After 24 hours in transit, J. and I arrived in Thailand. The flight left from Dallas at 9:30 in the morning, with a stopover in LA before the 13.5 hour flight to Hong Kong. From there, it was a quick 2.5 hours into Bangkok. We arrived around 11:30PM. The long leg of the flight felt pretty fast and was greased with three full in-flight meals. The quality wasn’t as good as I remember on China Airlines, but it’s okay since Cathay Pacific isn’t crashing all over the place. Each seat had a screen with a selection of movies, tv, and games. The progress map wasn’t working, instead just creepy flickering black and white bands. After clearing customs, we hailed a cab. We pulled up to the guesthouse around 1:30AM, and I said to the cabbie, “Yo holmes, smell you later.” We looked at our kingdom; we were finally there. To sit on our thrones as the fresh prince and princess of Bangkok.
As we didn’t sleep on the plane, we sleep soundly until the morning. Our guesthouse is the Shanti Lodge in the Tewet neighborhood. It’s fairly quiet, fairly cheap and in the older section of town along the river. While hard to get to the Skytrain, it’s easy to get to the taxi boats. Our first two nights were in a deluxe room with toilet and hot shower for 650bht/night (currently about $20). Nice, but a little pricey for two jobless brunettes. Since then, we have moved into a smaller room with shared toilets and showers downstairs. It’s a more reasonable 400bht($12).
Note: For all of my posts from Thailand, I’m going to note prices both for my own reference and curiosity sake. I didn’t do any accounting last time was here, and I’ve always been curious what I spent on things. It’s apparent already that things aren’t as cheap as they were three years ago. Not only is the exchange rate worse 33 compared to 43bht/dollar, but prices have inflated as well. A bowl of soup on the street that would have cost 50¢ now costs 75¢. It’s still cheap, but all of those extra cents add up over time, especially when you’re paying for larger items. A 400baht/night guesthouse room would have been less than $10 and is now about $12.
Our first morning awake, we wandered through the smelly heat and humidity to find breakfast. We ended up at a food cart near a canal and had what I think is called “johk”, a thick rice soup. Delicious. Ours had a little lemon grass, pepper, mystery meat (liver?), and an egg or two. 25bht(75¢). From there we caught the express boat down to Chinatown and got lost trying to find the main area. Instead, we ended up at Golden Mount, a memorial built upon the remains of a collapsed stupa. The view from the top is 360 degree Bangkok. I felt very happy up there with my little plastic sack of iced coffee. Lunch was fairly bland rice noodle soup with fish balls and sprouts for 25bht(75¢).
A filthy canal flanked by markets near the guesthouse.
Poop flecked eggs getting unloaded in the market.
Live frogs for sale. In addition to frogs were live fish, two sizes of eel, and baby turtles. Plus, all the normal meats.
An orgy of catfish near the river taxi pier.
Wat Arun, seen from the river.
J. and I sweating in the shade.
View of Bangkok from Gold Mount.
Another view of some cool water towers.
Walking around in the heat really wears me out. As soon as I step outside of the guesthouse, I’m literally dripping with sweat until I get back. At breakfast, I think I grossed out the man eating at our table because sweat kept dripping off my chin into my soup. Perspiration is considered gross here, which is weird because it seems unavoidable. But most Thai’s don’t seem to sweat very much. But they also seem smart enough to not walk around everywhere in the heat. After about one activity in the heat, it’s nap time. Our first day, we took a nap from 3PM to 8PM and then walked around the neighborhood in search of dinner. We settled on a indoor, aircon restaurant near Santichaiprakan park. I had a modest portion of delicious cashew chicken, J. had Tom Kai Gai soup. With two drinks and a side of rice, our bill came to 270bht($8). Expensive by Thai standards, but cheaper than one Thai dish in America. After dinner, we sat in the park by the river and watched a team of workers set up tents and a stage for an upcoming festival. Thai couples were kissing. There was a lonely looking foreign man. That man used to be me.
As all the long flights, naps, and time change have messed up my sense of time, I had another iced coffee at 10:30 at night. Needless to say, this kept me up into the morning thinking about the uncertain future ahead of me. I can’t recall if these thoughts ran through my head last time: What am I going to do with my life? What is the meaning of life? Will my family be okay while I’m gone? What is the purpose of this trip? Is it the right thing to do right now? What are we going to do for all this time off? Why am I worried about money when I have so much sacked away? Etc.
It was a lot of nervous energy for someone who’s supposed to be on a grand international journey. I think my brain finally caught up with my heart. But while many of those questions don’t have answers, the ones that do will be answered in due time. The main lesson is from Gremlin’s teachings: no coffee after 10PM.
The morning after my existential dilemma, J. and I took a boat down to tour Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Before going in, we searched for breakfast before settling on a small shop nearby. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Thai, so I stood there looking at the wok of simmering noodles and trying to ask the boy, in Thai, what they were called. He didn’t understand me, and with a bashful look yelled across the street to a man who knew enough English to help us. We ended up getting some ridiculously good pad thai. I promise I’ll start taking photos of the food. It’s just a little embarrassing to whip out a jumbo camera in a restaurant.
Large chedi at Wat Phra Kaew
The chedi is coated with gold leafed glass tiles. Market value: 1 jillion baht.
Old man waiting for his equally old wife to take a picture with an old camera.
Sculptures lining the outer temple walls.
Bees had infested all the flowers in the wat. It must have been slim pickings.
After the tour, we were walking to the pier when it started pouring. We ducked into a noodle shop and had two bowls of garlicky broth with broad rice noodles, green onion, and minced pork. I tried asking for ground peanuts but got a tray of condiments instead. Again, the meal was 25bht(75¢) each, a common price for street food.
Back at the guesthouse we took another epic nap from about 3PM to midnight. And that’s where I am now. As I’m not tired, I find myself up at 4 in the morning writing this blog post. I’m not planning on going to sleep again, as my 9 hour nap woke me up. Instead, we’ll head out around 6 and check out the early Chinatown markets before heading into the thick of Siam Square to find a SIM card for my phone. No naps for me tomorrow. It’s time to tell my body who’s boss.
On Friday, J. and I made to Chinatown and wandered around the narrow, food and merchandise packed markets.
Crazy facade on a Chinatown building.
One of the main streets in Chinatown in the early morning.
Outdoor street market.
Cat sleeping on bags of roots.
Human size sacks of fried pork skins are everywhere.
Densely packed store. All of the food packages were meticulously flush with the shelves.
A few workers and their truck of nuts.
Durian being stored in a small room near the river.
Unloading the bed of a pickup that’s full of live fish.
Old meets new. Chinatown is full of amazing, falling apart and complicated old buildings.
I was a little camera shy, as we were the only foreigners there and the shop keepers were eyeing us with a look of confusion as to why we were there so early. It certainly didn’t look like we intended to buy huge sacks of bael fruit, fried pork skins, cheap shoes, and fish heads. I had thought we’d eat lunch down there somewhere, but we were done wandering around 8:30AM. We caught a cab and pushed through the morning traffic to the malls of the Siam Square area.
One of the older malls, but also more crazy inside: MBK.
Morning traffic under the Sky Train tracks.
One of the highlights of our day at the mall was watching people from all over the world compete in a non licensed version of Scrabble called “Crosswords”. It was mostly Thais, Australians, and Malaysians, though one American did get on the leader board. Go American!
We made it to the malls about two hours before they opened, so we sat around and waited in the shade and inside a small bookstore nearby. Once the malls opened, we were in for good. We literally spent the whole day wandering/people watching in the vast, shiny air conditioned spaces. I bought a SIM card for 150bht($4.50). I had unlocked two old Nokia phones before leaving Portland, and I though for sure they would work. But they didn’t. I guess there is some special hardware lock or network difference. Luckily, I brought the old monochrome Thai Nokia phone as backup.
At 5PM, we got on the Sky Train and took it a few stops down to meet a friend of a friend named A. The station was packed, and had a lot of potential meeting places that matched his description. I was nervous because I didn’t know what he looked like, but J. assured me that he would look like a man who was looking for us. Turns out, she was right. He took us to a restaurant named Cabbages and Condoms, an upscale Thai non profit where all money goes to HIV/AIDS prevention. Instead of mints, you get after dinner condoms.
Construction seen from the Sky Train platform where we met A. It will likely be another high-rise.
A sign leading the way to the evening meal.
A. had been in Bangkok since September, less than a year in to a two year stint as a security consultant at the embassy in Bangkok. Seeing as I had only met him before playing Team Fortress 2, we had a lot to talk about. It was great for J. and I to meet another person in this city. It made us feel a little less like lonely tourists, and more like just visitors. Big pasty, sweaty, mosquitto bitten, dirty clothed, foot blistered, hungry, visitors.
Today we go to Chatuchak Weekend Market, a vast town sized market north of town. Sunday we are planning to leave early on a 12 hour VIP bus to Krabi.