Letters from Thailand (Geni flies solo), part 1

July 6th

Hello friends and family,  

Being In Bangkok and trying to find passage out of the city can prove a bit challenging. A tip from a friend brought my thoughts to the floating market in Amphawa which is located in the Samutsongkhram province. My journey began with forty five minute metered taxi ride to the train station in Hua Lamphong (250 baht) which is situated in the Chinatown of Bangkok. My cab driver, Cent, certainly enjoyed trying his hand at English, before he finally left me on the curb at the train station with such profound advice, "don't trust anyone in Bangkok." He drove away as I half heartily tried to wave him back shouting, "what do you mean...who am I supposed to trust?"

The station was packed with folks sleeping on the floor, eating on the floor and waiting in seemingly endless lines. After I waited in one of those lines, I was told that there were no trains at this station to Amphawa. So, the next bit of valuable advice after starting the process of waiting in line all over again, was that I needed to catch the #29 bus to Victory Monument. Acquiring that little bit of information was a long and painful task with my language barrier...I know all of three expressions in Thai. Back to curbside, I jumped on the #29 bus (8 baht) not knowing where or how to recognize Victory Monument. The good news is that I figured out who to trust as long as it was the right time of day. At the end of the school day while easily recognized by their neatly pressed uniforms, countless students poured out into the streets and onto my bus!

I had the most fortunate experience of being seated next to a very cordial medical student who offered to help me find the minibus to Amphawa at the Victory Monument stop. After he advised me to stay very close at hand, we got off at our mandated stop and proceeded to weave through allies created by the outdoor vendors. After passing lines of white minivans adorned in Thai words only, I was left standing in front of one of those white minivans (80 baht) that was destined for Ampawa! Well, so I thought! And wouldn't you know, once again, I was lucky enough to be sitting with yet another student.

Oh no, this was a one hour bus ride to another town where I was supposed to find another mode of transportation to Awpawa. Later after reading my Lonely Planet (appropriately named), I discovered that this town was called Damnoen Saduak. Once we reached this town of which at the time had no name for me, we channeled out of the bus and my student guided me through alley ways and fish markets to a line of worn blue Isuzu trucks with open cabins and benches in the truck beds. She motioned for me to hop on and the driver would take care of me the rest of the way. I jumped in the back hoping that I was finally on my right path (8 baht). I stood out like a white sore thumb. The elderly gentleman on the bench across the bed of the truck did not take his eyes off of me except to occasionally turn and bow as we would pass a Buddhist temple.

After a twenty minute ride on a road that likened the journey back and forth from Chiang Mai to Mae Taeng except of course that this was Bangkok, yet another student informed me that this was where I was to dismount from my truck. Thank heaven for the students! Except now I was standing on a dirt road along a roadside stand without direction. With name and address of the accommodations which I had scoured from The Lonely Planet in hand, I flagged a tuk tuk (well not really...looked like he was sitting there waiting for the likes of me). Now at this point, every mode of transportation in this journey had remained under approximately $3 dollars relative to the distance covered per leg (about 30 baht to our dollar). My tuk tuk driver ushered me in the open three wheeler with three rows of seats (including the driver's seat) and drove about three blocks to a very rustic local canal restaurant bestowing me with a nonnegotiable fee of 30 baht (my most expensive ride at this point, but really only 1 US dollar). I was introduced with nods and smiles only to whom I assumed was the proprietor of this establishment.

Not knowing why I was standing in his outdoor restaurant as it started to drizzle, he made a phone call and gestured me to sit down. He offered me a glass of water and although I was famished at this point and I tried to universally sign a request for a menu, he again so very sweetly nodded and smiled.

I waited for about twenty minutes while my new friend and I had a lovely conversation not knowing a lick of each other's language.  Our time together quickly drew to a close as slick little white Toyota with dark tinted windows pulled up  producing an energetic little female smiling from ear to ear proudly revealing her shiny braces with little hints of green and pink. She scurried me across the alley through a jungle of trees to a little hut. Well, I guess she knew my reason for being there?

The hut resulted in being quite tidy and it did have air conditioning which turns out to be a necessity here since none of the windows seem to have screens. And as we had experienced, mosquitoes in the jungle have no mercy for us. The bathroom captures everything in a 360 degree standing rotation; one very compact sink, toilet, and shower hose. After my hostess delivered me to my long awaited destination, I asked her about the market, food and a map. She smiled and nodded indicating that she would be right back. That was two hours ago.

I am now sitting in my jungle hut in Ampawa as it begins to storm and the rain doesn't appear to be residing anytime soon. Not sure how to find anyone (no phone or office) for an umbrella? It is sort of the winter season in Thailand right now and really all that equates to, it is continuous rain!

And continuing this very new experience, I just walked outside as the rain subsided only to hear a rambunctious scurry through the brush and up the bank from the small tributary about six feet from my hut. It was a rather questionable sound as I could not see anything at eye level. Upon a downward glance, I was entertained by a four foot alligator quickly making his way to what seemed directly towards me. I jumped on my very small porch and he jumped on my very small porch. I then jumped on the built in bench on the porch and onto the back rail. He opened his jaws and appeared to grin, and after a few very long seconds, he turned to jump right back into that little mucky flow of water next to my hut. Of course when I felt the coast was clear, I cautiously and swiftly strutted up to visit my open air restaurant not knowing really whether it was the chick in the slick Toyota or my friend who I dialogued with in multi tongues who managed this compound. I tried to explain my encounter with the alligator by motioning my arms as the opening and closing of the jaws. Ahhh, I think they got it as they nodded and laughed this time. My interpretation was that everything would be fine with more smiles as I viewed the shriveled skin of about a six foot alligator decorating the wall behind them. The only thing that I was able to glean from this lack of conversation was that it could be dangerous for me to venture around at night and I really should stay quietly in my hut.

Well, of course I was not into that! This place comes alive very late at night. When I had arrived a short time earlier in the day, the canal looked as though it was a shanty town on a narrow small brown river with teak shutters closed off to any form of life. Just past six o'clock, the pulse in the heart of this town starts to rock! Every teak shutter opens and it happens to resemble work- live spaces but with an age spanning decades or centuries back in time. I walked down the boardwalk like setting where householders were worshiping, eating, watching television but at the same time selling on the open floating piers. The music was crazy and loud spanning from American familiars to local Thai artists. When I arrived only hours earlier this was more or less a ghost town!

So I am retiring with my resident alligator outside the door and a couple geckos running down the walls. I am lulled to sleep by the sound of mixed cultural sounds and music drifting in my windows.

 Looking forward to another tomorrow!