The very slow exit from Thailand

Oct 26

We left Bangkok just in time. The last day the water was definitely rising, people were leaving town and the King declared a five day holiday because crocodiles are entering the town.

The sight seeing on the way to the airport was limited. The Queens summer home which has become a place to display their gifts from dignitaries over the years, many sets of dishes, hundreds of typewriters, elephant tusks and other things that they do not want in the palace. The structure is teak , a wood Thailand over harvested and is now raised in controlled farms. It will be many years until the government sees any return on this project to return teak wood as a viable part of the economy. The King, 85 years old, is loved by the people. He has initiated many projects that will protect the environment and restore the over used land. His health is so fragile that he no longer lives in the palace, he lives in a suite of rooms at the hospital where he can be attended by doctors and nurses on a daily basis.

The next stop was the ROYAL LAPIDARY SHOP. These controlled souvenir buying junkets are part of every trip I have been part of, I suspect that local guides get a kick back on these.

At the airport our flight was delayed for over an hour because the other airports are closed and people are trying to leave Bangkok. The flight to Cambodia was on an old, very small turbo prop.

Our hotel in Cambodia is amazing. It is done in the old french plantation style, a level of luxury I have never experienced but is expected by many other people on this tour. While traveling with teachers on Fulbrights we stayed in clean hotels that were beyond the reach of the average citizen of the country but not luxurious. My fellow travelers on those trips were always very respectful of the natives and eager to converse with and learn from them. I am seeing more ugly american behavior on this tour than I have seen before. Some of my fellow traveler on this trip are part of the now famous 1% and treat the local population with disdain. I do not envy the tour guides, their job is much like teaching, herding us from one venue to the next, repeating instructions multiple times and biting their tongues at some of our ignorant questions.

Water rising


Today we took the bus to the floating markets of Damnoen Sadauk in Ratchaburi.
The drive south and west allowed us to observe several examples of economics in the region. The major source of salt,is sea salt, which is harvested in large drying fields.
The fields are flooded with sea water which evaporates and allows salt to be harvested for sale. There were also rice fields which are similar to those in New Orleans – 100% utilization of the land. Rice is planted, grows and harvested, after the harvest, shrimp are planted on the paddies. The shrimp eat the remnants of the rice fields and fallen rice, the shrimp waste fertilizes the paddies for the next crop of rice following the shrimp harvest. The recycling of wooden houses has also become an industry. With population growth many forests, the source of lumber were lost. Today a person with a wooden house wishing to rebuild may sell the wood to recyclers for about 3 times the cost of building a larger house on the same spot with bricks or concrete. The recycled wood is cleaned and resold for other wood products.

Bangkok used to have a floating market but the population growth and increase in construction, both roads and housing,has closed them down. Because of the high elevation in the north and sea level elevation in the south the Delta region is a series of canals that used to prevent flooding and was a major source of transportation. Just as human settlement and infrastructure growth around New Orleans caused massive flooding six years ago in the United States the flooding this year in Thailand can be attributed to climate change and human interaction with the environment. As construction increased the canals were covered or filled in preventing the monsoon rains from draining without flooding. The floating markets are an example of how life used to be along the canals in Bangkok. We traveled to the market in long boats which have motors with extra long shafts that allow the props to have a shallow draw about two feet behind the boat. Farmers living along the canals raise coconuts and other crops that benefit from the irrigation along the canals. The houses along the canals are built on silts, probably have plumbing that opens directly into the canals and many times had no doors except for tarps covering the opening to the outside. I did see several satellite dishes so they do have television.

Following the market we went to a restaurant called cabbages and condoms.
The restaurant was started by a doctor in the late sixties who was concerned about population growth and the proliferation of Aids Every guest receives a condom and literature about family planning and aids. The restaurant has become a chain and sells very fresh healthy Thai food to support their educational program. It was the cleanest, healthiest place we have been.

On the trip back to the hotel we saw the water rising and beginning to threaten new communities.
at the hotel we heard the airport will be closing at 5pm Wednesday( our flight leaves at 2 pm) and the water from the rising tide inundated the street outside our hotel. This water did recede later in the evening but was higher and faster than we have seen since we arrived.

god willin’ and the creek don’t rise we will be in SEIM REAP Wednesday night as the real threat hits Bangkok.

Buddha, A Massage and a Lesson

DAY 2 October 24 2011

The hotel we are in is very nice. We have a lovely view of the soon to be flooding
Chao Phraya River. The Hotel serves a fabulous breakfast buffet of very fresh eastern and western food. Pancakes, Omelets, pastries, streamed vegetables, seafood, rice filled the buffet tables at the riverside restaurant. After breakfast we had an orientation meeting and met the other people on the tour. Many of them have been on several VANTAGE TOURS.

Following the meeting we went to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace built by King Rama 1 when the capital was moved to Bangkok (1782). The grounds are an exquisite mixture of sculptures, temple and the elaborate former palace. The palace is best known to Americans as the site where Anna educated the children of the King of Siam. To capture the grandeur of the gold and mosaic exteriors is impossible. Among my favorites is the statue of a hermit, Buddha’s Physician Jivaka. Sick people used to pound their drug here to increase the potency of the medicine.

The Emerald Buddha was carved from a single piece of Jade and discovered at Chiang Ri in 1434. The Abbot who discovered the Buddha thought it was made of emerald, thus the name.

Later in the afternoon we went to a thai massage parlor.
this was not an elegant massage in a quite aromatherapy filled room. We were divided into groups, couples or gender groups. Our group was four women in a dark room, rather than massage tables there are mattresses on the floor. The masseuse uses accupressure and bending of joints. The experience was enjoyable, not as wonderful as a turkish bath but very relaxing.

Dinner was served at a cultural site, Siam Nimirat Theater. The show that followed was a three act play showing the mythological history of Thailand. Mary, Eileen and I will have to take the word of the others about the first two acts because as soon as the lights went out we all feel asleep. The third act was very colorful, filled with traditional dance, music, moving water, flying and tumbling actors, elephants and goats… We were told there was fire in the first act.. scenes from hell, we are sorry we missed it.

IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED!! DO NOT try to save time by taking the stairs between two floors in a thai hotel. The doors lock and you are trapped in a concrete stairwell. Pounding on the doors and yelling help only works if you are lucky and a floor maid happens to be walking by.

the journey of a lifetime begins with a thirty hour flight

……. And a hell of a lot of work.

We have arrived at the beginning of our journey. There is evidence of flooding preparation but our hotel, along the river is dry, the ancient capital to the north is under three feet of water and may be completely lost.

Several people who flew in with us have traveled with VANTAGE TRAVEL and have assured us that we are in good hands. Some of these people were so relaxed about travel plans that they had no idea there was flooding.

Trip prep for me has been very difficult. Having begun the month of September determined to do some meaningful work before the trip, I have had my front yard dug up, a major sewer pipe replaced, reseeded the lawn, secured a loan, hired PODS and a moving company and emptied my house. I moved Lumos and her favorite chair to Battle Creek to stay with my sister. I plan on coming back to new floors, fresh paint and several improvements. It became clear during the packing process that I am a borderline hoarder, and one of the worst house cleaners in the world.

5:30 AM, OCTOBER 24,2011