Both flights with Malaysia Airlines were quite good, specially the second one, Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok (the first one being Amsterdam - Kuala Lumpur). Time flew (tududum pash) and before I knew it, I was in Thailand. The first impression was great - the train from the airport to the city is excellent: modern, fast and clean. But then the good impression started to fade as the scenario started to remind me more and more of São Paulo. A big city with an endless skyline, it shows lots of grey, and the green you can see is filled with rubbish. Maybe it is true that all big cities are alike. Of course, the temples are impressive, but they are, nevertheless, temples, and I cannot help but dislike the grandeur and luxury of faith being shown right next to the misery of common men.
Mixed feelings dominated my first days in the Kingdom of the Thailand: on one hand, I felt it is too similar to Brasil. People are lazy, streets are dirty, buildings are not taken care of (unless they are a temple, of course), stray dogs roam the streets during the day while cockroaches and rats are often seen during the night. The amounf of people sleeping in the streets is appalling - I saw hundreds of people lying everywhere, sleeping and eating on the sidewalks. On the other hand, the atmosphere is peaceful, people are gentle and generous, and that aggression that overflows in Brasil is nowhere to be found in this clearly buddhist land. The food is tasty though not very varied, and the prices are quite good for foreigners.
Going out during the day means facing the scorching sun and the pollution of the heavy traffic, which is 'inverted', like in the UK. Going out during the night means facing the hordes of tourists, the impressive quantity of prostitutes (both girls and boys dressed as girls) and the risk of stepping on unseen animals due to poor lighting.
I went out one morning and was stopped by an extra-friendly man who was opening his restaurant. He told me I should go see this and that, and wrote down a few Buddha statues I should check out. He also told me I was lucky to be wearing yellow that day, because that was the colour of their monarchy, and that today was some holy day for them. A day in which the government offers Tuk Tuk rides for free. That was, of course, the beginning of the most well known scam in Bangkok. I was oblivious to any such thing, and knowing how lucky I am, I thought "Hey! Got lucky again! Let's ride that Tuk Tuk for free!". Their idea of a scam is - the Tuk Tuk driver takes you around to see main touristic points for free, and stops at certain shops, which pretend to have great deals and offers, so you spend lots of money in them. The shops give the drivers some money for helping with the tourist trap. So there I went, riding the Tuk Tuk, visiting many temples and quite some shops. I saw the giant Buddha, the standing Buddha, the lucky Buddha, the bored Buddha, the black Buddha, the harlem shake Buddha, you name it. In between, the Tuk Tuk driver made me go into shops so he could get his bonuses for taking the idiot tourist around. It was their loss; the jewelry shopkeepers who claim to have rare stones and gems (which are fake, I've later been told) at low prices, which you can buy cheaply in Thailand and sell back in the country where you live for higher prices, were disappointed to know they were dealing with a nomad who has no intention of buying shiny things for far away women. The travel agencies that want to sell overpriced packages to naive tourists were disappointed to know that I was thoroughly going through all of them with a notebook with the sole intention of writing down prices and looking at pictures. And finally, the tailor who took my measures to produce a beautiful silken shirt did not expect me to have so much Arab blood in me; I bargained until the price was excellent. In the end, they fell for my scam.
After a few days in Bangkok, I was quite ready to leave, as many people I met were. Tourists said they wanted to get away from it as soon as possible, and migrants were of the same idea. I spoke to several people, but I'll mention two that said the exact same thing. A prostitute from Laos and a bellboy from Burma. They both have about another month in their visa, and they both said they had enough, that their homeland is a corrupt and dirty place, but still their lives were better there than in Bangkok, and that they were looking forward to going back. It reminded me of some Africans I talked to in Italy - they wanted to experience that 'western' something, and realized it just sucks, and they're better off in their own land. I am of the opinion that the tourists ruin the few things that the Thai manage to do right.
The next evening I took the night bus to Suratthani, 700 km away, so the next morning I could take the ferry to Koh Samui, the biggest island in Thailand. After all that research with the travel agencies, I found a nice bungalow 10 steps away from a quiet, peaceful beach. That is where I spent the rest of my week, lying in the hammock, watching the sunrise, the sunset and the beautiful, clear sea. Now, that was much better than Bangkok. Most tourists go on elephant rides, safaris, marine parks, scuba diving, etc. I saw them going out each day early in the morning and coming back exhausted at the end of the day. I stayed around, with the locals, thinking about the meaning of life, eating good food, listening to the wind and taking these pictures whenever I was not napping. Now I will leave Thailand, before this good impression also fades. I know 12 days are not enough to be considered an expert in any subject, and I probably went around in touristic areas, but I have been to the capital and to the main island, and I guess I had a good sample of what Thailand probably is.
Next stop: Vietnam.
PS- Dear Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of the Thai,
Have you ever taken a stroll around your Kingdom? Have you noticed half of it smells of urine? Have you noticed that your subjects are sleeping in the streets? Have you ever used a 'public' toilet in your own kingdom? I'm not talking about the free ones, I'm talking about the ones you have to pay to use. Have you noticed that most of them don't have a flushing system, and that you have to fill a dirty bucket with water to get rid of your own waste? And have you noticed that many places still don't have a waste treatment system? Also, have you noticed that the Wikipedia entry for your name has been blocked by the Ministry of Information here in your own Kingdom?