Andrew and I just arrived back from Bangkok yesterday after leaving Bangkok at 0830 am and then arriving in Seattle 1130 am the same day, which was weirdly 24 + hours of traveling. We had a marvelous time and are currently knee-deep in slowly getting our things unpacked, and our home situated for everyday living.
It was a wonderfully relaxing and interesting trip. Pictures and more details to come later....For now I'll just paste in a copy of a brief email (bad typos and all--slight jet leg + thai/english keyboard + my typing skills = many creative spellings) sent to my parents early in our adventure...
It is morning here in Bangkok and both Andrew & Stu are still asleep (its about 8am). The 'cool' winter weather (cool for Thai people anyway) is in the upper 70s already, and the AC is on. =) I've been hearing that there is a little snow in the PNW.
I meant to call you guys sooner, however with the time difference and Stu's girlfriend (Laddawan) needing to sleep not later than about 10/11 at nite it makes it a bit difficult for now.
I think all of you would like to come here. =) We haven't done many touristy things, we've mostly been shopping (can you imagine that?) for stuff that we need here that we couldn't find in Seattle, have visited a few public monuments, and are mostly just learning how to get around the city on the SkyTrain and on foot. Stu has been great to help us get around and sometimes speak the little bit of Thai that is needed, Laddawan is pretty as a picture and a great cultural reference too. The shopping has been successful--my holey-knees jean husband now has 2 new pairs of jeans, flip flops, and a pair of lighter fabric pants. I've so far only managed to buy a mid-calf white skirt which Laddawan helped me to bargain down at a night bazaar. As you can imagine, most of the women's clothing is fairly tiny.
We've done lots of eating at all kinds of restaurants--yesterday lunch was at an open-air simple family-style restaruant where all you could order was soup. For dinner we met Laddawan at her place of work and went to a very nice mall international foodcourt..( I know what you're thinking--mall foodcourt??) but it is really posh. You select your food, are seated at a nice table around an area with live music, a waterfall, and wait for your 'foodcourt' food to be brought to you. It was pretty expensive for a Thai meal, about 500 baht which is about $15. The music was (luckily not Japanese pop, which is popular around here but pretty terrible, think ripped off Britney Spears in Japanese) a couple of guys playing some modified versions of acoustic guitar songs.
A few things here that have surprised me:
All the street vendors--they are everywhere, with no discernable organization. For example, yesterday we bought fresh fruit (that is peeled and slice for you) from a street vendor. It was some of the sweetest watermelon and pineappe I've ever had. This was on the main street (Phaya Thai) that runs perpindicular to the dead-end street Stu's condo is on.
I also had a pair of pants that needed to be shortned, and so did Stu--so there is a woman who sews with a foot-pedal sewing machine on the sidewalk next to the main street. We dropped our pants off with her at the beginning of the day and picked them up when we came back for about 40 baht each (just over $1)
Thais really love children (no surprise there) and it is completely ok for a thai person to walk up to a cute baby/child and pinch them on the cheeks, compliment them. I saw Laddawan do this at one of the nite markets, and it was a very cute smiley baby indeed.
The formality of dressing--for example, I read in our lonely planet tourbook that it many places like the temples, it is unacceptable to wear short, capri, tanktops, etc. So I made a point to bring a few long skirts, light shirts with short sleeves, etc. Since I've been here riding the skytrain and in the city, i've yet to see a thai woman in shorts or a tanktop. Skirts can be snug but not shorter than about mid-thigh. All the school kids (both university and lower grades) wear black or navy bottoms (pants for boys, skirts for girls) and white tops, or sometimes bright yellow tops. I'm glad I brought more 'girly' clothes, I think it also makes a bit of a difference here because we are 'farang' (foreigners) and I noticed that if I am shopping in a more modern mall, in general people seems a little more helpful if I am dressed more nicely than i normally would when just being a tourist.
The brigt yellow tops are to honor the king, and many wear gold pins as well to show their respect and allegiance. There are multiple buddha shrines throughout the city, and often next to the shrine is a picture of the king. Andrew and I snuck onto the SkyTrain yesterday while Stu was taking a nap (we got him a watch as a thank-you for being Hotel and Cultural Tour Stu). As we climbed up the stairts to the station, we noticed everyone was at a standstill listening to the national anthem. Laddawan usually wears the pin, too. When I asked her about her pin (not knowing what it was for at the time) I was so surprise by her response it sort of drew a big, huh? what? I felt pretty clueless, imagine if we all felt patriotism meant to wear gold pins honoring mr bush, or even a more popular president! At the same time, the monarchy has done some very smart things over the years to protect the Thais from colonization. For example, foreigners cannot own land--you can own a condo, but not land. (even if a foreinger were ot marry a thai)
Its time for me to wander down the street and buy some fresh breakfast fruit! (hoepefully the boys will be up when I return) Sorry about all the typos, but it is a thai/english keyboard. =)