Peace Corps
Thai 27
Kevin Delany recently visited Thailand (and Vietnam) after many years and sent some of us his reactions.

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I've returned from first trip to SE Asia/Thailand in some years and wanted to pass on a few observations. Thanks again for the useful pointers I received in advance. Many of you are regular travelers to Thailand so you may find what follows to be too mundane.

It was to me a wonderful trip involving 15 grads of various classes from my old college (Williams) and I went along as guest lecturer, hopefully purveying some useful background and insights. It was only 15 days and about half was in Vietnam so Thailand and Cambodia got short schrift. I mighted have planned it a bit differently but so be it.

We arrived in Bangkok after an 18-hour non-stop on Thai Air from JFK -- something I would not recommend if you have options. Made me kind of nostalgic for the prop plane flights of early years that at least touched down in Wake Island, Midway or Kwajalein. We arrived in late afternoon and by the time we got to the Montien Hotel, it was time for dinner and crashing. The Montien is certainly a golden oldie, but it has stood up well and has a welcoming atmosphere. The next day was a full one of Bangkok touring. I think it was the first time I ever played the tourist in Thailand. It felt strange but I still enjoyed the Grand Palace, Wat Po and other obligatory stops. The floating market, I must say, did turn me off with its hard sell tourism.

I noted a lot of additions to Bangkok's skyline and the congestion naturally continues to deepen in spite of the elevated expressways. Still it's an exciting, pulsating city, occasional struggle or not.

One unexpected attraction during our short stay was the uproar over PM Thaksin and his corruption charges. It was a dominant issue. Even our guide, Pibhop, bragged that he had been part of the anti-Thaksin demonstrations. The opposition continues to grow stronger but most local analysts doubted that Thaksin could be deposed with his strong rural support. I wouldn't be unhappy to see him go down, not just because of his greedy moves, but because of his heavy handed handling of the unrest in the Muslim changwats in the south. One political observer compared him to Putin in Russia and he may be a minor league version.

Our second day was taken up with a much enjoyed tour of Ayuthaya. Bang Pa-In was as delightful as ever and its beauty and serenity was much appreciated by all in our group. We also covered a slew of temples including a wild, crowded scene in the Chinese favorite, Wat Panangcheong, that stays in memory. Then came the usual boat ride on the Chao Phraya back to Bangkok that was pure delight to me.

We left for Hanoi early the next morning so I ran out of time in trying to track down the Peace Corps office. That was disappointing but late one evening I grabbed a cab to see my old house on Soi 7, Sukhumwit. After crawling through traffic forever, I got off at the head of Soi Jet and could not recognize it. What had been a rather sleepy lane with no commercialism in my memory was full of restaurants, hotels and shops. I walked the full length and in place of my little house and garden was a humongous apartment house. I know nothing remains the same but it was a jolt. Moving on.

I will say that Thailand remains far more advanced than the rest of Southeast Asia but Vietnam, with its loosened economic ties a la China is finally on the move now. Hanoi, the fomerly spartan lair of the enemy, has some very nice hotels as well as some very good, creative restaurants.

It was fascinating to travel down the coast to Hue, Danang and Hoi An, but for sentimental reasons Saigon was in my crosshairs It was my first visit since we left in a hurry nearly 36 years ago, the day before the city fell. It remains the noisy, confident core of the Vietnamese economy, but again much change. The Caravelle Hotel where we had our ABC News office has added 10 stories to its earlier ten and my old apartment on nearby Tu Do Street (now Freedom Street) has been replaced by a children's park.

We finished the tour with a few days in Phnom Penh and the always remarkable Angkor Wat. It was a lovely journey.

This has gone on too long, but thanks for listening.

All the best,