Monday, September 29, 2008

Travelogue #53: The Bangkok/Phuket Thailand Diaries, September 2008, Part 2

SUNDAY 9/14: Elephants, Monkeys, Sunsets, and...a Farm of Noodles?

You know you're staying in a questionable hotel when you rip two door handles off their hinges over a one-night stay in the Executive Room. For such accommodations at the Vaboir Lodge in Bangkok, the three of us paid only $12 a person, and I guess we got what we paid for: see the view from our balcony.

In Phuket, Thailand, we found a completely different brand of hospitality.

For $20 more a night, we hopscotched budget and found luxury. I suddenly ached to indulge in the Anna Pollack School of Vacationing: laying out by the pool, swimming for a few minutes, and returning to my towel and my iPod. If I was indeed my sister, I would also have an US Weekly in hand, as well as a strong opinion on Lindsey Lohan's impending lesbian nuptials. But that would have to come later, because Sunday was for the elephants.

Yes, that is a photograph of an elephant peeing, and yes, I was astonished by this creature's geyser-like force in going number one.

Jacinta rode the back of her own elephant, while Chris and I shared a seat on the back of another one. For twenty minutes, my sandaled feet dangled by our elephant's grandpa-haired curtain ears as our big gray one plodded and stomped through a trail of flourishing greenery against tropical blue skies.

In some moments of this ride I felt triumphant, as if being on top of an elephant was not so different than being on top of the world. But in most moments, I felt like I was Larry David riding an elephant.

What do I mean? This is what I mean.

Yep. "Riding an elephant in Thailand" was supposed to provide evidence of me looking like an adventurous badass. Instead, it provided me with a string of incriminating photographs that make me look like My Fair Lady. I later inspected these pictures, and concluded, with neuroses of Larry Davidian proportions, that while I had suffered with folded legs, Chris had enjoyed a far wider sitting stance on the elephant. I resented his apparent comfort, though I did nothing about it when I had the chance.

One day, justice will be served to you, Chris Snyder. Expect to sit scrunched-legged sometime, somewhere, in your future!

Later, we saw a "monkey show," where Diamond wowed us by dunking basketballs and unraveling knots, all while being jerked around with a metal collar by his trainer.

Now, I'm the furthest thing you can get from a PETA member. When I'm asked what my favorite animal is, I say "cow" because I enjoy juicy hamburgers. That being said, I can't deny feeling a shred of ambivalence at the sight of the beady-eyed Diamond hopping and bopping to its master's whims. I think it was the metal collar that unsettled me, for I felt a twinge of hurt in my own neck when I saw Diamond snapped into one direction and then another. Then again, if Diamond were to be let free, maybe the little bastard would tinkle on my shoulder. I don't know. I just don't know.

After the elephants and the monkeys and a random canoe ride through a sludgy sliver of river, our day's tour guide told our driver to take us back to our hotel. We were on our way, until our guide offered us an alternative: "Before hotel, you want to see farm?"


"Farm. Pho farm."

Pho farm? From our understanding, we would check out a farm where Thai people produced the famous Vietnamese pho noodles. Did pho noodles even come from farms? I guess we'd find out.

Or perhaps we would not. This was no farm of noodles; this was a jewelry store. How ironic that our guide's more-than-adequate English suddenly dissolved in explaining exactly where he was taking us. We didn't buy anything, but we got a little taste of a more benign version of the infamous Thailand gem scam.

The perfect prescription for a would-be scam?

Sunset. Even with my dukes up, I could not fight its beauty.

MONDAY 9/15: Jews in Thailand?

After a morning of pooltime in which I neglected to put on sunblock and received a cherry tomato tan, I walked out into the broiling neighborhood outside our resort. And I found a Chabad House.

As I've said before, I'm not a regularly practicing Jew,
but I was still pleased to see a sign proudly inscribed with the Hebrew alphabet. Chalk it up to my cozy nostalgia of Sunday school memories from Memphis' Temple Israel. (Though in the mid-1990s, I'd rather watch the NBA on NBC than learn how to read Hebrew.)

Was the Chabad House welcoming?

Even though that man glared at me as I took a picture, I felt welcome enough. I eavesdropped on a crowd of Israeli men chatting on the sofas in the corner of the brightly-lit room, though I didn't understand a word they were saying.

I ordered falafel and challah. Falafel and challah in Phuket, Thailand? Why not?

In the past, I've read that Thailand is a popular vacation spot for Israelis, particularly in terms of young Israeli men and women who just finished their military obligations and are looking for a low-cost adventure. I saw this firsthand, as I listened in on an Israeli woman talking to a Thai cashier in English about a friend's delayed flight from Tel Aviv into Phuket.

Additionally, I saw the rabbi welcome a newly-arrived group of Israelis to the Chabad House, for this establishment is both a restaurant and a lodge. As the rabbi passed my table, I think he wished me a good meal in Hebrew. I nodded thank you.


Tuesday 9/ 16: Bangkok, Part Deux: Rip Me Off Gently

Before our return to Seoul, we had a full day ahead of us in Thailand's capital city. As I stepped out of the Suvarnabhumi Airport into the palpably humid Bangkok air, I wanted to go home. Did I mean home as in Korea, or home as in the United States? At that point, I would have said, "Either." I'd lost my travel jones. I'd lost my as-long-as-it's-something-I-can-write-about-eventually-I-can-deal-with-it-and-even-enjoy-it spirit. I didn't want to be haggled by rip-off artist tuk-tuk drivers. I didn't want to be accosted by street vendors to buy something I didn't want, much less need. Part of me wanted to see if I could get an earlier flight to Korea.

If you're saying, "That's supremely lame," I understand theory. But in reality, come on, man! I was exhausted and sunburnt and Bangkok was hot and sweaty and crowded and cheap and bisected by a puke-brown river on which we rode a motorboat through a shanty-town village where Chris fed fish and Jacinta got angry at the fish for splashing her.

What can I say? On said boat ride, I found myself thinking less about getting ripped off and more about reading Entertainment Weeklys in the backyard of my home-home in Germantown, TN.

I thanked Thailand for its elephants and its monkeys and its cheap cashew nut chicken. But I could not wait to go home, wherever that was supposed to be.

A friend's 07' Thailand experience



Acree Graham said...

Hey, Alex, thanks for the comment! it's been really hard to stay faithful to my shows this fall since I have neither cable nor internet. (I've been catching 90210 and gossip girl during spare time at work.) I'll probably only watch the Office if someone I know hosts viewing parties. I haven't caught all the seasons so I feel behind to begin with. Why don't you write recaps?

PS - I hung out with your boy David Ogles last week!

Anonymous said...

The elephant ride photos made me laugh like crazy. Alex, you look like a 7 year old that doesn't want his brother to get near him. I remember having fights with my brother over "Don't touch me; don't look at me!" Those fights always made for such fun vacation trips in the family station wagon. LOL


Anonymous said...

Photos of the scammers running the Grand palace.