Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shanghai to Bangkok: Day 8

Jenny, Anne, and Andy - departing Shanghai
Tuesday was mostly focused around travels. We met up with Anne, our liaison with the company that helped arrange our flights and some of the transfers. She was kind enough to drive us to the maglev station, which we added to our itinerary at the last minute. Well actually we'd heard that the train from Shanghai to Hangzhou had been updated as one of those cool levitating versions, only to find before our trip began that we were stuck with a relatively pokey bullet train. Turns out that plans to update that route are stuck in what Hollywood types recognize as "development hell."

Instead we settled for a brief jolt on the demonstration line connecting Longyang Road to the Pudong airport. The 30 kilometer (18 mile) trip lasts only about seven minutes, with speeds topping out at 427 kph (265 mph). The speed, registering on a digital readout, hardly seems real until you watch the cars on the parallel highway racing into the distance. Even then, the velocity is almost abstract. Only when the train rolls sharply to make a turn, a gut-curdling maneuver for the unprepared, can you sense just how fast you're going.

Heading for Thailand
Departing the maglev we boarded a plane heading for Bangkok. We were excited for this transition, but also tired for the week's exertions. Our flight was perfunctory (sometimes the best quality one can expect from modern air travel). Upon arrival we had few ambitions. Mainly we just wanted to get situated and start our travels the following morning. That process nonetheless required some patience as we waited for our in-country liaison to pick us up and then poured into a jagged traffic jam leading downtown.

Welcome to Bangkok!
Of Bangkok, one's first words can never suffice. The town reminded us of some of the funkier environs of Shanghai: buildings that looked bombed out, the air choked with exhaust and drizzle, the streets filled with color and sound. Buses chugged along, intercut by zippy cars and three wheeled tuk-tuk taxies. Drivers would cut across lanes with no-look "I dare you" merges, but somehow the dance proceeded without violence; no one seemed stressed about the rules. And everywhere, we saw paintings of the king and queen. We remembered the many, many times we'd read about Thailand's reverence for its royals.

Wat Arun - view from our room
At last we were dropped off at our lodging for the next couple days, Arun Residence. Our room commanded an awesome view of Wat Arun ("wat" meaning temple), with its sharply pitched central prang that reminded me of a dribbled sand castle. The room boasted two levels, with a bed on the upstairs loft. It was clean, quiet, perfect. In evening we took a brief walk around Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha, and ignored would-be tour guides who accosted us with a litany of questions designed to grab our attention ("Where you going?" "Where you from?" "Where's your hotel?").

Too tired for adventure, we grabbed dinner at Arun Residence and called it an early night.

Day 7 | Day 9

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