07 August 2006

Bangkok - 1st Training Day

After waking up around 1:30 and then every 45 minutes or so after that until around 5 when I never went back to sleep, I finally just got up at 6. Good thing. I’d set both my travel alarm and the room alarm for 6:30 but had forgotten to actually turn either of them on.

Speaking of which, the alarm in the room is part of a “master panel” on the nightstand. All the lights in the room are controlled by this panel which also contains a clock. The clock is set from some master timer somewhere and you can’t change it. You can set the alarm time, though. It also controls the AC level (high, medium or low) but you set the actual temperature with the thermostat on the wall.

The room lights were a bit of a puzzle to figure out when I first got the room. I walked in and hit light switches but nothing came on…the room stayed completely dark. I’d been in a hotel in France once where they had to do something in the office to enable the lights in the room…probably to keep you from checking out and leaving all the lights on or something. I started to head for the front desk (since, in the dark, I couldn’t even find the phone) but remembered that someone would be bringing my bag up soon and figured I’d just wait for that.

Meanwhile, I happened to notice a small box on the wall just inside the door that looked like a key card holder so I stuck my room card in the slot and Voila! The lights came on, along with the AC. And they stay on as long as the card is in the slot.

I had breakfast in the “coffee shop” again (free, with the room) and on the way out met Rulik, Tom and Rachel coming in to eat with Philip.

The whole gang met in the lobby at 8:30 with Pong and Prasert to shepherd us through the subway to the office, since none of us had ever been there before.

Dave and I had bought subway passes the day before so we waited off to the side while the rest of the people bought cards. You pay a 50 Baht deposit and then add however much money you want. It works kind of like a phone card…you can add more money to it whenever you need to and whenever you use it, the amount gets debited from whatever your balance is. When you’re done with the card, you turn it back in and get whatever money you have left on it plus your deposit back.

It’s very convenient. Whenever you use the subway, you just swipe the card instead of buying tokens. And you pay less (about 10%) for what you use. For example, if you buy a token to get to the office from the hotel, it’s 18 Baht. If you use the card, it’s 16. Whenever you swipe your card at the turnstile, the display tells you how much that trip was and how much you have left. It’s definitely easier than tokens. You don’t have to wait in line to buy a token or have the right change.

At the office, Philip set up for the agronomy meeting while Dave and I set up in a couple of offices. We caught up on mail and made copies of handouts. We had just finished the copies about the time lunch arrived…pizza, garlic bread, chicken wings and bacon twists. There was seafood pizza and veggie for the Indians and Pakistanis.

When the meeting started again, Dave and I left to head for the river. Jeab said the best way to get there was take the subway to sky train station then the sky train all the way to the end then get a river taxi to go upriver to the Grand Palace. She said a taxi would take an hour and a half (because of traffic) but it would be 20 minutes the other way.

We stopped by the hotel to drop off stuff then back to the subway. It was pretty easy to find our way to the stations and make the connections. At the end of the line, we got off and headed to the river…mostly, right below the station.

We found a boat headed toward the palace. It turned out to be a tourist boat as opposed to a regular taxi. The difference being there was a ‘guide’ pointing out landmarks along the way and it cost more. The tourist boat up the river cost 18 Baht…coming back on a regular boat costs 13.
By the time we got to the palace, it was too close to closing time so we didn’t go in but we did check out Wat Pho while we were in the area. The wat closes at 6 but they started closing the buildings around 4. We could continue to wander the grounds until 6, just not enter the temples where the Buddhas were.

We left Wat Pho and took a ferry across the river (3 Baht…about 7 cents) to Wat Arun (temple of the dawn). There are no buildings to go inside but the chedis (pagodas) were all covered in colorful tile pieces. Not exactly like a mosaic…the pieces were shaped and very 3-D.
We ferried back across the river and caught a boat back to the sky train pier. By then, it must have been quitting time as all the boats were packed with people. The sky train too. Sometimes there were too many people for the train and some had to wait for the next one.

We got on a sky train and, as the door was closing, realized we were heading the wrong way. So we got out at the next stop and went down to the other tracks to go the right way.

We got back to the hotel around 7:15 to find notes under our room doors saying the gang was meeting at 6:30 to go to a nearby seafood restaurant. Oops! We ended up eating at the hotel “coffee shop” again. I had the pad thai in an egg-pillow that Philip had the night before. It looked good, and it was. Just a bit hotter than I really enjoy eating…even though I’d ordered it “mild.” I also had a custard/flan sort of thing for dessert. It was ok.After that, shower, review of the class material for the next day, then bed. I slept great until about 1am then it was the same ol’ wake every 45 minutes or so until I finally never went back to sleep and got up at 5.