It’s Tuesday (or is it Monday??) and we’re in Bangkok! My son Nick, who lives in Chiang Mai, a city in the north of Thailand, came to the airport to pick us up. After our tearful reunion (we haven’t seen each other in a year), we proceed to the first order of business: getting new SIM cards for our phones so we won’t incur astronomical roaming charges when we use them.
Then we’re whisked to our hotel over wide, empty freeways. At three-thirty in the morning, from the freeway, Bangkok looks like any other large anonymous city, not at all like the frightening warren of shady establishments I’ve seen in movies like The Hangover, Part II, which I forced myself to watch in preparation for our trip. (I give it one star. ; ) People in Thailand drive on the left side of the road, in cars that have the steering wheel on the right, the way it’s done in England. That’s a bit unnerving at first, but since I won’t be driving, I’m not worried.
We’re now ensconced in our dingy hotel, which is in the dodgy part of town, right by the train station.
We’ll be taking a 5:30 AM train to Siem Reap, Cambodia, two days hence, so we thought this would be the least painful way to make it to the station on time, even if it means our hotel isn’t anywhere close to picturesque downtown Bangkok. It’s not bad, though. It’s true there’s no elevator, and the pimply young desk clerk doesn’t even look up from his video game as we struggle to haul our enormous, heavy suitcases up four flights of very steep stairs, but it’s graced with certain charming features that hint at a more auspicious past. The wooden doors to the rooms are elaborately painted with alluring young Thai maidens, and curiously, on the inside of the medicine cabinet door, there’s a painstakingly painted scene of Thai children frolicking in a wooded glen, though the rest of the bathroom is spartan (no partition dividing the shower from the rest of the room, and no shower curtain either). The room has an air of sleazy opulence thanks to the gauzy canopy on the four-poster bed.
The mattress, unfortunately, is hard as a concrete slab, but at this point it looks good to us! There’s also functioning AIR CONDITIONING, which is my number one requirement, so I’m content.
It’s almost four in the morning now, Thai time, but we’re bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and hungry. So we navigate the four-lane arterial in front of the hotel (a word to the wise, vehicles in Bangkok do NOT slow down for pedestrians, much less stop). There are no restaurants on this street, but there are open-air stands open even at this late hour. We lower ourselves gingerly onto rickety red plastic stools at a tiny card table. Nick orders several dishes for us, and we get a few cold Cokes from the 7-11 down the street (7-11s are ubiquitous here). I catch a glimpse of the gray, filthy water in the basin where dirty dishes are soaking, and my heart sinks just a bit, but we’re all resolved to throw ourselves fully into this adventure, so we pick up our spoons and dig in. The food’s fabulous. Hot, spicy, crunchy—there’s rice, of course, and I can identify bok choy and Chinese cabbage, but there are other vegetables I’ve never seen before, along with various types of meat, pork, chicken and . . .? Nick douses everything with fish sauce and chopped scallions and cilantro, and we all eat out of the same dishes.
I’m not sure what we’re eating, and I devoutly hope it doesn’t involve any close relatives of the mangy dog sleeping peacefully at our feet. We came to Thailand armed with probiotics, grapefruit seed extract, and activated charcoal, all of which were recommended by my yoga teachers, who spent six weeks in Thailand and India last year. They told us they ate and drank everything and were not sick a single day. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and I have to say, so far we’re all feeling remarkably well.
The bill comes, or rather, is shouted to us over the shoulder of the hard-working woman who prepares the food. The yummy meal we’ve just enjoyed has set us back the equivalent of five dollars, for the four of us. Wow! I can see I won’t go hungry on this trip.