The alarm went off at 5 am and I found that there were still things to do
to get ready for my trip! After 2 hours of weeding out non-essentials to
lighten the load of my backpack and solitary suitcase, I had 10 minutes to
spare to inhale a bowl of Cherrios. My son was prompt to pick me up and
away we went to the Dayton Airport. We had great time conversing about all
kinds of academic topics, such as recent books we read, world leaders,
Obama, poverty and how it affects the outcomes of children. Our
personalities are so much alike that we feel extremely comfortable in each
At the check-in counter, I learned that I didn't quite accomplish enough
weeding out of my luggage. With a maximum limit of 50 lbs per piece of
luggage, I was 13 lbs. over the limit. Graciously the staff at United
suggested I buy another suitcase, one that was really cheap at $15 in the
adjacent shop. I was permitted to have 2 pieces of luggage in my travels
with United. But, just the thought of handling that much luggage on the
train to Cambodia ( and possibly travelling with all the chickens and
livestock, maybe), I didn't think it would be a good idea. So, I proceeded to
open my case, right there on the floor and remove shoes, shirts, an
unnecessary umbrella and various other sundry wanted items that I thought
I couldn't live without. "Yeah", I thought . "Maybe I don't need 3
On the plane I met someone, maybe by chance or maybe by divine
intervention, who pummeled me with questions to determine who I was,
where I was going and WHY I was going to Thailand. Eyeing all of my books
in my backpack, she also inquired about those. "Oh, I'm writing a book".
This piqued her interest even further and the questions spilled out for the
next two hours. For those of you who already know about my book, it
definitely is focused on God and his means of communicating with us. We
shared many spiritual experiences and I told her a few of the stories in my
book. Through all of this, I found a new friend, we had lunch in Chicago
in-between our flights and tried to solve all the world's issues.
The flight to Bangkok is long from Chicago and the 'Economy Section' of the
plane does not afford hardly any free space. I can't recall being so cramped
on other international flights. For some time, I tried to analyze the
cost/benefit of such an arrangement for United. More seats mean more
money. But, don't the customers get cranky from being all balled up for
hours on end? Might they choose another airline? I know that Quantas,
Australia's premier airline, was just absolutely a travel delight. This was
I tried to get some work done on my computer by placing it on the eating
tray that connects to the seat in front of me. But, no matter how I
configured my set up, I was barely able to extend the lid to see the screen.
Then, the gentleman in front of me decided to kick back his seat to take a
nap and…..it was all over. I had my computer rammed into my gut, pinning
me against the seat. The other travelers, mostly notoriously polite
Japanese, observed what happened and looked at me in such a sympathetic
manner. But, their body language gently suggested, "This is your problem,
Being the consummate opportunist, I craned my neck to look for better
seating arrangements. Ah, to my delight, I spotted an open seat that had
plenty of leg room near the major exit door. I asked a flight attendant for
permission to move. She gladly allowed it. About 2 hours into the flight,
another attendant interrupted my feverish typing to announce to me,
"Ma'am, are you willing to pay for the upgrade in seating?". I was
bewildered as to the tone of her voice and what she was implying. " Please?"
I stammered, quickly jumping my mind from the computer to judge her
obviously irritated questioning. "Um, another attendant said I could sit
here", I stammered and smiled (when in doubt, smile).
"This is business class and an upgrade", she explained with lips narrowing
even more with discontent. With the speed of light, I evaluated the
circumstances and questioned internally how these seats could be an upgrade
when I have been persistently smelling urine and feces from the latrines
across from my seat? "Who allowed you to sit here? Which attendant was
it?" With solidarity for the attendant, who showed me such a kindness, I
said firmly, " I don't know her name". The stewardness strode off in a huff
and I thought, for sure, she would find out who gave me that seat. She
returned again and questioned me further, " Are you WILLING to open the
emergency door in the case of a problem? You HAVE to agree to sit there".
With compliance, I stated proudly, "Yes, I will open it. And, I can because
I'm really strong". This last comment did not appease her one bit! "Well,
you must read the safety card in your seat", she bellowed and strode off.
Now I truly relished my new found treasure in this seat! It was more
valuable than my old one, and it looked that I was going to keep it! Shortly
thereafter, a smiling young couple came up to me, faced me and the woman
asked me point blank, "Are you a writer?", she inquired. "Well, somewhat.
How did you know?" Because I see on your computer, it looks like you are
writing a book". "What the h….???", I thought. "Have they been looking
over my shoulder and reading my compositions?"
"Are you writing about your trip to Thailand?", she quizzed again. "Well, I
do try to incorporate everything I do into my occupation", I explained hoping
to satisfy her curiousity. " Is it a book?" , she explained. "Well, I'm
actually working on two literary pieces, one is a book and the other is like a
blog. I'm working on the blog, right now".
Overjoyed, the man now joined in and a lengthy conversation ensued. They
both were going to Thailand to study the culture of the people, as it relates
to the ancient people of Thailand. Full of glee, they explained the kinds of
adventures they would be experiencing, which included days and days of
silence and mediation, as well as Thai kick boxing. They spoke as if all three
of us were united in a literary Mecca of human exploration of cultures and
minds. "Hey, don't they realize I am just a gal from Morrow, Ohio?", I
The Bangkok airport is absolutely beautiful. The architecture is modern, but
it displays many cultural norms in a very tasteful way. As I was finding my
way to the baggage claim area, I passed a group of flight attendants
dressed in Arabian garb complete with veils that covered their heads and
swirled around their necks. They were absolute beauties, every single one of
Going through customs, I heard a meek, shy voice cry out, "Mom……Mom!".
Recognizing the familiar voice of my daughter, I turned my head
automatically and there she was, full of smiles! I breathed a sigh of relief
that she looked good. My daughter, Elise, has a tendency to stop eating
whenever she feels stressed. All along prior to my trip, I worried what I
might behold after not seeing her for six months. I made a vow to myself
that I would bring her home if her health was being compromised by this
teaching gig in China.
We briskly departed the airport and found a taxi cab with a driver that
faked not having knowledge of the English language. My research prior to
the trip with the Lonely Planet book warned that anybody and everybody in
Bangkok will try to earn as much money as they can from you. One of the
examples they presented was the famous Bangkok taxi driver. The book said
that they will fake getting lost finding your destination in order to earn
more cab fare. They said that they will also pretend to not understand
English, throwing up their hands, " No understand English!".
I sat in front with the taxi driver and gave him the map to our hotel (highly
recommended by Lonely Planet!). My daughter asked the taxi driver slowly,
"Do… you… know?". After living in China, she explained to me that you must
speak slowly to the people in order for them to understand your message.
He seemed puzzled, but nodded and pointed to the map giving indications
that he knew where we wanted to go. As we buzzed along the relatively
modern highway, which by the way contains huge images of the King and
Queen of Thailand in full color at every pedestrian overpass, I began to
converse with the driver. He grunted and spoke Thai, indicating he did not
understand English. I made several attempts again and received the same
response. I turned to Elise in the back seat and said to her, "Should I tell
him that I will call upon the powers of heaven?". I did this as a test for the
taxi driver's knowledge of English. He immediately began to laugh. I turned
to him and cooed, "Ah, so you DO know English!". His smile evaporated.
Then his face became rigid, he turned to examine Elise, and looked forward
from then on. I believe he got us directly to our hotel.
Our hotel is located in 'Old Bangkok'. I chose this area because it is within
walking distance to all the temples and palaces. As a result, it lacks the
modern architecture of the newer parts of the Bangkok. The closer we got
to our hotel, the more seedy the environment became. I began to think that
maybe I made a mistake in my choices of hotel. We arrived in the city about
1 a.m. and the place was just buzzing with people! Everybody was just
hanging out and motorcycles loaded with 2,3 or sometimes 4 people were
zigzagging in and out of traffic. Drawing nearer to our destination, I saw
many young girls gathered together just sitting on various concrete walls and
wooden benches along the narrowing roads, watching traffic as if in search
of someone. I thought to myself, "Can you spell P-R-O-S-T-I-T-U-T-E
????" I worried that Elise would be very worried about the quality of my
choice of hotels. Given the late hour, I began to think quickly of a plan B,
should this hotel be in the category of 'flea bag'. When the driver stopped
at the door, I saw that the entrance was pretty and a doorman greeted us
at the curb. I decided to stay. The staff was very friendly, given the hour,
and was pleasantly surprised that the room was very clean and nice.
Elise and I slept into mid-morning to honor our pledge that this trip would
have no stress. I was awaken by a local playing the flute outside in the
streets. The ethnic melodies he/she played radiated off the buildings
outside, giving the music a special resonance. As I lay in bed, enjoying the
respite, the activities in the street below began to escalate. It sounded as
if a marketplace existed below. Voices that bartered for goods began to
poison the beautiful music I heard earlier.
Part of the amenities of the Boonsori Hotel is a free breakfast each
morning. We entered the small front desk area and an all-smiles,officially
dressed bellman showed us the pathway to the breakfast area. He led us to
a narrow paved path shielded by bamboo-like trees on one side from the
little avenue next to our hotel. A beautiful songbird filled the air with music.
The eating area was open ,airy and lacked walls all around the perimeter.
The year-round mild, and sometimes very hot weather, allowed for this type
of architecture, I assumed. Large tri-fold wooden structures with Thai art
gave life to the concrete floor and interior walls. I was happy to see that
maybe this was a good choice of hotel after all!
A young Thai girl, very small and petite, with a cherubic face and drawn
back shiny dark hair, greeted us with a placard that showed pictures of
three options for breakfast. Option #1- sunny side up eggs, option
#2-scrambled eggs and option #3- egg omlet. Not much of a choice, but all
I hoped for was to be healthy after eating the eggs. Several parents of the
students I teach, who were more worldly than myself, warned me repeatedly
about the high risk of getting sick from local Thai food. Surely, I thought,
that this hotel would be careful not to sicken their guests. Elise and I
pointed to our selections and she quickly scurried off to deliver the request
to the backroom kitchen. A small selection of fruit, juice, toast and the
littlest sausages I've ever seen awaited on a buffet table.
I could see the mutual joy in my daughter's eyes that, yes, this was a good
choice of hotel. But, I secretly wondered what vision awaited on the other
side of the bamboo trees. I recalled the encounters with the prostitutes
along the road and wondered what might be seen in the sunlight! First on our
agenda for this day was to get exchange some of our U.S. dollars for Thai
currency, the Baht. Our hotel concierge directed us down the adjacent
street to a bank that lay several blocks down towards a heavily traveled
We decided to walk to the bank instead of using a local tuk-tuk (an open air
buggy powered by an attached motorcycle). We strolled down the middle of
the narrow street because the sidewalks on either side were loaded with
merchants selling their wares. "Ah!", I thought, "These are the sources of
the noises I heard as I lay in bed." All kinds of items were being hawked.
About 50% of the stalls offered food for sale, anything from fruit to
grilled chicken. The road appeared very dirty underfoot. Locals seemed to
walk aimlessly past us with no particular destination. It was mostly men who
wandered about. I saw that the women and children stayed within the
covered stalls, many of whom remained even behind the stalls carrying on
daily functions, such as combing their hair, creating more items to sell or
simply idling away the hours watching the foot traffic.
As we passed the stalls, the women would cry out to us to buy their wares.
As we continued past them, their voices would get louder to grab your
attention. Not all would do this, but if you made eye contact, it was all over!
For them, making eye contact was an indication that a sale was close at
hand! I learned early that making eye contact, even in a friendly Cincinnati
way of greeting strangers, resulted in an escalating plea halfway down the
block. If you made eye contact too many times, a harmony of pleading voices
Every so often, a dog crossed our path in the street. These dogs, mostly
mixed breeds, looked like they could be rabid. Their scrawny bodies,
covered with dusty fur, walked about with no owner in sight. Some of them
had sores on their bodies, others were maimed. We also had to dodge the
plentiful motorcycles that zig-zagged around the people, stalls and other
debris in the street. An occasional tuk-tuk or taxi driver sped past us,
busily on their way to capture their next client. It was a bustling sea of
activity on such a small, narrow street.
I saw that on either side of the street, beyond the stalls, were crumbling
buildings with tin roofs. I thought, "Is this where the market people live?" I
peered down small alleyways that radiated from the narrow road we
travelled and saw conditions in the alleys that were more meager than the
road we travelled. Water would run randomly from the buildings and collect
in the street. I was careful to step over these little streams, wary that
they might contain sewage. I did not sense that the air smelled bad. Yet, I
can't rely on my sense of smell. Years of working in chemistry labs kind of
inculcated my ability to smell as other people do. My daughter, who has been
living in China for 6 months, repeatedly said, "The air smells so fresh!". Air
in China must be horrendous, I judged. Surely, the scenes I've witnessed
thus far could not produce clean smelling air!
After exchanging our U.S. dollars, we grabbed a taxi to get to one of the
many train stations in Bangkok. This particular train station offered passage
to Cambodia; we were advised by Lonely Planet to get our tickets early to
avoid delays the day of our departure five days from now. We arrived at
the train terminal about 1pm in the afternoon and it was bustling with
mostly Thai travelers. The central area was huge and similar to the train
terminal in Cincinnati that now houses a museum. Benches and other seating
filled the central area and all people faced the ticket windows and digital
displays showing arrival and departure times of trains. Most of the travelers
seemed to be of the general population. No one transported luggage, but
carried sacks of their belongings. I saw some older people comfortably
squatting and eating food as they waited. Their old, wrinkled bodies
appeared to be superbly flexible to maintain those poses while eating. The
crowd even contained monks, cleanly adorned in their bright orange sheets
with shaved heads.
Following our ticket purchases, Elise requested that we just 'wander' in
Bangkok. We followed the heavily travelled roads by foot, heading in the
relative direction of our hotel. We saw on the map that there was a temple
nearby and decided to go in that direction. I was constantly amazed how I
viewed so many near misses by the motorcycles laden with people. Women,
who sported skirts, would sit sideways on the motorcyles without clutching
anything for support. Children would be sandwiched in-between their
parents, weaving in and out of traffic without regard to traffic lights. It
seemed all vehicles were speeding. Everyone was in a hurry to get to their
destination! Several times, Elise and I had to walk in the streets because
the sidewalks had many obstructions. Horns blared when we didn't move out
of the way in a timely manner.
The air was heavy and humid by this time of day. I was sweating profusely!
We finally found the temple and it was smack in the middle of Chinatown.
This area of town was known for its markets and the stalls lined every
possible space on the sidewalks. I was happy that the temple area was
surrounded by ample concrete patios that were devoid of the crowded
conditions on the street. This was the Temple of the Big Golden Budda,
renowned for not only its immense height, but it was also covered in the
purest gold. We learned that the interior was made of clay and mud, densely
packed together to form the Budda.
Before entering the temple, a visitor must remove one's shoes and be
modestly dressed. Shorts, Capri pants, spaghetti tops and bare shoulders
were not allowed. However, anyone of any religious affiliation was welcome
to visit the Golden Budda. The Thai new year brought many local and
national people to the temple to give offerings of lotus flowers, burning
incense sticks and necklaces laced with real flowers, much like you see in the
Hawaiian leas. Every temple has a set of concrete stairs to ascend into the
sanctuary. As we entered the temple, it had an atmosphere of reverence.
People spoke in hushed tones, while others knelt with their feet neatly
tucked under their bodies, bowing in prostration to the Big Golden Budda.
I learned that the Budda, whose likeness is seen EVERWHERE as statues
throughout predominantly Buddist Thailand,was a real person. In my
ignorance, I always believed that he was a mythical figure, much like the
Greek Gods. The story goes that he made a diligent effort to reject the
world and attained a state called Nirvana. Golden Budda statues were found
everywhere in the Bangkok marketplaces , in all shapes, sizes and positions.
My lack of knowledge regarding Budda made me make a mental note to do
more research on this topic when I returned home.This HUGE Budda has a
lengthy history and has been transported throughout Southeast Asia. It is in
Bangkok that he has come to rest, for now.
We continued our wandering about Bangkok and wound up in the central
marketplace in Chinatown. Every sidewalk and alleyway was blanketed with
vendors, who mostly sold food items. The smell was absolutely atrocious.
Given that my sense of smell has been deadened somewhat, I thought that
my ability to sense these smells as being very strong meant that this place
just really STUNK! Every imaginable fish and sea creature was offered.
Who knows how long they have been offered for sale, possibly days, weeks
months? The smells were almost unbearable. And, my acute hunger really
complicated my revulsion for what I smelled and saw.
As we passed the stalls, merchants held out samples of their wares for us
to eat. I politely rejected each time, wary of the possibility of getting food
poison. I thought that the Thai people must have a stomach like dogs do.
You know, dogs will even eat road kill. I know that my own dogs did! Much of
the food presented for sale looked like road kill. Some of the fish were
dried and so flat from dehydration that I could have use them to replace
the soles of my shoes.
Every stall had a shrine to Budda in the very back that, I assumed, allowed
the families to worship as they worked. Glowing with lit candles, the shrines
were very ornate and contrasted starkly with the crude and simple
structures of the stalls. This marketplace was a happening place and not a
tourist trap. Locals shopped for all of their grocery needs there, it seemed.
People were examining the wares and haggling at every stall. The aisles were
narrow and at times only allowed for single file passage. Despite the narrow
paths, motorcycles rode up and down the market and everyone had to get
out of the way somehow!
Without buying anything, we exited the marketplace and searched for a
place to eat that was not street food. After walking for at least an hour,
we found no acceptable place to eat where we felt that the food would be
safe. Giving up, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel and asked the concierge for
recommendations. They suggested a restaurant by the river, which promised
to offer a scenic view. We grabbed another taxi, which by the way is pretty
cheap. A twenty minute ride is about $2.00 U.S.
We arrived at the entrance to the restaurant and multiple oil torches
greeted us at the entrance. It looked very Caribbean looking and sported
many fish tanks containing live lobsters, exotic fish and maybe other sea
creatures that could be on the menu. It was a lovely place and had seated
dining and waiters. We crossed a threshold and the building opened up into
an open air restaurant with a magnificent view of the river and modern
bridge. The evening lights from the buildings across the river dotted the
landscape and boats of many kinds travelled up and down.
We ordered 3 items jointly from an extensive menu that numbered the
choices. The numbers went up to well over 100, offering soups, salads, stir
fry and many other types of foods. It took a long while to decide what to
order. It was a relaxing evening and our bill, including taxes, tips and
drinks, amounted to about $20 U.S. Considering that we ordered all seafood
items, I felt our bill was really reasonable given the caliber of the
restaurant. It was a good ending to an eventful day in Bangkok.!
We decided to start our day visiting the Grand Palace. This palace was an
effort by one of the King Rama's (currently King Rama IV rules) to move the
capital of the country from across the river to a new location, which is now
'Old Bangkok'. The palace is surrounded by a walled structure of smooth
white sandstone with moderately style carvings. However, as you enter the
palace area, all of that moderation is transformed into a mystical land of
palaces and temples literally covered in diamond shaped cut glass. Every
building shimmers in gold accented with brilliant mosaic designs in cut glass.
I have never seen anything like it! The specter totally outshines (no pun
intended) anything that Kings Island, the Cincinnati Zoo or Riverfest could
do! I could only imagine what European explorers from the West beheld what
they saw upon being led to the leader of the land.
Thai National Guardsmen guard many of the more sacred structures. At the
center of the complex, and I mean complex because there must be at least
30 huge buildings all serving the King Rama and his cortege, is a huge temple
that houses the Emerald Budda. Every Budda we met ( : ) has some sort of
history. It is customary that they were transported throughout Southeast
Asia to be honored at different, well populated locations. So, some of these
Buddas have been housed in various temples in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos,
India etc. In order to enter the temples, you must always climb about 15
steps. I noticed that all the temples had about the same number of steps.
This specific number of steps must be a significant number to them. There
are always spacious patios before the temple entrance that are loaded with
abandoned shoes by people entering the temple in their bare feet.
At every temple, Buddist worshipers present flower offerings of either
solitary, stemmed lotus flowers, a lei of stringed very bright yellow flowers
that is about 16 inches in circumference or a small lei of odd shaped white
flowers, about 6 inches in circumference, with 3 roses that are stringed
separately and dangle from the lei. Every temple had just these three types
of flower offerings, no other. There is also an opportunity to offer incense
sticks to the Budda that are lit, a prayer is offered and then, extinguished
in an ornate sand containing basin.
The Emerald Budda is not really made of emeralds, but is actually made of a
vibrant green jade stone. It was discovered by conquerors during one of the
wars, covered with white plaster. One of the conquerors noticed that the
nose of the Budda was chipped and saw a green substance underneath. After
removing the plaster, a very green Budda appeared!
Every Budda in a temple is surrounded with massive amounts of real gold
decorations. There are other gold statues that surround the Budda, plus
many gold lace structures, intricately cut, so that they provide a background
of shimmering light reflections that dazzle the eye. The pictures do not do
the scene justice! Ironically, there is so much opulence in the temples
throughout Thailand, but the people who support them are generally poor.
The people put all their money in the temples, I believe.
The Grand Palace had housing quarters for the King's elephants, crematories
for humans, as well as elephants, halls, residences for the King's court, etc.
Every building was a masterpiece, even the crematory for elephants! I
noticed that there weren't many areas supporting gardens. All areas were
well paved with stone or concrete. One of my favorite buildings was one that
contained continuous murals that were painted on every side of the square
building that told a 100 year old story of King Rama III in pictorial form.
The explanation for each scene was explained in Thai at the bottom on a
plaque, but one could easily determine what had happened at that time
period within the 100 year epic. The 'bad guys', or invading forces were
represented as monsters with animal looking faces, while the Thai people
looked human. I don't know how many murals there were, but a good guess
would be at least 300 or more that covered the building and shielded by the
surrounding portico, or covered walkway area.
We had lunch at a, I believe heavily favored by the prominent local
population,Thai restaurant. When we entered the eatery, it seemed all heads
turned to view the foreigners. We were the only people of European descent
there. It took a very long time for a waiter to come. I warned Elise that
they may not serve us because, just possibly, we may not be welcomed! I
thought it may be some sort of exclusive restaurant for Thai's only. Being
so afraid to get sick from street food, I spotted the restaurant and decided
that they probably would not have their chicken meat hanging from a string
for a week or more, without refrigeration, before they served it to their
customers! They eventually came around to us. The service was not like in
the U.S., where promptness counts. No, they acted like it was a favor to
A Buddist monastery was right next door, so we decided to stop in and take
a look. This was a very good decision because there were very few non-monk
people wandering the complex. It was an actual working monastery. Buddist
monks, robed in shocking orange sheets wrapped discretely about their naked
bodies, roamed the complex and in deep meditation. I learned later that
monks are not permitted to touch a woman and, conversely, woman are not
allowed to touch them! I noticed that each time we passed a monk, he would
avert his eyes from us. I also learned that Budda is revered for resisting
temptations from the earthly world, which very much includes women. The
monks' goal is to imitate Budda, which means women are off-limits.
However, I did see some 'techie smart' Buddist monks at the Grand Palace
and they let me take their picture. They were very young and enjoyed the
attention we gave them. After the shot, I gave them a 'thumbs up' and they
smiled broadly. The monks at this monastery were older.
I learned that this monastery contained relics of the real-life Budda. Relics
can be bones, hair or fragments of garments worn by the Budda. We tried
to ask what type of relics the monastery housed, but no one seemed to
understand our English. So, it will be an unknown for now. Elise and I
climbed a very long winding wooden staircase in the center of the monastery.
At the top of the staircase, we reached the parapet of the steeple that
contained the relics! A small cushioned bench was in front of a locked, metal
grill box. We knew inside there must be something special because it
contained a large golden hat surrounded by the usual gold surroundings. The
box was maybe 3 ft. by 3ft by 4 ft. and not very large because it fit inside
the steeple. At the time, we had no idea what we were viewing. A monk had
just left the little bench and quickly passed us with his head down and lips
moving in prayer. I thought it may be something special and later learned
the box contained the relics of Budda.
As we descended the staircase, all of a sudden we heard monks chanting.
We couldn't believe our good fortune to be present during this occasion! We
followed the sounds of chanting in order to discover their source. We
imagined it might be like the Catholic monasteries at home, where the monks
would all gather together, prayer books in hand, and singing in devout,
harmonious voice. After walking through the maze of walkways that
contained a gold Budda at every intersection bordering the exterior walls of
the monastery, we leaned out an arched window and discovered a speaker
that broadcast the chants to the city of Bangkok! It was a recording!!!!
Evidently, this happens everyday about 5 pm at every Buddist temple
We awoke at 3:45 a.m. to catch our 5:55 a.m. train for Cambodia. As the
taxi wound its way through the streets of early morning Bangkok, I saw that
the prostitutes were still working their corners. The sight of this made me
very sad. These girls were very young, some beautiful others not so
beautiful. I recalled that when I coached a tennis team in Amsterdam, the
other female coaches wanted to visit the famous Red Light district of
Amsterdam. I begged off at first, but decided that this may add to my
knowledge base and not be so bad. The sight was truly traumatic for me and
I pledged to pray a rosary for every prostitute I saw. I read about a year
or so ago that the Red Light district was being dismantled! The Dutch
government decided that this is not the business they wanted to promote. I
would like to think that my prayers had something to do with that.
Bangkok city, at 5 a.m. was beginning to wake up. Vendors on the street
were preparing for another full day of calling out to passersby. As we
neared the train station , saw that the city is arranged just the opposite of
U.S. cities. We are familiar with urban sprawl, whereby the poor remain
behind while the more affluent radiate out to the outskirts of the city. It is
just the opposite here. The poor live in shanty towns that surround the city.
I viewed so many of the inside of these shanties, because many of them
have large openings. Dirty rags cover the open windows for privacy. The
poor were busy at work gathering their wares or making new wares or dishes
to be sold that day. The sight was ugly to behold.
The train system is one of those straight out from the 1950's and is very
much a part of the transportation system in Thailand. We boarded the train
with all the other Thai locals. When buying our tickets, a couple of German
girls touring the Southeast for 7 weeks joined us in the car. I could tell
that they felt more safe being with us, and vice versa. There is more
security in numbers when you are female traveler. They asked to share a
taxi with us once we reached the Cambodian border. We gladly agreed!
There was also a group of boys travelling together who spoke Spanish.
Otherwise, the car was loaded with Thais.
The train slowly left the terminal and proceeded out of the city slowly. I
got a fuller experience of the shanty towns and observed all that they did to
prepare for the day. Dim interior lights showed the silhouettes of the Thai
poor preparing for the day. Some were cooking, some were just stretching
their bodies and I saw shirtless men pounding with anvils creating some
unknown wares that created bright sparks that lit the night. Have you ever
wondered where all your Goodwill clothing donations go, if not bought by our
U.S. poor? They go to these third world countries, sold by the pound by
Goodwill. Goodwill told me this after I inquired about what happens to items
not sold in the Goodwill stores. The poor in Thailand are clean, but wear
mismatched clothing. It seems they are concerned more with functionality
than style. If you want to take a trip back to the 70's or 80's fashion
styles, go to Thailand. It's on the backs of the poor. Your donations!
I was glad to leave the city and enter the countryside of Thailand. Rice
paddies abound and I got to see close up how they are farmed. They are
definitely soggy and some contain about ½ of water. White birds, called
egrets, stand with their tall stick-like legs searching for small fish or
crustaceans.These birds are beautiful to behold with their long graceful
necks and thin long beaks. They slowly ply the marshes in search of food.
I've also seen them on the backs of water buffalo, that roam the paddies
freely on higher grounds. The egrets pick off buys from the water buffalo
and then, in turn, the buffalo are not 'bugged' by insects. It is a true
Clutches of shanties can be found as we travelled through the countryside.
The set-ups were the same as in the city; it is a shameful sight. This time I
noticed that each one had an area set aside for worship to Budda. This area
possessed some sort of structure on a pole that looked like a dollhouse, Thai
style. Each group of shanties had what looked like a watering hole about the
size of a baby portable swimming pool and sometimes twice that size. They
weren't very large. The holes contained the murkiest water I have seen. Do
you remember how you used to make 'mud soup' as a child? Well, this is
what the water looks like. On top of that, there was usually somebody in it!
I found out later from a taxi driver that these holes were used for fishing.
If they wanted a fish for dinner, they went out and got it!
About 3 hours out of Bangkok, the terrain became very dry. It looked as if
a lighted match would set the fields ablaze! In fact, I saw a lot of torched
areas. I think they used the 'slash and burn' method of clearing land. The
train stopped to pick up and drop off the locals about every 20-30 minutes
at these remote outposts. The train was packed with travelers, but no
animals allowed! At every stop, a local peasant would hop on the train with
prepared foods that didn't look like anything I have ever seen! YUK! Well,
maybe the basket of eggs looked familiar. At some stops, little kids from
the shanty towns would hop the train without paying for a ticket. Just like in
the old days! Devilish smiles on mischievous children seem to be a universal
When we arrived at the border, we had to be processed through three
different places in order to cross the border. We had to dodge carts pulled
by peasants containing all kinds of materials. The odors from the carts were
horrendous, the streets were really dirty and the air smelled of human
waste. In fact, we were instructed by Lonely Planet to cross the 'stinky
creek' and you will find the place to get your Visa to cross the border. It
was REALLY stinky! I imagine that they do not have waste treatment
facilities like the U.S. does. As we waited for very long periods of time, I
was able to watch traffic. The carts were all about the same, a two wheeled
box with very long handles for pulling. The peasants still wear the round
Asian hats like in the movies. The only difference between what you see in
the movies regarding Asian peasants is that many of them wear those
surgical masks. It is really interesting to see how and when they pull those
We hired a taxi to take us to our hotel in Cambodia. The drive was 2 hours
long and it only cost $48 for the trip. It was a great opportunity to see the
Cambodian countryside. They, too, had ornate Buddist Temples at the center
of villages. Cambodia's population is about 90% Buddist and the remainder
are Christian or Muslim. The countryside was lush and full of large rice
paddies. The road we traveled had only been paved 2 years ago. Our driver
said that Cambodia is progressing rapidly and trying to catch up to the
modern world. The road, a main thoroughfare, was highly traveled by
everyone all carrying large loads of people and produce.
Our driver explained that land mines left by the war during the U.S.
invasion of Cambodia blow up some peasant every day. He warned us not to
hike in unknown areas because we may hit one of those mines. We also saw
many elementary schools and they were very clean and beautiful buildings.
The schools often were found surrounded by the shanties they served. The
children are required to wear uniforms that are similar to U.S. schools,
white shirts and navy blue skirts or pants.
As we entered Sien Reap proper, we noticed a brand new university that just
opened. He explained that the country is promoting higher education now
that Pol Pot and the Khmer regime has died and the people now have a near
It is or first day to visit Ankor Wat, the sight of 12th century ruins of a
Cambodian leader who was famous for how much construction he did during
his reign. This sight is listed as a world wonder and contains the largest
religious development in the world. I can't recall how many square
Kilometers the area possessed, but I know that it cannot be traveled on foot
in a short period of time. The sight contains the King's palace and is
surrounded by Hindu temples all made of sandstone. Over the last 900
years, a black mold has really taken over the stone. Also, the ruins are
really falling apart! Every year, scores of hand carved blocks of stone fall
off the structures and have to be retrieved.
After viewing the shimmering Grand Palace in Bangkok, I must say that
these ruins appear to be an eyesore. I learned that the largest complex was
built in 37 years with 385,000 slaves. I inquired of our English speaking
Cambodian guide where they got the slaves. He explained that back then,
the people existed in tribes. Tribes would war upon tribes and capture the
men, women and children to employ them as slaves. Thus, the slaves were of
Cambodian descent. I recalled the same story from the locals in Fiji, when I
visited there about 6 or 7 years ago. The only difference is that the
victorious Fijians would often eat some of their captives; cannibalism was a
part of their culture. I also have learned in my research of the heritage of
African Americans in the United States that African tribes warred upon
other African tribes, captures the inhabitants of the conquered village and,
either keep some of the captives for slaves, or sell them to the Europeans
who visited the ports from time to time. I guess people are the same no
matter where you go, for better or for worse!
But, back to the Cambodian take on slavery…… The Cambodian king declared
himself a 'God-king' and made his own people, as well as the slaves, worship
him as a god. Given that the slaves didn't want to tick off the god, they
worked very hard for him in building Angkor Wat. The sandstone had to be
obtained from a small mountain that was a distance of 5 kilometers away. It
was grueling work transporting the stone. They often used waterfalls and
waterways to transport the stones, which all of them were about 2 ft x 2 ft
x 3 ft in dimensions. The thresholds contained very long stones on top.
Nearly every stone was ornately carved with figures and designs.
Well, the god-king was a very hard driving master of the people. Eventually,
the slaves got fed up, revolted and overthrew him. I really don't know if
they killed him, which is usually what happens to deposed monarchs. I
learned in a recent book I read, The Great Upheaval, that any monarch
throughout the periods of 1700's to the 1800's was overthrown if the
common people's needs were not satisfied. The only one to survive and die a
natural death was Catherine the Great of Russia. The people loved her
because she really wanted the people to be educated. She was the first
monarch in the history of mankind to require women to be educated. She
also built hospitals for the people and improved the infrastructure of the
country she ruled. So, they let her live to a ripe old age and mourned her
death. After the god-king of Cambodia was overthrown (or killed), the
There is no real security to protect these antiquities at these revered sights
of Angkor Wat. Tourists roam the ruins freely, climbing the very narrow
and steep steps while clinging to fissures in the stone walls for support.
Oftentimes,you can't climb a set of steps by just standing upright. The are
so vertical and the foot rest is so narrow that you have to literally 'climb
the stairs' on all four. Stones are everywhere and there is no one to stop
you from taking some home as souvenirs. All the tourists are respectful of
the place. I didn't see one person disturb any sight or attempt to steal
something for the trip home.
The ruins are also a danger to traverse. There no danger signs warning you
of loose stones and absolutely no railings guarding drop offs. You explore
these ruins at your own risk. Besides, who are you going to sue if you get
hurt? The Cambodians? Hah, that's funny.
Elise and I did another day of touring of the temples in the huge
Buddist/Hindu complex at Siem Riep. Today we are visiting the temples that
are on the outskirts of the main temple, Ankor Wat, and the King's Palace.
I learned today from the many guides that are available for hire that the
many temples were built by the Cambodian Kings there in honor of their
mothers, fathers, wives, etc. Yet, each temple had a purpose, too. They
were functional in nature. There were two temples today that I enjoyed the
most. The first one was used principally for 'purification'. The design was
really neat. The temple was in the middle of a large square, possibly 150 ft.
by 150 ft. This pool would collect the rain and, when it got too high, the
water ran off into four smaller pools that were also square and at a lower
elevation. Sandstone block steps that surrounded each pool descended. It
was a beautiful sight to behold! The guide said that thousands of people
would come to the temple to purify themselves from their sins.
The second temple was the one where Tomb Raiders, starring Angelina Jolie,
was filmed. It is famous for the 400 year old trees that have taken over
the temple. In one scene, Jolie picks a lotus flower from one of the trees
and falls into the temple. Europeans discovered these abandoned temples
many years ago. I'm not sure when, but the guides said that all of these
temples were swallowed up by the jungle. Can you imagine the surprise the
Europeans had to find these things in the middle of nowhere? Also, the
sight of these temples housed and were used by over 100,000 Cambodians.
The temple with the pools required 8,000 Cambodians to maintain alone.
I really haven't touched upon the weather and local folk yet, so I think I
will do so now. Since Cambodia is near the equator, the temperature is
pretty much consistent because it doesn't experience a greater degree of
tilt during the change of seasons like we do in the U.S. . The closer to the
equator a country lies, the less variability of weather temperature. That is
why Florida has more warm weather year round and no snow! The
temperature here is hot right now, maybe 90 degrees. I understand that in
the summer, the temperatures are well over 100 degrees everyday! It is
very humid because of the abundant vegetation that holds in the moisture in
the air. I wear my hair up in a clip everyday just to stay cool!
The people in the town of Siem Reap are considered more well-off than the
peasants in the countryside. I suppose the tourist dollars help with that.
There are many exquisite hotels here for such a poor country! Tourists
began arriving in Siem Reap to visit the ruins in the early 20th century, thus
slowly building a booming tourist trade. There are lots of foreigners here,
mostly from Great Britain, France, Australia and Germany. We've met 3
people from the U.S. so far here. When the locals find out we are
Americans, they take great delight in knowing us. I had one of the hotel
hostesses ask me about the Chinese new year and I told her I really didn't
know. She said, "Oh, you are European?" and I responded in the most
thickest, Hicksville accent I could muster, " No, I'm
Aaaaaammmmerrriiiicaaan". The song, ' I'm proud to be an American……..'
could have been appropriately played at that moment. Hey, do I LOOK
Chinese???? Just wondering……a blonde Chinese….now that is interesting.
Every Cambodian is trying to sell something, including the small children.
When you get out of your tuk-tuk, they swarm about you selling everything
from water to little trinkets that look like they actually came from China.
And they don't leave you alone!!!!! This is the only thing that I don't like
about my experience in Thailand and Cambodia. It forces you to be rude,
and I don't like doing that. My daughter explains that this happens in China,
as well. She walks past them without any eye contact or communication. I
explain to them why I can't ( or don't want to) buy what they have to sell.
The children here have learned to be 'players' early. They put on a show of
sadness and utmost poverty when you don't buy anything, while their pockets
bulge with candy and U.S. $1 bills.
The town of Siem Reap is a 'happening place' at night. All the tourists
congregate in the streets and PARTY. Last night, Elise and I experienced a
night in Siem Reap on Pop Street. It reminded me of the book (and movie)
Eat, Love,Pray. We really had clean fun!