Letters Home: Chiang Rai

photo-4I stayed in a hostel called Bodega Bangkok for the last two nights. It’s sort of a youth hostel that’s owned by three American brothers. It was nice and clean and I got to meet some cool travelers. Cat was the first, an actor from Australia who was my roommate for the first night. It was also her first and last night in Bangkok as she wrapped up a 3 and a half week trip through Thailand.We went looking for dinner and ended up sitting down at a place that served pork exclusively, each of us not knowing that the other was vegetarian, and promptly apologized and left.

Then there was Kristi, a girl from Canada I met last night who reminds me a lot of one of my best friends from home; Ryan, a charming, polite and friendly pre-med student from Houston, and Marco and Costa, couple of French artists (paint and tattoo) who were not actually staying at the hostel, but somewhere near it (and no, I didn’t get a tattoo yet).

Yesterday was the first full day in Thailand and it was a good one. I Went to breakfast with Cat and Ryan at a hole in the wall someone had recommended. They had pots of food laid out on a table and we chose what we wanted. It cost 50 baht, which is about 1.50 USD. I had rice and some of the best eggs I’ve ever had.

From there we set out to the mall. We took one of Bangkok’s versions of the metro, which is always wonderful and air conditioned and works incredibly. The mall was enormous and it was hard to tell where it ended. I think we might have actually gone to two malls. They were super modern; chic, if you will. and also air conditioned. It’s really hot here. We all picked up a few things from some of the alley vendors around the mall and went back to the hostel after walking around a bit more. We sunk into the couches at the hostel for a while, a bit exhausted from the heat until Cat left for her flight back to Sydney.

A bit later I went with Ryan, Marco and another Belgian girl to go find an abandoned forty story building where a few Thais had set up a tent and were charging people to climb to the top. Oh, sweet capitalism. We made it to the building after walking for two or so hours, still sweaty and tired. There ended up being about ten of us total wanting to go up–some other tourists arrived at the same time, mostly Germans. They told us 200 baht ($6) but some of us had heard it was 100 ($3) and Ryan said they let a friend of his in for 50. And so began the negotiations:

Ryan started us off. “No way! 50,” he said indignantly. “You’re not even doing anything, just sitting here.”

I would have been nervous about his lack of tact, but I got the impression the guy didn’t understand a lot of what we were saying. Not many Thais speak English at all.

“200 each” the man repeated as he looked around at us a little nervously, trying to gage our negotiating finesse.

“No way, look how many if us are here. You’re going to make a killing anyway,” Ryan continued.

Others had chimed in by this point and the man finally caved.
“Ok,” he said. “150”

“No way!” we all burst out. meanwhile, the man sent another of the capitalists toward a couple that had just arrived.

“Two hundred baht,” the new negotiator said in a low voice, addressing them separately.

There was a pause as the couple looked at the rest of us. “We’re not paying more than them,” one of them said.

Everyone laughed, Thais included. And we eventually settled on 100 baht, which was what we had planned to pay anyway. Thirty minutes and Forty flights of stairs later, we were looking down on the smoggy city where temples and tall glass buildings shot into the sky, soccer games broke out in the parks, boats sailed through the Chao Phraya (a major river that runs through Bangkok) and  the sun set behind a layer of smog as another river of red brake lights crept along a nearby freeway in Friday night’s rush hour traffic.

There was a nice breeze so we stayed for a while, took some photos and chilled (literally). It was dark when we went back down. We took a taxi back to the hostel and collapsed again into the couch before getting dinner.

Then Kristi, Ryan and I bought some beers from a 7-11-like market and sat on the street drinking and talking and laughing and watching the cockroaches that scuttled along the ground. Clarence, one of the two roaches we decided to name was promptly run over by a Toyota coup. May he rest in peace.

Stay tuned…

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