Saturday, November 15, 2008

A dent in our navigating confidence

Whew. Today was a bit of a doozy. I'm sure I'll be laughing about this later, but for now, I'm glad to be back at the hotel. We got a bit over-confident with our ability to navigate around and pretty much earned a "stupid Americans" moniker for the day. Damn T-shirt man's curse from last night!

Our morning started off great with a visit to the weekend market to peruse souvenirs, home d├ęcor accessories, quirky clothes, food and pets. Mary scored some interesting finds (see video and photo) consider this your PG-13 warning. We also had a delicious lunch from one of the food stalls for about 75 cents. That's what I'm talking about!

Then we decided to go to Pattaya Beach, which was more like ghetto beach. Long story short, the half-dozen or so guide books we consulted all said bus transportation was about 2-2.5 hours for $4, but instead, we ended up with a four-hour bus ride from hell.

At first the blaring Thai heavy metal music was funny (at least it helped to camouflage our driver's incessant honking), and I giggled whenever the crazy ramps over the klongs (canals) left me airborne. But then the constant stopping got old, and I was tired of people getting on to peddle fruits and drinks.

The scenery was kind of cool...rice marshes, roadside portraits of the king and queen, palace ruins, etc. And, we were amazed that English was still prevalent on signage way outside the city limits.

But as 2.5 hours ticked by and then three, w
e started to get nervous since we didn't appear to be anywhere near the water and the area was getting shadier by the minute. There were two other farangs (foreigners) on the bus, too, and they were just as freaked out as we were, so at least we weren't alone.

When we finally reached the last stop at the water's edge, the area was less than desirable. And, when we checked at the bus station, they said we had to go somewhere else to get picked up to go back to Bangkok. Oh, I asked in my best Thai if they understood English and they said, "huh?" Mary asked the same question in English and they started laughing and said "yes." So embarrassing.

We started looking for a reputable hotel to ask for help and came across a taxi stand for the airport and were able to negotiate a ride back to Bangkok for about $30 (again, the exchange rate rocks). While we waited, we chilled out with giant beers. A motorcycle taxi pulled up, and I said, "oh hell no," under my breath, but then a bonafide cab pulled up. There must not be open container laws in Thailand because our cabbie said, "You've got beer; I've got nuts" and showed us his snacks. First thing that was funny in four hours.

The drive back took two hours; however, our driver was going 140 kilometers per hour. Honestly, I didn't mind at all. I just wanted to get back and eat something.

At dinner I realized that I misplaced my
wallet, which didn't help my mood, but Mary found it in the room not long after. Whew! We ate at a yummy Indian joint and licked our wounds with my favorite dish: paneer makhani.

We read in the paper this morning that the Grand Palace would be h
osting royal cremation ceremonies for Princess Glyani Vadhana from sunset to sunrise, so we took the Sky Train to the last stop and then negotiated a fare with a tuk tuk driver to take us the rest of the way to the palace.

Our driver ended up being an a-hole and took us to a jewelry shop instead. When we protested, he took us to a dark alley and told us to get out. We reamed him a new one and he took us back to the Sky Train and then we got a new driver. Ugh!

There were thousands paying their respects at the Grand Palace tonight. Really cool to see, but the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds made me a bit claustrophobic. We listened to beautiful chanting for a little while and then decided to head back.

We made sure to stop at a shrine near our hotel to give thanks to Buddha for our safe return. Hopefully he didn't mind that we asked for a fun day tomorrow, which includes elephant riding and rafting. For me, this is the highlight of the trip!

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