2001.03.29, ho chi minh city, vietnam
it surprises me that it has been almost two weeks since I last wrote. it feels like a lot of things have happened since then, but also as though time has flown.
I spent several more days in bangkok than I expected. part of the problem was that I arrived too late on a friday to get any sort of visa started, but I also went through a pretty bad bout of depression. it started with wondering whether I should continue to vietnam or just travel through other parts of thailand; then it bloomed into full-blown homesickness. I seriously considered packing it in and heading back to san francisco for a few weeks, then proceeding from there to istanbul with my dad. crazy, from a monetary point of view, but I was pretty burnt out.
I must admit, bangkok contributed a lot to these feelings. the city is large and hot, the traffic and the air are terrible. it seems to me that foreigners are seen only as sources of money, and I don't trust the tuk tuk or taxi drivers as far as I could walk without almost getting hit by one of them. I also had a room with no outside windows, but it was clean and cheap.
I stayed in the khao san road area, which is definitely a backpacker center: it is full of restaurant/bars, tourist agencies, internet cafes, clothing/knickknack stores, pirated CD/DVD stores. the sidewalks in front of all these are crammed with jewelry stalls and table after table of the same t-shirts as one would find on haight street in san francisco, except written in thai.
I was able to spend a lot of time doing comparison shopping for tickets. in the end I decided to continue with my original plan, not give in to depression, and go to vietnam. I took the compiled list back to one which was generally cheapest and they matched the lowest prices across the board for an open jaw ticket to vietnam (ho chi minh & hanoi), a rush vietnam visa, and a one way ticket to istanbul. I blew a large hole in my travel budget in the ten minutes it took to walk from the exchange agent back to the travel agent, but that should be it for the big expenses.
many of the days I spent bumming around the khao san road area on the internet, getting some food, 'recharging my batteries.' I also spent a fairly large amount of time reading and watching one of the large screen TVs that every restaurant has playing pirated copies of recently released movies. I did get out of the neighborhood a few times, though the reluctance to take over-ground transport other than my feet limited that a little bit. one day I went across town to the japanese nudie-bar area, during the day, because I was craving ramen and gyoza. to get there, I took an express boat down the river and then the newly opened skytrain: no traffic, relatively clean air, and interesting views. it was a great meal, too, especially followed up with a tall frapp from starbucks. ahhh, civilization.
I also went to the grand palace, which is an enormous set of temples and living mansions set along the river. it was started by Rama I in 1792 and has been added to in grand fashion over the years. it is impressive, and a little bit of a tourist trap.
the attention to detail on the buildings is amazing, and many are gilt and jewel (or glass?) studded. many of the temples actually serve more of a civic function, like the crowning room and audience chambers. it is very interesting to see how a deeper layer of hinduism can be seen in thai buddhism. (and perhaps deeper still a sort of pre-hindu animism?) I particularly liked the murals which ran all the way around the inside of the walls separating the temples from the purely civic buildings and mansions. I can't pretend to have understood it, and I suspect a full day tour would not be enough to explain the detailed pictures of gods, demons, and people.
there is one very western looking mansion on the property, the residence for the heir apparent. I don't think it would look out of place on an estate in england or france. much more interesting is the enormous 'chakri group' which is a combination of thai and western styles. it is enormous, but apparently the residential sections are no longer used.
that's it for now. I am sick (more on that next time) and can only write so much in one sitting; and anyway I am still feeling detached. what is real is in front of me, what I see every day. I have not been pulling out the computer except to regularly suck the images off of my camera, and have not been to an internet cafe for almost a week. it doesn't seem to be such a bad thing.