|(Story 7) Bullfrog's (AKA Gordy Snyder) really great world tour - Thailand|
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With business finished in China, I told the cab driver “PuDong ji chang guo ji.” (PuDong airport, international departure.) 40 minutes later the bags were on the lorry cart, and I quickly disappeared into the terminal and was off to Bangkok. After an uneventful 4-1/2 hour flight, the first order of business after baggage claim was to exchange currency. (As a rough approximation, $1.00 gets 40 Thai Bhats.) The driver for the 2 hour journey to Rayong on the southern coast met me just outside the baggage claim area; he was holding a sign, just as requested. It’s routine for drivers to meet passengers; sometimes there can be 30 or 40 signs held by drivers. When we stepped outside the terminal to go to the van, the heat and humidity took my breath away. The steel mill personnel made the arrangements so you would think that the driver would be familiar with the location of the hotel. He wasn’t. After cruising along Rayong’s main drag for a while, and the driver searching in vain, he called the hotel using his cell phone. I ended up giving hand signals to show him the way when we were near. I stayed at the Kanery Bay last year and remembered the turns.
Room 711 was home for three nights. And, thank goodness for A/C. The door from the hall opened to a spacious dining/living room area with table, TV, VCR, sofa, several chairs, a coffee table and work desk. There was a kitchen for meal preparation. Not only does the hotel have short-term guests, but business people and families come for weeks at a time. Every day the refrigerator is restocked with 2 bottles of mineral water. (Do not drink anything else except bottled water.) Through a door to the right was a large bedroom with queen bed. A pink orchid blossom had been placed on each pillow. Off the bedroom was a spacious bath. One caution; switch-on the hot water 45 minutes before using the tub or shower. Through the sliding glass door in the living room was a splendid view of the Gulf of Thailand. Bangkok and Rayong were far away from December’s tsunami. It had no affect in this area.
My host from the mill invited me for dinner at a local at seafood restaurant, Lam Saran, where a specialty is huge prawns (shrimp) and patta-pong fish, fish that is cut in half, cooked and placed on a platter. The meat comes right off the bones, and boy is it good. Being situated on an inlet from the ocean, we watched large fishing boats head out to open water for the evening. Lights from what looked like hundreds of boats twinkled in the distance. Squid was the main catch, and it’s best to catch squid at night.
Breakfast was included in the room fee. They provided several types of food. It was best to stay with traditional Western fare.
A company van picked me up in the morning and returned after the day at the mill. Lunch was taken in the company café. A nice selection, mostly Thai and oriental, but a few that westerners would like, like fried chicken and pork and hard boiled eggs. It’s very inexpensive for the workers to eat at the mill. The day was hot and humid.
Dinner was at a different restaurant, about 2 km (1.6 miles) inland from the hotel. At the entrance was a scary looking mask hanging from the thatched roof. Festive star-shaped red lanterns outlined the perimeter of the open-air seating area. Members of a two-piece band played and sang western music. We feasted on spicy TomYam soup, fish, crabs, and (much smaller) prawns. Both nights we returned to the hotel for ice cream dessert.
Back at the hotel, direct-dial phone calls were made to several customers in the states and to the office in Pennsylvania. After reports were written and email sent, it was time to hit the sack.
After the morning at the mill, the car arrived and I was off to the seacoast resort town of Pattaya for the weekend. The Marriott was one block back from the beach. A guarded walkway coming from the beach leads through an archway to a tropical tree filled yard. On the city-side was the main entrance for automobile arrival and check-in. While registering, each guest received a glass of tropical juice. I was ready to settle in for a weekend of R & R. All rooms have a view of the beach.
Adjoining the Marriott was a multi-story shopping mall complete with McD’s, DQ, Auntie Mays pretzels, Burger King, KFC, Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not museum, a jumping-water fountain, Sizzler restaurant, assorted souvenir shops, shoes, clothing and jewelry stores, and numerous little kiosks for almost anything, just like the malls in the US. There was one cluster of food stores on the 4th level with an unusual twist; pay 3000 Bhat (approx. $7.50) when you enter, take what you want to eat and the amount was deducted from a charge card you received when entering. Hand the card to the cashier upon leaving and either receive change or pay the difference.
During the daytime, the street that runs along the beachfront is open to traffic, from one end of the beach to the other, a distance of several kilometers (about 1-1/2 miles.). At night, a portion called “Walking Street” is closed to traffic, even scooters and bicycles. What I didn’t expect was the diversity of human activity on “Walking Street” at night. Clothing and jewelry stores, watches, souvenirs, beer stores, kick boxing, dance halls and bars up the steps and down dark corridors, suits and shirts could be made to order while you waited. Old men with very young girls – holding hands, walking arm-in-arm. Scooters and high-powered motorcycles for rent; pick-up-truck busses. Beggar ladies sitting in the gutters. A 7/11. Shops of all kinds. Neon sign heaven. Open air bars for drinks and conversation; sit on a stool, pay the money and talk to the ladies. People walk around drinking from open bottles. Girls in go-go and cheerleader outfits stood on the curb calling, “Hello, hello, hello!” A bevy of scantily-clad beauties were on a balcony, undulating, enticing passers-by to come up to the club. And the music; loud and pulsing. Take it all in, I kept saying to myself; take a few pictures then head back to the hotel. One thing caught my attention, and I watched intently. Just as seen on Discovery Channel™ or the National Graphic Channel™, there in the middle of a stage was a man dancing with a cobra. The cobra with raised head and open hood struck at the man many times but missed. The man gazed intently at the snake. As he moved his lips closer and closer to the snake’s head, the man moved his knee rapidly from side to side to keep the snake’s attention on that movement, not his face. After kissing the snake, the charmer “milked” it to prove that it was indeed still lethal. All the time he was performing; people seated around the stage were taking flash pictures, and loud “oohs and aahs” were heard at every strike. The next snake out of the bag was worse. A cobra strikes only with its head up and hood spread. While snake-man held this other 5-foot long monster by the tail, it whipped around and making lighting-fast strikes. The handler jumped out of the way of course. Finally there was a docile, by comparison, boa-constrictor. This guy was over 10 feet long and 5 to 6 inches diameter at the middle. After performing with it for a short while, people were allowed on the stage to have pictures taken with the boa wrapped around their neck. I couldn’t resist. I tapped the shoulder of the gentleman standing next to me, handed him the camera, jumped up to the stage and posed with the snake. The handler tightly held the snake’s mouth about 6 inches from my face. Couldn’t imagine what it would be like to meet up with any of these three creatures in the wild. That’s the story of the snake. “Walking Street” is a well known tourist attraction. Even large tourists busses make a swing-by in the heavy traffic at night.
After a few more street-scene pictures, it was back to the hotel for the night, but not before buying a vanilla soft serve ice cream cone dipped in chocolate at McD’s – yummy, but it melted fast and dripped all over my fingers. What a mess! As has been usual throughout the trip, I slept only 4 or 5 hours before waking, thinking about the previous night’s experience.
Buffet breakfast was not included in the price of the room. The buffet selections were abundant; Chinese, Thai, western, eggs cooked any style, pancakes cooked to order with different toppings, pastries, vegetables, rice and noodles, soup, juices, fruit, etc. Or, if you wished, you could order from the menu. For those not wishing to venture out in the morning, you could also take room service.
Not really interested in doing tourist-type things, I stayed in the room to work on reports, compose stories and edit pictures. In the afternoon and being curious to see what it was like during the day, I put on my bathing suit and flip-flops and went for a walk along the street and beach. It was, as expected, very different; civilized and normal would be good descriptions. Not the hustle and bustle of the night. No hustlers, no scantily-clad ladies undulating. The normal tourist-type stores and activities.
In the water along the beach and off shore were boats for parasail, pleasure boats and commercial boats, large and small. To my surprise there were not many people at the beach, even fewer swimming. The city provides benches and beach umbrellas. Perhaps it wasn’t the right season. Still there were people, but not as many as expected. At night those same boats displayed lights, making the water dance with twinkling firefly-like lights. On the way back to the room, a refreshing pineapple drink with rum was ordered at the pool-side bar.
On Saturday night, an elaborate wedding reception was held at the Marriott, taking all afternoon the set up. The pool area was transformed into a fairy-tail like setting of lights and decorations; a floating display sign in the pool showed the names of the bride and groom, orchid peddles were scattered on the steps leading from the hotel lobby to the pool. A band played the entire evening. By morning it was all gone.
Sunday was the same; spent mostly in the room and just taking it easy. A walk around the shopping center for a while and poolside in the afternoon. Had a drink and went for a swim. At the bar and stretched out in the pool-side sun were older men with much younger ladies. Two men were openly showing their affection for each other.
After dinner at Sizzler’s, it was time to pack and get ready for the coming week of customer visits. A car was contracted through the hotel service bureau for the three-quarter hour drive north towards Bangkok to the mill. The driver provided an English news paper. A different cab service was used for the 1-1/2 hour drive to Bangkok late in the afternoon. Wouldn’t you know it, the driver in the afternoon didn’t have a clue where he was going once he turned off the expressway and onto the downtown streets of Bangkok! He even had a map showing the streets of central Bangkok with the hotel location circled. What’s worse, it was my map. I had picked it up at the airport when I arrived the week before. I gave it too him to show him the location of the hotel, and when we eventually arrived at the Intercontinental I never took it back; I figured that he needed it more than I.
After discussions and dinner with business associates, I settled into the routine of reports, Internet, email and pictures in Room 1927 with its sweeping view of Bangkok. Helping to ease congestion of downtown traffic, and moving commuters, shoppers and tourists, there’s a system of elevated subways reaching into all area of the city.
Prior to departure for Kaula Lumpur the next morning, it was necessary to pay an airport tax of 500 Bhat. It’s impossible to pass through passport control without showing the receipt. Thai Airlines provides its Royal Orchid Lounge for business-class travelers. I’m very fortunate that my company has allowed me to fly business class, normally its economy. By 33 days into this trip, I had been on 13 planes and checked into and out of 17 hotels, not including Laura’s and Melissa’s place in Hong Kong. In the lounge, hot and cold beverages and snacks were provided. There were TVs, newspapers, private rooms for meetings, an Internet lounge, darker areas for taking a snooze and a separate prayer room. Some airline lounges provide Internet connection. (Last year I didn’t want to carry a laptop; I didn’t want the hassle of learning how to connect to the Internet while in far-off locations. This year, I didn’t leave home without it.)
After arrival at KLIA (Kaula Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia) 2 hours later, take the tram to the main terminal for passport control, baggage claim and to clear customs. There’s a very stern warning on the immigration form stating that bringing illegal substances into the country is punishable by death.
It was a short 10 minute walk through elevated and covered walkways from the terminal to the Pan Pacific Hotel where I would be staying for 4 nights, giving me sufficient time catch up on reports and to again do tub laundry. Again, thank goodness for the lorry carts. The hotel did provide a shuttle service from and to the airport using modified golf carts, but I always walked.
I was into and out of two rooms, 506 and 505, before finally getting settled in 511 where the Internet service worked. Ethernet card = broadband service. Only a few hotels have provided wireless connections in the rooms. Most have been broadband for a fee, by the hour, 6 hours or 24 hours. Others (in China) were dialup through a modem. Anyway, you select and pay according to the length of time you want to be on the net. There was no charge while at the Pan Pacific; they were working on upgrades to their entire system and disconnections were frequent. With time, email was sent and received. Even a search for a hotel in South Africa was completed without problems.
A business associate from India was scheduled to join me in Malaysia; he couldn’t because of contract negotiation requirements in Thailand. I was on my own but didn’t mind. I visited Mega Steel last year, and two employees were in Pittsburgh last September for training. It was good to see Mr. Tan and Mr. Jaya again. I knew my way around the plant quite well and even taught my in-plant guides a few things about mill operations to find pieces of steel I wished to examine. I was at the mill the entire day; much longer than they had expected, I’m sure, and was back at hotel late in the afternoon, thoroughly drained because of the heat and humidity. A shower was enjoyed.
The Pan Pacific has towering columns and arched ceiling in the lobby and fresh flowers arrangements throughout the hotel. There’s a 24-hour dining room near the main entrance and a night club lounge at the opposite end, where a 4-person group played and sang to an almost empty room every night while I was there. The hotel includes the use of the fitness room, tennis court and pool in the room fee. Massages are available for a fee. There’s an all-purpose business center off the main lobby for sending/receiving faxes, making copies, doing typing, sending courier packages, etc., etc. and of course computers for those who do not have their own. The hotel does receive the distinct honor of having the most unique toilet seat. See the picture for an explanation.
Again, the standard fare was buffet breakfast and dinner. One young waitress on duty at dinner took a liking to me. She remembered my name and room number and always wanted to talk with me. Friday, my final night, she gave me a fancy handshake and a big thumbs-up.
Looking ahead to the next week, it was determined that I could advance the schedule in India by one day and fly to Cape Town a day earlier than originally planned. Also, our company’s representative in India advised against my using any other Indian airport except Calcutta for the mid-week flight to Mumbai. Email was sent to the travel agency in Pittsburgh and revised flight schedules received. I tried for earlier flights from KLIA to Calcutta – by changing airlines there would be a $750 fee; by using a combination of Thai Airlines and Indian Airlines the extra fee would be $350; by switching to Singapore Airlines via Singapore the fee would be $100 along with lots of paperwork. I stayed with the late-Saturday night flight via Bangkok. For world-wide travel, there’s a consortium of airlines called the Star Alliance. Many of my flights have been on Star Alliance carriers. Changing schedules in the middle of a complicated itinerary is sometimes very difficult, not at all like flights in the US where you can virtually hop on a plane with interchangeable tickets. Moral of the story, avoid any change in the middle of the trip if you can help it. Through an Internet search, I located and made reservations for one night at a B&B in Gordons Bay, South Africa, about 50 km east of Cape Town. With everything falling into place, the flights from Mumbai to Johannesburg to Cape Town on South African Airways were moved up one day.
KLIA is located about 45 km south of the center of Kaula Lumpur. I had hoped to get there to see the tallest office buildings in the world, the Petronis Towers. A train to central KL departs from the airport every 15 minutes. “Tomorrow,” I told the people at the train station, “I’ll go tomorrow,” but I never did. The timing just wasn’t working out. It was best that I stay at the hotel and be up-to-date, especially for work, when I arrived in India.
Early Saturday afternoon checkout from the Pan Pacific and to airport I went only to find out that I was 4 hours too early for check in. So lorry, luggage and I went back to the Pan Pacific to hang out, using the lap-top and wireless Internet service from the lobby lounge. I laughed at my self. Back to airport at 17:30 PM, check the luggage and get a boarding card, through passport control, take the tram to the departure gate, fly to Bangkok, make a brief stop in the Royal Orchid Lounge for a bloody Mary (actually two,) eat a small sandwich, watch about 30 minutes of the Manchester United vs. Arsenal football (soccer) match live on TV and hop on the flight to Calcutta, arriving there at about 01:00 AM. Just like that!
I was met outside the baggage claim by a representative from the Hyatt-Calcutta. It was hot and humid; instantly my glasses fogged; I was tired and wanted to get to bed.
India is a story all unto itself.
More pictures below.
modern-art sculpture at a traffic circle in Shanghai
Approach to Bangkok Airport for landing
Through the sliding glass door in the living room was a splendid view of the Gulf of Thailand. Bangkok and Rayong were far away from December’s tsunami. It had no affect in this area.
At the entrance to the restaurant was a scary looking mask hanging from the thatched roof.
Lobby of the Kanery Bay Hotel in Rayong, Thailand
Pineapples are grown in many areas of Thailand.
The pool as viewed from the 6th floor of the Marriott Resort, Pattaya, Thailand.
This lovely orchid was on the desk in the room.
During the daytime, the street that runs along the beachfront is open to traffic, from one end of the beach to the other, a distance of several kilometers (about 1-1/2 miles.). At night, a portion called
“Walking Street” is closed to traffic, even scooters and bicycles. What I didn’t expect was the diversity of human activity on “Walking Street” at night.
In the water along the beach and off shore were boats for parasail, pleasure boats and commercial boats, large and small. To my surprise there were not many people at the beach, even fewer swimming. The city provides benches and beach umbrellas.
In the afternoon and being curious to see what it was like during the day, I put on my bathing suit and flip-flops and went for a walk along the street and beach. It was, as expected, very different; civilized
and normal would be good descriptions. Not the hustle and bustle of the night. No hustlers, no scantily-clad ladies undulating.
Adjoining the Marriott was a multi-story shopping mall complete with McD’s, DQ, Auntie Mays pretzels, Burger King, KFC, Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not museum, a jumping-water fountain, Sizzler restaurant, assorted souvenir shops, shoes, clothing and jewelry stores, and numerous little kiosks for almost anything, just like the malls in the US.
Buffet breakfast was not included in the price of the room. The buffet selections were abundant; Chinese, Thai, western, eggs cooked any style, pancakes cooked to order with different toppings, pastries, vegetables, rice and noodles, soup, juices, fruit, etc.
A refreshing adult beverage was enjoyed at the pool-side bar.
A typical roadside stand found along the highways of Thailand.
Pay the toll to use the expressways.
Lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, Bangkok.
I settled into the routine of reports, Internet, email and
pictures in Room 1927 with its sweeping view of Bangkok. Helping ease congestion of downtown traffic, and moving commuters, shoppers and tourists, there’s a system of elevated subways reaching into all area of the city.
Thai Airlines provides its Royal Orchid Lounge for
business-class travelers where hot and cold beverages and snacks were provided. There were TVs, newspapers, private rooms for meetings, an Internet lounge, darker areas for taking a snooze and a separate prayer room.
Inside the arrival gate at Kaula Lumpur Airport. I thought that the reflection of the lights on the shinny floor was great.
The Pan Pacific has towering columns and arched ceiling in the lobby and fresh flowers arrangements throughout the hotel.
Right. Escalators in the Kuala Lumpur Airport.
Lorry carts are provided free of charge for the convenience of travelers at all airports.
Covered walkway connecting the Kuala Lumpur Airport with the Pan Pacific Hotel.
There’s a 24-hour dining room near the main entrance of the Pan Pacific Hotel. Buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided, or order from the menu.
Tub laundry takes 24 hours to dry.
The Pan Pacific Hotel as seen from the covered walkway to the airport.
A fresh flowers arrangement in the lobby.
Laundry sent out to the hotel service was neatly folded, wrapped and returned in a woven basket.
Right. Oh my, there's that hat again.
The Pan Pacific does receive the distinct honor of having the most unique toilet seat ... a water assist for cleansing. Bet that feels good. And instructions on how to use the toilet.
Take the tram to the main terminal for passport control, baggage claim and to clear customs. Check your bags, clear through passport control and security for departure. Then take the tram to the departure gate.
Early morning arrival and baggage claim in Calcutta.
Right. On international flights, you can follow the progress of the flight on little monitors at your seat.