I had to get up at 3 am to meet my 6 am flight from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City, where I would transfer for the flight to Bangkok. I’ve been ill for over a week and couldn’t face the long train journey. I got no help from my Seattle-based travel agent, who has failed to grasp the International Date Line concept and sent an explanation after the fact about how the terrible snowy weather forced her to rush home early and she “almost had a car accident.” I made the arrangements myself at the hotel travel desk and saved $226. (The Seattle Times website showed bare and dry streets; still, I’m glad she’s OK).
I was able to watch the Gonzaga Bulldogs beat St. Mary’s in overtime on my laptop over the Green Field Hotel’s wi-fi system. No audio but I’m not complaining.
When I got to the lobby at 3:30 am the attendant was asleep on a wooden bench under a mosquito net. The trip to the Danang Airport was past the dozens of new resorts under construction in the area, one of the biggest ones under the name of an Australian golfer. The Airport is a throwback to the 1960s but made breakfast available to us business class travellers. Ho Chi Minh City, which everyone continues to call Saigon, has a modern airport and I had no problem making the Vietnam Airways flight to Bangkok.
Lots of people want to visit Bangkok, and the immigration queue at Suvarnabhumi Airport is long but simple once you get to the desk. Customs is even simpler. I rode the green Sukhumvit Line, part of Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain, most of the way into the Pratunam Market section of town, where my hotel is. It is called the Amari Watergate, but only because Patunam means “water gate.” I collapsed early and slept soundly for 12 hours. Being sick is getting old and making me into a crank. I’m going to rest up for a few days in Bangkok.
The weather here is bad, temperatures in the 90s and brutal humidity. Even on Sunday the roads are jammed. Pedestrian walkways tend to be narrow and are made narrower by the tiny specialized shops that crowd in on both sides. I went to a huge electronics market not far from the hotel and wandered for a bit – 8 stories of shopping, non-air conditioned. I think it is the Pantip Plaza – “The Computer City.” Outside over the entrance is a gigantic picture of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, although I question whether he would approve of the commerce that goes on under his benign visage.
I’ve had my eye out for pirated software and movies in China and Vietnam and have seen some but really nothing like the scale seen operating in the open at The Computer City in Bangkok. Here you browse the covers of recent movies on large rolodexes and point to what you want. I was offered True Grit, Black Swan and The King’s Speech for 80 baht each, or around $2.60 US. Additional discounts were available if I ordered in quantity. Had I bought one of the movies, they’d have burned it to DVD disc on the spot and handed it over. Touts work the aisles and let you know that porn is available too. Just next door were the pirated software shops. There you could order all of the Microsoft catalogue and just about anything else. The bootlegged Windows 7 comes with a crudely rendered picture of Bill Gates for some reason. Next to them are pirated PC games, and so on. Elsewhere in the sprawling market you can buy legitimate copies of software and DVD movies but at prices that would make it hard to resist the bootleggers downstairs. Notably, all the products on offer that I saw, movies, software, and games, were from the US.