My Guide to Bangkok

To say I was overwhelmed when I arrived in Bangkok would be a drastic understatement.  I’m from Los Angeles, and even though I was raised in the suburbs, I still thought that I was from the “big city.”  All those misconceptions came crashing down when I witnessed the constant bumper to bumper traffic, the massive amounts of people, and the sense of lawlessness that reins the city streets.  It took me weeks to get used to this bustling city and my sentiments went from pure hatred to a peaceful understanding.   I learned to appreciate the city, even almost love it, despite my initial misgivings. 

A traveler can definitely be overwhelmed with all the activities to do in this insane metropolis, so I’ve decided to compile a few of my favorite places and things to do while in Bangkok.   

Khao San Road

The bustling Khao San Road at night

Khao San Road is a backpacker’s haven.  There are cheap guesthouses , even cheaper food and most importantly, countless places where you can grab a beer and people watch.  And people watching is at its finest here.  A traveler can run into a person from pretty much any country in the world here, having a beer with a group of Scottish businessmen one night, sharing a taxi with an elderly couple from New Zealand for lunch, while shooting some pool with frat boys from New Hampshire before dinner (although I have to say Americans in Thailand are few and far between)I have never in my life heard so many languages being spoken as I amble down the street (and I’m from Los Angeles!) or paid under a US dollar for a big plate of Pad Thai, cooked right in front of me while I shop.  I wouldn’t recommend staying too long here because I believe there are other great places to stay in Bangkok, but its definitely a must for every traveler looking to experience a true backpacking scene.

Chao Phraya River

I have experienced this magnificent river from two settings: a personal longtail boat ride through the various channels and the Chao Phraya River Express, the public means of transportation up and down this waterway.  Both are wonderfully unique in their own ways. 

Aboard the Chao Phraya River Express

I’m not exactly sure how I ended up paying 1500 baht for a solitary boat ride touring a part of Bangkok I had yet to see (I think it had something to do with a genial con man on the side of the road in cahoots with a tuk tuk driver who quickly swept me away to the pier), but as a photographer, it was 100% worth it.  I got a little insight into Bangkok life outside of the honking horns and the chaos.  I witnessed houses built on stilts above the water and a floating market that even included a Nestle boat.  It was extremely peaceful and even though I couldn’t get the fact that I paid 1500 baht for the ride (I would definitely advice haggling, this was one of my first days in Bangkok and had not mastered this art yet), I loved every second of it.

The Chao Phraya River Express is a different story.  Its somewhat crowded, only 14 baht (sometimes 18 baht, but I never caught on to why it was more expensive some times over others), and it brings you to all the major destinations along the river: The Grand Palace, Wat Pho (home of the reclining Buddha), the flower market, China Town and many others.  Its an easy way to get to the Skytrain from Khao San Road as well if you’re not up for shelling out the dough for a taxi.

Chatuchak Market Weekend Market

One of the many dining areas at the Chatuchak Market

I’m not sure if this is Asia’s largest open air market, but to me, it feels like I’m in another world.  This place puts Southern California Swap Meets to shame with its rows and rows of glorious knick knacks and souvenirs, wicker furniture and idolistic statues, t-shirts with creative and most of the time derogatory sayings, and every animal you can think of whether it’s supposed to be a pet or not.  It really takes a lot of self control to not buy something from every single stall.  Suitcase restrictions aside, I have definitely considered buying an authentic Thai silk bedroom set (complete with pillows and duvet), a mahogany dining room table, and even a puppy.  This place is dangerous and despite a slight sense of claustrophobia while perusing the infinite aisles, it is an absolute must for anyone visiting Bangkok on the weekend.  

Note: From the Khao San Road/Soi Rambuttri Area you can jump on Bus #524 to the Weekend Market.

Siam Center

They don’t have shopping malls like this in California.  And they certainly don’t stack four different ones within a 2 minute walk from each other!  These six to seven level malls are packed, and I mean packed, with fashionista tourists,  teenagers, and families all searching for that next big purchase, and  although most of the high end shops always seem to be empty, this is the place to be seen. 

The view from one of the overpasses in Siam Center

Siam, the hub of the Skytrain, is at the center of it all.  People watching and most importantly, traffic watching here is surely at its best in this lively part of town.  A traveler can see a movie (don’t worry, they’re in English and dubbed in Thai), dine at a French sandwich restaurant, buy a camera to replace that one you dropped into the Chao Phraya River (even though everything else seems to be cheaper in Thailand, electronics are not one of them), and board the Skytrain to experience Bangkok at high speeds.  A definite must for any traveler yearning to see chaos at every turn.

Note: From the Khao San Road area you can jump on Bus #15 and it will bring you right into the center.  You can also catch the Chao Phraya River Express to the last stop and board the Skytrain there. 

Temples  

The temples of Bangkok are endless.  There is seemingly one on every corner and the phrase “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” definitely does not apply here.  I was conned into embarking on a tour of temples (a con that Lonely Planet warns travelers about, but I decided to read this little tidbit an hour after I got back from the joy ride), which I ended up loving, so I soon forgot about the dishonesty that had taken place (he had told me that the Grand Palace was closed and that he could drive me around to various destinations while it opened up), plus it was raining and I didn’t want to get soaked.  I never saw two Buddhas that were the same.  Each temple has a different take on the holy idol and I was interested in seeing them all.  I was taken to a secluded temple and told that if I make a business-type wish in front of a certain Buddha, it would come true. (I won’t tell you what my wish was, but I can assure you it has not come true yet, at least as far as I know).

The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Wat Pho, my favorite temple, is the home of the Reclining Buddha and this is an absolute must see.  The building housing the Buddha is barely big enough for it and its next to impossible to get it all in one picture.  I also loved the grounds surrounding Wat Pho, decorated with pyramid like structures and “temple guards.”

I would also recommend the Golden Mount.  It’s a nice little walk and at the top there is a gorgeous panoramic view of surrounding Bangkok. 

At Wat Mahathat (near the Amulet Market), English speakers can actually take a free course on meditating.  The man who leads the class speaks flawless English and is extremely insightful.  Walk-ins are welcome and he will teach you as long as you would like.  You can see my blog post on my meditation experience here.    

 

Bangkok has a little something for everyone and my growing admiration for the city makes me miss it sometimes (I’m only an eight hour train ride away).  I look forward to being back in the City of Life in a couple weeks!

Traveling in Thailand – Witnessing a Little Bit of Crazy

As stated in an earlier post, traveling in Thailand is never easy. The buses leave whenever the driver feels like it and I’ve had to get used to waiting when there is no known end in sight. As regular as the bus from Lang Suan to Surat Thani has been, usually leaving between 12:30 and 1, this particular day it was not.

Alan, James, and I were heading down to Krabi (more specifically Ko Jum) for a long weekend and I had told them that the bus usually left on time and was never a hassle. After at least an hour of waiting, we were still waiting.

Waiting at the bus stop proved to be entertaining though. The most notable bystander was a lady that seemed to be a regular. She was muttering to herself and weaving between the chairs and benches. When James got up to throw his beer can away, she grabbed it from his hand and stuffed it in her bag. A few minutes later, she came up to him with a paper (of course completely in Thai) and started pointing and reading it to him. We had absolutely no idea what she was saying and she was just smiling (with a glint of crazy in her eye), pointing and trying to get James to read the paper. Disregarding our looks of confusion, she persisted for a few minutes and then just walked away.

Needless to say, she was a little off her rocker and unfortunately, because we don’t know Thai, we couldn’t figure out exactly how off her rocker she was.

As Thais frequently do, there were a few people sleeping here and there. A lady was sleeping on her fruit cart. The driver, who was soon to be ours, was asleep in a chair. The man in charge of the bus station was sleeping on a table and next to him was a man, presumably to be homeless, sleeping as well.

This picture gives a nice shot of the unbuttoned pants

This man, the homeless one, was wearing no shirt and pants that were about four sizes too big for him, and he must’ve felt that zipping them up would have been way too much effort. He got up a few times to go pee, luckily he went away from the bus stop to do this, but he always came right back to his spot on the table.

The lady came around again for James’ beer can, but because he was not finished he didn’t hand it over. This seemed to tip her craziness up to a different level, because a few minutes later she snapped.

She marched over to the sleeping homeless man and started whacking him with a rolled up newspaper, while screaming and shouting. Alan said he thought she was saying something along the lines of, “Filthy, filthy, filthy.” She whacked him continuously until he got up and chased him around the corner of the building. Still yelling and screaming, she was smacking the rolled up newspaper on the chairs and the walls, and we were even a little nervous she was going to start on us.

She grabbed a broom and started furiously sweeping the area that he had previously been sleeping on, all the while still yelling what we now thought was, “Filthy, filthy, filthy.”

The shirtless man came walking back into where we were sitting and boarded a bus that was set to head to Chumphon in ten or twenty minutes. The lady took note of this, still muttering to herself. Meanwhile, all of us at the bus stop are sitting in awe (us more than the others since we weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but then again, they probably didn’t either).

Her next move was an alarming one.

I don't know what kind of crazy thoughts are in that brain of hers! I'm pretty sure she's muttering to herself in this picture

She went fishing in the trash and retrieved a half-full beer bottle. Wondering what she was going to do with this bottle, we watched her wrap it in newspaper.

“Omg, she’s going to hit that guy with that bottle,” I whispered to James, “What do we do?! Omg, she’s going to beat that guy!” We all started getting a little nervous as we tried not to stare.

With the man still sitting on the bus, she started shouting again. Before I turned my head to see what she was up to, I heard a loud crash. Next to her seat, liquid was seeping onto the concrete. For some reason, she had shattered the bottle on the side of her seat and sent the remnants flying. Needless, to say everyone was a little confused by this and still watched her as she furiously tried to wipe it up.

I turned to James and laughed, “You should’ve just given her your beer can man!”

Traveling in Thailand – The Window Incident

I’ve learned that traveling in Thailand takes a lot of patience.  And I mean a lot.  The buses rarely leave on time, usually because a driver is eating, chatting away, napping or just simply isn’t there.  If you want to go somewhere, and specify that to a driver, there is about a one in ten chance you will arrive at your desired destination, and gripe and moan all you want, they don’t care.  They will smile and nod and you will be hailing another tuk tuk or a cab in no time. 

I’ve decided to start documenting these atrociously funny events.  Of course, they’re only funny after the fact.  Weeks after the event I can actually look back on it and think, “Hey, I guess that was pretty funny after all,” so I’d figure I would share.

When I need to head down to Surat Thani, a hub to get to the southern islands, Krabi, or Phuket, I take the local bus from Lang Suan.  The bus is “supposed” to leave at around 12:30, but it might leave at 12:45, maybe even 1, and on a more recent trip, we found that it could possibly leave at 1:45.  There are no tourists in my town and thus I am always the only white person on the bus, which warrants many blank stares and confused looks.

I usually sit on the left side of the bus, I’m not sure why, I’ve just turned it into a little routine of mine.  I love pushing the window all the way up  so that I can lean slightly out the window and feel the warm Thailand air whipping against my face as the bus meanders down the highway.  Usually this isn’t a problem.  But apparently, in the particular seat I chose this one afternoon on the left side of the bus, it was some sort of hazard. 

The lady that collected the money started yelling at me in Thai and motioning to my window.  Unfortunately, after my almost four months of being here, I have not become close to understanding a lick of Thai (aside from the very basic phrases.  I meant to learn, honestly, I really did!), and thus had no clue what she was trying to tell me.  She leaned over me and popped the window down and went on her way.  Now it’s hot in Thailand, and on a bus that dangerously swerves all over the road with no air conditioning, one can tend to get a little car sick. 

This whole window down thing was not going to work.

I glanced around the bus and noticed that everyone on the left side of the bus still had their window up and were enjoying  the fresh air, so I checked that the lady was still at the front of the bus, and stealthily pushed my window up. 

I enjoyed the air for a good five minutes until the lady came charging back up the aisle and proceeded to yell at me in Thai again.  She theoretically grabbed me (she wasn’t as forceful as it sounds, but the yelling and screaming indicated that she might go down that path) and pointed me in the direction of an open seat on the other side of the bus.  I got hurled into the seat, getting whacked in the ankle by some stray metal piece from who knows where in the process.

But apparently this seat was different than its predecessor…I could have my window up.