13. Bangkok The window in our room remained open all the time. It had no glass or screening, only shutters, and it was too warm to keep it shuttered. We lived in a room on the second floor of a house that sat right next to our neighbor’s house. Here lived our landlord, and we could’ve shaken his hand from our window had we wanted to. Privacy was somewhat of problem, as it was for us throughout Asia. We slept on boards rather than a mattress and under netting because of mosquitoes. A bigger problem, however, were mice (thankfully they weren’t rats), which ran across our faces more than once while we slept. It was frightening, so we invested in traps.
Summer vacation corresponded with our last day at Thammasat University, and the only thing we missed was the money we earned. But our experiences at the language institute (the American University Alumni Association Language Center) were a different story. We both enjoyed the three hours an evening we taught there. Peggy was considered one of their top teachers and they wanted me to teach a drama course; yet they were unwilling to help us with our immigration problems. Thammasat never considered us essential.
Now with our days free we caught up on letter writing and did a little sightseeing. We hadn’t seen much of Bangkok. We finally saw the Grand Palace and National Museum, the major temples and floating market, and watched the great kite fights during a kite festival in a park near the palace. We were impressed by the colors of the city (they were quite brilliant) and regretted that we didn’t have a camera. Bangkok was spectacular, when we forgot its ugliness. It was crowded, dirty, and ugly yet filled with beauty. And the people … well, they were certainly warm and helpful but I wouldn’t say we got to know them. And it wasn’t language that separated us, and it wasn’t because of our lack of trying. We made friends, but we weren’t what you’d call close. It wasn’t like the Philippines where we had close friends. An example would be our landlord, who we live next to and saw almost every day, yet he asked us the same questions the day we left that he asked the day we met him. And he was warm and helpful and spoke English as well as any Thai. Our closest Thai friends took us to Ayadthaya for a weekend, and we had a nice time and had the best Chinese meal we’ve ever eaten.
Chunee (our gibbon), meanwhile, was growing, and as he got bigger he became more adventurous and more independent. He also got into everything and was worse than a child because he could climb more places, but regardless of the trouble, and because he was affectionate, he filled an emotional need.
With trips to Laos and living in Thailand, we often thought and talked about the war. We also felt we needed to reassure our parents that we were safe. One of my best high school friends was then serving in Vietnam and I wrote him suggesting that he spend part of his R&R with us in Bangkok. Somehow I got his telephone number (in Vietnam), and we connected. He told me that he’d already taken his R&R and that he saved so much money in Hong Kong that he was broke. We agreed to try to meet in Udon Thani. It never happened. I asked him how he was doing, and he said he enjoy flying reconnaissance along the North Vietnam border. And he told me that he had air-conditioning, hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, a maid, and a telephone. It sounded pretty good to me, but I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. I was frankly amazed, but I wouldn’t have traded places with him. He said he missed his wife and that he only talked to her once a month … once a month while I dragged mine along with me.
Peggy didn’t want to move on. She enjoyed teaching too much, but with the problems we were having with immigration we felt that we didn’t have a choice. It wouldn’t have made much difference if we stayed a little longer except we knew we were facing the rainy season, which made traveling by bicycle less than ideal. Still we wanted to spend a month or so touring northern Thailand before heading south again. We continued to have Indonesia in mind and talked about going to Japan, where I had a friend. But we knew plans change. Still I wrote my parents that after the tropics we’d freeze in Japan.
14. Chieng Rai and Chieng Mai Before leaving Thailand, we toured the north. We visited the old capitals of Lop Buri and Sukhathai, the Phimai Ruins and Chieng Mai and Chieng Rai, and while we visited very old ruins in three ancient capitals we didn’t learn very much. We would’ve learned more had we a guidebook, and we didn’t find much written in English. The ruins and scenery kept us interested, but it wasn’t the historical sites or scenery that made the trip worth while. It was always the people we met.
Because of a deadline set by immigration, we traveled mostly by bus, putting our bicycles and luggage on top, which cost us a little in maintenance. We first headed to Laos again (immigration again). Thank goodness this was our last trip. We were able to get extensions and papers for Chunee, so it looked like we would get to keep him. Back in Thailand, we headed west across the north, crossing mountains and over roads you wouldn’t believe … bumpy, muddy, rutty, slippery, and narrow. It was quite an experience. This took us several days (at one point armed soldiers accompanied the bus); and at Sulhothai we headed north, as far north as one could go within the country to Chieng Rai. It was very cool in Chieng Rai. We had a very nice place to stay at a farm co-operative close to the border. The food was marvelous … Korean supposedly, but we didn’t know for sure. We were both well and happy. After Chieng Rai, we went to Chieng Mai and from there … back to Bangkok.
We spent three or four days in Chieng Mai, then Thailand’s second largest city and considered a mountain resort by many Thais There was really only one peak, and I spent a morning climbing it on my bicycle and was very proud when Peggy saw me finish at the top. She rode up on a mini-bus.
Peggy and Randy Ford