the dance of the carry-on-only travelers, and Achebeyo and I managed to find our pre-arranged taxi with little hassle. We had both taken varying lengths of time studying the Thai language, her enough to hold most conversations on her own, me enough to bow and say good morning, good evening, please and thank you. The niceties are important when you look like an incubating problem child. Our hotel upgraded us to persons of importance for free, based on Achebeyo’s status as “Above Moderate Spender” on their consumer watch list. Fortunately, this meant that we were at the top of the hotel and flip-flop distance from the club lounge.

Bangkok, right before I slept for 12 hours.

Eventually the travel-coma wore off and we decided to peel ourselves off the bed to go explore the city. We cleaned up and dressed lightly but appropriately for the day. You can’t enter any of the temples in shorts, tank tops or tutus. Buddha’s not a fan of the wife-beater or crazy clown looks. Luckily, I’m as much of a fan of exposing my skin in foreign countries as I am of eating bug-riddled cow pies, so that was not an issue for me. We would get to watch later as someone actually took issue with being in a different country and having to follow local customs and courtesies. I could see getting upset if they wanted you to strip down naked in the middle of the temple courtyard and set your clothing on fire before entering, but being asked to appropriately clothe yourself before entering their sacred (and financially lucrative) places? Foreigner, please.

The moment we exited our hotel, the word “hot”, as we previously understood it, became meaningless. For someone with a high cellular respiration rate (the by-product of which is salty water), this meant at least one intentional shower per day, and several soakings in my own fluids. We opted to stick to the skywalks, trains and malls as often as possible on our initially meandering path through the city. I say initially, because the moment any of the wonderfully polite and kind Thai people saw us even glance briefly at a map or if-you-could-read-this-you’d-know-you-are-here wall charts they would go out of their way to help us find the best route to our destination. We had to suppress our travel-hardened tendency to see every offer of help as a scam or a threat and let the friendly assistance guide our obviously clueless steps. It was a bit of a paradigm shift for us, but we adapted readily; Achebeyo with the actual conversations and me with the bowing and repeated polite niceties.

After a little bit of walking, one train and one boat ride up the river…

Cool it! It’s the water-cops!

we made it to our initial destination, The Grand Palace.

It doesn’t get much more grand than this.

To get there from the dock, we had to pass through a mini-maze of outdoor stalls with food and trinkets. Since we had no intentions of being glued to a toilet this early in the trip, we opted to skip the food and took our obviously under-informed selves out into the street where our formerly shattered traveler’s defenses would have been of great assistance.

The one and only complaint I had while visiting Bangkok (apart from seeing only one of the famed Thai ladyboys, and only from a distance) was the tuk tuk (three-wheeled, open-cab motorcycle) driver who tried with all of his might to scam us. Okay, so maybe scam is a harsh term. He tried with all of his might to convince us that we needed to visit all of the stores that give him kickbacks for bringing in paying customers while waiting for the Grand Palace to open.

Apparently the Grand Palace is closed, according to conflicting stories from various (tuk tuk driver) sources, until anywhere from 11am to 1pm local time. Any number of other temples were open, including the one our driver took us to, but not the Grand Palace.

One of the conveniently open temples near the merchant district.

As we were still reveling in the rose-tinted excitement of being in a country we had never visited before, none of this registered on us until Achebeyo decided to tell our driver that we wouldn’t need to visit any more stores.

Several stops in a row had seen us walk into a blissfully air conditioned store, uncertain as to why we were there (beyond the need to take a break from steam-cleaning our skin), then rapidly return to the pit-drenching heat outside. The moment we began to ask our driver to take us back to the Grand Palace, his friendly demeanor and apparently feigned polite attitude dropped like cloudy water from my face. I opted to let the one of us who could actually speak enough of the language to be suitably indignant take charge.

Achebeyo stood firm in her insistence that we be returned to the entrance to the Grand Palace, where this mini-debacle began. After a heated exchange between the two, we were deposited at our requested destination and told that our fare would be tripled. I figured it was worth $20 US to get a brief tour of the over-priced merchant district, and a decent story to tell later.

Continued in Thai for Two – part 2 (Grand Dehydration)

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