A few words about arriving in Bangkok. All flights from the states arrive at the unholy hour of midnight or so. It’s highly recommended that you have transport arranged before you land because when you land, it’s the last thing you really feel like dealing with. We did have transportation prearranged, but something happened and we just didn’t find them or they didn’t find us, but whatever, it wasn’t a pleasant greeting. Thanks to the knowledge we gained from the travel forums on Fodors we knew that the big car company set up in arrivals was reputable, if not a bit expensive. We just weren’t up to haggling with a cab. Oh, and if you value your sanity, don’t go beyond the fenced in arrivals area without having your driver right there with you. It’s insane the number of hawkers that are eveywhere (and this applies to pretty much all of the tourist areas, it’s not just limited to the airport.) And go on and get used to saying “No thanks” because every person you meet (who is accustomed to dealing with tourists, like cab drivers) has someone else they know who has the best prices on suits, gems, tailoring, or the best spot to visit. It’s incredibly overwhelming to deal with all of this after such a long trip. It’s not impossible or a bad thing, just overwhelming. Oh, and make sure you have your hotel’s address with you when you get off the plane. Somehow we forget to do this every time we travel….
The transport center is called ATO service and they are pricey – it was 1100THB for a ride to the hotel, compared with the 500THB (or less) we ended up paying other times. But the cars are nice and air conditioned and it’s worth it to just have it over and done with and be at your hotel.
Oh, no matter where you are from or what you think you can handle, nothing in this good world will prepare you for the slap upside your head that the heat and humidity give you the minute you step out of the airport. Mississippi Girl here was like, I can handle some heat and humidity. Not so much….
Our hotel was a very very pleasant surprise – for four nights, breakfast for two every morning, water (two bottles per person per day), taxes, etc, our total was 10400TBH (roughly $325). It’s more of a business traveler hotel than a tourist hotel, but we had no complaints. Lots of water pressure, the a/c was great, clean sheets, good food and friendly people. It’s not on a pier stop which some people would complain about, but we only used the water taxis once, so it wasn’t a big deal to us. It was a quick walk to the sky train, which we found to be the best thing for getting around.
And no matter what anyone tells you, the Grand Palace, Wat Po, the JT House, pretty much anything you want to see, it’s not closed. Unless it comes from your hotel staff and is not followed by the words “would you like to buy some sapphires” the site you want to see will be open.
journal entries follow
Our first real day in Bangkok – I think the word that first comes to mind is insatiable – an insatiable heat, busyness, humanity, everything. It is so foreign to us, but so ordinary to them. I think that is the strangest contrast of all. I think I could very much like the tourist/expat lifestyle here, but I’m not sure I’d care for ordinary life. While it is fascinating, it is still a big, busy, noisy, dirty city. There is beauty all around though, you just have to open your eyes to see it.
We actually woke up at a decent time this morning, about 7:30. The hotel provides breakfast and it was very, very good. The fruit was a bit under ripe, but the variety of foods made up for the mediocrity. We ate – a lot! and I remembered how delicious that first bit of real food after a long trip always is.
Then it was on to the sky train station and a walk to the Jim Thompson house. The walk to the sky train was nice and I was pleased with how easy the sky train was to use – directions were clear and people were helpful. The ticket police who checked on us gave us a gleeful “OKAY!” when Josh’s ticket popped out of the turnstile. The sky train is incredibly clean – that was a nice surprise to the sleazy MARTA. Oh, and it’s air conditioned, nice cold air. It’s wonderful 🙂
We got off at the Siam stop and walked to the JT house. (In retrospect we could have gotten off closer to the JT house, but whatever, it was a nice walk and we didn’t care.) It’s strange to see the very primitive, simple street vendors in front of the Dior and Chanel store fronts that are at Siam. While the west might be responsible for introducing commercialism to the east, I certainly don’t think they needed help in developing a materialistic mindset. Brand names are more than embraced here.
Even that materialism is evident in the JT house. As much as he contributed to the Thai economy, this is still a man who was obsessed with collecting things. Nice, expensive, antique and culturally important things, but still things. Saying that, the house is outstanding and such an inspiration for our personal style. The combination of form and function is superb. He certainly must have been an interesting fellow to have known. I could have spent a ton of money in the shop, but Josh limited me to one small purse. It’s so cute though. I hope I can visit the outlet store to do some more shopping before we leave.
Then we made a short walk to the overwhelming cultural experience that is MBK. Think flea market meets high rise mall with excellent dining. We ate in the new food court and it was just outstanding. And oh, it was cheap! I won’t ever get tired of saying that! I have a new favorite thing – watermelon juice! We will have to buy a juicer when we get home or find a recipe or something because I can’t live without these things now! We wandered around for a bit – we quickly became numb to everything as it was just so in your face and overwhelming. We had a mission though – I forgot my sunglasses and needed new ones. D&G knock offs for 150THB (which again, if I had been thinking I could have gotten for cheaper) then it was time to come home again – jet lag (and the heat!) had set in.
We came back to the hotel by the sky train again and headed straight to the pool. It’s really just a lap pool, but we were the only ones there, so it didn’t matter. Then it was nap time! We slept for five hours and woke up starving, so out to the streets for dinner.
It was overwhelming (I keep saying that) as has everything has been today. And it seemed to be even hotter, if that was possible, even though the sun had set. We first grabbed two ears of corn – the vendor sliced it off the cob and mixed it with coconut. Odd combination – but so good! We finally found a not too scary side street. One street stall had an English menu, so we went with it. I had a great dinner – noodles with basil and chicken. We kind of had our first ick moment though (scam is entirely too harsh a word) – in ordering off the English menu, we were charged the tourist prices, 100THB compared to 80THB for the regulars. We felt it was okay though, because we ran out of baht and we were just going to pay with 20USD, but they took it to a money exchange for us and got a better rate than we could have, and brought us back a receipt! So we didn’t mind in the end.
When we got back to the hotel we paid for internet access and checked our email. There was an email from the kennel saying our puppies were doing great – so that was the perfect way to end our first day here.
Today is the day we thought we knew what we were doing, only to realize that we don’t! To start with, there was a great chance of political demonstrations and protests and we should have been much more observant than we were, but we were clueless to the situation. We also totally spaced on the intensity of the sun, since we were so focused on just the heat and humidity. Our red arms and noses are testament to that mistakes. And, I totally followed the wrong person across the street and I can’t forget the look of horror on Josh’s face when I turned around and saw the bus and how close it came to hitting me. Thank heavens the Bangkok drivers are used to stupid farang!
I realize that is a lot of negativity but the day was quite fabulous overall. We started out with another wonderful breakfast and we had dragon fruit – which is really interesting and has a pretty unique taste. Plus, it’s fun to eat dragon for breakfast. After stuffing ourselves, we walked two or so blocks over and down to the river to catch the river ferry to the Grand Palace and Wat Po, our two big things for the day.
The river ferry was so much fun! It was pretty packed on board which makes me wonder how many of these boats sink every year! By far, the best part was getting off and on. Both the boat and the dock were moving, but not in sync. It was also really neat to watch the interaction between the captain and the guy who docked the boat. They just used whistle signals to communicate and that was just really cool.
When we got to our stop, we jumped off and grabbed some water from a street cart. This girl started talking to us and at first, I was totally convinced we were going to be set up for a scam. Thankfully, that was not the case, she was simply a solo traveler who wanted some company. Her name was Ashley and she was from Canada and just quit her job to do some more traveling. It was fun to have someone new to talk to and I don’t think Josh minded her too much. Plus, it was nice to have someone to take pictures of us! Self portraits get old after a while.
The Grand Palace was our first stop. Unfortunately, the main attraction, the Emerald Buddha was closed for restoration but the rest of the grounds made up for it. And contrary to what you hear on every street corner, the Grand Palace itself was not closed, and no, we would not like to go visit a tailor or gem shop instead. It was very overwhelming, but in a totally different sense than say the forum was in Rome. Its not so very old – it was started in 1782 but the quality of the craftsmanship is what is so breathtaking. Plus, the crammed a huge amount of buildings into a small(ish) space, so that added a lot to the awe factor.
Have I mentioned the heat before? it is unlike anything I have ever experience before. It’s hot, but not desert hot. It’s humid, but not New Orleans total saturation. It’s intense, but not right on the equator intense. But when you put all three of those thigns together, you get weather that is literally like running into a brick wall – a big, wet, sponge like brick wall. So yesterday, we thought we had the heat and humidity understood and knew to be prepared for it with lots and lots of water and frequent shade breaks. Today, we forgot about the intensity and we are paying for it now. SUNBURN!
The Grand Palace is an extremely important religious site for Buddhists, so there were tons of monks there. It’s pretty unreal to see a monk on a cell phone or using a digital camera.
I thought they did a good job as well of keeping materialism (ie, no t shirt vendors) out of such a holy place. It’s hard to sum up the experience with words. And I don’t think I should even try, it’s not my culture or my religion or my language, it’s just my experience and that’s going to be different for every person. I think the best and most simplistic description is just to say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in my life.
We then decided to take a tuk-tuk to Wat Po. Ashley had been on one before, so she bargained for us – 30THB – what a steal we thought! Until we realized Wat Po was really just down the street. Oh well – it was still fun (and a little bit insane!)
Wat Po’s main attraction is this amazing reclining Buddha. We were taking our shoes off, when I looked up and saw part of it through a window. It literally took my breath away and I gasped out load. The Buddha is just – just beyond words. It’s almost too be big to see the whole thing at once.
Wat Po also contains hundreds of other Buddhas and chapels, but much of it was under renovation and thus kind of confusing to just walk around.
Wat Arun is just across the river from Wat Po, but at this point the heat was just exhausting us, so we decided to go home, but Ashley went on. We grabbed some watermelon from a street vendor before hopping on the ferry back to the hotel. Fruit here is everywhere you look – and it’s so cheap and good.
When we got back to the hotel, we swam for a bit – the almost rooftop pool is so nice. Lunch was just a cup of noodles from the 7-11 (they really are everywhere) and it was followed by a nice long nap.
We grabbed dinner at the stall at the end of our street and it was fantastic. It’s fun to just walk the streets and eat. And tomorrow should be a fabulous day – our much awaited day with Tong.
Click here for the pictures of the river ferry
Click here for the pictures of the Grand Palace
Click here for the pictures of the tuk-tuk
Click here for the pictures of Wat Po
Click here for the pictures of Wat Arun