We arrived in Bangkok around 11:30, went through immigration and then were met by a young Thai woman holding a sign for Anna Brozek. She took us to meet our car that would take us to the city. Our drive was a very nice young Thai man and spoke pretty good english. The airport is new and is now about 45 minutes from the heart of the city. Once we got closer to the city there were some clubs pumping music and you could see young Thai's spilling into the street, drenched with water. The Thai new year was celebrated from April 12th to the 15th and the big thing was to spray everyone with water and douse them with chalk. We saw some high powered water cannons at work at one club as we drove by. This was the tail end of the celebration, we talked to some of our fellow travellers who arrived a day earlier, they had to get dropped off blocks from the hotel and then proceeded to get drenched as they carried their suitcases though the mahem.
As we drove down the street to our hotel, the Viengtai, the street was alive with music and dancing. This is where all the foreigners stay and eat and party. We checked into the hotel which was simple but comfortable with very friendly staff. We quickly headed out to checkout the nightlife starting at the bar directly across from the hotel. We had our first Thai beer of the trip, Chang, and the large beer was about 60 Baht or 2 American dollars. We walked down to a few other bars on the street and many had small bands playing american music. There was one that had a DJ playing on the sidewalk and there were lots of hippies dancing to the techno. A little further down there was also a bar that had Houka's for smoking tobacco. We explored a bit more and ended up finding a club that had some good dance music playing. They had a cover of 100 Baht so we paid our fee and headed in. We thought we were had when the place looked to be empty but then we were told to go up the stairs. This was a whole different scene where the whole place was filled wall to wall with young Thai's dancing a bit and drinking while the music pumped loudly. I went to the bar to order beer and was having a bit of trouble communicating with the girl bar tending but then I looked in the cooler and saw LEO beer and just put two fingers up and said LEO. She came back with the beer about the time that I noticed that noone else was drinking beer. Everyone in the place had bottles of liquor of mainly whiskey and rum along with a bucket of ice and some mixers such as soda and juice. Apparently they measure how much you drink and then charge you for that amount, so you don't have to worry about finishing a whole bottle. We made our way to a place where we could stand a little and move a little but the place was packed. For once though I could actually see above the whole crowd since everyone was shorter than me.
We stopped by another bar that had a band playing and it was also full of Thai's with their bottles of liquor but the music was loud and heavy and it was late. We grabbed one more beer at the bar across from the hotel, talked to a couple of guys, one was from whales the other England. They had been trying to pickup on some rather large German girls but the girls didn't seem too interested and left not soon after we sat down. That was the end of the first night in Bangkok. The next day we had free time until we were to meet our group.
The next day we slept in a bit since we went to bed really late and grabbed our first Thai meal of the trip. It was fantastic, I had Pad Thai and Ania had some wide noodles that reminded me of Pad Kee Mao. After lunch I spotted a salon to get my haircut and grabbed the opportunity since it was hot and my hair was shaggy. Ania did some shopping at the many shops on the street. The haircut was pretty good but the lady was a little slow and deliberate. Next we decided we wanted to visit the large weekend market, Chatichuk. We hired a tuk tuk who sold us a line about it being cheap, only 20 Baht, because of Free gas coupons from the Thailand suit company or something like that. He took us to what he called the lucky Buddha first which was a small temple pretty close to our hotel. There was a gentleman inside that talked to us and told us how to pray to the Buddha. But then he talked about the Tuk Tuk and that because of Buddha day they were cheap and also that Suits were really cheap with no tax, yadda yadda. So we said goodbye not wanting to talk about suits anymore. Next our Tuk Tuk driver Bobo said we need to go to the suit place and pretend we want a suit for about 5 minutes so that he would get a free gas coupon. We thought we would try to help Bobo out and play along. Inside the gentleman running the place was very polite and talked to us about our trip and then if we wanted any suits or dresses. We said probably not so he said how about 3 tailored shirts. I asked how much just one shirt would be and he said around $50 US. We said we would not buy anything and left. Bobo said he didn't get his free gas because we were too quick and said we need to go to another shop. I asked him if we could just pay for the gas and he didn't want to do that so I told him to drop us off, gave him the 20 Baht that we agreed to up front and we caught a taxi to the market.
It was a pretty long drive to the market and only 81 Baht, not too bad at all since that's less than three USD. We wandered the market for quite a while, it was huge! With just about everything you could think of. Ania got a shirt and a dress that were really nice and I picked up a Bangkok Tshirt. It was getting late so we headed back towards the hotel to meet up with our group. The meeting was at 6 and we met in the lobby. Our Tour leader's name was Tong, he was a young Thai from the Northeast part of Thailand. We met our group when we sat down, there were 9 of us, Jim and Nancy from Idaho, Nancy is a retired School teacher and principal and Jim was a forester, Carol and John from Australia, John was a diver for Abalone as a profession but is now retired. There was Jennifer, a younger Australian gal who had planned to go to Japan but the trip was cancelled due to the earthquake/Tsunami. Jennifer works for a University recruiting international students so she and Ania had quite a lot in common. Chrisbert or Chris was a young Australian guy who had also planned to go to Japan, he had previously worked for the FBI of australia but now is in a different job. Then there was Gary, an older guy born in New Zealand but lives in Australia. He is a pretty well traveled guy working on his French.
The meeting comprised of some paperwork, some expectations setting about the places we were about to visit, and a run down of our detailed itinerary. Afterwards we headed to dinner as a group. I had the green curry, it was excellent with just the right amount of heat and extremely tasty. We split off after dinner and went for a walk. We had both been congested and were a bit tired so we got a foot massage for 100 Baht for a half hour. I nearly fell asleep during it so we headed back to the room and crashed.
Our first day with the group we did some cool stuff. First we took a long tail boat ride through the Kanals and then visited Wat Po temple and saw the giant reclinging Buddha. There were many tourists at this site, many of which didn't respect the customs and sanctity of the temple. At one point our leader Tong scolded a tourist for exposing her bikini bottom and asked her to pull her dress down because we were at a temple.
We took a cab back to the hotel because that night we were catching a night train to Chiang Mai. We arrived at the train station early just in case there was bad traffic. We didn't have to wait long though in the crowded train station where just about every foot of floor space was filled. We were in the 2nd class sleeper trains where the chairs folded into one bed and the other bed folded down from above, making bunk beds one on top of the other. They served us dinner in our seats and also brought beer in buckets. It was a good meal of traditional thai food with 3 courses including a rice dish with veggies and chicken, curry, and soup. At about 8:30PM they came around and folded the beds and we crashed about an hour later to the vibrations of the train heading to Northern Thailand.
Next we arrive in Chiang Mai!