After one hectic and rewarding day in Bangkok, we escaped from this Mecca of tourism and commerce to something a little more our speed, Kanchuniburi.
After a long dusty train ride with many Thai commuters and stunning countryside scenery we arrived to the quaint town of Kanchuniburi west of Bangkok near Myanmar. Upon arriving in this small border town, we wandered around looking for accommodation and received many deserved blank stares considering we were out of the major tourist centers and knew very little Thai to communicate. We finally found a lady with an open air kitchen and communicated our order via pictures on the wall. We picked at the suspect pork noodles and moved on to find a place to sleep. About 40 steps away we found a cute little guest house that had been recommended by some travelers that Nat met. Close, cheap, available. Check, check, check. So we dropped our bags and heads off to explore the town.
On the way to find another restaurant to satisfy our unquenched hunger, I was caught tourist gazing and tripped on the sidewalk. Yard sale. I rolled and my bag and camera went everywhere. Nat kept my head from hitting the ground. With hurt pride and a bruised knee, we trudged on to our intended destination.
We found this beautiful little restaurant that we heard had delicious Thai food. And lucky for us it indeed did. Full of spicy shrimp and fried morning glories, we were ready to tackle the day. My tumble had been almost forgotten after our beautiful meal and then all of a sudden Nat got violently ill. After a few episodes on the banks of the River Kwai, Nat went home to try to sleep this one off and I looked for the TAT to get information on tours of historic WWII sites and such.
After an hour of wandering, a 60 baht taxi for about 20 feet, i was a very hot and thirsty girl. I understood for the first time how difficult it must be for other travelers with less common languages to travel. Luck had it I met a girl name Dow who set us up for a tour the next day and even gave me a ride back to the guesthouse on her scooter through town. Back to feeling good. Nat was still sick in the room so I sat on the deck overlooking the Kwai River and read. Around dinnertime, more patrons began to come out of their river huts and I met several really nice women from all over. We shared travel stories and wine. Great night, good wine, excellent food, perfect view.
As I began writing this post, two phrases that I have heard my entire life immediately came to mind: “you get what you pay for” and “nothing in life is free.”
With streets bursting with endless hotels, massage parlors and nail spas, Bangkok seems like the perfect place for a traveller to regroup and recoup. However, I found that this place is actually a pretty easy place to get frustrated and frazzled. I had read and been told to watch out in Bangkok for “gem scams” but it really isn’t until it is happening to you that you realize you’ve been duped.
Nat arrived in the morning after taking an overnight bus from the south. We caught up on each other’s last week and then off to explore Bangkok. After we got our standard morning coffees, we found ourselves at a crossroads (literally) trying to figure out which direction to go to reach the canal ferry to the north part of the city. We were immediately “helped” by a little old man (lookout) strategically planted at that place to “assist” unsuspecting tourist into a “cheap” 10 baht tuk-tuk waiting for them to take them to their destinations as well as all around the city to gem shops and boat charters in order to get gas coupons from the vendors. We figured this out on our first stop at a private long boat charter for way more baht that we were willing to pay. A headache and a tank of gas. Lesson learned.
We finally found the ferry and took a relaxing ride up one of the dirtiest rivers I have ever seen (Mae Nam Chao Phraya) to Ko Ratanakosin (an island created by the river and many man made canals to protect it from invasion in the old days). Here we planned to walk around the old city, eat and take in a few monuments.
Fresh off the boat and I’m sure we looked it, we were met by another “helpful” tuk-tuk driver willing to take us to 3 sites (Big Buddha, Black Buddha and Ko San road) in trade for one stop at a gem shop so he can get his gas coupon. We agreed and were off.
Big Buddha was stunning and indeed big. The Black Buddha which is actually gold and is also known as the good luck Buddha. While visiting this one, we met a man from Belgium who gave us many helpful tips on Thailand and for Nat all of Southest Asia. He also showed us how to read your fortunes with what I called Thai pickup sticks. We commiserated over the consistent absence of toilets and trashcans as well as delighted in the stunning beauty apparent at seemingly every stop in this entire region.
Now on to our drivers promised gem stop for a gas coupon. These places were strange to say the least. We walked into a nondescript building and the door shut behind us. I thought, is this how woman are sold into the sex trade? Gut instinct was no, these are fine. As soon as I saw a few families and other tourists, I knew we were going to be ok. Heckled endlessly to buy fake gemstones, but ok.
Once this was over we proceeded to Ko San road which is so ridiculously touristy that it looks like a movie set. When leaving the tuk-tuk, Nat asked if he would wait here for us to grab a quick bite of street food and on to the Grand Palace. We had given him an additional gas stop so we figured it made since to tie on one more stop as well. Well this did not go over so well. He immediately lost it and began pounding the stirring wheel. We said ok and exited promptly. He drove off before we paid him. So I guess some things are free, but you still get what you pay for.
We ended the day on top of the Banyan Tree hotel with a breathtaking 360 panoramic view of the entire city. It was as billed – stunning. We were up there for several hours enjoying the ambiance. Like a sleeping baby, Bangkok looked almost peaceful from this view. Unable to hear the constant roar of this machine, the stress of the day was gone. Tomorrow the exodus to the countryside…(content sigh)
Hailing from the state of Tennessee, this phrase always meant something different to me. However, in maneuvering my way around Bangkok I could not help by notice that every few steps I am struck with an image of their King Rama IX, the Great (since 1946). It seems the “dictatorship” in the phrase democratic dictatorship is still alive and well in this country. Nat told me a story of a German writer living in Thailand who reran a story in the local paper that was not a favorable portrayal of the king and he now faces 20 years imprisonment. So much for freedom of speech. Consequently, this story was posted on Facebook and a Thai student “liked” it and he was immediately imprisoned. The moral of the story and one of my
Mom’s favorite pieces of advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Anyhow, Bangkok continues to remain as crazy as I remember upon arrival. No amount of acclamation to Southeast Asia has weakened the shock of the traffic, trash and tourists in this city.
Note from the author: I am waiting to post this until I am out of the country to insure my safe return. :)