We just spent an astonishing 21 days in Bangkok. This is the first time that our complete lack of planning really bit us in the ass - we didn’t plan to stay here this long, but we arrived just as Songkran was about to start which shut the city down for six days. We didn’t rush to apply for all the visas we needed in the three day window before the holiday, so we had to wait it out in our worm infested guesthouse. Luckily we got everything taken care of this week and are leaving the city before the next week-long holiday, International Labor Day, which begins on May 1st!
First we needed visas for Laos, Vietnam, and China. The Laos visas took two days and cost US$53 each for thirty days. We used a travel service for the visa so the cost was higher than going directly to the embassy. After we finally decided to go to China we applied for the visas directly at the embassy. They were ready in one day and cost US$86 each for ninety days. We attempted to get the Vietnam visas at the same travel service we used for Laos, but because the visas are only good for 30 days after they’re issued & the guy didn’t know when we planned to enter the country, he didn’t get them for us. Another two days wasted on that, but at least we can get those visas at the border. The one visa we didn’t have to worry about was Cambodia, which we got online a few months ago for only $US10 each for thirty days.
Next we needed guidebooks and maps for the rest of Southeast Asia and China. We made many trips to the various shopping malls and English language bookstores in search of the most up to date guidebooks, phrasebooks, and maps. We ended up with Rough Guide guidebooks for Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China. We also got a Rough Guide roadmap for Southeast Asia, two regional Nelles maps for Southern and Central China, ordered four Chinese language provincial maps from BikeChina.com for the provinces we’ll ride through, one Chinese/English ‘translation’ map for all of China, a Mandarin language tutorial CD, and a Mandarin phrasebook. Whew!! After all that we really feel like we’re bleeding (actually, hemorrhaging) money. It is disgusting how much money you can spend on prepping for the next countries, but as we are two people who love to plan we can’t convince ourselves to go without any of it. I’ve read of people doing trips just like ours without maps or guidebooks - one guy simply took a digital picture of a country map from the wall of a restaurant and used that for his entire trip. We are not nearly that daring, so we just spend tons of money and then spend hours sitting around talking about how wussy we are.
We visited a Bangkok clinic to get our third and final shot for Hepatitis A & B. Of course the one shot we needed was by far the most expensive shot at the entire clinic at US$71 each. When it was Jamie’s turn for a shot the nurse was very busy chatting with a friend on her cell phone. She didn’t say a single word to Jamie - just wedged her phone between her ear & shoulder and chatted happily away as she gave Jamie his shot. He didn’t even get a bandaid like I did. We hope she gave him the right shot!
I also got to experience the fun of visiting a Bangkok clinic for my neverending fun with diarrhea! I got sick after the lukewarm curry mentioned a few posts ago. I waited it out for six days as everything we read said most food poisoning cases clear up on their own within a few days. Waiting for diarrhea to clear up is not nearly as benign as it sounds, especially when you are staying in a worm & bug infested guesthouse like ours. I spent my days sweating in the tiny bedroom and running to the absolutely disgusting bathroom 8-10 times per day. We didn’t do any sightseeing or anything entertaining like that because I couldn’t be away from a toilet. After two days we came up with a much better plan - hang out for hours at a time in a nice airconditioned coffee shop, like Starbucks, where I could dash off to their lovely clean western style bathroom 8-10 times a day. You know you’ve reached a new low when you’d rather have serious diarrhea in a public place like Starbucks than in the privacy of your own hotel room.
After six days there was absolutely zero improvement so I took the three day course of antibiotics we’d brought with us for traveler’s diarrhea. The pathetic antibiotics didn’t phase my diarrhea one tiny bit. It kept raging on. On the tenth day I visited the clinic. At this point I was certain I had some sort of disgusting parasite or worm which probably entered my body by slithering through my foot from the bathroom floor! The doctor almost fell off his chair when I told him I’d had diarrhea for ten whole days. He didn’t think I had a parasite though and said he’d often found that the antibiotics commonly prescribed in the west didn’t always work on Thai diarrhea. So he gave me some new antibiotics which I started taking that night. And they are working!
After all these courses of antibiotics I started to get nervous about the possibility of a yeast infection. I know that women are at a higher risk after taking general antibiotics, I figure I’m basically guaranteed to get diarrhea and take antibiotics a few more times on this trip based on my past history, and I do not want to get stuck in the middle of the Cambodian jungle with a yeast infection and no medicine. Jamie and I have been playing a game called “What illness could be worse than diarrhea?” and in my book a yeast infection easily beats diarrhea. So we went off hunting through all the pharmacies in Bangkok looking for Monistat or something similar. So far we have not been able to find it. My most recent inquiry went something like this:
“Do you have Monistat?”
Blank look from the pharmacist.
“You know, for a yeast infection?”
Another blank look. Then a gradual dawning of realization and horror…”Monorrhea? You mean Monorrhea?”
“No! No medicine here! Go to the hospital!!”
As we walked away feeling a little confused, we realized that she thought I was saying I had gonorrhea and was telling me to go to the hospital to get it treated! Oh brother!
In happier news, we celebrated our six month anniversary on April 21st. Jamie decided that since we have spent the last six months together 24/7 and have experienced all kinds of stressful situations and humiliating bodily experiences, this last six months is actually worth more like 5 years of marriage. We figure if we travel long enough, we will be able to claim to our grandchildren that we have been married for 100 years!
We are both pretty sick of Bangkok at this point. This city is dirty; walking around the city it is not uncommon to see giant rats scurrying into a sewer grate or to suddenly catch a whiff of an overpowering sewer stench. We usually have headaches in the evening; we think it is from the pollution. We read somewhere that living in Bangkok’s pollution is equivalent to smoking twenty cigarettes a day! We have also experienced a phenomenon we call “Bangkok fingernail.” Walking around the city, the heat and humidity leaves you constantly covered in a sticky layer of sweat. Your wet skins acts like a magnet to all the soot in the air and when you scratch one of your ever-present mosquito bites the grime collects under your nails. We have to clean our nails every day here.
Another thing that’s starting to wear on us are the hippie-wannabies that infest the city. They don’t work a job at home, and then come here and live like kings while the Thais wait on them hand and foot. It is bizarre to watch them act like they are best friends with the staff and then leave their dirty dishes on the table for the slaves to clean up. We can’t get over it. We heard two old white guys chatting at a restaurant. One was sweet-talking a Thai waitress then turned to the other guy and said “Thais are too lazy. They’ll never fix up this guesthouse. I’m gonna have to go fucking fix up the laundry room today.” The other guy got his meal, pointed at one ingredient, and said commandingly “Next time, more this!” What a bunch of arrogant pricks! The other astonishing thing about these people is the way they smell; in addition to the usual flavors of cheesy and spicy B.O., one guy at this restaurant actually had a type we’ve never encountered - he smelled like old tomato sauce. There is really something wrong with you if you come to Thailand to live a life of leisure but can not find the time to wash yourself at least once a week. What is wrong with these people?
The other thing we can’t get over are all the sex-tourists. Looking into the bars it is unreal to see all these normal looking old guys sitting around a bar with at least one or two very young Thai girls hanging off them. These are regular looking 60 year old white guys with red sweaty faces; we keep fantasizing about running into someone we know. Some guy came into our guesthouse and saw the sign that said “No guests” (i.e. no prostitutes) and that that the door was locked at 10pm. He declared in a huff, “I stay out very late! No good!” and stormed off like it was the guesthouse’s fault he couldn’t bring his prostitute over. All the women looked up from their soap operas and laughed to each other as he stormed off. Later we saw him at an internet cafe with a young Thai boy!
We also got our bikes cleaned and tuned-up at Probike here in Bangkok. For 300 baht (~US$8.50), you can get your bike completely serviced and cleaned. And when they say clean, they mean it. We got our bikes back today and they are completely spotless. The drivetrains look brand new and the tires are literally shining. We were giddy riding home. We also gave up on our Panaracer tires and had some Schwalbe Marathon XRs shipped from Wallbike to us here. We paid US$55.70 for four tires and six tubes shipped to Bangkok. We picked them up from the post restante counter at the GPO and paid another US$26.05 in customs fees.
One thing we are really going to miss about Thailand is the fresh fruit and fruit shakes everywhere. There is someone selling fresh, sliced fruit on every corner for only 10 baht (~US$0.30). Jamie eats six slices a day to stay regular!
A lot of restaurants in Bangkok have crazy names. Our favorites are: Take A Sit, Joke Me Please, Teddy the Bake, and Coffee & Toast (does not serve toast!)
Tomorrow, we are finally on the road again. Next stop Cambodia!