Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thailand -- first thoughts

I've been here for just a few days and have had a good introduction to the people and customs of Thailand. I don't know how I'd have fared if not for my long time Homer friends who have comparatively vast experience in this interesting country and who have been more than willing to share their knowledge with me. Albert's been coming here for more than 15 years and DC for slightly less. They know how to buy things, how things work and where to go for the best meals and entertainment. The key to much of what's good about this as a destination is that the American dollar buys a whole lot here: a great Thai meal will set you back about $1.50, a fine hotel room is about $10/night. The $70 taxi ride I had in Paris would likely cost only $15 here. I suppose you could say it is an ideal country for a retired person on a fixed income.

Not everyone would enjoy it, however. Thailand is a relatively poor country. The level of income is low and the standard of living for the average Thai is lower than ours. This means public utilities, streets and roads, transportation, houses, are typically shabby and in need of repair. There is trash in the rivers and potholes in the roads. But the Thai people go about their business in spite of it. Congestion is another major problem as is the almost total disregard for traffic controls. Motos are everywhere--cutting in and out, driving the wrong way even on divided highways, making illegal turns. It will take some time to get used to driving in these conditions. You need eyes in the back of your head. I almost dumped my bike yesterday when a Thai guy came out of nowhere from behind and clipped my foot peg in traffic. I almost fell but as luck would have it, I was able to recover. I was moving slow but it would have been an ugly scene if I'd fallen.

The other day DC and I took a little ride out in the countryside near Udon to get a feel for what it might be like to do a road trip together. I have these two shots of us taken when we stopped for lunch. The Honda Phantom is a single-cylinder 200 cc bike - it's the biggest bike you can rent in this town but it's still a bit small for a man my size. I sure have been enjoying the riding though. It's been, let's see, over 30 years since my Honda 750 was ripped off in Boston. I've never wanted to own a bike in Homer because of the short 3-month season.

The other shot shows DC at our lunch table - another sumptuous meal on the cheap.

It's Sunday and I'm up early packing for an extended motorcycle trip. I'm going with three other guys who really know their way around so we'll hit some beautiful riding. OMG the food here is so FANTASTIC - I'm loving it. Last night we went to a place called Chicken Smoke Corner and pigged out on some of the tastiest charbroiled chicken, fish, ribs, platefuls of fresh som tum (green papaya salad, which is fast becoming a regular part of my diet), sticky rice, and these fantastic dipping sauces. The bill for 5 people came to like $7 including a few beers. Unbelievable!

Okay - our meet up time is 8:30 and it's getting on towards 8 in the morning. I had decided not to take my computer but over dinner last night the guys talked me into bringing it along. There will be Internet in all the cities we'll hit - Loei, Nan, Chiang Mai, Pai, and a few others. We plan to ride about 6 hours a day with frequent stops. The boys tell me that few Europeans will be found where we're going -- much of it is well off the beaten path.