Where am I?

Bangkok? Check.

February 28, 2007 at 09:41 PM | categories: Thailand, travel | View Comments

Have I mentioned how much I despise checklists? The visitor checklist for Bangkok starts with the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, and Wat Pho. While Shelly and Roland slept in, John and I (and a visitor) had breakfast. In a fit of tourism, we decided to see the first two attractions.

breakfast visitor Dilmah Again?

We went by boat, from Tha Thewes. Along the way, we visited Thewet's fish market on one side of the canal (khlong) and an open-air Home Depot on the other. The boat ride was pleasant, with a cool and welcome breeze off the Chao Praya. We left all that at the dock, though, and returned to the mid-morning heat of Bangkok.

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are spectacular, and the entrance is beset with licensed guides who will happily tell you exactly what you're looking at.

Wat Phra Kaew courtyard Porn schools John temple bells

As we were about to step over the threshold of Wat Phra Kaew, John's phone rang. Shelly and Roland were up, and wondered where we'd wandered off to? We arranged to meet at the gate, and then went in to see the Emerald Buddha.

This was our second wat, so we knew how to behave. The guides at the gate had already asked me to cover my knees. I suspect this was a ploy to immobilize us, while Porn sold us on a tour, but it didn't take long to zip my legs onto my shorts. I looked about as fashionable as Alfred E. Neumann, but travel demands its own peculiar tribute. Anyway, we already knew that we'd have to remove our shoes for the wat, and I wasn't surprised when photos were forbidden.

John and I managed to gawk at the jade, gold, and silver inside without pointing our feet or climbing on the statues. The contrast between the jewel-like wats and the ramshackle commercial and residential Thai buildings continued to amaze me, but a modern visitor to Elizabethan London would probably say something similar.

Our English guide, yesterday, gave us a good tip: don't leave without visiting the museum of medals and awards, next to the ticket booth. You've already paid for it, and the air-conditioned displays make a perfect end to the swelter of the Emerald Buddha's environs. This was sage advice.

Shelly called again during our air-conditioned respite, to say that they were at the gate. We hurried over, and decided to walk back to the docks for lunch. This was our first real dip into a Thai food market: I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. I ended up with some strawberries, a coke, a styrofoam dish of gaprao gai, and a tiny dose of nam plaa phrik. We shared around, but I don't remember what else I ate.

Then we decided to visit Wat Pho together. Shelly and Roland could see the Emerald Buddha later on.

It seemed to take all afternoon to walk to Wat Pho and its featured attraction, a reclining Buddha. It's worth the trip, though.

The reclining Buddha of Wat Pho

John was thinking about a massage at the Wat's massage school, but there was a long line of tourists. So we decided to leave Shelly and Roland at the Grand Palace, and head back to the guest-host. Something was said about a mid-day shower, and possibly a beer. The Thai girls at the dock encouraged that idea.

thai angels

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Breakfast and a Bed

February 27, 2007 at 11:06 PM | categories: Thailand, travel | View Comments

What do the Thai eat for breakfast? Apparently anything they'll eat for lunch or dinner, plus broken-rice soup. The sidewalk tom yum smells great - or we could have donuts.

sidewalk tom yum street of art and culture - and starbucks also

After breakfast, we don't have much of an agenda. We know we don't want to stay around Th. Khao Sahn, so we need to look at some rooms. So we have to check out at 11am, go looking for a new place, drop our stuff, and then come back to Th. Khao Sahn to meet Shelly and Roland around midnight, after their flight arrives.

For the morning, we end up at the National Museum. A nice English lady explains the finer points of Thai cultural history and basic wat etiquette, while I sweat profusely. Did I mention that it's hot? After 9am, it's about 95-F and 100% humidity. It's worse than summer in New Orleans. I keep hoping that the Thai have figured out a clever technique for natural cooling of wats and palaces, but if they ever have, that knowledge has been lost to us.

National Museum, Bangkok

The tour ends just as we need to check out of the hotel, so we sweat back to Th. Khao Sahn and pick up our backs. Outside, I scare the jen rai out of a tuk-tuk driver. Apparently I re-opened a shaving cut on my upper lip, and a viscous mix of blood and sweat is sliding down my face. I probably look like a paler James Brown at the end of a marathon concert, but that puts the tuk-tuk driver in a bad position to bargain. He takes us to Thewet, while I find a clean tissue and mop up.

Thewet is just north of the Khao Sahn area, and has quite a few guest houses. It's also the home of a royal wat and several government offices, plus the National Library. The Bangkok Zoo and the Dusit government buildings are right next door. But taxi and tuk-tuk drivers across Bangkok have never heard of the district. After lots of false starts, we found that "Thanon Samsen gap Thanon Si Ayuthaya" would get us to the right street-corner (probably that's horrible Thai, and it helps if you know how to pronounce all the words).

The tuk-tuk dropped us in front of a nice-looking restaurant area on Soi Si Ayuthaya (not Thanon Si Ayuthaya). "Let's stop for lunch, get our bearings, and then start looking for guesthouses," I suggested. John was too jet-lagged to argue, so we sat down. When no one came by to take our order, I started looking through the Lonely Planet. "I'd like to start at Shanti - what do you think?" I looked around and saw a place called "Sawasdee", across the alley. I looked across the street and saw a few food vendors, a hairdresser, and a 7-Eleven. Then I looked up, and saw where we were sitting: Shanti.

"Hey John, let's just try to get a room here."

"What about Shanti?"

John at Shanti

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February 26, 2007 at 11:11 PM | categories: Thailand, travel | View Comments

I'm off to Thailand. But what am I doing with a four-stop itinerary? One that leaves SFO at o'dark-thirty? One that arrives at 20:30? Short answer: miles.

This trip is burning gobs of UA miles, for a first-class seat over the Pacific. But it was hard to find a first-class seat for SFO-NRT-BKK, or even SFO-LAX-BKK, so I ended up with the SEA routing.

The trip to SEA and beyond is uneventful. The SEA leg is a domestic 757, so my seat is really a business seat, but it's a short flight. The NRT flight is a 777, and seat 3J has a lie-flat powered bed. It's quiet, and there's a good view of the Pacific, but I took melatonin in SEA, so I'm more interested in the bed. The food is pretty good, and there is a Japanese option - something like a bento box. The wine is disappointing, though: borderline Champagne, and all the reds are made from Bordeaux grapes. I was hoping for something fancy in a Pinot Noir, but at least there's a decent French Chablis.

windmills on NRT approach

This is my first time in Japan, sitting in Narita until the NRT-BKK flight boards. It'll be on Thai, which should be interesting. Thai doesn't have a first-class lounge in NRT, so I'm in a ghostly-empty ANA lounge (my flight is a code-share for ANA). It's delayed twice, for an hour each time. The ANA lounge has some red Burgundy, lots of idle staff, and some scary-looking toilets.

My flight on Thai is scary too, but for a good reason. The seats are a bit older and less high-tech than UA equipment, but they recline farther and take up a lot more cabin space. There are 18 first-class seats on the plane, and only five are occupied. There are at least three cabin staff: by the end of the five-hour flight, each of them has come by to thank me for flying and ask about my travel plans. The business-class purser offers some advice, too. "Watch out in Krabi - very big mosquitoes".

Sadly, the wine is plonk. I try a Gewürztraminer (from Alsace), but it displays all the crispness and refreshing mouth-feel of a boiled slug. It might be better chilled, but the wine itself is probably cooked. The food is great, though. There's a pork curry with plenty of chilis in it, and the condiments included extra chilis in an easily-pocketed bottle. That will come in handy on future UA flights.

At the arrival gate, no one is allowed to exit until we five first-class passengers gather our chattels and receive the wais of the cabin staff. We are escorted to a waiting fleet of electric carts. These speed us through the huge new terminal to our own dedicated customs agent, who whisks us through with a smile and another wai. I could get used to this.

I'm in Thailand.

Well, I'm in BKK. It's only 20:30, and John's flight doesn't arrive until 11:30. Despite the first-class flights, I'm tired. I get some cash from an ATM. I get some water, and a coke. John is delayed half an hour.

Finally we manage to meet up, get a taxi, and go to the hotel near Thanon Khao Sahn. The neighborhood reminds me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and I wonder if we'll sleep. But it's past midnight - we can look for a better place tomorrow.

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NYC Developer Training

February 01, 2007 at 10:01 AM | categories: travel, XQuery, MarkLogic | View Comments

I'm in NYC, teaching a developer course. There's a little bit of snow on the ground, and everyone wants me to drink stout.


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