Tantalizing Thailand Tour - Day 1

Day one Bangkok.  Wow!  I love this country and I love my job.  The tour began in a flurry for me.  But I should start at the beginning - getting off the plane at Suvarnabhumi (unpronounceable to westerners) airport when I was hit with a blast of warm, moist air.  I would have known I was in Southeast Asia with my eyes closed - right down to the diesel smells that permeated the familiar tropical fragrances.  A very short line at immigration where even the officer smiled at me (where else does that happen in the world?).  My next stop was the men’s room - spotlessly clean and a vase of fresh plumerias by each sink.  In the airport bathroom!!!  I was exhausted after 22 hours underway but was instantly revitalized.  What a country. I arrived at the New World City Hotel just past 1:00AM and got settled.  Still buzzing I walked across the street to one of the 7-11 stores one finds about every 2 blocks here in the capital.  They are amazing.  All the usual products you’d expect plus a tiny pharmacy corner, liquor, and a toiletries section that informed me the days of bringing your favorite American shampoo with you were long gone.  I got some tour supplies, an international calling card, and a sim for my cell phone.  I went in for a beer but learned no alcohol sales after midnight.  Mai pen rai (no worries in Thai - the unofficial national mantra), Bangkok is the original city that never sleeps (sorry New York) so getting a cold one was no more than crossing the street to one a dozen eateries still bustling with clients. After managing about 4 fitful hours of sleep I went down for breakfast. Even in a pseudo-budget hotel like NWCH they put on an impressive buffet:  several Thai breakfast items and a nod to the English with baked beans (although they look like kidney beans to me) and fried eggs (albeit looking like my daughter’s plastic play version and ice cold having probably been cooked enmasse at 5:30 - mai pen rai).  Before long a dozen or so tour members arrived so there was lots of catching up and tales of “getting here” travails. Before the tour while scouring the internet for possible “behind the curtain” (the vale of commercial tourism) experiences I’d learned about a weekend floating market in Thonburi.  Having seen the famous, and now extremely touristy Damnoen market (90 minutes out from Bangkok) I was hoping for something more authentic.  The Thaling Chan floating market did not disappoint.  About 10 tour members joined me so we called for 3 taxis for the 15 minutes ride (about $4 - what a country!). The market was just getting up and running so we avoided any crowds.  There was the typical assortment of produce and prepared foodstuffs on land and then about 12-15 boats moored around a canal pier selling a variety of dishes - all prepared completely on the boat.  Lots of seafood options but also fried rice and other Thai staples.  I tried ground, spiced crabmeat with a cream sauce, served on a scallop shell and tiny mushrooms wrapped in bacon - yum!  Everything was prepared fresh on the spot.  There were low tables and stools on the barge for diners.  Fresh sautéed eels anyone?  We saw only a couple other tourists and everyone enjoyed seeing (and photographing) the Thai version of a porta-potty.  By about 10:30 we’d seen/eaten our fill and the heat had spiked so we headed back. After some proper unpacking and organizing I headed out to explore the neighborhood.  You can’t beat the location of NWCH - you can find anything you need within blocks:  tailors, laundry, coffee, restaurants, travel agents, etc.  I was still too excited to be hungry for lunch so I had a massage to try to relax.  Good choice.  As always when I visit Thailand, my intention is to indulge in Thai massage any time I have 90 free minutes.  I was reminded how completely relaxed Thais are about this very intimate experience.  I’ve decided Thailand (with India) is one of the most sensual countries on earth - and I mean that in its truest meaning:  a country that buffets you with stimuli, from all five senses.  After getting my feet scrubbed and changing into my “scrubs” I was treated to 60 minutes of tactile heaven.  My masseuse worked me from toe to top and I emerged relaxed and rejuvenated. The tour officially began at the afternoon get-acquainted meeting.  With many Imprint alums aboard there was much “re-acquainting” with some new faces sprinkled in.  We met our Thai escort, Ae (pronounced A, as in hay).  She is lovely, charming (like Thailand), speaks English well, and has a fun sense of humor.  Afterwards we headed down to the Chao Phraya river to board our boat for a klong (canal) tour.  Plying the smaller canals of the Thonburi side of Bangkok is a wonderful glimpse into Bangkok’s village past, a welcome respite from the city’s intense urbaness, and a glimpse into the importance of water in Thai culture.  We saw dozens of working wats (temples), beautiful teak mansions, ramshackle hovels, and people doing everything from cooking to laundry on/in the canals.  We made a brief stop at the Royal Barge Museum to marvel and the elaborately decorated ceremonial barges of present and past Thai kings.  Around sunset we left the river - just in time for photos of Wat Arun on the western bank.  Then it was on to Supatra River House Restaurant for a veritable feast with views of the illuminated bots and chedis of the Grand Palace and a rising full moon across the river.  The meal was lavish, unending, and exquisite.  Spring rolls, shrimp cakes, spicy lime soup with salmon for appetizers, spicy green beans with shrimp, cashew chicken, garlic-pepper prawns, and curried beef for main course, and fresh fruit and sticky rice with mango (my favorite) for dessert.  We returned to our hotel exhausted, but sensually sated and content.  What a country!