The Christmases that Colin and I have spent on our own, we have tried to do something particular to the location where we live. For example, when we lived in L.A., we spent the day in Joshua Tree National Park hiking in the desert. In Canyon City, we went sledding at Star Ridge and had a fireside picnic lunch. This year, we did as the locals do, and...took a bus ride. Being that neither of us was really in a beach-y mood, we nixed the plan to spend the holiday in Sihanoukville and instead opted for the fourteen-hour bus trip to Bangkok from Phnom Penh. It started out as okay as an all-day bus ride can, in apparently the only two seats (they assign seats on the buses in Cambodia and get really grouchy when you try to switch) on board that didn't recline. Knowing it was going to be a long day, we had baguettes and fresh mandarins, Ipods, and reading material. It was actually an uneventful ride to the Cambodia/Thailand border and hop back into Thailand. Once all the passengers finished at immigrations and customs, the driver guided us to a "minibus" for the remainder of the journey. This turned out to be a 13-passenger van stuffed with 13 passengers, ALL of our luggage, and the driver for the last 3-4 hours. All was going reasonably well until we hit the outskirts of Bangkok, when traffic began to slow to a crawl. Our slow speed did allow me to mentally process the COW (really, the BOVINE version) trotting counter-race toward us along the jersey (and I always thought it was for New Jersey, not the cow variety) barrier on the superhighway into the city. While stopped for an hour and a half in city traffic, I heard the British guy in the last row of seats say, "I really could kill for a fag right now." Seeing as he was seated directly behind me, and not wanting to get between a desperate man and his nicotine habit, I opened the window and flung my seat forward so he could, literally, sit on the window ledge outside the van and smoke. The traffic finally did move, and we arrived in the Khao San Road district (the backpackers' ghetto) at about 9:00pm. Colin and I got to the guesthouse, dropped our packs, and ventured out to look for dinner. We found a middle-eastern restaurant and had chicken shwarma, falafel, and baba ganoush for Christmas dinner. It wasn't exactly traditional, but after a long, stressful day, it sure tasted GREAT. And, as a footnote, I realize that world peace ain't gonna happen in my lifetime, but I found a little glimmer of hope from the Israeli restaurant and the Lebanese restaurant coexisting harmoniously down a side alley in Bangkok!
Our plan for Bangkok was to spend a few of days seeing the sights and arranging our train travel (much more civilized than the bus!) to Malaysia. We did spend some time wandering through Chinatown (it smelled soooo good from all the spices!) and the market and did see several people cooking chestnuts in giant woks. ((And speaking of nuts, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WHY DID THAT GUY HAVE TO SEAR HIS DANGLY BITS IN THE NAME OF ALLAH IN HIS P.E.T. MANTIES ON THE AIRPLANE? DOESN'T HE KNOW THAT ALL HE'S GOING TO ACCOMPLISH IS TO GET UNIVERSAL FEEL-UPS FOR ALL AIRLINE PASSENGERS?!?!?! sorry, I digress, but it really doesn't make me want to hurry on home))
Unfortunately for us, everyone in Thailand is apparently trying to get elsewhere, and the southern trains are full. After spending a good chunk of two days at the train station, where the attendants seem to lack any curiosity about why the Thai Railway e-ticketing website shows sleeper berths available (but won't accept our credit cards online), yet they have none to sell us in person, we said, "screw it, let's get outta here," and took a bus to Kanchanaburi. We arrived here yesterday afternoon and found a lovely guesthouse right on the River Kwai to rest our heads. Today we went to the Death Railway Museum and the Cemetery where many of the Allied POWs are buried and to see the bridge itself. What a heartbreaking piece of history it all is. The museum does a really good job explaining the whos, hows, and whys of the period with a level of respect the people deserve.