Tuesday we are scheduled to take a bike trip through another part of town, but the trip doesn’t start until 1PM. Because of jet lag (or is it jet start?) we are out of bed at 5 AM, go for a swim and hit the streets. This trip begins miles from our hotel and we first cab to a central area where we will later be able to pick up the high speed commuter train suspended above the chaos of the city. Out of the cab, we must look gawkish standing on a busy corner and a well dressed man motions to us to follow him to cross the street through a maze of motor bikes and cabs. Once on the other side, he smiles, and introduces himself, saying he works at the nearby hospital. The designer clothes indicate he is not an orderly there. He asks us what we intend to see while in Bangkok, do we need directions. We say we are shopping for souvenirs for kids in the family and he tells us just where to go, “not this area,” he says, “too expensive.” He also asks if we want something for ourselves. Maybe. And he tells us where to go for that too. Then he hails a cab and puts us in it, negotiating with the driver for a fare that is a fraction of what we have been paying, which we thought was cheap to begin with. Whether he is a ringer for the place we later arrive at or whether he in fact worked at the local hospital doesn’t matter because we arrive at a lovely little back alley store where we do indeed score some precious silk, crocodile and cashmere for a fraction of what it would have cost in the other area and which we could never have afforded in the US. Michael has a jacket custom tailored, it is delivered 10 hours later to our hotel, it fits perfectly. I try on some silk slacks and don’t like the pleats. No problem, they will custom make and deliver to our hotel. And they do. Then we go to the mall – a six or seven story stack of shops carrying everything from Gucci to cheap knockoffs and score some T shirts and Hello Kitty gear for the kids back home.
The afternoon bike ride is awful. Truly dreadful. The guide is very disrespectful of the Thai people and their culture, calling one temple the “disco” temple because of its mirror mosaics. We bike through a mostly muslim neighborhood where I feel very self conscious about my bare legs and the people are still friendly, but there is an obvious difference in their attitudes which we attribute more to him than to the folks we are driving past. Most of the trip is on sidewalks suspended 6 feet above water, which does a nerve wracking mental trip on us both, but me in particular since my fall the day before. To fall off of one of these walkways would be to break something. The bikes are not well maintained, I only have brakes on one side and we must repeatedly portage over steep stairs and busy highways. It was an endurance nightmare made bearable by our tourguide’s Thai assistant, George, who is cheery and well informed. The tour director appears to know little about the area or landmarks. But, we made it through and at the end, after I have checked in the dangerous bike, wiping sweat from my face, I walk (or attempt to walk) through a doorway not made for Westerners and am flattened after striking my head into the stubborn concrete. Head wounds being what they are, it bleeds worse than it is. George leads us immediately down the block to a small walk in clinic where I am stitched up while Michael lets me squeeze the life out of his hands and George massages my legs. By the way, cost for stitches, antibiotics, pain killers and an anti-inflamatory – $18US. Since they actually sewed a cotton wad onto the top of my head and it has to stay there for 5-7 days, our next stop is for silk scarves to match several outfits because on Wednesday we are scheduled to leave for Vietnam and the teacher’s conference that is the real purpose of our trip.