Bangkok: population: ± 12 million
Thailand: visa requirements: a vilid ticket out of the country no more than a month later
population: ± 64 million
slogan: Land of a thousand smiles
currency: Baht, €1 = 40b
Day I – March 19
First impressions on Souteast Asia: HOT! And the smell of rubber is impossible to ignore.
After filling out the immigration form again -I did it wrong on the plane- and picking up my backpack at the conveyer belt, I find the meter-taxis right outside. LP tells you to take those instead of the regular taxies who are likely to rip you off.
A woman behind a desk translates the address of the hotel G-Adventures booked my first night, into Thai, and a driver takes me to his car. This is way too easy. *
As we were landing I was surprised by not seeing the fairytale land I’d imagined after all the movies I’ve seen.
But here it is; these little shacks along the highway, amongst the palm trees. People are living here; right next it, with just a wire fence to shield them from the big road, in houses build with scraps of plastic, steel and bamboo. Seems so odd to me now. But I guess in 2 months time I won’t even notice anymore. **
First baht experience: Asia is supposed to be cheap, so the speed with which the meter goes up frightens me a little. We’re not even in the city before it hits 125b. I don’t have too much time to worry about how I’m going to pay for it with my single 100b note, astonished by this insane traffic criss-crossing all over the road.
A little while later the taxi drops me in front of a huge building that looks like an extremely expensive hotel and asks me for 300b. Luckily the hotel has an exchange service, and their rate is fair.
A busboy shows me to my room, that I share with Claire, one of my trekking-group members. She’s had about as crazy a trip getting here as I did. Her way of dealing is by taking a nap. I instead choose a dip in the pool.
When we’ve both had our little breather, we set out for a little walk around the neighborhood.
It all still feels very unreal, like a dream or visiting an entertainment park. Walking the streets looking for a hot plate, we’re struck by very strong smells of rubber, garlic, herbs, fire…
We pass a river, or rather a still canal that’s turned a turquoise green. Some men are fishing in it and apparently something does live in there; the catch, a big fat carp, is lying right next to them, out in the sun, flies buzzing over it and all.
Somewhat chicken, but it is our first meal, so we go for safe; we go into a cafeteria instead of to a street vendor. Nice food though. A bit too hot for me still, but half an hour later my lips have already recovered all sense.
Every building seems to be build floor by floor, stacked one on top of the other, without regard for each other, with whichever tools and materials that happened to be lying around. And next to them is the Bangkok Centre Hotel, the place I’m staying; a vast, straight, boring bunker.
There is a G-adventure meeting in the lobby early that evening. I do my best to listen to what our guide, Sit from Chiang Mai, is telling us. But the jetlag creeps in to shut my eyes as rude as anything. So I skip dinner with the rest of the group, miss out on a ping-pong show, and hit the hay at 8pm.
* Turns out it was; I should have just taken the skytrain to the station that was right around the corner from the hotel.
** Indeed, when on Bali I’d gotten used to the Asian form of highway and no guardrail between that and the little houses all along the side of it.