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!

The Best Beach Yoga Workout

Yoga clears the mind and rejuvenates the soul.  It forces you to stretch, relax, and strengthen pretty much any muscle in your body and it’s not always found in crowded gym rooms or expensive yoga studios.  It can be done anywhere, and yoga on the beach was on the top of my list of things to do on a tropical island in Thailand. 

I want to share my five favorite yoga poses with you.   Poses that are super easy to do on a peaceful beach while listening to the soft lapping of the waves as the breeze blows through your hair and the sand seeps through your toes (am I painting a serene enough picture for you?).  It is better to attempt these positions somewhere close to the water’s edge so that the sand isn’t too forgiving under your feet (meaning you will fall less and thus not becoming frustrated and giving up).  The point of beach yoga is not to purely strengthen your body, but I believe its main purpose should be to strengthen your soul.  It should make you more aware of your body and thus more aware of what you need and what you want out of life.  Yoga has helped me to clear my mind and help me focus completely on myself and my most cardinal goal: happiness.

Note: In all of these poses, make sure to keep your abs tight and flexed so that you keep your back in alignment.  This is extremely important and also gives you a nice ab workout!!

Note #2:  REMEMBER TO BREATH!!!!

My 5 favorite Beach Yoga Poses

1.  Triangle

Triangle Pose

This is my favorite pose and one that I try to do as often as possible.  Because I had back surgery a few years ago, I have incessant back pain and I incorporated this pose into my morning routine.  It allows my spine to realign and gives an incredible stretch to all my back and groin muscles.  If you don’t feel a stretch then you need to lower yourself closer to the floor, but do it slowly and always be aware of keeping your back aligned and your abs tight.

How to do it:

1)      Start with your legs at least three feet apart and arms stretched out to your sides.

2)      Now turn your right foot out to the right and keep your left foot facing forward.

3)      Slowly lean your body to your right and bring your right hand down next to the inside of your right foot. 

4)      Turn your gaze up to your left hand, which should be pointing upward.

5)      When finished, slowly come back to the position in Step 2, rotate your right foot inward, rotate your left foot to the left, and repeat the steps. 

2.  Crescent

Crescent Pose

This pose strengthens your back, arm and leg muscles and is great for working on your balance.  You can keep your eyes pointed forward or you can raise them to gaze towards your hands.  Make sure your knee is above your foot and not in front of it, which puts too much stress on the joint and who needs stress in this environment?!

How to do it: Usually you move into this pose from Downward Dog, but since that one isn’t included in my favorite beach moves (particularly because who wants to be sticking their butt way up in the air in a bathing suit, I know I don’t!), I’ll show you how from a standing position.

1)      Start with your feet shoulder-width apart

2)      Kick back your right foot behind you and bend your left knee so that it is at a right angle (both feet should be facing forward).

3)      Clasp your hands like you are making a gun and slowly, and I mean slowly because this is where you will lose your balance, raise them towards the sky. 

4)      Hold for as long as you can (remembering to breath while you’re at it), then bring your hands down to prayer pose.

5)      Slowly, frame your left foot with your hands and kick the left foot back (you are now in a plank-like position).

6)      Now, kick your right foot forward and repeat.  

3.  Warrior II

Warrior II Pose

This pose strengthens your shoulders, arms and legs while opening up your chest and working on your posture.  This is a power pose, sometimes I really do feel like a badass when I’m doing this pose, and you should feel strong and in control throughout this pose.  If you don’t feel the burn, widen your stance and make sure that your front knee is bent at a 90 degree angle.  This pose should definitely give you a nice leg workout.   

How to do it:

1)      From Crescent with left foot forward, angle your right foot so that it is now perpendicular to your body (it should be pointing to your right).

2)      Sweep your arms so that your left arm is pointing forward and your right arm is now pointing backwards.

3)      Hold for a few breaths and when you are finished, sweep your arms back into crescent, rotate your right foot forward, bring your hands down to prayer, frame your left foot, and push your left foot back.  Repeat.

4.  Warrior III

Warrior III

This pose is for the more advanced Beach Yogis.  It takes a lot of balance and concentration, and it’s great for your butt!!  It also strengthens your legs and shoulders.  Remember to keep your back straight and your abs tight, its super important on this one.  Also, try to pick a point to focus on and put all your energy and focus into that object.  This will definitely help your balance. 

How to do it:

1)      From Crescent with left foot forward, throw all of your weight onto your left foot while straightening out your left leg and your right leg behind you.

2)      Keep your arms by your side until you have regained your balance (the first few times are sure to make you fall, but that’s ok since you’re only falling into the soft, warm sand).  Once balanced, slowly bring your arms forward in front of your head (in a supermanlike fashion).

3)      Hold for a few breaths and when you are finished, bring your arms back to your side, lower your right foot back down into crescent,  bring your hands down to prayer, frame your left foot, and push your left foot back.  Repeat.

5.  Prayer Twist

Prayer Twist

This is definitely my second favorite position so I thought I’d end with it.  It stretches your back by opening up your shoulders and strengthening your legs in the process.  It’s another pose that takes some balance and concentration, but I think you’ve gotten the hang of that by now. 

How to do it:

1)      Once again from Crescent with left foot forward (all power moves pretty much base themselves from this core pose), bring your hands to prayer position.

2)      Now this part is a little tricky so follow closely.  Rotate your body towards your left knee, twist your torso, and rest your right elbow on your left knee.  Your hands should still be in prayer position, but your face should be looked towards the left of your body.  Make sure to keep your shoulders in line with your back. 

3)      Hold for a few breaths and when you are finished, slowly rotate yourself back into crescent with hands still in prayer position,   frame your left foot, and push your left foot back.  Repeat.

But I can’t forget the beloved Tree Pose!!

Tree

Tree Pose

This pose works on your strength and balance.  You must pick a focal point and not stray from that point.  It can be a rock in the sand, a boat on the horizon, anything that looks like it is standing still.  Or to make it more difficult you can close your eyes, but hey, you’re on the beach, why would you want to close your eyes?!  You must clear your mind and focus solely on the pose and the longer you can stay in this posture, the more rewarding it is. (Remember: Keep your abs tight)

How to do it:

1)      Start with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2)      Move your weight to your left side.  Hold that for a few breaths.

3)       Slowly raise your right foot so that it is either nestled on your calve muscle (for beginners) or just above your knee (for intermediates).

4)      You can either keep your hands in prayer pose in front of you (for beginners) or raise them above your head and point them to the heavens (for intermediates).

5)      Hold for a few breaths or as long as you want.  Slowly lower your right foot until it is on the ground and even out your weight between your feet.  Repeat the process.

Let me know what you think and definitely please let me know if you try it!!  I know there are so many yoga pose sites out there, but I hope you enjoyed mine as well!!

Five Lessons I’ve learned so far: Thailand Travel Tips to live by

I’ve been living in Thailand a few months now and I feel like I’ve learned a few things.  I know that I have much more to discover, so here’s what I’ve picked up so far.

1.        While in a minibus, taxi, or even a motorcycle taxi, its best not to watch where they are going.  Trust me, it will save you a lot of heart attacks.  The first time my cab driver sped up to pass a slow moving vehicle by using the oncoming traffic’s lanes I thought I was going to pass out, especially when the car I occupied barely missed the traffic whizzing towards us.  Now, my favorite pastime is to watch the other passengers in my minibus freak out! 

2.        You will never get anywhere at the time stated on the schedule, but you will eventually get there.  It might be hours later and you’re past your frustration point, but you will have made it to your desired destination.  Countless times I’ve checked my phone every 2 minutes to see if the bus will be on time.  It never is.  Fifteen minutes late.  Thirty minutes late.  Two hours late.  It’s all the same to them.  Just remember.  You’ll get there.  Eventually.   

3.       Take a deep breath and go with the flow.  That’s what the Thai’s do.  Just know, you can’t control what you can’t control.  If they don’t want to listen to you, they will act like they don’t understand what you’re saying.  But they do.  Even if you’re saying it in a nice way, they don’t care, they will look at you and smile and nod.  And you know what a smile and nod means?  It means they have no idea what you’re asking of them.  Or that’s at least what they want you to think.

4.       Even though you may not be accustomed to a lacsidasical attitude that Thai people have, get used to it or it will drive you insane.   They move slowly.  They stop to chat to their friends.  They might even take a few minutes to grab something to eat, and also eat it in the restaurant, and then even order a cup of coffee, and take their time drinking it, all while you are waiting in the car.  Just relax.  It’s what Thais do best.  We should take some notes. 

5.       Safety is not an issue.  It never was.  It never is.  And it never will be.  Enough said.