We landed in Bangkok in the middle of the night. The airport is new - gorgeous, sleek, definitely more modern then the city it services - but I wouldn't discover that until the next day. In the meantime, I just wanted to find a hot shower and a bed....and both were waiting for us, somewhere......
The signage in the airport was a mixed bag - some signs were in multiple languages that included english, some with pictures to tell you what was going on, some in Thai - a beautiful and completely unintelliglble script for someone who cannot read the Thai language, never mind speak it. I had tried to cram in a few important phrases on the plane, but between the fatigue and the multiple food and beverage services, I hadn't really absorbed much - but what I HAD absorbed was that I certainly wasn't going to be reading any Thai literature any time soon. I had a few phonetic niceties like "please" and "thank you" and "how do you flush the toilet"...but other then that, I was screwed. And tired. And bewildered.
So we waited in a few lines we didn't need to wait in, and we found the limo desk to catch our ride into the city, and that is when we learned something very important.
Many (most?) Thai cannot read English, either. Or Thai, for that matter.
It became clear that the address of our apartment, which I had carefully printed out before we left, was of no use to me. They weren't able to read it. I read the address out loud, slowly. Once. Twice, Three times. The driver still seemed confused. He repeated it back to me just as slowly, as though, perhaps, I was a moron, or supposed to be in a different city. As though the road I was talking about did not exist, although I had been assured by friends and the Lonely Planet guidebook that it was, indeed, a major thoroughfare In Bangkok. Maybe I was pronouncing it wrong. Whatever the reason, we were not getting anywhere.
Oh dear. This was not going as I had planned.
Eventually the driver seemed to satisfy his need to hear me slaughter the Thai language, and he settled into his seat and pointed the car away from the airport, into the cool night air. My hero.
We flew along a desolate highway, with just a random truck or taxi coming along every so often. We were traveling at a speed that seemed much faster then everyone else, but I was too tired to care. Good. Great. Whatever. Just get me where I need to go. Every so often, I would catch a glimpse out the window - usually when one of the kids shouted "Look at THAT!" It was the architecture, mostly, that roused their excitement. Out of nowhere, ornate buildings would pop up on the side of the highway, amid warehouses and exit ramps you would see spired, peaked rooftops, with curlique trims and gold leaf sparkling in the moonlight...temples perhaps, it was hard to know for sure. And on the other side of the highway, just on the other side of the chainlink, were tiny houses pressed together, next to shanties and lean-tos that also seemed to be homes, and these were scattered between warehouses in a most unpredictable way. Then we came to a tollboth, and in the glare of the flickering flourescent lights, I saw a building - perhaps the toll office or a highway mantenance facility. It was a square, squat, nondescript nothing of a building, except for this amazing garden blooming all around it, surrounded as it was by concrete and dirt and grime and traffic and trucks belching clouds of smoke into the murky sky. There were thick green vines climbing up to the roof, brilliant purple orchids gleaming and white flowers (night jasmine?) perfuming the air. It was wild and unruly, climbing and spreading and completely disregarding the inhospitable environment. As we paid the toll and roared off, I had a feeling that this trip, and in fact Thailand in general, was going to be unpredictable and full of surprises.
Eventually, miraculously, we found ourselves on the right road, and started looking for addresses and signs. The driver blew right by the apartment building at his usual breakneck pace - thank god we were both looking out the windows and saw the name of the complex on the wall, that was, blessedly, written in English. He screeched to a halt in the middle of a 3 or 4 lane road, did a 3 point turn and drove back - driving against some very irate traffic - and pulled into the foyer. We climbed out, grabbed our bags, said a quick prayer of thanks for surviving the trip, and went to the front desk where a key was waiting. Boarding the mirrored elevator that showed a pretty ragged bunch, we headed up, up, up......to the 29th floor. Hello vertigo, my old friend.
Hot showers, 2 loads of laundry and a stiff drink later we fell into the deep, dreamless sleep that only comes after 24 hours of solid travel. All curled up in one big bedroom, with the city lights glowing outside and the washing machine whirring in the kitchen, we slept and we slept and we slept some more.
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