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    By: Jack Ellis

    To date, I have traveled to Thailand five times. The fascinating and exciting culture of Thailand is what keeps me making that 18-hour flight across the Pacific - from Washington D.C. - to Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok. As soon as I return home, I begin planning my next trip to the "Land of Smiles." My first Thailand trip was in April 1998, and what follows is a brief description of that experience.

    When the plane landed at Don Muang at midnight. I was one of the first people off the plane. I found myself in the lead of the large group of passengers scurrying through the airport in search of Immigration. I immediately began to worry that perhaps I would lead the group in the wrong direction. It seemed that almost everyone following me was a tourist like myself - and as equally clueless. My worries were unfounded as all the signs were written in Thai and in English - I got us all safely to the Immigration desk.

    Getting out of the airport went smoothly and as planned. My Thai friend, Oh, was there waiting for me. What I wasn't prepared for was what you are hit with as soon as the doors open and you step out onto the sidewalk. I first noticed the smell of pollution and then I felt a tremendous wave of heat. Despite being nearly 1 a.m., it was still so very hot and humid. Oh led me to her car and I was soon sitting in a nicely air-conditioned Mercedes and was being whisked away to my hotel in Bangkok. As we rode into Bangkok, I was surprised to see so many 7-Elevens they are practically on every street corner, but unlike in the U.S., you won't find any Big Bites or day-old pizza places to eat at.

    Because Oh had a full time job with the Ministry of Finance, she couldn't take off everyday. I was mostly by myself on those days. I'd walk to Ma Boon Krong (MBK) which is a large shopping mall where both tourists and locals go. Whatever you could possibly want, you will find at MBK. I also learned to take a taxi in Bangkok. Oh would write down a location for me in Thai and then I'd hand it to the driver. This system worked well - but when I didn't have a note scribbled in Thai, I'd rely on my own limited knowledge of the Thai language. While you'll find many taxi drivers with at least a rudimentary knowledge of English, sometimes knowing a few basic Thai phrases can help you from driving around and a around in circles. On one occasion however, my Thai wasn't helping, so I had the driver pull over to the curb and I asked the first local I could find who spoke some English to please help us find our way.

    Because this was my first time in Bangkok, I went to all the major temples like, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po, and Wat Arun, which are all a must see. I did manage to get out of Bangkok for a two-day trip to Hua Hin as well. Hua Hin is the beach resort that the Royal Family frequents.

    Probably the most endearing part of Thailand I experienced on this trip was the Thai people themselves. They were friendly, polite, and always ready and willing to help. It is this quality that keeps me going back to Thailand, and enduring that 18 hour flight - and one that you will surely experience if you decide to take a trip there. Jack Ellis


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