Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic
howeird

Thai Travelogue, Part VII - Phuket

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Warning: Many of the photos in this set may be offensive to those who have a problem with bare breasts on the beach. Let me re-phrase that. Many of these photos show women at the beach who are not wearing anything from the waist up, except maybe necklaces and hair ribbons. And not much below the waist, for that matter.

Sunday, November 20

On the 7:30 am government tour bus to Phuket, this is a true tour bus, featuring a stewardess who hands to each passenger a box of alleged breakfast, a bottle of water and a pair of wet wipes in a gaudy waterproof packet. The box contains a bean paste sandwich - two slices of white bread, with bright yellow sweet bean paste where one might expect peanut butter and jelly. It tastes awful. And there's also a bun which looks sort of like a moon cake, filled with a similarly over-sweet horrible bean paste. The box, on the other hand, is quite attractive and would be useful for wrapping a last-minute white elephant gift.

The trip goes fine until we are about 100 km north of Chumporn, where we wait for two hours in extremely heavy traffic (imagine four lanes of trucks and buses trying to occupy two lanes of a highway). Traffic starts to move at a crawl, and then 15 minutes later we come to a single lane of a bridge which has three lanes under repair - damaged by the floods. (photos 10-11 show the river, I was on the wrong side of the bus to get photos of the repair work). At 11:45 we stop for lunch at a truck stop, where they feed us family-style. Not bad - five dishes, only two of which I could not identify, plus a truly bad moo dang (red pork) and a very spicy green curried chicken. Or rather, green curried cartilage.

It's a very scenic ride, but the bus is whipping along to make up for lost time, the road is very bumpy, so photos were restricted to wide angle shots, and occasional vehicles alongside us, which included what appeared to be sanitized telephone booths (photo 9), a family outing (photo 14) and cows (photo 24).

We arrive in Phuket city a little past sundown. After walking the gauntlet of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who all want to know "where you go?". I head out to the main road, looking for the legendary On-On Hotel. This is the first hotel I ever stayed at in Phuket city, back in 1976. I knew it was near the bus station because I had bought a map of the island before going on my trip. I had the map with me, but didn't bother to use it. Instead I asked directions. And once again this proved to be a mistake. Everyone I asked knew of the On-On, and told me it was "way over there", usually pointing in a direction which seemed wrong to me. After passing some 5-star hotels, I went up a block and found Imperial Hotel, which looks clean and has an internet cafe next door which is open till midnight. 600B ($15) a night, so I check in for the night. After dropping off my stuff I walk a couple of blocks and have dinner at a very nice little place, order two seafood dishes (which turns out to be too much food) then go back to the Internet cafe and then my hotel room.

Monday, November 21

Early, I check out of the hotel and walk to the market, where the song-taews to the beaches board. On my way there I pass the On-On (photo 33) which was nowhere near where people were directing me the night before. The vehicle going to Karon beach turns out to be a bus which has been turned into a giant song-taew, rather than the expected jitney. Photo 34 is from inside the bus, showing the kind of vehicles I expected.

It's a scenic trip over a steep hill to the beach, we are let off near the roundabout (photo 41) and I walk along hotel row facing the beach, asking if they have rooms available, and for how much. I plan to be here for 3 nights. I try several places, they all want 3000B ($75) or more a night! I'm shown a 500B/night bungalow, but decided it was not what I was looking for, my purpose in Phuket being to help the local economy. Also, I needed to phone the scuba center and have them pick me up for my afternoon dive, and this place had no phones.

So I checked into a "Sea-view" room at the Baan Karonburi Resort for an off-season price of 2800B ($70) a night for 3 nights. Nice room, two twin beds, large bathroom with a tub/shower, TV, air conditioning, balcony with a view of the ocean (if you looked past the lobby and restaurant and across the street). And a phone.

I called the scuba place, which took a little doing because I had their overseas phone number, and nobody had told me to add a zero before the local phone number. I finally figured that out from the numbers in the local ads. They said visibility was too poor today to do a beach dive, and they would instead put me on a boat tomorrow morning with a dive instructor, and while everyone else was diving, I would take a refresher course. This did not sound like a good idea, but it did give me the day to play on the beach.

So I went across the street, and walked along the beach taking photos (photos 43-78). Then I went back to the hotel, changed into a swim suit, dropped off the camera and went back to the beach where 100B rented me a chaise under an umbrella with a little table. I read, worked on my tan, went for a swim, walked a little and ogled the mostly Scandinavian topless women, lather-rinse-repeat until sundown.

On the beach I mostly heard German and assorted Scandinavian languages (I can't tell them apart, except Finnish, which nobody was speaking), some French, and the occasional English was coming from Teutonic men talking with their Thai girlfriends. There were a lot of Thai-Farang couples. Farang is the Thai word for a non-Asian foreigner, it is a bastardization of "Francaise". Come to think of it, it's mostly used for white people, they have other words for blacks and folks from India.

Early evening, my goal was to find a tailor shop (there are dozens of them at Karon Beach and I shudder to think how many there must be on the whole island). The idea was to have some cotton pants and shirts made so I would have something to wear in China the following week. I wanted to send the two silk shirts and the pair of silk pants home, since they were not very comfortable in the hot humid weather, and they were too flashy for a business trip. I found a fellow who wanted $400 to make me four pairs of pants and 6 shirts. That was way too much, so we did some bargaining, and got it down to $200 for two pairs of pants and six shirts. That was still too much, but it was all I could do to get out of there. He kept trying to sell me more, and I kept trying to tell him I could buy this stuff off the rack in the US for less, Used to be custom tailored clothes in Thailand were half the price of off the rack clothes in America. With all the competition, and so few customers, one would think the prices would go down, but they've gone up instead.

Took a tuk-tuk to Pathong Beach, which is the next one north of Karon. This is the beach which was probably hit the hardest by the tsunami of all the Phuket resort beaches, and was also the first beach I ever visited back in 1976. Back then it was just a street of shops, and I stayed in a tiny bamboo bungalow right on the beach. By 1989 it was wall to wall resorts, jet skis, para-sailing, horseback riding and maybe an elephant or two. Despite the tsunami, it is now thriving with tourists, almost everything is open, and the resorts which are under construction are going to be bigger and better than the ones they are replacing. It's hard to believe that less than 11 months ago, this place was under 40 feet of water. I bought a tsunami photo CD and booklet from a deaf man who was selling them for charity, 150B ($3.75) for the CD and 300B for the booklet. I also bought a lot of souvenirs along this little alley-way of shops. And I made the obligatory stops at a couple of bars to flirt and get propositioned, and proposed to. But I was going diving at 7 the next morning, so I didn't stay long.

Back to the hotel, I re-dyed my hair (it was getting too grey to match my passport photo) , showered, watched some TV and went to sleep.

Tuesday, November 22

Seven AM wake-up call, buffet breakfast at the hotel's restaurant was included in the price, and at 8:15 a large song-taew full of divers and their gear picked me up and took us about two miles to the dive shop.

No photos from this day, since I did not want to risk bringing my way too expensive and bulky camera. I think it was a wise decision, though it would have been nice to have pix of me in scuba gear.

At the dive shop we pick up our group leader, an Aussie named Andy. It's a half hour drive to the docks at Chalong, where we wait for 10 minutes to transfer to a dock bus out to the boat. It's a big boat, three levels, professional dive boat with three rows of tank racks. In addition to Andy there are four or five Thai divemasters, and I get my own instructor, a fellow from Turkmenistan who calls himself John. What's he doing in Thailand? His girlfriend works at the national marine park. Neither of them speak any Thai, which kind of amazes me.

I need lots of help setting up my equipment, it's been five years since I've done it, but with John's help I figured it out. The mask they give me is awful - it's one of those with two lenses, and if fogs up as soon as I put it on, which means the inside surface is roughed up, and they didn't treat it. I don't have any de-fogger with me, but John says it will be fine once we get into the water. Right.

90 minutes to the first dive spot, the water is choppy and we go in with the Giant Leap technique off the back. That goes just fine, my BC is inflated enough to pop me back up, and we're right by the descent line. John and I grab the line and he guides me down about 10 feet, where the plan is to review some basic scuba skills. The first one is clearing the mask, which I do at a bad angle, and inhale some sea water. I'm having trouble breathing, so I signal John to go back up. It takes him a while to figure out I'm in trouble, but we get to the surface and he convinces me that we can wait a few minutes, and I'll be fine. So back down we go after about 5 minutes of getting my breath back. We try the other skills, losing the mouthpiece and finding it again, simulating out-of-air and using his octopus to breathe, and him doing the same. Each skill he did first, then I did. We saved the mask clearing for last, and it worked better, but the 2-lens mask is difficult to clear even when done right.

We continue the dive, but there isn't much to see, visibility is poor and the mask continues to be slightly foggy. After about half an hour I'm low on air so we surface, and are picked up almost immediately by the boat. The water is still choppy, which makes it a challenge to get my fins off before boarding.

Lunch is served upstairs, it's a Thai buffet, not bad for on-board food. Rice, a couple of curries, some stir fried veggies, I think. During lunch we all get to meet a little, and discover there is one fellow from Cupertino, pretty close to where I am from. Also on board is one Frenchman, and two couples where the men say they are German. One is married to an Oriental woman who speaks German and Russian, and the other man is married to a Russian woman who was a German translator. John thinks this fellow is Polish, since his German doesn't sound like the German John knows. The man is a redhead, so John may be right.  One woman tells me she is from Brazil, but she's pulling my leg - she's from Santa Cruz, and she came to Thailand after taking a trip to Brazil with her daughter, who goes to UCSC. She and a Chinese-American are both taking their dive instructor certification, and they spend most of their on-board time studying. The rest of the divers are Australian.

45 minutes after lunch, we're at the next dive spot, where I once again have trouble with the mask, but manage to see a little of the fan coral and an eel through the mist. When we get back on board everyone is complaining about the visibility, so it's not just my mask.

Another hour and we're at Shark Point, our final dive of the day. I can't see a thing. My mask is so fogged I have to have John read my gauges for me. We're down a long time - 40 minutes - but it's a complete waste since I can't see anything except the white legs of the other divers. This time we're quite a ways from the boat when we surface, the water is very rough, and we have to swim a bit to get close enough for the boat to see us. But we make it back okay.

It's a quiet trip back to the docks, everyone is exhausted, and nobody has much to say about what they've seen because nobody saw much of anything. Also, there were way too many divers in the water - always five or six boats' worth. And this is the start of the season, it must be horrible at Christmas-New Year time.

Dock bus to the foot of the pier, dive song-taew back to the dive shop (they would have taken me back to the hotel, but I wanted to try to get a better mask). The nice lady at the shop says the mask I used is already packed for tomorrow's trip, and I can't take it back to the hotel to treat it. She won't let me change to a different mask. Andy makes at least a dozen suggestions of ways to keep a mask de-fogged, and even suggests I buy a single-lens one, but both ideas are pretty stupid, and he should have tried to help during the trip. Considering the poor visibility, and the bad equipment, I decide to cancel my next two days of diving. That turned out to be far easier than the mask exchange. They gave me a cash refund, even though I'd paid by credit card.

Back at the hotel, there's a message from David Rubin, the batik project liaison for Friends of Thailand, inviting me to dinner. He has set up other projects, but the women's batik program is one I most want to visit and help support. I call and we agree to meet at my hotel in an hour.

I have a fitting at the tailor, which takes about 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes walking time, and I have time to check my email. When I come out of the internet room, David is waiting. David lives in Chalong, and he took us to a big, lovely seaside restaurant there. I asked him to order, and he chose a large number of delicious items. Tom ka gai (chicken coconut soup), shrimp cakes (which I am now addicted to),very spicy curried fish in banana leaves, mixed veggies, and the restaurant's specialty, a whole fish roasted over a coconut husk fire. He told me about his projects, he's a one-man development program. He looks for projects which grass roots people say they need, and tries to find funding and local connections to make it happen. The challenge is to make sure the funding is actually used for the project.

The Ban Kanim Women's Batik Project is one of these, and it's moving along well. His big thing now is he needs a Thai-speaking American to come for six months and work with a partner Thai teacher to train teachers on the care and feeding of PCs and local area networks for schools. The biggest trouble with computer programs, he said, is when a computer stops working, it's just unplugged and set aside, nobody tries to fix it. It may only have a virus, or be low on disk space, or need a card replaced. This is a project I would love to do, and David wanted me to come and do it, but it's only six months, and I had just renewed my lease back home. Bad timing. It's also a Peace Corps Partnership opening, which means I would probably be denied on medical grounds.

As it turns out, David won't be able to take me to Ban Kanim himself, because his wife is hosting some of her classmates visiting from San Francisco during Thanksgiving week, and he'll be taking them around in a rented mini-van. But he promised to ask his mini-van driver to set me up with a car and driver for the 25th.

Back to the hotel, I do some more exploring, I walk to the "lady bar" section, about 2/3 of a mile up the road, just past the Hilton, but am too tired to do much more than a little flirting. I walk back and crash.

Wednesday, November 23

I sleep well, but the sheets are drenched when I wake up at 7. Sunburn, maybe? Plus, it turns out the hotel staff has cranked up the air conditioning on me. Brrr. Back to sleep. At 9 am the phone rings, waking me again. I've won a drawing I had entered on Monday, and the prize is free accommodations on Phuket for a week. It's a scam, of course, and I say no thanks.

Lazy day.  With no diving I hang out on the beach, take some more pictures (photos 79-140) swim, read, eat, walk some more, and go exploring for a new place to have dinner. I find a place which advertises lobster and have a wonderful lobster dinner. Back to the hotel side of town, I drop in on the tailor, who is running late (some silly Danish people had come in and insisted on the 24-hour service which all the shops claim is their usual time to make clothes). He says he'll have my order sent to the hotel.

I go bar-hopping, but after several stops I don't find anyone interesting to talk to, so it's back to the hotel by 11:30. The clothes from the tailor are there waiting for me.

Thursday, November 24

I pack up some dirty laundry and the last of my silk clothes, and the post cards I wrote yesterday, and find a tuk-tuk to take me to the post office. He charges me 150B, which is outrageous, but instead of taking me to the PO up the block, he takes me to the one in Kata, the next town over. Bizarre. It is raining fairly hard. This time I'm sending presents, too. There's a takraw ball for Romani, T-shirts for long-time email pal Jenn in Vancouver and Peace Corps buddy Nancie in Nor'lina, and a box of assorted clothes and dirty laundry for me.

Back to the hotel to check out, and find a taxi to take me to Nai Yang Beach, up by the airport. 700B ($17.50) fare! That's almost what it cost to get me from Bangkok to Phuket. Should have taken the song-taew back to downtown and another from there. I had expected the taxi to drive up the coast, which would have been a lovely view, but he went downtown and took the highway north, and then another highway to the airport then on to the beach. Looking at the map, the beach road looks like it may not go through from Karon to Nai Yang. Or it may just be a rough trip, lots of hills. Nai Yang is closer to Pangnga, where the batik project is located, and close to the airport, which will be good for my flight to Bangkok in two days.

David had suggested the Nai Yang Beach Resort, which looked great, so I checked in for two nights. They didn't have a bungalow free until the second night, so they put me in a basic no-frills row room the first night. (photo 168). Total charge was 2300B ($57).

Nai Yang is a booming, one-street village which I thought was supposed to be at the center of a national park, but apparently not. The street is lined with makeshift food stands and restaurant-like objects, and the beach is wall to wall lounge chairs and umbrellas (photos 165-166). I should explain photos 163-164 and 142-144. I found Cherie Priest in Livejournal.com where she has one of the more literate web journals under the name of cmpriest. She wrote a book a while back, Four and Twenty Blackbirds which I read all about on her journal. Seems she was ripped off by a sleazy publisher who never marketed the book as promised, and hid the actual receipts from her. The book was then picked up by a reputable publisher, Tor, on the condition she flesh it out a bit. It was published just in time for me to buy a copy online and bring it with me. It is well-written, and kept me company on the beach, so I figured it would be a nice gesture to take some pictures of it showing the book enjoying Thailand, and those have been sent to Cherie and posted on her journal pages.

Back to our story. It is raining when I get there, it rains all day non-stop. I read, write postcards, flirt, eat. I spend two hours on the internet at the NY Travel Agency (photos 152-153 and 163) reading email, updating my livejournal page, and looking at reservation possibilities in Bangkok for the weekend. I was curious to see how much the Nana Hotel charged, since it is very close to Nana Plaza and Noi. 1500B a night, which is cheap, considering my company will be paying.

On the wall is a chilling reminder of the tsunami (photo 167). A German boy was lost from Khao Lak and his mother has put up posters.

There's email from David saying he is still trying to line up a driver for me for tomorrow. I phone him from the room and let him know it's not a problem if he can't find someone, there are plenty of taxis and drivers here doing nothing, thanks to the bad weather.

The rain lets up enough for me to walk to the far end of the street, where I have dinner at quaint little place where the two waitresses take turns sitting with me and chatting.

Back to the hotel, and bed.

Friday, November 25

Up at 7:30, the whole town is silent. I read a book in the lobby till 8:30, then go to another Internet place I had found by walking around the back of the convenience store. Email from David says his driver has found someone to drive me, but wants to charge 3,000B, which seems high to him, so I should try to find someone less expensive if I want. I mention this to the woman who runs this travel agency/laundry/Internet place and she says she knows a driver who is from Khao Lak and 2000B ($50) will do it for a day's tour. She says come back at 11 and he'll be here.

Back to the hotel to get ready, which means packing up because the hotel will move me to the bungalow while I'm gone. and at 10:30 I'm back at the internet place, the driver shows up soon and I pull up the Friends Of Thailand web pages to show him where we're going. They had a copy of the contract for a donation to the school on the same street as the batik project, it's in Thai, so I point out the name of the school, and the driver says he knows it well - he has relatives going there. The web site has nothing specific about the location of the batik center, but the driver says we can always ask at the school.

We hop into his relatively new (2003?) Jeep, and it's a 90-minute drive to Thung Maphraw School in Ban Kanim. It's bumpy and wet, so I don't take many photos (169-172). We find the school, but it looks like it is closed, so we continue for a few blocks until we hit the city limits. We stop and ask at a fish stand (photo 173) and are told to ask the guys in the house behind it (photo 174), who give the driver directions.

Photos 175-214 are of the batik center.

Turns out the center was right across the street from the school, but it's down a steep driveway and not easy to tell from the road that it isn't just another school building (which it probably had been at one time).

The women were happy to see me, and very proud of their wares. They had a lot of T-shirts hanging up, but I was interested in larger pieces. They showed me some stunning pieces big enough to make into a sarong or a tablecloth, for 700 Baht ($17.50) each. I thought that was a little high, but since I was there to help the cause, I didn't try to bargain. I picked out a few pieces, and when they added up the damage, it was only 2200 Baht, about half what I wanted to spend. So I told them to show me more, and they brought out everything they had. There were lots of pieces of stylized Thai babies with top knots, which I thought would be easy to sell to the tourists, but I was kind of sick of that motif - it's all over the place in ads and such. They also had a few pieces of this fat, ugly, toothless black-skinned guy whom I recognized from Balinese and Indonesian folklore. He's truly ugly, and the design is more Indonesian than Thai, so I avoided those pieces. And there was one big piece which was a black background with a whole slew of things that looked like eels or starfish or something, which was just not my idea of beautiful. But they also showed me many gorgeous pieces, and I bought until I was at about $100, and then added some handkerchief-sized ones as well. Total damage was about 5200B ($130).

Close-ups of the batiks are at http://howeird.com/gallery/Batik/index_3.html and http://howeird.com/gallery/Batik/index_4.html


On to Khao Lak (photos 216-260). Unlike Phuket, which received immediate tsunami aid from just about everywhere, Khao Lak was a little late in getting the attention it deserved, and most of the aid seems to be from volunteers and NGOs. There is a lot of construction in progress on housing sponsored by Mercy Foundation (photo 239) and Samsung (photos 218-220). There were also lots of projects by Habitat for Humanity and a couple of signs from the now-defunct "welovethailand.de" web site.

The diver said he was on the beach when the tsunami was first spotted. He said he hopped in his jeep and headed for high ground, picking up a couple of friends and relatives. "If you ran, you survived. If you didn't run, you died", he told me. He said he lost two of his family.

Looking for a place to eat with an ocean view, we found that most of the billboards on the main road point to places which no longer exist. Where a school used to stand, we fond a row of saplings planted inside protective fences, a memorial to those who died and hopefully erosion protection for the future (photos 236-237). The road which led past the school is completely washed away, and we found some fellows taking a lunch break in and around their truck (photo 233) where the road to the school used to be. Photos 234-235 show where the school used to be.

We had to go back the way we came, get on the highway and continue for about a mile, where we turned towards the ocean again and picked up the washed-out road a little ways from where it resumed. We found a nice seafood restaurant (photos 241-243 and 252) and had crab fried rice for lunch. Took some pix of the cook's amazingly photogenic daughter (244-246 and 251) and some of the staff. Across the street the driver point out the restaurant's sophisticated emergency tsunami escape facilities (photos 249-250).

After lunch we headed back through Ban Kanim towards Pangnga, since I wanted to try to get some photos of the stunning limestone cliff islands out on the bay. Along the way we passed some rubber plantations which look like they have been abandoned. (photos 261-262). Nearby there was a sign which said both in Thai and English "I've had it! Please buy my land!"

I thought we could find a spot on shore where I could get photos of the stunning limestone cliff islands in the bay, but the driver didn't know of any. Instead we went to where there were boat trips around the bay. I wasn't interested in a boat trip, since it was already getting late, but we did manage to find places by an estuary river which were pretty scenic (photos 269-300). It was a little hazy, which was also the case during my scuba trip, which meant even if I had taken a boat ride the pictures would not be as good as I wanted. Maybe next time.

Back to Nai Yang, I checked into the bungalow they had moved me to. It was half of a two-unit building, clean, nice bathroom but small. They had moved my things from the other room while I was out. It's still light out enough for a swim, so I go across the street and pay 60B for a chaise and umbrella, and wade out about 100 yards. It is very shallow, there are no breakers, and I find it a restful time in the water.

After my swim, I went to the bungalow and changed, then went to check email at the NY Travel agency, the connection was very slow. It starts raining. Then it starts pouring. Thunder, lightning - the lightning is very close. We're having a major downpour. Looking at the storm, I suggest to the owner that we might want to power down the PCs, just in case we lose electricity. I'm pretty much done online, anyway. We shut down the computers. It is raining very hard, so I stay for another hour, chatting with the owner. She's a young lady from Hua Hin, speaks English fairly well. She said she learned computers by using her mother's laptop, reading manuals, web browsing, and asking customers what they wanted. She says she wants to write to me, so I give her my card. Her name is "meow" (cat).

At 8 pm it is still coming down in buckets, the streets are flooded, and it's not going to get better any time soon, so I say goodnight, and run across the driveway to the hotel restaurant, and eat too much for dinner. Shrimp cakes, green curry chicken, beef in oyster sauce. The beef is not chewable, so I leave that. Rice, fruit plate, soda water. I read some, and it is still pouring rain when I go back to the bungalow.

Rearranging my pack, I manage to fit all the batiks inside, but i have to leave the towel and shorts I'd bought at Karon Beach. Some lucky resort staffer will no doubt adopt those. The towel was downright ugly, the shorts Chinese knee-length black with a Chinese dragon design, no pockets, string tie, I wouldn't wear those back in the US. My 1-week pill dispenser gets refilled with vitamins and assorted pills, one week's worth will almost be all I need before going home. Check my blood sugar and it is way high. I think my insulin is breaking down, which is to be expected without refrigeration, and I've been on the same vial since I arrived in Thailand.

My right foot is still recovering from blisters, I take off the bandage, clean it and apply bentadine, and re-bandage it. It looks bad, but doesn't hurt.

The plan for tomorrow is to be picked up by the same driver who took me to Khao Lak, he'll be there at 8:15 to get me to the airport for my 9:10 flight to Bangkok. In Bangkok I'll find a hotel, find Noi, and fake it from there. I want to go to the Central Department Store and buy some Thai music CDs, a jacket for China, real tennis shoes - Brooks or New Balance wide - cotton socks, have my laundry done, and maybe see the new Harry Potter film.

Saturday, November 26

I'm out of the bungalow at 7:30, sit in the lobby and read a book. The front desk doesn't open until 8, and I have a couple of phone calls I need to pay for. A driver - not the one who took me around yesterday - shows up at 7:50, reminds me the hotel has my credit card number so they can add the phone cals to the bill, so we take off for the airport. At the airport by 8, and check in. Thai airports make everyone go through security just to get inside, and then again at the gate. It seems excessive, and is courtesy of the US anti-terrorism program which the US airports are not buying into. At least they don't make us take off our shoes.

The plane is a huge airbus, 2-5-2 seating, and I have a window seat behind the wing, so I can actually get some photos this time. The man in the seat next to me is reading a newspaper, acting as if there is nobody sitting next to him. Annoying, he ought to be a little considerate and fold that thing up.

And that's more than enough for you to read in one sitting, so my second trip to Bangkok will be in the next installment.

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