We made it to Bangkok! It was a long 26 hours of travel – flying from Portland to Vancouver, Shanghai (where we experienced a delay), and finally landing in Bangkok.
Bangkok is one of those famous cities. You expect chaos, you expect people everywhere, you expect to be overwhelmed by the sights and especially the smells. You expect all of these things, but nothing can prepare you for the actual reality of it. It is chaotic, but if you stop and observe it long enough, you realize there is order to what appears to be madness.
We woke up the first morning prepared to have more of a low-key day to recover from the travel and set ourselves up well for the rest of that trip. In Bangkok, that means a trip to Khao San Road. I have been to Khao San Road before and stayed on it the last time I was here. It is the backpackers haven in the city. Apart from the locals working there, it is full of people from what seems to be anywhere but Thailand. Some would say it’s a nice place to ease yourself into Bangkok. It has it’s pros and cons, but it is still a must see for anyone coming to Bangkok. Also, every other storefront is a massage parlor, and we desperately needed our feet rubbed after all that travel. And when a half hour massage is only $4.25, it is easy to indulge in a few. Another large presence on Khao San Road is the market stalls, overflowing with Chang Beer tank tops, tie dyed dresses, bags, backbacks, and any sort of knockoff product you could possibly want. We needed to find some lightweight pants that were appropriate to wear to the temples, so we set off to wander the maze of stalls, bartering as we found something we liked.
It always is interesting to come back to a place you’ve been before but don’t visit frequently. The only other time I’ve been in Bangkok was almost two years ago. Being back on Khao San road was fascinating to see what was still there, exactly as I remembered it, and what had changed (surprisingly very little). One of those things that still remained was the smoothie cart I discovered the first time. I know, I know, it’s risky to drink a fruit smoothie made on the streets of Thailand – but what’s living if you don’t take a couple risks? And I had survived the first time no problem. Carly was a little hesitant, but I got her to try the watermelon, banana, pineapple, lime smoothie. In this heat, there is nothing better. The heat is one thing that is different. The last time I was here, it was December and the dry season, but still hot. Right now we are in the middle of the wet season, which means a downpour and thunderstorm just about every afternoon. It also means the humidity is on another level. It’s a multiple (cold) showers a day kind of place right now, and we’ve been averaging drinking 3 liters of water a day.
We left Khao San Road in search of cheap street food. The rule of thumb: despite being cooked under a tarp with just a cooler to keep certain things, as long as there are other people eating there and the food is cooked hot and fresh, you should be safe. We found a place like that not too far from our hostel. A Thai woman with one wok cooks everything to order on a high flame. It’s a slower process, but it is some of the best and probably most authentic Thai food I’ve had and costs just over $1 per meal. So good, we went back the next day.
I did have a few things on my list that I hadn’t had the chance to do my first time around. One of those was Chinatown. So after a little break in the AC of our hostel, we found a Tuk Tuk to take us downtown to Chinatown. Chinatowns in the states are pretty obvious, they stick out from the rest of the city. Chinatown here…a little more subtle. The writing on all the signs has changed (but still foreign to us), the food on the streets is possibly even stranger, and there is a gold shop packed with employees but no shoppers every couple of stores. We got lost in another maze of market stalls – this time with products geared more towards the locals. And right as we exited, we found ourselves caught in a downpour. After successfully hailing a cab, we slowly made our way to the only place we could think of to wait out the storm in comfort…one of Bangkok’s famous malls.
MBK Shopping Plaza is a 7-story mall. Was it what we were expecting (super extravagant, high-end stores, Bangkok’s more affluent)? Absolutely not. It was just as overstimulating as the outside had been but with air conditioning. We figured that since it is a mall, there would only be legitimate stores. Most of the square footage was taken up by more market stalls peddling bootlegged DVDs and knockoff Adidas and Nike products. We wound our way up to the top floor movie theater. Only five shows were playing (all American) and we settled on seeing Now You See Me 2. If anything, for $3 it would allow us to sit for a few hours in air conditioning and wait out the storm. One thing I have not yet mentioned; the Thai people are very into their royal family. Portraits of and grand shrines to the King can be found anywhere from the smallest of shops to entire sides of buildings. We had definitely noticed this, but we were still caught off guard when sometime between the previews and the movie the screen asked everyone to stand out of respect while the King’s Anthem played and a photo montage flashed across the screen. It was one of the more interesting experiences we had witnessed all day.
After the movie, we found our way back to the hostel and strolled down the street to what we had been told by multiple Thai people was the best and most famous pad thai in Bangkok. Obviously we had to try it. A couple observations about real pad thai: 1) it seems to be only made with shrimp/prawns here and 2) it was entirely wrapped in egg, almost like a super thin omelet with fried noodles and shrimp in the middle. The restaurant was full, so we took it back to the hostel to eat. After putting ourselves in a food coma, we headed off to bed.
Armed with temple appropriate clothing, we set off to see the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. We walked the 25 minutes to the Grand Palace, and despite only getting there 20 minutes after opening, the place was packed. We shuffled along the many ornately mosaic tiled buildings only to be stopped by Asian tourists wanting to take pictures of or with Carly. After about 40 minutes and seeing the Emerald Buddha, we decided we had had enough. Even though Wat Pho is only a short walk from the Grand Palace, the amount of people and the variety of tourists was completely different from the Palace. You didn’t feel like you were in a mosh pit, and there were a lot more European people around. We only saw the Reclining Buddha, and it exceeded all expectations. It was HUGE. While we were inside, another rain storm hit and we were forced to wait it out. We finally made it back to our street cart lunch spot and headed out to Khao San Road for an hour long foot massage.
The full force of jet lag did not hit us until day 2. After our foot massage, we just wanted to go back to the hostel, shower, and look at the pictures we had taken so far. After a few hours, we decided it was time to eat again and found a restaurant attached to a hostel. It’s twice the price of eating street food, but all we could think about was eating in air conditioning so we wouldn’t have to shower again. We met some other foreigners – Canadians and a South African (Americans are not super common in this area of the world) – and hung out with them for a bit before deciding to head back for the night. We made it back just in time before another downpour hit. While others were getting ready for an evening out, Carly and I were passed out around 8pm.
It’s 5am here, and we are off to Chaing Mai in Northern Thailand today.