This colourful, ancient land was once upon a time called ‘Siam.’ The place where, according to some reports, my favourite cats, the Siamese, originated.
Do we remember Yul Brynner dancing his way around the world, as the king in “The King and I,” until he could no longer dance and that dreaded disease, cancer, stopped him in his tracks?
And who does not remember “The Bridge on the River Kwai”?
We walked over this famous bridge, whistling as we went.
We were reminded of Franz Lehar’s romantic operetta “Das Land des Laechelns” – the land of smiles. We remembered the wonderful music of our youth. Now we would visit and experience this land of which we had heard so many things.
We flew from Singapore into Bangkok. The railroad station was close to the airport. After buying our train tickets, we waited patiently for the train to arrive to take us into the city. To our astonishment, when the train chugged into sight, there were people clinging to the roofs and sides of the cars. The inside of each car proved to be packed with people. We knew we could not possibly join this chaotic frenzy as people left and others took their place.
Spotting a group of young backpackers, we made our way to them. They too would not join the fray but asked us if we would like to share a cab with them. We readily agreed because we also traveled on the proverbial “shoestring.”
Sharing a cab was quite the experience as we stuffed eight passengers plus backpacks into a midsize car. I sat on my husband’s lap for approximately 20 km. Some of these young people spoke English and a few of them German. They knew where to send the cabbie, telling us about the very inexpensive but clean places to stay.
We arrived in one piece with our eyes wide open in wonder at the huge crowds milling about wherever we looked. Bangkok is a city of more than eight million people.
We found a place with a clean bed and then proceeded to tour this immense city at the back of a Tuk Tuk. My white cotton hat served as a filter in front of my nose, making it possible for me to breathe this pollutant laden air.
We were within walking distance of the Grand Palace. What a sight! The wonders of this exotic place met us wherever we looked.
The following day we walked down to the bank of the Chao Phraya River. There was a wooden platform built over the water. We walked to the edge and to our great surprise, a long tail boat with approximately 20 people on board, came, so we climbed on board. No one spoke English but one of the crew members wrote a number on a piece of paper for us. We understood that it was the number of baht we needed to pay for this cruise. It was the equivalent of about 50 cents each. We were delighted and decided we would go the whole distance the boat would take us.
The sights that met us along the riverbank varied from mansions with magnificent gardens to poor little huts built on stilts into the river. We feasted our eyes on our exotic surroundings.
There was much debris floating wherever we looked. Plastic bags were everywhere. Several places we saw thousands of plastic bottles obscuring the water. At the edges of these bottle-polluted areas swam naked children, frolicking and splashing each other with this filthy mess. They looked like normal, happy children but we wondered how they stayed alive while surrounded with this filth.
We decided to stay on the boat until it went as far as it would go and even after it turned around, going as far as it would in the opposite direction.
Every once in a while it would dock and passengers would get off while others boarded.
Tourists were everywhere but we did not hear any English being spoken.
After sailing several times up and down the river, we realized that we had not stopped at the place where we boarded the boat. Now you have to remember we are in a city of more than eight million people and the boat went far into rural areas on either side of the city.
The sun was almost sinking when we knew we were totally lost. At times we tried communicating with the ship’s crew but our lack of the Thai language made it impossible to tell them our problem.
The lights of the city came on, causing more confusion in our minds as to where we were.
We do not panic easily, but this was an untenable situation and we could not fathom coming to a satisfactory conclusion of this otherwise wonderful day.
We tried again and again to tell the crew we were lost, but to no avail. We thought of getting off at one of the places the boat docked, but knew we would have no way of finding our way back to our guest house.
It was now after 9 p.m. and we were hungry and getting very tired, when two men, one Thai and the other Caucasian, boarded and to my great delight, I heard a few German words being spoken.
Without asking my husband, I dashed towards them and addressed them in German, telling them of our dilemma.
The Thai man spoke passable German and asked us if we knew the name of the street where we had our guesthouse. I didn’t, but knew we were within walking distance of the Grand Palace.
That was enough information for him to tell the captain of the boat where to dock and let us off.
He then informed us the boat only stopped at places where people stood, looking as if they wanted to come on board, or if they were told where to stop.
Imagine our relief, when at last we came to the familiar wooden dock and within minutes found our guesthouse and a restaurant where we bought our evening meal.
The following day we continued our exploration of this exotic land.
(Christa Stegemann is a Saltair resident and a frequent traveller/adventurer).