late January 2010
After a week of first baby steps on my first ever international solo trip, then increasingly adventurous forays around Bangkok, and a one day excursion to the old capital city of Ayutthaya, I am very suddenly ready to continue onward. My destination is Siem Reap, and Angkor, in Cambodia. I have booked on a minivan to the Thai-Cambodian border, and share taxi from there, accommodation to be sorted out on arrival though I do have a recommendation for a small and clean budget guesthouse.
Yes Bangkok is teeming with people, and the views as we leave town to the east show this in all clarity – from the motorway, along the khlongs (canals) are structures patched together extending out over the water; ramshackle, falling down, yet clearly providing living spaces. It is unimaginable to a westerner that people are living this way.
The street people in Bangkok had been less of a visual surprise as we have all seen people living on the street, under cardboard, under umbrellas, surrounded by piles of rubbish. But this is different. Here there seem to be so many more layers between homelessness and a more solid, more familiar sort of housing.
This sadly and oddly picturesque view gives way to countryside dense with cultivated fields, but there is a lushness and a welcoming comfort to the countryside. This sense of lushness and comfort is not what one feels further on in Cambodia.
The Thai people impressed me with their gentleness and their deep love of their king, easy to understand when one gazes at his face on posters, on placards, on the paper money. It is a gentle and deeply empathetic face. The king is ill, quite ill, confined to hospital now since September. With greatest effort, he had attended the changing of the Emerald Buddha’s attire, a ceremony of great importance to his country. But unable to perform his usual duty, his appearance was brief and limited in scope. The country will mourn him like their own father if he leaves them. In Thailand, two things are regarded with undying respect and devotion – Buddha and the King. One points one’s feet at neither when sitting, whether image or statue.
[update King Bhumibol Adulyadej's health somewhat fragile but stabilized as reported August 2010]
Other impressions of Thailand can wait as I will reenter Thailand from the north in a couple of weeks time and see far more of it than just Bangkok.
More in a couple of weeks? Well maybe not. My plans, it seems, are really just a tentative blueprint of possibilities. Pursuing opportunities as they arise is much more fun, and so much more interesting. A year later the ‘plan’ is to start where I left off last year, and hopefully it is nearly time to take that deeper drink of Thailand.