Bangkok, 4-3-73
Dear all,

As you can see from the stamp and the indecipherable script on the front, I have finally invaded Thailand. At present I am holed up in the Prem Pree hotel (somewhere in Bangkok) which seems like miles from wherever I want to go. It is costing me Baht 15/night. One baht = approx. 5 cents U.S. (Thailand devalued with U.S. I believe.) However the hotel is a story on its own, which I'll recount later.

I slept for 2 nights free of charge in Alor Star with my Japanese friend and his Chinese flat-mate. The odd thing is that they communicate with each other in broken English! The old mother tongue seems to be the most commonly used lingua franca everywhere, even in former colonies of "foreigners". Alor Star is not a very interesting place, though I was taken for a ride in a Land Rover to inspect the irrigation channels etc. and Misono lent me his motor bike to visit the Sultan's Gardens while he was at work. The state of Kedah is staunchly Muslim - Thursday and Friday are holidays and Saturday and Sunday are ordinary working days.

I decided to book a train straight through to Bangkok (they say it's not so easy to hitch on that track) and the decision cost me a smidgin under $M30, which seems quite good value for a trip that looks to be about 800 miles. Second class sleeper would have cost an extra $7.10 and, as it turned out, would have been a sound investment. However, I am travelling on a shoestring budget. I took stock of my financial situation the other day and discovered I've been spending about $US7/day. At that rate I can last till about the end of June. They say living is very cheap in Afghanistan!

The express train Alor Star-Bangkok took a mere 22 hours, during which time I spent perhaps two hours asleep. Most of my food I bought through the window from the hawkers on the stations (e.g. kao pat: fried rice and chopped meat etc. with soy sauce, wrapped up in a banana leaf - Baht 2; bunch of little bananas - Baht 1). Not being a keen (enough) numismatist, I spend all my cash at the borders - and what better to spend money on than satisfying the inner man? Must preserve the bod.

I also spent time trying to learn some Thai, but their wretched script is a killer. In Malaysia there was always someone with a smattering of English and anyway my bit of Indonesian stood me in good stead. Here it looks as though it may be necessary to resort to more sign language, though I have learnt the numbers (essential in countries where bargaining is a way of life), and a few essential phrases. It is also necessary to know "How much is it?", "no" (perhaps "yes"), "thank you" (possibly "please"), "good" (maybe "bad"), and a friendly greeting! Also the name of a dish you know you can eat! The Thais use spoon and fork, considering chopsticks rather barbaric - a pity, as I was becoming attached to the latter! Whoever gave chillies their name must have been trying to play a huge practical joke on humanity. In this country, you begin to understand that it is the most glaring misappellation in the English language.

First impressions of Thailand (in train) were: lots of bamboo; odd outcrops of rock, reminiscent of the Warrumbungles, with temples on top; lots of Buddhist monks in their saffron robes; beautiful old steam engines (as in Indonesia, using wood fuel); vast amounts of water - again like Indonesia, but here used extensively for transport; the filth of Bangkok after Singapore and Malaysia.

I was wandering around outside the Bangkok railway station with my distinctive kangaroo-emblazoned pack when Jakob, the Swiss fellow I last saw in Jakarta, tapped me on the shoulder. He had picked up a French travelling companion and together we walked to this hotel, where the three of us sleep on two single beds pushed together! Seems a bit like the millennium!

After speaking French for most of the last two days and struggling with Thai in between times, it's quite a relief to lapse into ye olde vernacular. We have walked miles upon miles visiting wats (temples): all very ornate, like everything Thai. Even some of their trucks look like temples. Today we dressed up in our best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes to visit the Royal Palace (even dug out a necktie someone gave me in Penang) but to no avail. Whilst it is "free on Sunday", it is also not open. We visited the colourful "weekend market" (like Paddy's on a grand scale) and the National Museum.

The sooner they do away with those horrid, noisy, smoke-belching motorised "samlors" (little taxis) the better for all.

Tomorrow we plan a trip on a "klong" (canal) and I'll visit the Aust embassy to pick up the mountain of mail I am sure is awaiting my arrival. Also Thai International to book my flight out on Tuesday week. Have to start very early tomorrow to see the best of the klong market activity. It's too bad when the old body refuses to obey the summons to get up and keep at it.