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Our first couple of days in Bangkok have been very busy and we're both fairly tired.  I think I'll let Tim sleep in this (Sunday) morning and we'll just take it easy today.

Neither of us slept well Thursday night.  We tried to turn in early but we weren't tired so we watched a movie ("Heartbreakers," starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liota, Gene Hackman, and Jason Lee).  We still tossed-and-turned afterwards and I think I managed about two hours of sleep total (not all in a row, though).  We both got up after the second snooze alarm (at 5:15a.m.), made some coffee, and showered.  I was glad we'd packed the day before so all we had to do while waiting for Tim's friend Non to pick us up was to take out the last of the trash.

I hadn't met Non before and we seemed friendly enough although he couldn't speak a word of English.  He and Tim chattered away happily during the drive up to the airport and they were so engrossed in their conversation that the turn-off was missed.  In fact, Non didn't realized he'd missed it until we arrived at the police checkpoint as the southern end of the causeway that connects Phuket with the mainland.  He had to turn around and backtrack almost 10km back to the airport road.  This is another reason why I like to go to airports long before my flight is due to take off.

At the Phuket airport, you have to pass through security metal detectors outside before you even enter the departure level of the terminal.  Accomplishing that, Tim and I found the Bangkok Airways check-in counters at the far end of the line and quickly received our boarding passes.  Tim was very happy to see her name printed on hers.  We then passed through the second security checkpoint and entered the waiting lounge.  We only had about a 70-minute wait until our boarding time and Tim had a cup of coffee so she wouldn't fall asleep.

Our plane was an ancient 717-300 with a gleaming white exterior decorated with a large representation of Ankor Wat in Cambodia emblazoned across the body.  The interior was spotless and the Bangkok Airways flight crew were very attentive in their duties.  I was very impressed with every aspect of this flight and I look forward to using this company again.  Even the lunch was excellent (although Tim didn't like the "farang food" — sliced turkey in gravy, linguini in marinara sauce, a soft roll, and chocolate ice cream).

Tim got very excited when the plane began to push back from the gate.  She spent the most of the beginning of the flight happily staring out the porthole (and looking back towards me with a big smile on her face), often trying to point out something she'd seen below.  When we actually became airborne, I heard her say "wow".  I took a few photos and shot a bit of video at the takeoff but the glare of the sun beyond the window washed out most of the detail.  Tim also took a few photos of islands as we passed over Phang-Nga Bay.  The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful although Tim continued looking out the window even when all there was to see were clouds.  I mentioned the lunch already (served shortly after takeoff and finished about 30 minutes before landing); Tim was surprised that this was "free".

We broke out of the cloud cover shortly before landing; I think we approached Bangkok from the west this time before turning to make our final approach from the north.  As we descended, Tim clutched her armrests with her hands and she had some difficulty dealing with the popping of her ears (I need to remember to buy some gum to chew for the return flight).  Just was we were touching down, she grabbed my hand and squeezed very hard when the wheels hit the runway.  As we taxied towards the Domestic Terminal, she once again became the little girl and was alternating looking out the porthole and smiling back towards me.  She was amazed at the golf course between the runways and asked what happens if you hit the ball too far.

The plane was too small to dock at a jetway so we parked on the tarmac and had to squeeze into a very crowded bus for the final bit of the journey to the terminal.  We didn't have any checked bags (just my laptop backpack and a roller suitcase) so we could go straight to the taxi stand (after a quick stop at the restrooms).  We had planned to take a taxi to the Department of Consular Affairs first (which is fairly near the airport) and planned to have the taxi wait for us and then take us the remaining distance to the hotel.  This would have cost 1800 baht but I had the transport company call to make sure the office was open.  It was actually closed because it was the day after the Royal Ploughing Holiday so we booked a taxi directly to the hotel (for 650 baht, plus an extra 20 baht for the tollway).

We arrived at Baiyoke Sky Hotel in much better time than I'd expected and our room wasn't yet ready.  We were told to come back to collect our keycards in about 45 minutes so I took Tim into the wholesale garment market across the street.  She was absolutely amazed at the variety of items and the very low prices; we'll return here later in the trip to do some serious clothes shopping.  Breaking out of the far end of the soi, we walked a short distance more before Tim found a small restaurant to eat at.  I had a Coke while she enjoyed some "mystery soup".  Back at the hotel, we went to our room on the 49th floor and Tim's eyes went wide again.  It's just as big as the room I'd had in January if a bit shabbier (there's some broken tile in the bathroom and the carpet isn't as spotless as I'd like).  Tim was impressed with the view and couldn't believe how big the bathroom is.  I tore the cellophane off of a Baiyoke bathrobe and Tim happily changed into it — I don't think she'd ever worn a bathrobe before because she's slept in it the past two nights.  I explained to her that the only free items in the minibar were two bottles of water per day and that we shouldn't touch the overpriced cans of coke or beer (we later purchased some items at a nearby 7-Eleven).

Since it was her first time in a "fancy" hotel, I decided to splurge a bit and order room service for dinner (Tim had never even heard of room service before a few days ago).  She had the beef masaman curry with steamed rice and I ordered a pan-grilled sirloin steak with golden sauteed potatoes.  For dessert, we had a tropical fruit platter.  It was all very good and huge portions (served with a variety of hard and soft rolls as well).  We spent a total of 565 baht (including tip), which is less than USD $15.

After dinner, we went down to the 20th floor and checked out the outdoor swimming pool.  It was nice and cool and there was a lot of lightning in the sky above.  I can't wait to begin teaching Tim how to swim later in the week.  After a half-hour or so down there, we decided to go up to the 84th floor and walk around the outdoor observation deck.  We were stopped at the bank of elevators and asked for a ticket.  It was free the last time I was here so I asked how much the ticket was — 200 baht per person, but that includes a free drink at the Rooftop Bar and guests of the hotel receive a 10% discount.  I went to the desk and purchased our two tickets (total: 360 baht) but wasn't too pleased.  Still, I had fun showing Tim the lights of Bangkok but I doubt if we'll want to pay to return during daylight.  We spent about an hour revolving high above the city before it began to rain so we went to collect our free drinks at the bar.  We actually "saved" money here as all the drinks in the menu were vastly overpriced at 200 baht each; Tim had a bottle of Singha (which costs 35 baht at a 7-Eleven) and I had a Black Russian.  Returning to our room, we watched a movie ("Angel" with Jessica Alba — English with Thai subtitles) on HBO before falling asleep (actually, I fell asleep about 30 minutes into the movie).

Saturday morning, I woke bright and early.  I spent some time transferring photos and video from my camera onto the laptop and updating my Money account.  The room I stayed in last January had an Ethernet port so you could connect to the Internet but this room doesn't have any way I can get online.  The hotel manual says that there's broadband available in the Business Center on the 18th floor so perhaps I'll go down there today or tomorrow.  (If it's too overpriced, I'll just seek out an Internet cafe and use my memory stick to transfer blog entries.)

Tim woke up around 8:00 and we managed to leave the hotel shortly after 9:00.  I had decided we should check out the massive Chatuchak Weekend Market so the first task was to make the long walk to the Praya Thai Skytrain Station.  It's actually not that far a distance as the crow flies (about a half a kilometer) but many of the sois are dead-ends so it's like threading a maze.  I had mapped out the shorted route on my highly-detailed MapMagic Bangkok software and written down which soi numbers we needed to make right or left turns on.  The problem was that there were no street signs so we quickly became lost and the walk took much longer than planned.  We were both exhausted when we arrived at the station and then had to content with the long flights of stairs up to the track level.

Looking at the map, it appeared that if we got off at Sapham Khwai Station, we would have a shorter walk to the market than if we exited at Mo Chit Station.  The fare was 25 baht for each of us.  It proved to be a very long and hot walk from the station to the market, along sidewalks crowded with amulet vendors.  I never knew there was such a large variety of Buddhist amulets before yesterday.  Finally arriving at Chatuchak, our first task was to get some lunch and we found a small cafe amongst the dozens lining the outer edge of the market.  Tim had some noodles and Thai veggies while I had some roast pork and steamed rice.  After lunch, we entered the market proper and quickly became lost.  I planned to try and find the animals section first (which was at the far end) and then work our way back towards the clothes.  It took us some time to get the proper orientation; every once-in-a-while you can find a sign stating what types of items are sold in that particular section.  These sections have numbers which (sometimes) correspond to the numbers on the maps.  Anyway, it's all very overwhelming and confusing and wonderful.  The hardest part was trying not to become separated as Tim and I made our way through the throngs of people.

Once we found the animals sections, we had a great time looking at puppies, kittens, baby bunnies, exotic birds, and all sorts of marine life (from jumbo fish and giant tortises on down to tiny little tadpoles).  But the days of people selling endangered species seems to be over as the most exotic thing we came across was a large peacock that was protesting being stuffed into a flimsy cardboard box so the buyer could strap it onto the back of a motorbike.  Before this trip, I know Tim really wanted to have a pet dog but now she seems to realize that it's no fun cleaning up after one makes a mess.  We talked a bit during a "rest stop" and I think if we have any sort of pet in the future that we will probably get an aquarium for fish.

As we began making our way towards the antiques & collectibles section, it began to pour rain.  We took refuge in a furniture seller's stall and hoped the rain wouldn't last long.  Luckily, many of the sections are roofed so when we began moving again we could explore small sections before making a run to the next one.  I was on a constant lookout for a vendor selling umbrellas (we'd left ours at home) but never found one — somewhere amongst the 15,000 vendors there has to be an umbrella stand!  Anyway, by the time we made it to the exit, the rain was just a light drizzle.  We decided to walk up to Mo Chit Skytrain Station as it was a shorter walk than the one we'd arrived at.  Along the way, we passed the Royal Thai Civil Aviation School and took a photo of a trainee helicopter.

I thought I'd show Tim a different area of Bangkok so we took the SkyTrain to Siam Station, opposite the huge Siam Paragon Shopping Center (fare was 30 baht each).  We then walked along the elevated walkway east towards Chitlom Station as I wanted to show her the famous Erawan Shrine.  Along the way, we saw the headquarters for the Royal Thai Police and the special hospital just for police patients.  We descended to street level by going through the Erawan Hotel next to the huge McDonald's.  The story of the shrine on the street corner is, briefly, that an abnormal number of people died in the construction of the hotel.  The shrine was build beneath to honor those workers who died and the donations and alms given there go directly to the victims' families.  Tourists like it for the "free" Thai dancing (the dancers only dance after someone makes a donation, however).  The shrine is a little different now from my last visit — it's wrapped in a white cloth decorated with pictures of the King; there are dozens of yellow garlands surrounding the base.  Tim knew this meant someone significant had died and asked if I knew who had just died.  I didn't know but remembered a news story from a week or so ago about a mentally-ill patient who had recently attacked the Erawan Shrine, destroying part of it (hence the sheet surrounding it).  When nearby garbage truck workers saw what he was doing, they attacked and killed him.  Perhaps that was who the flowers are honoring.  Anyway, Tim stopped at the entrance of the shrine because she has her period and you aren't allowed to enter a shrine if you're menstrating.  I continue to learn something new every day...

We then walked north towards the huge Big C; I wanted to buy some more picnic supplies for the room and see if they had any umbrellas for sale.  I was amazed at the new contruction on Central World Plaza across the street.  It looks like the jumbo-mall is one big construction zone but it still seems to be open.  Plus, it seems like there's at least two more floors that have been added on top since I was here in January.  We'll probably check it out later in the week as we'd like to go there to see a movie (we want to see "Mission: Impossible 3").  At Big C, Tim bought several baggies of soup and I bought a few cans of Thai fruits (lychee, longan, and rambutan).  We also bought some sodas and found an umbrella for 95 baht.

We were tired of walking at this point so we decided to take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.  Bangkok tuk-tuk's are quite a bit different from Phuket tuk-tuk's and Tim's eyes went wide as we began moving.  These are three-wheeled, motorcycle-based vehicles which belch copious amounts of smoke and are extremely noisy.  They also can weave in-and-out of traffic with almost the same dexterity as a motorbike (and usually try to fit in the same impossibly tiny spaces between busses and cars as do their two-wheeled bretheren).  The first time our tuk-tuk zipped three lanes of traffic between vehicles that I wouldn't even attempt to walk between, Tim grabbed my hand and said, "I fear."  I had great fun watching her reaction as we travelled the short distance back to Baiyoke (and, for once, I wasn't overcharged as we only paid 60 baht for the journey).  As we drove up the soi directly in front of the hotel, we were both amazed to see that the rain had flooded the street to a level of around three or four inches.  I had heard about how easily Bangkok streets flood during storms but this was the first time I actually saw it first-hand (most streets in the city used to be canals and have only been filled-in within the past 50 years or so).

We retired to our room for the night (except for another brief journey down to the pool to enjoy the sunset), having our picnic on the floor and watching some television ("Shrek 2" and "Blade Trinity" on HBO, "Less Than Perfect" and "Cops" on StarWorld) before falling asleep fairly early.

Today (Sunday), I'm letting Tim sleep in (it's almost 10:00) and we'll probably do a bit of shopping later today.  She's worn out from walking so much yesterday (she REALLY isn't used to the walking or the huge crowds of people and traffic) so we probably won't do anything too strenuous.  We'll save going to the riverfront for another day...