After a final breakfast of my favorites, smoked salmon and papaya, we returned to our cabin and leaned over the balcony one last time. Below us trucks were gathered to bring all our luggage to points everywhere: to Bangkok hotels, on tours, to the airport, etc. Imagine trying to get the baggage of 2600 people to all their destinations - quite an organizational nightmare. We had received colored luggage tags and the trucks were color coded as well. I was thrilled to see that my suitcase that did not make it to Anchorage with me at the beginning of this trip was on the top of a luggage bin ready to be moved. I could watch it being loaded; this time that suitcase would make it with me for sure.
The ride from the port to downtown Bangkok took almost two hours. This area is famed for bad traffic. Because Thailand was a US ally during the Viet Nam war and allowed us to put bases all over the country, we built many roads and lots of transportation infrastructure. Since the Thai have never been a European colony or devastated by a massive war like their neighbors the Vietnamese, Burmese, or Cambodians, their economy has been humming along. Many Thai can afford cars; in some ways they would be better off being on motorcycles or bicycles rather than filling every inch of road with vehicles. Taxis
are also readily available and easy to find because they are brightly painted shocking orange, pink and red. Some folks get so tired of sitting in traffic they hire motorcycle owners wearing orange vests to take them through the stopped traffic. They dart between the cars and offer an exciting ride. Because Bangkok is only twelve feet above sea level, it does not have much track or metro underground. Recently, the Skytrain, a mass transit system that reminds us of the Chicago loop area, has been opened. It is popular and affordable, but the traffic jams continue unabated.
The Thai have had a royal family for many years; they are on King Rama IX
who is about to celebrate his 80th birthday and has been on the throne for sixty years. He is the only monarch ever to have been born on American soil. His father was studying at Harvard at the time. Rama has no more power than Queen Elizabeth has in Britain, but he has taken his job very seriously. The country has ricocheted from civilian to military governments over the years and he and his family have given the country a feeling of stability they might not have had otherwise.
We are staying at a pleasant hotel in a nondescript neighborhood. Every third building we walk past is a massage parlor. As we stroll by, the women inside leap up and try to lure us inside. We're not sure whether they are trying to give massages or have something much more personal in mind. It's a shock to have to deal with menus that have prices on them, but the prices are quite low. We had a great local meal and spent about $35 for the four of us.