Oh, Bangkok…where to begin?
After nearly two months in English-speaking Australia and New Zealand, we headed for the final leg of our great trip to Thailand. Though it seemed close at the time of planning the trip – they are all on the other side of the world, after all – it took us about 11 hours to fly from Sydney to Bangkok. When we arrived, we were blown away. It was so very different from anything we’d done on the trip before – very exciting and very exhausting.
To orient you – or rather, disorient you – to Bangkok, here are a few facts:
--It is a city of 11.9 million people
--There is zero urban planning so streets wind all over the place, everything is just sort of plopped down wherever, there is no sense of neighborhoods that we could make out – given this, plus none of the signs or maps being in English or even a romance language that we could make a good guess at, we got very lost lots of times
--The air pollution is so bad it is difficult to breathe at times (this did not deter Nikki from her daily run – she may be the first person ever to go for a jog in Bangkok, we are looking into it).
Perhaps this picture of Bangkok's fine electrical work sums it up perfectly:
You will notice that in all of these pictures, we are wearing the exact same clothes each day. That is because it was very, VERY hot (April is the hottest time of year in SE Asia) – so hot that it’s unbearable to wear shorts even. You need a breeze blowing through you at all times. In the heat, it was also very important to stay hydrated:
In addition to the great street drinks, we had so much fun sampling all the different street foods. The street food we ate in Bangkok was the best eating we did in all of Thailand and maybe even on our whole trip. Unlike American street food, which is pre-cooked and then re-heated on the street, this stuff was all fresh to order. Around 11 AM, everyone takes to the streets with their carts and their fresh fruit and veggies and eggs and propane burners…and voila!
Some of our favorites were…
These fried coconut custard things:
Also…fresh watermelon, mango smoothies (we drank at least 2 of these a day) and lots and lots of papaya salad.
And the kicker is, nothing sold on the street costs more than 20 Baht (the Thai unit of currency). 20 Baht is equal to approximately 75 cents. The Pad Thai, for example, created with the freshest noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, and chicken you can imagine costs 10 Baht (about 35 cents). It was amazing!!! We felt like millionaires and the cheap prices in Thailand are not just confined to the street food.
Our move to Thailand meant going from one of the more expensive places on earth (Australia) to one of the cheapest. We got to say goodbye to hostel living and enjoy what felt like luxury accommodations to us. We even raided the mini-bar without guilt or fear of bankruptcy. Yes, the beer was twice as expensive in the mini-bar than on the street -- making it a whopping $3 instead of $1.50! Here were our beautiful digs in Bangkok – it was a nice little oasis away from the craziness of the city. We made good use of that pool after all of our sweaty sightseeing!
To get around the city, we took many tuk-tuk rides. These were Marin’s most favorite! A direct quote: “This is like real-life Mario Kart!!!” Although there are street signs, lights and traffic laws in Bangkok, nobody follows any of it. I have tried to capture the zig-zagging across multiple lanes of traffic all going different directions at top speeds, but nothing can show it as good as the real thing.
We held on for dear life and our drivers enjoyed laughing at us and talking with us about their two favorite Americans – Tiger Woods (he is half Thai) and Monica Lewinski (yup).
Yet another Thai treat we enjoyed were the massages. In Bangkok, these went for $5 an hour and they were ammaaaazing – there are massage chairs lined up and down almost every street. We had LOTS of these throughout our whole time in Thailand. And just because they were cheap did not mean they were poorly executed. Those Thai women have amazing hands and gladiator-sized forearms and they know all the special reflexology points. Sitting in this massage chairs was heavenly!!! And no, these were NOT “happy ending” massages -- get your mind out of the gutter. ☺ But, the Thai women did love Nikki’s big foot! And they always took extra good care of it!
Massage was not the only special treatment that our tooties got in Bangkok. We also stopped into a fish spa. Most of you probably have not been to a fish spa because they are illegal in the U.S. for health code reasons. However, nothing is illegal in Thailand. We stopped in at Marin’s request after a few lunchtime brewskies. The shop itself was an old, converted camera shop with 3 large, dirty fish tanks on the floor. We sat down and stuck our feet into 1 of the tanks so that hundreds of little fish could literally gnaw the dead skin off our toes for the next 15 minutes. Marin almost threw up…several times. Although the experience was probably the single most unsanitary thing we have ever done, it did leave our feet soft and supple. Nikki spent the next 3 days having mini-panic attacks that she had contracted some rare tropical disease from the fish (the jury is still out on this one- we’ll keep you posted).
Here are the fish eating our feet:
Here is Nikki rather enjoying the sensation:
Here is Marin wanting to die:
In addition to sampling the local street culture at places like Ko San Road...here it is by day...
...and by night...
...we immersed ourselves in Thai history and religious tradition by visiting some of the most breathtakingly beautiful temples. You are not allowed to expose your shoulders in the temples, hence the rented shirts…Between the golden Buddhas and the millions of tiny glass mirrors, the detailed architecture was gorgeous. Take a look at the Grand Palace and our visit to the Reclining Buddha (he was our favorite – he is 45 meters long (120 ft.) – and we liked his toes the best):
The inhabitants of Bangkok are a fascinating group of people. While most are extremely peaceful and friendly, subscribing to one of the most peaceful religions in the world, Buddhism, many are simultaneously aggressive marketers, sales people and schemers. It is a bit confusing and creates an atmosphere in which you must constantly have your wits about you (which is a difficult feat when you begin drinking beer at 11 AM). This tiring work, coupled with the intensity of everything in the city from the heat to the pollution to the sex tourism made us quite ready to leave after 3 days. Don’t misunderstand our feelings here -- Bangkok is an amazing place unlike any other in the world. However it is a bit like Vegas in that after 2 or 3 days it leaves you yearning for some peace and quiet. And this is exactly what we got when we flew to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
Up next: our adventures with elephants, cooking Thai curries, and our most delightful riverside accommodation.