Friday, July 22, 2011

Bye Bye Bangkok

      My last 24 hours in Bangkok was pretty much the best time I’ve had here.  I had my farewell massage at my little barebones Thai massage place.  I ate dinner with Carol and Ann, two Fulbrighters from Washington D.C.  I made my swan song appearance at the night market to buy Brianne a genuine(?) Jimmy Choo purse.  I even decided to put my money where my mouth was and finally go have the fish eat my feet!  I figured that if I get some horrible foot infection from this crazy activity at least I’ll be back in the U.S. soon to get treatment! 

      I didn’t want to do this alone so I peer-pressured Shannon from South Dakota to come with me and we slapped down 150 baht (about 3 or 4 bucks) down to let little fish nibble the dead skin off our feet.  I talked a big game, but when it came to actually putting my feet in the water it took a lot of guts to do it.  Shannon went in up to her knees but I just couldn’t do it so only let the fish feast on my feet and ankles.  It just felt a little tickly, but that didn’t stop Shannon from letting out a pretty good shriek, and we were both laughing so hard at first we couldn’t even process what was going on.  But after a while we had nothing to do but watch what was happening as the fish-feeding frenzy ensued.  The creepiest part of what was a very creepy experience was that the fish didn’t want the tough calloused part of the foot, they wanted the tender skin up top and they would actually crawl up my ankles out of the water in their search for fresh skin.  Ewww.  But it was fun and now I can say I did it – AND I slathered my feet with hand sanitizer when it was done. 

      The foot episode actually happened about half an hour before our bus headed out to the airport to fly home.  Prior to that I’d spent the day down by the Chao Phraya River having a fun, fascinating time all by myself.  First I went to the Wat Pho, the temple which houses the Reclining Buddha.  Jeff and I had visited this site in 1984 so at first I thought to pass on it for this trip, but I’m glad I went because this huge gold Buddha statue lying on its side is even more mammoth than I remembered.  I’d say roughly it’s the size of two double-decker busses bumper to bumper.  It’s crazy and I don’t think the photographs can give enough perspective to convey the sheer massiveness of this statue.  
It's hard to imagine how large this statue is without people in the photo to give it perspective

Playing with my camera settings

Buddha has big toes

      I spent some time wandering around the whole temple complex.  There were a lot of school groups there and evidently a common assignment given to Thai students is to interview tourists in English.  Since I had no schedule and nothing but time I ended up getting interviewed by about 5 different groups of Thai students.  They were cute and I enjoyed talking to them.
Loyal Buddhists will buy pieces of gold leaf to stick onto statues of Buddha

Scenes around the Wat Pho temple

Playing with my new camera settings

A school group who practiced their English by interviewing me

Another student interview

      The Wat Pho is near the river, so I wandered that way, down little alleys where Thai workers were loading and unloading merchandise, produce, and a host of other things off of the humungous barges that plod their way up and down the river.  A few times I’d follow what looked to be a street leading to the river’s banks, only to find myself in a warehouse with a bunch of people sleeping, working, eating noodles, or just looking at me wondering what the heck I was doing there.  But finally I saw a table set up with a sign proclaiming “River Boat Rides” and I talked to a friendly college-aged kid who spoke good English and set me up with a private boat tour of the canals around the Chao Phraya.  Actually, I would have preferred to have my ride not so private as the cost is for the ride (not per person) so I tried for a few minutes (unsuccessfully) to see if some other tourist type person would come walking by who wanted to share the trip cost with me, but no dice.  Well, I don’t mind admitting that it was kinda cool to have my own private boat guy taking me around in his long-tail, across the broad and choppy river into little backwater canals which teemed with everyday Thai life.
My quest for a boat ride took me down what I thought was a street to the river but ended up in a riverside warehouse!

Huge barges on the river

Friendly boat guy drove me in his "longtail"

Solo boat ride!

Another longtail on the river

      Even though my boat guy didn’t speak English he did a good job of pointing out sights of interest along the way – such as several monitor lizards slithering along the banks in the sun, or a temple here and there.  But the best part was just seeing the houses that teeter on stilts above the water – the man having his bath in the dirty water with a 5-foot monitor lizard not far away, the boys fishing, the old woman in her flatboat, hawking some satay she was grilling right inside the boat.  Houses along the canals ranged from mansions with tall security walls to shacks which looked like they might crumble into the waterway at any moment.  Each house had its own spirit house – some ornate, some humble to match the abode which the spirit was meant to guard.
Typical house along the Bangkok canal system

Giant monitor lizard (about 5 feet long) sunning himself along the canal

Monitor lizard #2

Vendor cooking snacks to sell to homes along the canal

Spirit houses out on the dock

Bangkok from the Chao Phraya River

      Anyway, my boat ride lasted an hour and was punctuated with women in smaller boats floating up and trying to sell me food, drink, and wood carvings.   Another highlight was when my boat guy showed me his special fishing hole.  We didn’t fish but we threw in chunks of bread and these GIANT fish (maybe catfish?... I’m not sure) came surging out of the water fighting each other for the bread.  I’ve never seen such huge fish churning in the water (sometimes coming right out of the water on top of one of their buddies) as they vied to be the one to gobble up the bread.  
Canal life - I can't believe this guy was swimming so close to those giant monitor lizards

Rich Thai house

Fish feeding frenzy

      I ate lunch at a little café on the banks of the river and then started on the daunting task of finding a taxi to take me back to the hotel.  People had lectured us so much about unscrupulous taxi drivers that it’s a little nerve wracking to try to find one that seems to be trustworthy but I found a nice, honest, friendly one who delivered me back to the Montien safely.  A great last day in Thailand.