Refueling in Bangkok

October 7-14, 2009

Offerings at Wat Bowonniwet.


Farewell Laos! Thanaleng Station, Vientiane, Laos.



Nong Kai, Thailand.



Hualamphong station, Bangkok.

We cross the Mekong once again, this time a 15-minute ride on the shiny new "international" train connecting Vientiane, Laos, with Nong Khai, Thailand. This is Laos' first train line, and local families arrive at the station just before we depart just to watch it go. As we start off, kids are waving and riding thier bikes as fast as they can to keep up with the train, eventually falling out of sight as we pick up speed. In Nong Khai, we board another overnight sleeper, and splurge with a wonderful $85 double compartment, with dinner of Thai veggie curry and Singha beer!

Stepping off the train in Hualamphong station completes our 4000-mile(??) overland journey from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, through China, Laos, and Thailand. And what a long strange trip it's been! We have come to appreciate the joys of the little movies and the slowly changing countryside as the landscape rolls by out the window, and I'm going to miss falling asleep to the rhythmic kher-chunk kher-chunk of the wheels on the track.

We are in Bangkok to pick up visas for Myanmar. After meeting a handful of travelers over the years who have been to Burma (everyone raves about the interesting culture and friendly people), we make the call to see this place for ourselves, despite the controversy concerning travel to this military-ruled dictatorial regime. After a gentle round of questioning aimed at making sure we are not evil journalists, the visa process is straightforward at the Myanmar Consulate. In a few days we board an Air Asia flight to the former capitol city of Yangon.

Our neighborhood temple, Wat Bowonniwet, is blissfully peaceful and filled with lovely paintings and statues adorned with delicate flower offerings. It is one of hundreds in the midst of the city. We soon learn a short cut that passes through the wat, and take it at every opportunity.

A 40¢ ride on Bangkok's river ferry sure beats a trip through the congested streets!




It's nearly the end of the monsoon season and Bangkok is hot and steamy. In the early evenings, fantastic electric storms crackle and crash; one thunderbolt rocks our seven story hostel and all the pigeons take flight. We spend our time in Bangkok restocking, rejuvenating, and getting to know our local neighborhood. Down the street there are lots of sewing shops, dingy little rooms filled with women hunched over sewing machines, working all day and into the night; little scraps of fabric are everywhere. I watch as one fellow sitting on the floor hand stitching the sole of a white tennis shoe, probably destined for the USA. Our street is so narrow a taxi barely squeezes through, but a constant stream of cars cruise by, and motorbikes, pedestrians, dogs and cats (the hierarchy) scoot out of their way. Food carts line the street, clustering at the corner of the main drag. Everyone eats on the street. Vendors grill meat kebabs, sell fresh fruit (pomelo, watermelon, papaya, pineapple) and cook freshly caught fish in huge aluminum vats of bubbling oil. The food is fresh and tasty. We eat lunch at a five-table, family run restaurant a few blocks away -- $1 for a plate of phat thai -- and the cook remembers what we ordered when we return two days later. As night falls, we are hot and dripping with sweat as rain pours out of the sky, drenching us as we return from an outing and flooding the chaotic street.