Part 1: The Raging Traveler Goes To Thailand: Or, How Southeast Asia Changed Everything


It started out as a vacation; we just needed to get away.  It turned into a life-changer.  Here’s what happened to me and Virginia for three and a half weeks in June.

All of my posts began as emails from Thailand to my incredibly talented and loving daughter, Layla (think I’m only saying that because I’m her father?  Check out her website then come back here and apologize).  She not only house-sat for us, but six days after we left had to deal the death of our 21 year old Persian cat, Luna, who took the opportunity to spare us from the ordeal.  I loved her dearly, but she was my wife Virginia’s animal soul-mate.

(Don’t forget to hold your cursor over the photos — most have a caption, except the slideshow.)

Luna hung around for several years longer than was required, using up a record-breaking number of cat lives (at least 14 by our count) to rally back from death in order to stay with V and give her the comfort she so came to depend on.  But when we left for Southeast Asia, she knew it was her best chance, and quickly made the transition while we were half way around the world.

She was one special creature.  I dedicate this journey to her, as her death made me look more closely at my own life.  Thank you, my dear Luna.  And, as always, I know you don’t care.  I’m doing it anyway.

June 2, 2011

Bangkok Has Us

Heeeey Sweetheart,

Writing down thoughts while we wait for Yah, our travel agent from Vieng Travel, to begin our day.

V’s checked bag never made it to Bangkok; it is still in Seattle, probably visiting Aisha (our granddaughter) there.  We reported it and they should be sending it soon, but luckily the driver who was to pick us up stayed the extra hour while she filled out paperwork.  It was sometime in the middle of the night after a 20+ hour flight when we stumbled into his van.

They drive on the opposite side of the roads here, and inside the cars, too, English style, so that needs getting used to.  But the highways are big, wide and in good repair — they have to be with something like 12 million people on them; that’s what Nin, our driver, dressed in a beige bellhop’s uniform we would soon see everywhere, said in very broken English.  Some of the worst traffic in the world attempts to drive these roads.

Nin got off the freeway and he pointed out places he and many other locals finished working on the movie ‘The Hangover 2.”  We drove down the same road with the open air market where they shot the chase scene where Ed Helms got hit in the face with the hanging pig.  Nin told us he helped out on the scene where the car went over the canal and landed back on the street.

Nin said a stunt man died during filming and many were injured, some during the monkey scenes — at least that’s what we think he said.  Nin’s English was only slightly better than my Thai (yes, we still know not a single word yet).  The movie poured a lot of money into this city, put a lot of people to work and I expect we will be talking to a lot of folks who were somehow touched by the production.

What a huge and sprawling city!  Like a L.A. or New York City, but with the Chao Praya River and it tributaries at every turn it is like a steaming jungle in the midst of a city, green with plant life in front of every storefront, house, and structure.

The elegant, almost fractal designs of the Grand Palace; the serene magnificence of Buddhist temples in golds and reds, and all of Bangkok overflowing with food vendors with entire kitchens arranged on a motorbike; abandoned concrete shells of buildings; alleyways filled with rotting garbage; canals with dead floating fish and the remains of ancient debris tossed from bridges by generations long dead.

Constantly shifting from grandeur to squalor on every block, sometimes several times on every block, we walked the city struggling, and failing, to take it all in.

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The humidity is stunning in its ferocity.  When I first stepped off the plane onto the tarmac — they had to bus us to the terminal — my glasses immediately fogged up and my pant legs burst into flames.  Or at least felt like it as the wet heat made my clothes wrap themselves around me — I was steamed like a dumpling.  This may take some getting used to.

The most striking features of Bangkok?  The ones most likely to slip through this vast metropolitan, cosmopolitan, primal, fetid, intoxicating and vexing city?  For one, the web of canals that weave through the city and contain lifestyles on the water that haven’t changed for centuries.

Same with the market places; the produce, the flowers, the spices, and the meats — from the ‘normal’ to Western eyes, to the unforgivably strange (I will spare you the sight of row upon row of pig faces, three deep, which was in one stall, the faces all with the same inexplicable expression, like they had met their end with a laugh.)  It was here where V and me were filled with a heady mix of being in the moment and existing in a timeless space.  All at the same time.  You figure it out while looking at the photos, I could not.

About ragingtraveler

Hello there! Welcome to this crazy little blog of mine. The title is a reference to the famous Dylan Thomas poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night" (but rage against the dying of the light, etc. -- I drank a shot of Jameson's whisky in his honor at the White Horse pub in New York City a while back, a place where it is said he drank 18 shots of Jameson and died that night at 39; but that's another story.) And as Thomas declares in the poem, and if you are anything like me, you will not give up. You will not fade away. You will not go gentle into that good night. You will rage against the dying of of the light. You want to explore everything this life has to offer before we are dragged off, kicking and screaming, to that next Great Adventure. So let's see what this adventure is all about, shall we? Hey, along with my wife Virginia and our faithful dog, Wyatt Earp Clark (don't ask; it is supposed to be 'ironic'), we just moved to Portugal! For a year. Call it a gap year for geezers; an experiment in grey; an are-you-crazy-or-what-senior-meltdown -- call it whatever you like, but this is our way of stepping out of our comfort zone, not settling in for life's last stand. Call it brave or foolish (or a little of both), we are committed to taking a peek around every corner we can. While we still can. Care to join us? Welcome aboard, matey! View all posts by ragingtraveler

2 responses to “Part 1: The Raging Traveler Goes To Thailand: Or, How Southeast Asia Changed Everything

  • Elizabeth Schuster (@lizknowsshoes)

    Great blog, Nelson. You and Virginia look really comfortable on your feet for what looked like a lot of walking on uneven terrain. Would you share what you used for footwear and how successful that was for you?


    • ragingtraveler

      Hi Elizabeth! Great question as there were so many different combinations of weather and terrain we faced every day. I really thought I would mostly wear sandals because of the heat. But it turned out that feet that have been covered for so long easily get sunburned in sandals! Even though V and me had sturdy walking/hiking leather sandals, sometimes they got slippery in the humidity. And they are not great for street walking. (I mean walking on the streets; any street walking I did there was purely for a little extra cash.)

      Plus, I wear sandals maybe once or twice a year so I kept having to get used to them every time I put them on. And at every temple and at a lot of places, you have to take your shoes off, which made for lots of extra time putting them back on and tying/buckling them up. So then it was either the walking type ‘tennis’ shoes or I even had a pair of leather slip-ons. I often found myself wishing for some shoes that easily ran the gamut — street and hiking ready, lightweight for weather, maybe a slip-on type and something that, when traveling, can go from casual but you could still walk into a nice restaurant and not feel like you just came in from the jungle. Hey, wait a minute. You and Eric do footwear. And you asked about shoes…You tricked me! But in a good way. Thanks for commenting, I miss you guys so much!


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