Friday, March 7, 2014

A Cartographic Disservice- Arriving in Bangkok

I have safely arrived in Bangkok two days after I left. Time changes are amazing things and so is the Pacific Ocean. This may sound ridiculous but that thing is huge! The reason I bring attention to this is because I feel that mapmakers (at least of the ones I have been exposed to in my life) have done us a grand disservice. Separating the Pacific Ocean and placing North and South America in the middle is just bonkers. Because of this, I have not had a realistic understanding of the true size of this massive mer. When I was first booking this trip I thought, Asia is so close because I'm on the west coast now. The truth is, it's not close at all. I was on a plane for close to 24 hours flying across this massive body of water. Deep down I knew this, but the reality of spending that much time on an airplane is a little maddening. But this brings up a more interesting point about how the US views itself. We place ourselves in the middle because we think we are the most important. What about Alaska and Hawaii? They frequently get placed in boxes at the bottom of the map causing children (and probably many adults) to think that they are neighbors. Just something to think about.
Outside the Golden Buddah Temple

But I survived with the attitude of taking each moment for what it is, noticing the details of the journey like the cloud that looked like the happy dragon or the nice lady who asked me about my trip. It's all in the details, and the hostel where I am staying while I'm here in Bangkok could not be more perfect for that. It looks like a wooden junk yard but in the best possible way. There are signs all around with information about what you can't do or where you can go, vines hanging from the ceiling, random wooden bird cages, and all the blank walls have been written on by travelers passing through.

Largest Golden Buddah
Yesterday was Friday, I think, and I had a very full day of taking in the city of Bangkok. What would a trip to Thailand be without a massage, and my first was in grand style. And by grand style it cost me under $30 for an hour and it was in the swanky Ambassador Hotel Spa. More on that experience in another post. After I was suitably relaxed and energized, and after a yummy pad thai and curry lunch, we headed out to find the train station where we would buy our tickets for the overnight train. That was, in itself, an adventure. My friend and I made our way to the above ground metro station, and after a confusing conversation with a man at a booth, we were on our way. What I have determined is that everyone here seems to know just enough English to be confusing. But you work it out because that's what travelers do.

Temple in Chinatown
After securing two tickets to our next destination, Surat Thani, we wandered in search of the river because that's where many of the city sites were supposed to be. Well the river was harder to find than I thought. Eventually, we were approached by a nice expat who asked us where we were trying to go. He graciously led us down the right path, and before we knew it we were at the Golden Buddah temple. This temple is home to the largest golden Buddah in the world according to the little information leaflet that I grabbed on the way in.  It was pretty impressive. Then on to the Chinatown Arch where we found another temple. We took a quick look and were ready to finally get to the river when we were stopped by an old Thai man. He told us to go back to the temple and take off our shoes so we could get more pictures. We did as we were told and headed back in. On our way out we were stopped again by the same man. This time he asked where we were going next. We showed him the map and told him that we wanted to get a boat on the river. Well, we were very lucky to run into this man because he then set up a whole plan for our next couple of hours and wrote down all the prices and directions for the tuk tuk driver. It was a great and somewhat frightening way to see the city, but eventually our driver turned down an alley and we arrived at a deserted dock. Well not totally deserted, there were a couple of people who worked there. We ended up with a private long tail boat, and we were on our way on the next adventure.

Riding in a tuk tuk.