Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thailand trip, part 1

Upon the invitation of Dr. Samran Sombatpanit, Immediate past president of the World Association for Soil and Water Conservation (WASWC), I went to Thailand last June 1. My wife Ella and daughter Elle Marie came with me. Samran reserved us at Maruay Garden Hotel, a bit on the outskirts of central Bangkok, and just a few kilometers from his house.

We took the late night flight from Manila on May 31, and arrived at Thailand or Bangkok International Airport around 1am of June 1. The airport is so big and beautiful, both from a distance and inside it. The blue neon lights mix up well with the rest of the lights in the tent-type roofing of the terminal.

I have been to Thailand twice, the first in 2001 I think, when I joined a study tour of the PDE from the University of the Philippines, School of Economics (UPSE). The second in 2005 when I went to Phuket to attend a conference, although here, I did not go to the city. From Manila, I only changed plane from the Bkk airport to Phuket. The current airport was opened only 2 years ago, and it really looks grand. Although I have read in the past that when they first opened it, there were a number of technical glitches. Then there was some corruption issue in the construction of the new airport.

Anyway, the immigration section was neat and the queue was very short. The baggage claim area was big but orderly. After we got out baggages, Ella's 2 Filipina friends, Kareff and Kissy, both working at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), have been waiting for us at the exit area of the airport. It was very kind for these 2 ladies to stay late and waited for us even though it was past 1am when we got out of the airport. They arranged for a taxi and came along with us to our hotel.

The road infrastructure from the airport to Bangkok city was impressive. We passed by 2 tollgates, the roads were wide, smooth and well-lighted. A big portion of the road was elevated too.

In the morning, Kareff accompanied us again, and we took the MRT. The train system is more modern than the MRT/LRT in Manila. Bangkok's MRT coaches are wider, and the trains are longer, so there was no congestion inside the trains. But then it was a Sunday, so perhaps on weekdays, the trains are congested and packed with people.

We went to the National Stadium station, there's a big mall attached to it. I noticed there were many western tourists, buying different stuff. I'm no shopping or malling buff even in Manila, so I wouldn't know how cheaper or pricier the goods are compared to their counterparts in Manila's shops and malls, although my impression is that they are generally cheaper compared to those sold in Manila.

By late afternoon, our daughter was tired and sleepy, I have to go back to the hotel so she can sleep well, while Ella and Kareff resumed shopping. I saw a long line of traffic, mostly on the road from the outskirts to central Bangkok, even on a Sunday! So I would imagine the traffic congestion during regular days should be a lot worse.

Many buses in Bkk are government-owned; there are a few private buses but they need to get their business permit or franchise from the government. In a set-up where the government is a regulator and competitor at the same time, one cannot expect that the private buses will be able to compete well. Hence, the public bus system is a bit inefficient, so people have to rely on the MRT, taxi and their private cars. The taxis are all privately-operated and owned, and the service is generally good. Flag down was Baht 35, then Baht 2 for every succeeding few hundred meters.

In the evening, I was visited by my Thai friend, my batchmate during the "Sustainable Agriculture" seminar for 7 weeks in Sweden in late 2003, then in the "follow-up sustainable agriculture" seminar for a week in Hanoi, Vietnam in December 2006. Orasa brought her 18-year old daughter, who speaks good English as she has studied for 1 year in UK as sort of an exchange student.

Orasa treated me and my daughter to a buffet dinner at the hotel, with an entertainment by a local band that sang 70s and 80s era, western popular songs and ballad. It was a good dinner-entertainment at the hotel, I profusely thanked Orasa for the hospitality.