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The train ride into Bangkok was comfortable enough but I was so worried about Myrtle I didn't get much sleep - even with an Ambien. Getting Myrtle off the train was a huge relief but I was pretty wiped-out. I got everything packed up and left the Hua Lamphong railway station. The battery in my GPS had died and I was so disoriented from lack of sleep that I wasn't really thinking clearly. It was like I just didn't know what to do. I saw a cyclist on a touring bike having lunch and asked if I could join him. No problem. He was a Chinese guy living in Singapore who just finished a tour of north Thailand. He wanted to check out some temples around Chinatown and invited me along. I was so tired all I wanted to do was find a hotel. He knew of some cheap ones and we stopped at a few. They were cheap alright but not what I was looking for. We visited an old temple and walked around. He wanted to stay and pray and I rode on.
The next few hotels I checked were either too expensive or posted rates by the hour. I really didn't have a good feel for where I was in the city. My Google tablet has GPS but couldn't find me after such a big jump in location. I needed wifi to reset it and couldn't find any open networks. A few people suggested going to Khao San road which is famous for backpacker hostels and hotels. After so little sleep, I couldn't follow the directions and rode around hopelessly.
This is the kind of thing that happens when I'm tired. It's hard to do anything. Bangkok is such a big city and there must a thousand hotels. Why was I having so much trouble? I checked out a half dozen more and none could take care of Myrtle. By this time I was besides myself. When the last hotel told me they didn't have room for the trike I broke down crying - hysterically. The woman at reception became alarmed and worried and walked around the front of the desk to give me a hug. Another guy working the desk offered to look at the trike and see if there was anyway they could help. I didn't know what to do or where to go. The man said there was a parking lot in the back with 24 hour security where Myrtle could be parked. It cost me $15 for a week. I was at my wits end and agreed.
The New Trocadero hotel wasn't far from the Chao Phraya river that runs through Bangkok. This was the gems district. Silver, gold, wholesale gems and jewelry were in every shop for blocks. The New Trocadero had been a very nice hotel at one time. Probably before the expressway went up in the next block 40 years ago. My room was tired but clean and comfortable with a marble walled bathroom. I got checked-in for $24 a night expecting to be here for New Year's Eve.
After a good night's rest I had a look around the area and realized that I landed in a great spot. The area was quiet at night and close to the BTS skytrain, Chinatown and the river. The hotel was very eclectic with an unusual international clientele. There were many people in the gems business from Burma, Nigeria and Afghanistan staying here as well as Thai and European tourists. After falling apart emotionally in the lobby yesterday, the front desk people were especially nice and concerned about me. I explained about my last few days staying in the jungle, a very long biking day and then another sleepless night worried I had lost my trike. I figured it would take a few days to recover and they were understanding and happy to have me stay.
One of my first orders of business here in Bangkok was to find a new Garmin. There is a Garmin store within walking distance of the hotel. They have a service center as well but were not able to replace the battery. I didn't understand why but they said the battery could be replaced in the US. I bought a new Edge 800 ($500) that came with the lastest map of Thailand and they also gave me a t-shirt. It took awhile to get the new unit set up but was a great relief to have this taken care of.
A woman on Facebook, that Kathryn had introduced me to, messaged and offered to show me around Bangkok. How great is that? I met Jiratya at the Victory Monument Skytrain station. She is a lovely woman in her 30's who lives in Chon Buri which is a 1 1/2 hour bus ride from Bangkok. It was hard for me to believe that someone would go through so much for a stranger on Facebook and so generous. From there, we took a minivan to a floating market about 1 1/2 hours out of town. This was amazing! The floating market was truly unique and the food was sensational. I love food and especially love trying new foods at the marketplaces in Asia. There were many incredible dishes that I had never seen before. The colors, spices and setting on the river made it all come alive. We ordered grilled prawns, crabs, scallops and a papaya salad from a longtail boat that had a makeshift kitchen. The creativity to add kitchens to the longtails was fascinating and it worked. The lunch was fabulous. One of Jiratya's friends and the friends' mom met us in the afternoon. We walked along the river together stopping for a bite of this and that off the boats. There was so much to look at and I must have taken 300 pictures. This was a fantastic afternoon and I had a great time. Jiratya, Soda and her mom were all so sweet.
The next day Jiratya called and suggested we get together again at another market. Wonderful idea! This one is closer and equally impressive. Jatujak market is in Bangkok at the end of one of the Skytrain lines. It is only open on weekends and is so enormous it doesn't have a directory, it has a map. I think you could spend a week here and still not see everything. We spent hours in a small section and, luckily, Jiratya knew her way around. The girls bought really cute cocktail dresses for $3. Another of her friends works here and we had a lot of fun visiting. I was very impressed with Jiratya and her friends. These are young, smart, cosmopolitan gals who made me feel very welcome. I sure hope to see them again.
We said goodbye at the Skytrain and I went looking for another gadget. Bangkok is famous for its electronics malls. One of the most famous is Pantip. This mall is 5 floors of just computer stuff. What I was looking for was a mobile 3G wifi hotspot that uses a sim card. These hotspots can be used all over the world. I have been thinking about how to use the internet in China. I'm not entirely sure how western people use wifi networks there. Are the network passwords in Chinese characters? I used a Verizon hotspot on my trip around the US and really liked it. The connection is a little slower but it was rare that I couldn't get a cell signal. These wifi hotspots are especially helpful for making Skype calls. With the time change it's not always easy to call friends during the day when I'm on the road. I found a Huawei 3G wifi hotspot for $80 and added a one month unlimited data sim card for another $20.
The last couple of days I've been sightseeing around Bangkok and relaxing. This is another amazing city. I've mostly taken the bus and Skytrain to get around. Today I used the boat ferry which is really cool. It has got to be the best deal in town at $0.50 a ride that stops all along the river. I went to the Royal Palace but being New Year's Eve it was totally packed. New Year's is a public and Buddhist holiday. There are many clothing restrictions to entering the Palace and they offer, at no charge, clothes they deem appropriate. I was wearing capris with my ankles showing and was required to get official clothes. There were so many people dressed inappropriately the palace had run out of extra clothes and the line of people waiting for the clothes to be returned was super long. The lines and waiting was overwhelming. I'll have to see this place next time I'm in town.
Next, I walked into Chinatown and stumbled on a New Year's celebration/performance that was wonderful. Here is some video. Then I walked into the flower market which was exploding with color. Everyone buys flowers for each other and for the temples on New Years. It was fun to see so many people working with the flowers. I also enjoyed stopping to try the different street foods. I really love the cut up fruit in a bag. Mango, papaya, honeydew and watermelon are my favorites.
While there is a lot to enjoy, it's also really hard to see so many crippled and handicapped people begging. There are people who can't walk and scoot along on their butts with a loin cloth of canvas to protect their clothes. Other people are so disfigured they lay contorted on the ground with a simple donation cup in front of them. It seems there aren't many social programs to help these unfortunate people. I don't usually give money to people begging but these scenes just broke my heart.
I'm finally feeling recovered from the ordeal getting here and am thinking about taking a train to Ayutthaya tomorrow. This is a Unesco heritage city 100 kms north of Bangkok. The traffic in Bangkok is just too crazy to try and negotiate. Hopefully, this train ride will go easier than the last.
Happy New Year everyone and thanks for following along!
Marinated fish in a basket.
Longtail marketplace - Amphawa.
Jiratya, Soda and her mom at Amphawa floating market.
With Jiratya, Kis, Soda at Jutajak market. Super fun!
Incredible food at Amphawa.
The nice receptionist at New Trocadero that helped me when I broke down.
Chinatown new year's tigers