Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Travel Tips: Leaving Suvarnabhumi, Pt 2

Airline check-in counters at Suvarnabhumi
In Part One about flying out of Suvarnabhumi International you saw reference shots of the public portions of the departure area; what you'd encounter before going through Passport Control. Today (with a couple of photographic exceptions, like the one above) you'll get an idea of what it's like past that, on the way to the departure gates.

By the Yak you saw guarding the currency exchange yesterday is a small Family Mart where you can purchase some last-minute items (or cheap packaged snacks), but remember that you won't be allowed to carry liquids and the usual forbidden things through the security still ahead of you and there will be plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs and duty free items closer to the gates.

At the Passport Control windows they'll stamp your passport with an exit stamp and collect the departure form they stapled to it when you arrived. You did keep that in a safe place, didn't you? You'd better hope so, or you're likely to miss your flight while you arm wrestle with Thai Immigration.

The entrance to Passport Control, with the wait lines out of view

Immediately past those desks you'll come to a downward sloping area that will bring you to the security check point, where you'll have to do the usual screening: all metal out of your pockets, laptops out of their cases, sometimes (but not always) shoes, that sort of thing.  No liquids over 3 ounces (88 milliliters), no knives or flammables - most of you already know the drill.

Past Security you'll see guide signs that will direct you to the gate area (such as D6)indicated on your boarding pass. Don't be fooled into thinking it's only a few steps away, because it's not - the boarding gate "arms" stretch out a ways. It's liable to take you at least 10 to 15 minutes to get there, depending on how much stuff you're hauling along with you - and if you make any stops at all along the way to browse, use the rest room, grab a newspaper or whatever.

A personable man selling real designer watches at a duty free shop

There are stretches of moving walkways along the lengthy arms of the airport, and I've usually found them in service.  If nothing else they give you an opportunity to look around better for a couple of minutes, instead of having to be vigilant about moving along through a crowd of people hauling their stuff around; all too often oblivious that there are others around them.

I always enjoy the brief respite of a moving walkway

There are many, many places to shop, eat and drink along the way. Duty free liquor and cigarette shops, Tourism of Thailand (ToT) "locals" handicraft souvenirs, duty free fragrances, skin conditioners and make up, and a good variety of eateries. There's even a branch of Mango Tree, the touristy but interesting Thai restaurant on Soi 6 in the off of Suriwong Road. It's a flat out guarantee that some of you know where that location is.

The Suvarnabhumi location of Mango Tree

A variety of shops at an intersection toward the gate area.

The panorama below is similar to the one I used a couple of days ago, but slightly different.  The images were taken while looking down one of the gate arms. I kind of like it, so I'm including it today. Something I haven't mentioned is that the portions of these corridors that are translucent are a springy canvas-type material.  While they're waterproof to protect from the rain and moisture they also serve as drum heads during a downpour, and create a rumble that can equal slightly distant thunder.  It's pretty impressive.

Another reason to allow a little extra time is that walking along these corridors you get some interesting views of the aircraft, tarmac, sky and surrounding areas:

You saw a different view of these windows in the 28 August 2010 post about the window washers at Suvarnabhumi - a job I'd not care to try. While up above they sometimes walk around on the canvas-type rooftop I mentioned above, and I've even observed some of them bounce around on it a bit, as though they're on a trampoline.

Once you've arrived at your gate sign you have a choice of a ramp or stairs down to the actual waiting area where you'd show your boarding pass and then wait to be called to board the plane.  There are a few video monitors, usually showing news or a sporting event or some such thing, but I'd strongly suggest bringing a book or whatever you normally use to entertain yourself.

I met someone once who was already online, looking to book their next trip back to the Land of Smiles. That sounded like a good idea to me.

I hope this helps some of you newer visitors.  Comments are always welcome, and if I can help with any other questions you can drop me an email any time at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To Pee, Or Not To Pee (In Public, That Is)

The man in white in this field should have no problem whatsoever finding an appropriately private place to relieve himself, I'd say. 

Is it acceptable to urinate anywhere other than in a recognized rest room or bathroom? For most people in the Western world it's not really a question at all any time we're thinking clearly - unless we're out in the countryside somewhere relatively private.  I've never actually tried to lift my leg on one but I've peed near my share of trees over the decades.

From my distant past I recall occasions when I subscribed to a theory that a large volume of beer in your bladder caused pressure on some unnamed nerve to the common decency portion of the brain, triggering the false thought that it was acceptable to release that same large quantity as quickly as possible: in a stairwell, on a neighboring table, wherever possible. Depending on how much alcohol you've already run through your system the decision may become a somewhat moot point, also; countless online images and videos can attest to people's lack of control, if not propriety.

You'll regularly see adults with small children in Taiwan, for example, thinking nothing of stopping a the male child with them on a city sidewalk, opening their fly, and directing them to relieve themselves into the gutter or onto the sidewalk itself.  Who knows what they'd do with a little girl - thankfully I've never seen a wee one squatting anywhere that I can remember. Some will turn the boy towards a hedge or flower bed, but I haven't kept that kind of track of it, naturally - it's just an oddity I'm not used to seeing here in the US, unless it's what appears to be a homeless person peeing in a doorway. Goodness knows there are parts of many cities here that have a disturbingly high level of urine scent about them; no need to point out any individually.

Riding along in a taxi one afternoon in a "nicer" part of the office business area of Bangkok I was surprised, though, to see an Asian man in his later middle age walk over toward a hedge along the sidewalk, and, without so much as a glance around to see who else may be nearby in addition to the lanes of stopped traffic open the fly of his well-tailored suit and pee more or less into the shrubbery.  I say more or less, because even from the taxi at a casual glance it was no secret that the man wasn't raised in a family that believed in circumcision.

It made me wonder why on earth he didn't use the facilities in the last building he'd been in or why he couldn't hold on until the next ones were available.  He didn't seem to be visibly anxious or in distress - indeed, the most striking thing about it was his casual air while "airing" it.

Before anyone goes looking for the "comments" button I'm well aware that Thailand's culture is not like things here, and like I said: sometimes Nature, substances, medical conditions and other reasons can sometimes skew our views on what's proper. It just startled me that particular day, but here's hoping the habit doesn't spread as the norm to those over, say, the age of seven or eight.  Bangkok has enough on its palette of aromas already, thank you very much!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Travel Tips: Leaving Suvarnabhumi Airport

One of Suvarnabhumi's long departure gate arms
[Back on February 3rd of this year there was a post - primarily for newbies to Thailand - about arrival procedures at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. Today's is intended to make heading out of Thailand a little easier for those same folks, and may or may not be helpful to seasoned travelers.]

Suvarnabhumi International Airport is around 40 minutes by taxi from the areas more commonly populated by most tourists, but it was protected from the past couple of months of flooding. The everyday folks living nearby weren't afforded that luxury, but that's another topic for another day. Let's just say Thailand is Thailand, and what would happen to Bangkok without entrance and egress by air and shelve the cynicism for the day.

The Departure area (Level 4), from Bangkok Airport Online

Arriving by taxi you either carry or roll your bag(s) or grab a free luggage cart and walk by crosswalk across the sidewalk and through one of the front doors of the the huge terminal. I stopped outside of one of them and took the four photos you see stitched together below:

You can see the ground level Arrivals area, where you might have caught your taxi into the city when you arrived. 

Once you're inside you can look at the lit sign boards for to find your airline's area and then make your way to their check-in area down one of the long rows of aisles . . .

The vast expanse of check-in counters, domestic and international

This is where you'd get up to the lounge
I took the above panorama of the airline check-in desks from one level above, near a fairly good sized (but somewhat overpriced) lounge where you can purchase light meals items and visit with a friend before going through passport control and into the area where only ticketed passengers are allowed.

It's comfortable, and has many small individual areas with chairs and sofas to sit and talk.  Of course, if you have membership in one of the airline frequent flier programs that allows you into one of the airline lounges you'll probably just want to go there, but they're past the security point.  Ask at the check-in counter for the location, as they're not all clumped together at Suvarnabhumi.

If someone's come to see you off you can sit and visit in comfort for a bit and just have coffee or tea, if you wish. Eventually I'll run across the photos I took there and post them, but I can't seem to find them today. Don't understand why - I only have 40,000 or so here to look through...

The yak statue seems to be guarding the exchange, passport control, and the toilets.

If you've still got Thai currency you'd like to exchange there's one last chance just to the side of the passport control area, although you're going to have to accept the exchange rate they have posted there that day. Normally they're not out to gouge you, and frankly I tend to just take home what I have in my wallet at this point; it's a safe bet I'll be back.

Once you've decided to go through the passport control area you enter the blocked off area and get in line to have your passport stamped with your exit validation. There are VIP services you may choose to look into that get you through the lines faster, but I've never felt that was necessary, myself.  Be aware, however, that you don't really have any idea until you've entered the area if the process is going to take 10 minutes or an hour, so be warned and allow plenty of time.  The fine forum ThaiVisa provided two links that I've found handy, so I'll share them here: Suvarnabhumi Arrivals Info and Suvarnabhumi Departures Info

I allow 45 minutes to an hour, and if I'm through there faster I can take my time making what seems to be a two mile walk past the shops and restaurants to the gates or settle in at the airline lounge.

More on those areas next time.

This empty space at passport control is a freak occurrence. I see it switch-backed like the lines in an amusement park most times.

[This is the first of two parts about flying out of Suvarnabhumi International. Part Two is HERE.]

Friday, November 25, 2011

If You Can Peel It, You Can Eat It

Green skinned oranges, apples, star fruit, carrots, tomatoes and pears at a corner produce stall. All can be rinsed and/or peeled

[To address a recent email, let me repeat that I'm not a doctor and I advise you to adjust your behavior level to keep it within your own comfort zone while away from home. For example, you may keep your hands clean but there's no guarantee whatsoever that any food handler does.]

It's the day after Thanksgiving here in the USA, and my system still hasn't fully recovered from the over-abundance of things I ate a bit too much of yesterday.  While lamenting my gluttony I was reminded by a guest  of a story I'd told them of an unfortunate day or so I'd gone through after a large and varied meal at an Isaan BBQ place.  I'll spare you the details here, but it did put things in perspective.

Even in a five-star hotel there's no guarantee that the food won't give you some problems, but if you don't take some educated chances you're going to miss out on a lot while traveling. The trick is to educate yourself in advance a little bit and not take obviously foolish chances, such as using a visibly already well-used cup to drink water from a communal bucket out in a rural area.

In earlier posts about (attempting to) keep your stomach and intestinal systems within some control, stay healthy while in Thailand - and avoid what my friend calls the "rumbly in the tumbly" we've talked about a variety of snacks that are usually OK to chow down on, like corn, ice cream sandwiches, youtiao, street-side omelets and waffles.

Delicious Thai oranges: ripe and sweet, even with a green skin

Here's another tip, albeit one you need to combine it with some common sense: if you can peel it, you can eat it.

Here at home in the USA it's wisest to rinse off any kind of fruit or vegetables before eating them, and that's also true in Thailand - but having potable water to rinse them off with isn't always possible.  Before putting produce away when I get back to my hotel, bed and breakfast or whatever I wash it off as best I can under the tap. Once they've been cleaned I personally feel that grapes, apples, star fruit, mango, papaya and the likes are all reasonably "safe".

Pomegranates, Northeast Thailand

This is another area where using your powers of observation and some common sense can save you dealing with a problem... more often than not!

Bananas: probably the safest produce-type snack of all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks, Again...

A fancy turkey dinner, with many traditional dishes

Last year at this time I did a post about Thanksgiving, a holiday that's unfortunately all too often buried beneath an armload of newspaper advertising supplements for Black Friday, one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year.

My thoughts on the holiday and what I think it ought to represent aren't much different today than they were a year ago, other than they've aged and (hopefully) mellowed a bit more. 

Here again is the piece from one of my all-time favorite columnists, Jon Carroll. To my way of thinking it neatly ties the whole bundle up with a bow, and has become part of my annual tradition; a somewhat calm port before the storm of  The Holidays officially begins.  I hope it means something to you, too. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

A Song of Thanks; A Grat Etude
by Jon Carroll, copyright held by the San Francisco Chronicle

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is comfortably free of the strident religious and/or militaristic overtones that give the other holidays their soft emanations of uneasiness.

At Christmas, for instance, we are required to deal with the divinity of Jesus -- I know some of you folks have made up your minds about that one, but not me -- and on the Fourth of July we must wrestle with the question of whether all those simulated aerial bombardments represent the most useful form of nationalism available.

At Thanksgiving, all we have to worry about is whether we can wholeheartedly support (a) roasted turkey, (b) friends and (c) gratitude. My opinions on these matters are unambiguous; I am in favor of them all. I understand that there's another story attached to Thanksgiving, all about a meal that may not have happened at all and certainly didn't happen on the fourth Thursday of November. 

The implication of the school-pageant version of Thanksgiving is that everything was just swell between the Pilgrims and the Indians. That's not true, and things got a lot worse before they got marginally better. But Thanksgiving isn't about that -- it's a harvest festival. We can attach some dopey Squanto-give-corn narrative to it, but it's really about how once more the earth has been fruitful and all the crops are safely in the barn. Thus, for me, the thrill of Thanksgiving is undiminished by caveats, codicils or carps. That alone is something to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving provides a formal context in which to consider the instances of kindness that have enlightened our lives, the moments of grace that have gotten us through when all seemed lost. These are fine and sentimental subjects for contemplation.

First, there are the public personalities, artists and entertainers and philosophers, who have been there when they were needed, whether they knew it or not. Let us think kind thoughts about Nancy Pelosi and Helen Mirren, Barbara Lee and Frank Gore, Al Gore and David Milch, David Simon and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tom Stoppard and Keith Olbermann, Jennifer Egan and Peter Carey, Van Morrison and Clarence Fountain, Don Asmussen and Judith Martin, Duncan Black and Joshua Micah Marshall, Dan Savage and Masi Oka -- this is my partial list; feel free to create your own.

And the teachers, the men and women who took the time to fire a passion for the abstract, to give us each a visceral sense of the continuity of history and the adventure of the future. Our society seems determined to denigrate its teachers -- at its peril, and at ours. This is their day as well.

Even closer. Companions. We all learned about good sex from somebody, and that person deserves a moment. Somebody taught us some hard lesson of life, told us something for our own good, and that willingness to risk conflict for friendship is worth a pause this day. And somebody sat with us through one long night, and listened to our crazy talk and turned it toward sanity; that person has earned this moment too.

And a moment for old friends now estranged, victims of the flux of alliances and changing perceptions. There was something there once, and that something is worth honoring as well.

Our parents, of course, and our children; our grandparents and our grandchildren. We are caught in the dance of life with them and, however tedious that dance can sometimes seem, it is the music of our lives. To deny it is to deny our heritage and our legacy.

And thanks, too, for all the past Thanksgivings, and for all the people we shared them with. Thanks for the time the turkey fell on the floor during the carving process; for the time Uncle Benny was persuaded to sing "Peg o' My Heart"; for the time two strangers fell in love, and two lovers fell asleep, in front of the fire, even before the pumpkin pie.

And the final bead on the string is for this very Thanksgiving, this particular Thursday, and the people with whom we will be sharing it. Whoever they are and whatever the circumstances that have brought us together, we will today be celebrating with them the gift of life and the persistence of charity in a world that seems bent on ending one and denying the other.

Thanks. A lot.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thai Smiles, Part 41: Still More Random Shots

School kids on an outing at Rama II Park in Amphawa

It's been a few months since the last Thai Smiles installment, so since I'm preparing my home today for family visiting tomorrow to observe Thanksgiving I'm taking the easier, softer way and have assembled a few photos from around the kingdom over the last few years.

The couple below were on a bench in a park, very near where demonstrations and unpleasantness was to break out just a few months later. While the young woman wasn't smiling at the moment it's clear that the young man was not only smitten, but content!

This young girl below was riding her bicycle to school with a friend of hers as my guide Suphot and I were passing through the outskirts of Surin on our Isaan Odyssey. The first of the 28 parts of that road trip is here.

Last up today is the shot (below) of a woman laughing while chatting with friends at a sidewalk stall in Pattaya one morning as I was walking out to breakfast.

Seeing photos like these always makes me miss wandering around in Thailand.  I've been thinking about my next trip lately, and I suppose that's what got me to browsing through them and posting some today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Home Again, Home Again... Jiggety Jog

Autumn leaves along a creek in Oregon - somewhat past their prime, but still a colorful reminder of the passing of another season.

I'm home again in California, just in time to make preparations for the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving this coming Thursday, when family and friends will again gather together here in my home. I only had time to  be online once or twice over the last week, but thanks to those who checked in and/or sent emails. I'll reply to them all as time allows.

So... where was I for a week?  Let me explain...

Since having been bitten by the travel bug at an early age I'd always been one to jump at the chance to take what the younger generation often calls a "road trip"; loading a few things into the car and taking off on short notice for points unknown. At my age today I accept that those days are far behind me, though. Today a journey from home takes some planning and forethought.

It's not that I have to notify caregivers and next of kin where I'm going, or that I have to make sure there are enough maintenance prescriptions and adult diapers on hand to leave home, but life in and of itself graces me with responsibilities and obligations that don't allow the spontaneity of my youth, when I thought nothing of deciding at nine o'clock in the evening to call a friend and say "Hey, want to drive down to San Diego tonight?", arriving in time to have breakfast and wander around in the zoo there when it opened.

WHY  I still remember those 12-hour death marches I'll never understand; far too many of us thought we were Hunter S. Thompson back in those reckless days, fueling ourselves with higher octane substances than we'd put into the gas tank, wear and tear to our bodies (and brain cells) be damned. Some foolish souls still do, but thankfully that's their problem - and they're welcome to it.

The brief trip that kept me away from posting for a week was a somewhat bittersweet journey to visit a few friends I'd been meaning to see since the late Spring. One, although still able to get about on his own is closing in on 90 years old, and beginning to show signs of it that he'd dodged for the last few years. Too far away now for our twice-weekly visits I noticed a dramatic change in him when I saw him last week, and it was unavoidable to think that I may well not see him again, at least as he's been the many years I've known him.

Trees in Washington state, blazing with color in a final hurrah before dropping their leaves for the Winter

At my urging he talked a great deal about his childhood, his military years and the rest of his life as someone who dealt with being gay for many decades before being able to accept it. I did my best to make hasty written and mental notes as best I could. In the evening I scribbled them down when I returned to my room at the home of a former "friend with benefits", long since become merely a good and trusted friend.

My elderly friend spoke at length about a world that fortunately I've only read about: the Pre-Stonewall days I'd heard about from other gay men only a generation older than myself; the ones who truly had no choice but to live in secrecy and fear. He still speaks of those days in hushed tones, as though someone moving their walker slowly past his door might hear him. When those younger than I ask why he's so private about it I've taken to saying that he's an "Old School" gay - a term I use with nothing less than full respect.

Somewhere around 60 years ago he dutifully followed tradition, married a woman and had a child that is still probably the brightest spot in his life. 40 years ago he buried the same woman after a sudden illness took her, leaving him a single father - a challenge he rose admirably to. Finally, 20 years ago - nearing his 70th birthday - he met a man that was to become his partner for the next 16 years, until illness took him a handful of years ago. For those of you who feel you'll never find that special someone past the age of 30, please take note of that.

Now he spends his days reading, taking walks and reflecting with no small amount of wonder back over the span of years he's been around. "I don't mean to sound maudlin or depressed," he said to me "but I've lived a good life, overall. A good life. If you told me I'd simply go in my sleep tonight and wouldn't wake up in the morning I'd be okay with that. I've traveled, I've learned many things, I've loved and I've been loved. I've experienced so much - what more could anyone really ask for?"

I can only hope that my thinking mellows to match his as I go along... assuming, of course, that I'm blessed with the same longevity and relatively good health he's had.

It was an emotional farewell before I headed back home to California. For many years I'd have seen him and his partner for an hour or two twice a week - and then him alone for five years past that - but circumstances took him North to be closer to his daughter, so other than phone visits this was the first time we'd talked in person for eight months.

Although it went unspoken I think we both realized that this may well have been our last few days together. For now, though, there's still the comfort in knowing that I can call and have him answer, always beginning the conversation with "I'm so glad you called."

Rain drops early one morning in Seattle - frozen overnight on the back of a leaf.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Sleeping Volcano

Mount Shasta is a dormant volcano in Northern California. It towers 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet)  it's visible from a great distance, making the enormous trees that blanket the area around it look like moss on a rock.  Still, it's only the fifth highest peak in the state.

Scientists consider it to be dormant, but it will erupt again.  The major blast from relatively nearby Mount St. Helens in 1980 showed that activity is possible. St. Helens is a few hours drive to the North, and I'll see that off in the distance from the road later this morning.

I stopped yesterday at a vista point and took the photos I stitched together for the above image, and now - after an acceptable night's sleep - it's on to Seattle.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On The Road Again...

No, not Thailand or Hawaii... this is from my front porch

The rising sun here finds me preparing for a brief road trip before the madness - uh, sorry, make that joyous hustle and bustle - of the Holiday Season leaps out at us in all of its glory.

Come bed time tonight I'll be somewhere around 475 miles to the North of where I am now, and with any luck at all settled in at the place I've booked for the night.  I don't sleep well in my car.

I have a fairly full schedule, but it's a happy one; family and friends I haven't seen for months or years.  I'll try to keep up with posts here, but won't make any promises.  I just wanted to let the regulars know so there won't be quite so many "what happened to you" emails to catch up with. 

Say hello if you see me wandering around in Seattle.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mixed Blessings For Loy Krathong 2554

Loy Krathong during calmer times in Bangkok

Nothing's improved in and around Bangkok since the October 27th post (Water, Water Everywhere...) - in fact, the disaster has continued to escalate and spread, become more and more of a jumbled mess by the day as millions attempt to do anything within their power to try to hold back the millions of gallons of water steadily seeking its own level as it flows to the Gulf of Thailand.

Young lovers and their krathong
The ironic thing about having the flood waters at this particular time is that these are the days of Loy Krathong, one of the most popular - if not the most - nation-wide observances and celebrations of the year for the Thai.  OK, maybe New Years Eve ranks somewhere as high ("countdown" as some of my working class Thai friends call it) but Loy Krathong is a holiday deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of all dutiful Thai.

For those of you interested in learning the thought and traditions of the festival in more detail, feel free to click either of the two Loy Krathong links above - either will take you to last year's post that explains it all, and today's post will be  little more meaningful for you.  Go ahead... I'll wait.

Not going for that?  Geeez, people are in such a rush these days.  OK, here's the short version: during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month each year (usually in mid-November) the Thai set small floating offerings out onto a river or waterway with candles, flowers and incense to thank Phra Mae Khonka (the Mother of Water) for the blessings the waters have brought them - such as a good harvest - and to make amends for their pollution and abuse of those same life-giving waters.

Picking out a krathong for the festival. Millions are used each year.
THIS  year, instead of going to the banks of the Chao Phraya river or another waterway to make their offering the water has come to them... and in far greater abundance than anyone in their right mind would have wished for, other than perhaps those who sell sand bags for flood control.

A friend emailed me with a valid thought, though: even though both of his homes are flooded (his work home in the city and his family home in another city) and getting where he needs to be is becoming a nightmare he's still going to find some way of making his offering this year.

"I don't know as I've done anything to upset her myself," he said of Phra Mae Khonka, "but if ever there was a time to ask for her help, it's now." I had to tip my hat to him: his world is in chaos on several levels, and he's still sticking with what he feels is right. I told him "You know, it couldn't hurt, and it just might help. Good for you."

Phra Mae Khonka: for what it's worth, I'm asking a favor I probably have no right to ask: pass as peacefully as you can as you flow to the ocean, and give these people a break.

Thank you.

Repeating an image from a year ago, but it's one that triggers a special memory for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Accommodation, Part 16: Elegance Suites Sathorn

There are a couple of entrances - this is the one I used

[As you'll see in the comments below the hotel is now closed, so I've removed the info and links. I'll leave the story as a remembrance of a place I liked, though.]

A forum friend recommended the Elegance Suites to me and I've had two stays there, both enjoyable experiences.  It's no more than a 10 minute walk from the Saphan Taksin BTS station and boat pier, and because of that it's a really convenient place that's not all that far away from many other popular areas.

As a caveat, when I went to look at current rates for the place there was a mention on tripadvisor of it being closed for refurbishing and their own site isn't up and running today but Orbitz was accepting reservations for the coming weekend on a junior suite for two, with breakfast, for $52USD. Of course, being that close to the Chao Phraya river it's probably a crap shoot that it IS open now, but the post is here for future reference, if not for now. I wouldn't book it myself today, but I definitely would again in the future.

The Chao Phraya river from the Saphan Taksin river boat stop - in calmer times
The hotel is on Thanon Charoen Wiang (in the Bangkrak part of Sathorn), just down the road from where Robinsons and the Centre Point apartments are on Thanon Charoen Krung.  That intersection is - as the crow flies - somewhere about two football/soccer fields from the Le Bua hotel, home to the Sky Bar.  It's also within a mile of the Shangri-La and a short taxi ride to Lumphini Park, the Patpong Night Market and the rest of the night life, for that matter.

Part of the living room, with a view of the bedroom through the sliding doorway
All 76 rooms are suites, most being 43 square meters/463 square feet, all with high speed internet, safe, and sliding doors to separate the bedroom from the rest of the unit. There's a small gym with a couple of treadmills and a half-dozen other machines; simple, but usable.

A portion of the rooftop pool/jacuzzi garden area
The rooftop pool area is spacious and quiet, with a beverage bar, plenty of lounge chairs and a table stacked with clean pool towels.  It was quiet enough there that I had a couple of visits with the guys working the reception area who came up to get away from the work phones (and use their own, of course).

The shopping center at the far end of the block.

For those who like to wander around and see how the folks there live there's a lot of area to cover. I took a lot of photos on many morning strolls, as well as to and from the BTS station and other places. At the end of the street (right by the Saphan Taksin BTS station) is a shopping center with a Robinsons department store, a grocery store and several places to eat without subjecting yourself to the McTrash.

Ready for breakfast in the dining room. Part of the buffet shows here.
The dining room was spacious and fully stocked with well-prepared food, both Western and Thai. The coffee was brought to you whipped out of a machine around the corner, and there was an omelet station with a person who knew how to make a proper omelet (at least, while I was there there was).

Suites are available with one large or two twin beds
The beds have been slightly firm, but nothing like some of the extra-firm slabs you can run across in some hotels.  The linens were fresh, and the towels in the bathroom were soft and fluffy.  Another point worth mentioning is that I believe all of the suites have a shower within a proper bath tub.

No place is perfect, so in fairness I should mention that my taxi driver had a hell of a time finding the place the first visit, and another had to stop and make a phone call on another stay, but that's a minor thing.  If I'm staying near a BTS station (which I prefer anyway) most taxi drivers can find the stations, and then it's just fine tuning.  Also, one stay there was a wedding banquet in the dining room, and there was a lot of foot traffic in and out of the place that evening... and at 10pm there was some music audible in the suite that the front desk apologized for.  The level dropped a bit shortly after I called.

I hope they're doing all right during this current flooding - again, they're within flood range from the Chao Phraya - and I'll look forward to another visit some time in the future.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Golden Rule vs The Ugly Americans (And Others)

Planning a strategy is often better than going off half-cocked
One of the more valuable lessons I learned early in this life is how “The Golden Rule” gives far better returns than most any other investment of time and energy. Talking with my imaginary friend this morning I was reminded of the saying “You reap what you sow” also, but I really think “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” says it best. You’re free to consider either or neither, and I run into plenty who consider neither on a daily basis here stateside!

Not that I’m never guilty of transgressions in this area, but as the years go by I’ve found that the energy it takes to be civil is really less than is needed to go about furthering ill will. There’s plenty enough of that in the world already, and frankly I have better things to do. We all have better things to do, but some just can’t seem to break free of the selfish and irrational bonds that keep them wallowing in their own quagmire of unpleasantness.

ALWAYS keep your cool
with a police officer
As we’ve covered in a couple of previous posts the Thai overall tend to be far more easy-going than most Westerners. It’s not that they don’t have goals and a desire to further themselves, and not that they don’t have emotions, dislikes and passions that fuel their lives, but they seem to be able to find a gentler way of getting where they’re going. I think it’s all a part of the “mai pen rai” mentality; what some might sum up as “don’t sweat the small stuff - and it’s all small stuff, really”. Especially while on vacation.

I tend to walk around with a smile on my face as much as possible and nod my head in recognition to anyone who makes eye contact with me. When I don't - and I've done some informal and completely unscientific experiments on this - I don't get the same treatment on several levels. The suggestion from here is to consider trying the pleasant manner route.

It's freely acknowledged here that combining a strange place in climates we're not accustomed to with traveler's fatigue while working through frustrations of written and verbal language barriers and you've got almost everything needed for a recipe for Impatience Casserole (not forgetting the garnish of "travel tummy") but it's all part of the adventure. People seem to think that going to a foreign country is like a visit to Disneyland, and I've heard people out of control there, too.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard some English-speaking person going off the deep end while in conversation with a tuk-tuk driver, hotel registration employee, airline worker, Jatujak shop owner or someone on the street I could pay for a first class ticket back there this very morning. Some of these people are under the false impression that just because they verbally pummel someone they'll win the battle, but I've also seen street justice meted out, too. The Thai are polite, but they're human - and everyone has a breaking point.

I'm not a voyeur to the extent that I'd look into someone's window or hotel door when I'm passing by, but a boisterous argument is like free radio to me, and I've surreptitiously listened in on any and all of those whenever the opportunity arises. Taxi drivers arguing with a tourist over a non-metered fare, club owners going ballistic while providing what they consider to be customer service to a patron, people repeating the same irrational demands over and over at the ticketing counter (as if their outrage will change policy) and far more examples than you'd want to read here today.

There's something in some parts of the Asian culture itself that includes a rule that whoever shouts the loudest and most incessantly in an argument wins, but I can't quite quantify that theory just yet. It's a work in progress. Maybe it's a variation on the theorem that repeating a lie often enough will make it true, I don't know. Goodness knows politicians in the US subscribe to that en mass during election season.

Are there tuk-tuk drivers who will try to take advantage of you in Bangkok? Yup - no question. Are there people selling all sorts of goods and services that are not what they're represented to be? Right again. If you're not willing to roll with the punches and take the chance of being put into an uncomfortable situation, do some homework on travel advisory sites, forums and boards before you go. Actually, that's sound advice even if you are a little more adventurous, even if I do say so myself. It's payed off well for me, anyway.

This doesn't mean it's not wise to stand up for yourself and try to resolve any and all matters in a calm and reasonable fashion; nobody needs to be a door mat - but it's usually best to not allow things to escalate to a hostile level in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. In such situations I make use of whatever damage control is within reach, end the interaction and leave. Sometimes that means getting short shrift, but it beats a fight (or worse).

The point here today is simple. If you want to be treated in a civil manner, don't walk into a situation acting like a self-appointed deity. My guess is that it irks you when it happens wherever home is for you, and that's understandable... you're human.

 They're human, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Another Quick Flood Update

NOT what you'd want to see while dealing with the flooding

A good friend of many, many years is struggling to stay alive in a nearby hospital, and my place is there right now - so there won't be much of a written post today.  I'll try again tomorrow.

Floodwaters fill the Lat Phrao-Phahon Yothin intersection yesterday, closing the Central Plaza department store and raising fears that the deluge is approaching inner Bangkok.

In the meantime, the relentless flow of water heading South around Bangkok continues. Water seeks its own level, and as the current level of water in the waterways is above street level you can imagine the Herculean challenge to the people of Thailand in trying to keep up with breaks in levees, clogged systems and countless other problems with food, water, health and safety.  I wish them luck.

A map from November 4th, showing the floodwater path - in English, this time. Click on the images to enlarge them.

A news photo, taken on the morning of November 7th

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thai-Farang Relationships Pt 2: A True Happy Ending

For illustrative purposes only. Vee did not work in this club

[In Part One of this story you read about Vee, a 29-year-old Go Go boy from Pattaya and how he met Ted, the farang life partner he'd long sought. This is the rest of that story, or the story as I know it to now.  While it's a true story, details have been changed to protect their identities.]

After Ted had returned to Bangkok he stayed in phone contact with Vee, sometimes several times a a day - and it was more or less evenly divided as to who called who.  As they discovered they had many of the same desires and goals in life they began to feel more and more connected.  While there was a difference in ages between them, Ted was open to working on keeping a younger mind and Vee was more of a mature thinking person than many his age. Vee saw someone who would care about him rather than just care for him, and Ted saw the possibility of some "social security" by way of company, companionship and affection as they both aged.

Within a few weeks Vee had begun spending more and more long weekends in Ted's home in Bangkok.  Quickly adjusting to the city life Vee began to network with friends and contacts and look for work.  He didn't have much of a higher education but his personality and the contacts he and Ted had in the business world began to offer promise for a future working with more than a speedo on.

There were cultural hurdles to be jumped by both, but by being open and honest they managed to compromise.  Vee was a devout Buddhist, Ted had been raised in a rigid religion who's rules he'd adapted and that he remained active in, although he was somewhat closeted about it while doing so. He also found comfort in some of the Buddhist practices and participated in them on occasion, which pleased Vee.

Ted wasn't an aficionado of "gay life" or the club areas to begin with, and Vee had seemingly had his fill of that scene, so not having regular nights out amid the bright lights and deafening music was something they both easily agreed on, although Ted had some concerns that Vee might not truly be "finit" with that lifestyle.  "I'd heard that saying about being able to take the boy out of the club but not being able to take the club out of the boy," he said to me one time "but while I didn't throw all caution to the wind I had to take him at his word or drive myself nuts worrying about it."

Vee also had some things in the back of his head that concerned him: what if Ted found another man to replace him being first and foremost, but there were other concerns, most of which were merely fears of the unknown: would he really fit into Ted's world? Would their families welcome their partner?

Vee had only briefly gotten himself involved with the partying side that all too often destroys club guys - yaba (methamphetamine) being the #1 offender, closely followed by exposure to HIV - but there was also the spectre of alcoholism for those who couldn't control their drinking, or the endless "gotta have it" lure of new phones, new motocys, and the likes. Vee dabbled with yaba a few times but fortunately didn't care for it, and he'd managed to avoid exposure to HIV, although there were a few scares that convinced him to set his own limits and stick with them.  He'd managed to not only send money home on a regular basis, but build his own savings.

An office job was offered to a joyously happy Vee by a business acquaintence of Teds, and Vee gratefully accepted the 9,000Bt per month salaried position. He exchanged his usual daily garb of shorts and tee shirts for slacks, a white shirt and a tie and dove right into this very new working world.  His personality carried him until he got the hand of things, and then he just took off and flew with the opportunity and responsibilities. "I never have to do club work again," he told Ted. "I am happy."

Things went relatively smoothly, and  the week after he got the job Vee gave up his room in Central Pattaya, said farewell to his friends there and moved to the Big Mango, into Ted's home.  Ted was sensitive to Vee being an adult and had put some things into storage to clear the second room that had been his home office and moved his work station into a corner of the living room to give Vee his "own space", and while Vee noted and appreciated the gesture the room became a shared office and work room after only a couple of months.

Letting their guard down after four months they spoke of monogamy since they'd met. Both claimed they'd been faithful to that point, and they went for HIV tests. Both came up negative, and they stopped using condoms.

At Vee's urging they had a monk perform a wedding ceremony for them.  Although their friends and family knew and approved of the couple they wanted this to be a private affair, and made it so.

To celebrate, they went shopping for some new furnishings for their home, one of them being the first proper dresser Vee had ever had in his 29 years. It was delivered as scheduled one morning while Ted was working at home, and after having the men put it in place in their bedroom he thought he'd move Vee's things into it as a surprise for him when he arrived home later that afternoon.

That's when he found my business card.

"It took me a while to open my heart and trust Vee," he told me on the phone "and this just kind of made me feel sick to my stomach."  He paused another moment before going on. "By rights I shouldn't have seen this, but I did, and it bothered me."  "Good grief," I said "he's been with you about a year. You're still having doubts?"  He allowed that while he'd done his best to be trusting that some of the people he knew weren't as convinced that this was meant to be... and told him so.  His friends were supportive - because they'd met and been involved socially with the couple - but others weren't.

"He told me early on 'I don't want to be in contact with my old life' - and I respected that.   He asked me to sit there while he deleted his online accounts and cleared out his email accounts.  He gave me the passwords and said 'change them tomorrow for me,' and I did. I saw him throw his club contacts and his stack of phone numbers into the trash. I carried the bag out to the rubbish myself, but you never know 100%.  Then I found your card, and I didn't know if it was new or old or what."  I was flabbergasted.

"You know," I said "my cell phone here is only active when I'm in the country. I've only been here a couple of weeks and I head home in two days.  What are the odds of you finding my number and calling me today?"  "Pretty slim," he admitted "but I'm glad I caught you, because we don't keep any secrets and I meant to talk to him about it in a few hours when he got home from work."

I told Ted "Please tell him I said hello. Tell him how I know him, and tell him I said 'I told you so', because I'd predicted he'd find a decent man if he went about it the right way.  I'd love to meet you both and have lunch or something."  He said he'd relay my message, and leave it up to Vee if he wanted to reconnect.  I waited all evening, hoping for a call that didn't come.

The next afternoon while I was packing a suitcase my phone rang, and it was Ted.  "Vee says he remembers you and wanted me to say thank you so much for your help, because without you we'd have probably never met - but he's still somewhat skittish about anything to do with his old life.  He says we're happy now, why go back there, and I respect that."

"I do, too," I said "but I'd appreciate an update from you at some point, if you don't mind."  He agreed, and I still have his number.

I'll be back there in a few months.