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My wife, Betty, has a very good visual sense, much better than mine, and is able to translate remembered scenes into written form so well that you practically think you're there. This is the second of two letters she wrote about our vacations while we were working in Saudi Arabia. This one describes Bangkok; the other was about Damascus. It's been many years since we were in Bangkok, but my oldest son tells me about the only difference nowadays is that everyone has cell phones! So, without further comment from me, here's Betty. DB.
Tabuk, Saudi Arabia
This is a summary of our trip to Bangkok which I will photocopy and mail to all and save myself from having to write the same thing seven times. Please don't feel slighted at receiving a copy.
We had a super fantastic time because: #1-it was so inexpensive! #2-The fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood were superb. #3-It rained every day but one but we were having such a good time it didn't bother us a bit. #4-The people were polite, friendly and liked Americans! #5-It was green, a much appreciated contrast from the Saudi desert, and had trees, flowers and all sorts of luxuriant vegetation. #6-No one tried to rip us off, or not much, anyway. #7-It does, in places, look like "Anna and the King of Siam. #8-The food was wonderful: Thai, Chinese, American, and lots of seafood (fantastic fish and lobster, ham and bacon and not a single bad or even fair meal. #9--The shopping was unbelievable with amazing variety and low prices. They did bargain, which Darrell really enjoyed. #10-It was inexpensive. #11-The hotel, shops and restaurants had great service. #12-Jewelry wasbeautiful and available everywhere. #13-Gorgeous silk material was available in all colors and prints. #14-Drinks were all made with fresh fruits and we never paid over $1.50 for them, and some as low as $0.75. #15-Fresh pineapple, oranges and bananas were served every morning with breakfast-only thirty five cents.
The only bad thing that happened the whole trip was getting there and back. Our stupid travel agent hadn't confirmed a single airline or hotel reservation. We even had to buy new tickets in one place, and were held up three days coming home in a terribly expensive, inept place: Bahrain. But even if we knew we'd have the same problems, we'd do it again without question!
Bangkok is a pretty, ugly, clean, dirty, quiet or noisy city, depending on where you are. It is an unbelievably crowded city and apparently all five million people get on the streets at 5:00 P.M. We spent three hours in a downpour with flooded streets one afternoon trying to get to another hotel. Ordinarily it wouldn't have taken more than ten minutes. There are no tall buildings; probably ten stories is the tallest. There is really no central business district as we think of it. There are terrible areas of poverty, with huts and shacks, especially in the refugee area. Human labor is very plentiful and quite cheap. Our English speaking guide worked from 5:30 in the morning until seven at night. She made ten dollars a day and was considered well paid.
There's lots of trees, frangipagi, flambouant, mimosa, mango, almond, papaya and shrubs and flowers in all the yards so it's really pretty. Darrell bought me ten sprays of orchids with 10-15 blooms on each for fifty cents-and they lasted most of the two weeks we were there. The flower trays, stalls, shops and little restaurants are everywhere. I'm really rambling and will try to do better, but the memories are kind of jumbled anyway.
One of the tours we went on was in a big boat to the floating market. Across the river is a subcity built along canals, a la Vience. Houses are built directly on the canals. The people there bathe, wash dishes and clothes, brush their teeth, swim, empty their garbage and bathrooms directly from their front door into the canal. Ugh. It's very dirty, contaminated water. Behind the houses on their little bits of land they raise coconuts, vegetables, bananas, orchids, chickens, pigs, and just about everything else imaginable. Each morning the ladies in thirty feet long and four feet wide boats loaded with their produce and cooked food come to the central crossroads of the canals and all the other people come to buy, also in their boats and take home their goods, or if they're buyers for others, take the goods on to hotels, stores, cafes and so on. I bought some neat little baskets, some porcelin cups and we also bought fresh oranges and bananas for breakfast. Of course we were in a much bigger boat on the tour but those ladies handle their long narrow boats with incredible skill. There must have been fifty or sixty shrines and temples along the way. We got some good pictures, but most of the time we'd be past before I remembered the camera.
One day we went about forty miles out of Bangkok to a model Thai village (for tourists, but real neat). They had an hour and a half show of classical Thai dancing, Thai boxing, a cockfight, swordfighting, a mock wedding procession, elephants at work (Darrell rode one and I made his picture). There were also little craft shops where they were making parasols, clothing, doing wood carving, leather crafts, and so forth. It was an excellent show, the music was good, and the costumes like MGM studios. It was quite warm in the auditorium so they passed out icy cold wash cloths to everyone! Drinks were served in two inch wide bamboo sections. The name of this village was Rose Garden and was really beautiful; pools, trees, grass and roses everywhere.
The night we got caught in the traffic jam we went on a two hour boat cruise. The boat looked like a huge Chinese junk. It was made of teak, with tables and chairs on both sides and a kitchen and bar in back. They served about a fifteen course meal along with the best Mai Tais I've ever had. It was a lovely slow cruise up and down the river and the whole thing, including the meal, was only eleven dollars each. The food was Thai and it was excellent.
Another night we went to a Thai restaurant. Again, the food was just great and they had a floor show of the different Thai dances. The costumes were beautiful-ornate, gaudy colors, brillants, fake jewels, etc. Including transportation to and from it was only seven dollars each. The flash on my camera didn't work, darn it.
On Saturday we went to the weekend market, where there was row after row of tents containing any kind of goodies you could ever want. Orchids growing out of coconut shells, clothing of every description, brass, baskets, wicker, foods, shoes, teak wood carving of every description, souvenirs of every sort, silks, cottons, fake and real jewelry, just a super gigantic flea market! We had a ball-could hardly carry all our loot away!
Our hotel was only one block from one of the main shopping areas. We walked and looked, shopped and ate, and smelled and touched everything there-and bought quite a bit of it, too. This is the original take-out food city. Every street and alley is jammed with carts, tables, stalls, trays, and open air cafes selling every kind of food you can possibly think of-and we tried all of them! We chose our own lobster and watched them cook it on a grill. $2.00 each. Slurp! We even found a teak warehouse and the owner let us browse through it for a couple of hours-which meant more goodies. In fact, we bought so many things we also had to buy two new suitcases to bring it all home-and pay for being about a hundred pounds overweight!
We stayed at a small hotel, sort of middle class but clean, with excellent service, a pool and a nice little restaurant where the most expensive thing on the menu was steak for about $2.50. The hotel was right near the shopping areas, as I said, close to the nice restaurants and only eleven dollars a night. A real bargain!
Jewelry was fairly cheap. The price of gold has crept up, though. Darrell had a beautiful silver bracelet made. I got a ring-pendant of rubies and diamonds and an emerald pendant and ear rings, a beautiful gold necklace and some odds and ends of jade. You can order anything you want made and practically the only cost is the materials; labor is very cheap. We also bought a lot of things for the people back home. We bought at a factory, which was cheaper but they weren't giving it away by any means.
The Thai silk is just gorgeous; all colors and prints and quite inexpensive compared to United States prices. It's only six to seven dollars a yard. Darrell bought beautiful hand washable ties for only two or three dollars each. We really had a hard time choosing which fabrics to buy-and it's hand washable. The beautiful long silk dresses are only 50 to 60 dollars in most shops. There's also beautiful cottons for only a dollar a yard-and as I had just gotten a sewing machine before we left, I got several pieces of each material.
This was my first visit to the Orient and I was really impressed with the people. They're quiet, so very gracious and polite. Also I was finally among people my own size-they were small! The national costume is now jeans and tee shirts. If you ever get the chance, this is a super place to visit.
I can see I'll have to double stamp the envelopes so I'll close for now.
Darrell & Betty
Copyright © 2007 Betty Bain.