Travels in Thailand 2015 – Bangkok and the Kissing Fishes
Travels in Thailand 2015 – On the Road to Bang Saphan Noi
Travels in Thailand 2015 – Sukhumvit and the Chao Phraya
Travels in Thailand 2015 – Pattaya Beach and the Rest of the World
After surviving what would be my last ladyboy encounter, the next stop on our protracted voyage to Bangkok is a place called the Art in Paradise 3-D Museum. My wife tried to explain it as “a fun place” which sounds odd when talking about a museum, especially as she always became bored within 15 minutes of any previous museum visit. As I step inside the building and see a few of the more than 150 3-D paintings, I understand my sweetie’s description. I also knew this was a picture-paradise for my picture-crazy entourage, and now feared we could be here until closing time. I moped around at first but then decided to join the fun. I became the director of each new painting, positioning my actors against fantastic 3-D stage sets and getting the right camera angles, to create the most dramatic or funny pictures of my friends. Of course, all done to the merriment of my Thai actors. Below is one of my better scenes with the leading actor (my wife) kissing the leading man (a fish) at a particularly passionate point in the movie. I am a little jealous until I realize this fish must kiss hundreds of girlfriends a day.
Surprisingly, my group decides to leave the museum after a couple of hours. It is for the only reason stronger than the need to preen in front of a camera – hunger. I expect we would make a beeline to the nearest Thai restaurant. Instead, G tells me we are going to an excellent seafood restaurant in a place called Ang Sila. As we get closer to our destination, I see the ocean behind the silhouette of a small city. We stop at large restaurant adjacent to the main road. We decide to eat outside as it is a relatively cool day and the ocean breeze is refreshing. I am glad we waited as the food is wonderful; fresh seafood and fish cooked with the full spices of old-style Thai cookeries. I have since tried to remember the name of this temple to Thai seafood, but no one remembers. Sorry, readers, I’m sure you can find it if you ask around. <The area is famous for seafood and there are heaps of really good seafood restaurants in the area so head to whichever ones look busy is probably the way to go – Stick>
Afterwards, we drive to the center of town to the marketplace right on the water. My wife tells me it’s the best place to buy fresh seafood in all of Thailand. I do not doubt it as most of the catch on display in the shops is either still alive in tanks or laying on racks of ice. There are not many shoppers which puzzles my wife who says the market this late in the afternoon is usually very crowded. Another sign that tourists are not flocking to Thailand this year? After our stroll through the market, we wander in to town and walk down the main road. I see a row of lovely newly finished townhouses. Most appear to be unoccupied, either the owners are not home or the houses are unsold. Like my Scottish friend who purchased a house in Pattaya for a song, is this another sign of a buyers’ market? I mention to my wife this would be a great place to retire to and she surprisingly agrees. For those also looking for retirement venues in Thailand, you should really make a trip to this small city on the ocean, where home prices are good and fresh seafood if plentiful.
We continue our walk down the main road and come to a very large and ornate temple. My wife tells me it’s the noted Noajataisue Shrine, a very popular Chinese Buddhist temple. Normally I am not a great fan of these kind of temples, which seem to be more about the splendor of the decoration than the spirit of Buddhism. However, I must confess, there is some remarkable art in this temple. There seems to be every version of the Chinese Buddha as well as every variety of creature and spirit in every color imaginable. After a while, though, it starts to feel creepy with all this elaborate ornamentation and weird creatures, more Disney than religious. Even though I slipped a 100 Baht note into the collection box, I was relieved when our driver arrived to pick us up.
In the van, everyone is tired so we decide no more side trips and we will go directly to Bangkok. We get to G’s condo around 8 PM and outside her building on the sidewalk we see many Thai people sitting at metal tables drinking beer and eating small plates of food, from a small beer bar with a large outdoor TV showing a soccer (football) match. The sound is blaring and the people cheer occasionally. The rest of the complex is dark and quiet except for the 7-11 store. We grab our bags and silently walk past them. This sadly looks like the residents are partying before the lights go out, much as the passengers on the Titanic probably did when they realized many of them were going to die.
The next morning I rise early, as it is my last day in Thailand for this trip, and I make my way to the little coffee shop with wi-fi. The owner waves me in. I order coffee, open my iPad, and scan the news of the day. Her son is playing quietly on the shop floor while she makes my coffee. It is these quiet times I love best in Thailand. Friendly people going about their work calmly, with some slow Thai music playing in the background. I drink my coffee trying to be interested in the news, but I’m feeling completely alien from my home country and not wishing to go back. The coffee is good and I want another cup, but my wife arrives and says we have to go. I pay my bill and leave a good tip in the futile hope that this young mother and her small shop can survive the downturn in the complex.
We leave the coffee shop and hurry back to the condo to shower and get ready to meet my wife’s friend D and her husband for lunch. I think I have mentioned this couple before in previous writings. D is actually his mia noi and they have been together many years, have a daughter together, and she lives in a nice house he purchased for her a few years ago. He is a big-wig with an agricultural association that coordinates large exports of food outside of Thailand. He is also a nice Thai man who has good English skills and a very dry wit, so I am looking forward to lunch.
He picks us up in his large SUV and eventually we are driving down a small side street to what looks like a boarded up house. We walk through a gate into a garden with a walkway to the back of the house. Here is the entrance to the restaurant. Inside it has old style wooden tables and chairs, half of which are on an outdoor platform that is adjacent to the Chao Phaya River at the rear. This is a beautiful location and it is owned by a friendly, young Frenchman. I was expecting a French menu but it turns out to be mostly Thai seafood. We order lots of different items and discover each one is cooked delicately with Thai spices. No wonder the big guy likes this place so much. I have tried to remember the name and exact location, but all my wife can recall is “riverside restaurant” somewhere in Don Meuang. I really have to start carrying around a notepad and pen on these trips.
I tried to help with the bill but he gave me one those Thai looks that said “back the fuck off”, much like my sweet wife gives me on occasion. I thank him for his generosity and invite him to visit us in America, something I think he might do one day. Now re-grouping at D’s house, I notice her daughter is wearing a Bangkok University shirt that has a cool logo on it. I compliment her shirt and she says we should go there and buy one. Everyone agrees so off we go in D’s car to the university. It is an urban campus with a series of unusually shaped buildings in a beautifully landscaped venue. We find the building that houses the various shops on campus; a few clothes stores, small shops to eat, and of course, the over-crowded Starbucks. I find a polo shirt with the logo that looks like it might fit me. I pay for it along with a few other things my sweetie has found. Then we drive around the campus and I must confess, it seems like a modern, well-designed college. It certainly rated with some of the best mid-sized universities I have seen in America. But who knows what the quality of instruction is like? When my “niece” (D’s daughter) told me it was mostly a communications school, I imagine a curriculum of soft subjects and easy grading. A nice Thai college experience that might lead to a comfortable job in a Thai company. Without being judgmental, there are worse ways to live your life.
Now we are driving to a shopping mall to buy food for dinner. In the mall, we find a huge food market and we spend some shopping and buying various foods. I have learned to be patient with this process, as no amount of nudging seems to make it go faster. After everyone has found and paid for their items, we load our goodies in the car and drive to D’s house for dinner. After we arrive, we start to pack our luggage while the others lay out the food. I realize that my bags with the bottles of wine from the Pattaya winery will never be under 50 lbs, so I make the command decision that we should drink it that night. Glasses and a corkscrew appear and I pour out wine to go with our Thai buffet. It is the Shiraz, mostly Australian grapes but some Thai grapes as well, but it is surprisingly good. It is not long until all the food and wine are gone. Everyone is in good spirits but it is getting late. We say our good-byes and drive to G’s condo for my last night’s sleep in Thailand. My wife will stay on another six weeks, alternating her time between Thai massage classes and visiting her mom.
We wake up at 4 AM and arrive in plenty of time for my 7 AM flight. After saying good-bye to my sweetie, I shuffle off to Immigration. It’s a bit crowded but the lines are moving quickly. After I hand my passport to the officer, he looks at it quizzically and announces, “You overstay”. What? I’ve only been here 12 days on a 30 day visa, I tell him. “No, you overstay. Please follow me.”
He takes me through a door to another uniformed officer, obviously a supervisor, who is sitting at a desk. She looks at my passport and tells me in good English that I only received a 10 day visa stamp when I entered the country. I look at my passport and sure enough, there’s the stamp for only 10 days. Thinking back to when I came in, I remember the officer asking how long I would be in Thailand and I answered “around 10 days”. Why would he do that instead of the usual 30 days? Did he short me knowing I would have to pay my way out of this jam to catch my flight? I quietly start to panic but I keep my cool and calmly explain to the officer that Americans are supposed to get a 30 day stamp upon entry. She’s playing dumb and says “not always”. I pull out my phone and announce I am calling the American embassy. She gives me a sourpuss face but then there is a commotion in the adjacent hallway. Another officer is yelling at her in rapid Thai about something. She responds in kind and turns back to me. However, the other officer persists and starts up again. She looks flustered and suddenly stamps my passport. She tells me, “go, go”, and I grab my passport and head for my gate.
I wish I could tell you my troubles were over but there was one more indignity, entirely of my own creation, that I had to endure before getting on my flight. There is still plenty of time before my flight, so I stop off for some coffee and a snack in a small shop. After I finish, I call my wife and tell her what happened. She’s a bit shocked but is relieved to hear I am on my way. I throw away my trash, pick up my bags, and go to the gate. I am processed through and sit in the waiting area. I decide to call my son and tell him my flight is on time, but my phone is not in my pocket. Where is it? Oh no, they are starting to board. I run up to the gate agent, tell him I have to go back to the shop to get my phone. “Please hurry,” he says.
I am now running through the airport with my bags (thank goodness for my training) back to the shop which is a few hundred meters from my gate. I hear a male Thai voice behind me yelling “Sir! Sir!” I ignore it, thinking I will be told not to run in the airport. I reach the shop and the server says she turned my phone in to the information desk. I am about to dash off again when suddenly a Thai man comes running up. “Here is your phone, sir. I tried to catch you but….” Oh, so that was his voice. I apologize to everyone and hand the man a $5 US bill. I grab my phone and start running again for the gate. My phone starts to ring but I ignore it. I reach the gate just as the last passenger is boarding. I made it. After settling in to my seat, I look at who called and it is my wife. I call her back and she says she got a call from the airport on my phone. I tell her what happened and she chuckles in her peculiar way. For those readers married to Thai women, I am sure you have heard this before, as in ha-ha, look at what my dumbass farang husband did this time. No matter, I am on my way home, unscathed, from this crazy but wonderful country.
Just for the record, I do not really think I have a ladyboy curse. It was just funny that all my past trips to Thailand have been ladyboy-free and then have this one where ladyboys seemed to be lurking wherever I went. I decided to have a little fun with it in the story. When my wife returned home, we discussed a more serious topic related to our trip: retirement. It has always been an assumed fact that we would one day retire in Thailand. However, on this trip, my wife and I both noticed ominous signs that bad times may be on the horizon. Without going into too much detail, many of the Thai people we talked with do not believe the political standoff between the different parties will be resolved peacefully. Think of the rivalry between Pridi and Phibun that produced so much turmoil in the country.
As I have noted before in my posts to this site, Thailand is an incredibly resilient country, much more than outsiders give it credit. It is not like the tsunami where everyone came together to rebuild the western coast. Luckily, I have a few more years before retirement and I have several good options other than Thailand. However, there is no getting around it now, Thailand is changing very quickly. The question is will it be for the better or for the worst?
A few random comments on this article:
The seafood area you mentioned, Ang Sila, is in Chonburi province, near the city of Chonburi meaning it is roughly half-way between Bangkok and Pattaya. As you say, it's a really good place for seafood, both in the many seafood restaurants and to buy fresh in the market – and it's close enough to Bangkok that unlike, say, Hua Hin, you could go there and back comfortably for a day-trip.
I have never heard of Immigration only giving someone a stamp for the duration they wish to stay – and appreciate you including a snap shot of the stamps in your passport. That's a real worry and travellers ought to be careful with that because if you changed your plans you could end up overstaying which, officially (if inadvertently) you did.
I have been saying for a few years now that Thailand is changing – and the rate of change is accelerating – and I really do think much of the change may not necessarily be for the better. I've also been saying for a number of years that those who plan to retire in Thailand may wish to review their plans or at the very least, keep a close eye on how things develop. I wish for the best for Thailand, I really do, but like so many commentators, I feel there are difficult times ahead.