It was a challenge of getting back on Pacific Daylight Time [-14 hours] and then we had friends in town from San Francisco.
Taking naps Being good hosts trumps recapping one of the craziest trips of my life. I’ve actually struggled with how to summarize it. Italy [1, 2, 3, 4] was easy. It’s Europe. It’s glamorous. It’s full of good food and wine. Easy.
Thailand is different. It’s also beautiful and delicious, but it’s grittier. It’s more intense. It’s a total assault on the senses like no other. I was absolutely exhausted by the time we came home. We spent nearly the same time [three weeks] in both places, and Thailand felt infinitely longer.
We started the trip with a super long flight series. Portland –> Seattle –> Tokyo –> Bangkok. 6am Portland time to midnight the next day in Bangkok. You lose a day flying into the future, which sucks, but you’ll gain it back on the way home. We checked into the Courtyard Marriott for the first two nights. It’s the only hotel plans we had made in advance. Every other travel decision was made on the fly [or within 24 hours]. Low season is perfect for that. We never ran into any issues at all. You never felt pressured to stay anywhere for longer than you wanted to, and there were no reservations breathing down your neck that tear you away from a city that you’re in the middle of exploring. It worked out to being about four nights per area, though, which is what we expected.
Suvarnabhumi Airport isn’t near anything, so once we got checked into the hotel, it was pretty much straight to sleep. The hotel was in a touristy/shopping district. There is plenty to walk and to see. The humidity and smells aren’t escapable in this big city. It’s dirty. It was only really raining at night, and it would all evaporate by the time the sun would come out. 8am shows the world waking up. A lot of things aren’t open until closer to 10am, and a lot of people are headed to work. Street carts are everywhere. You can’t take a few steps without running into something to eat or drink. They’re big fans of iced drinks whether it’s coffee [Nescafe with sweetened condensed milk] or a fruit shake. For about 30baht [$1], you can have either one. They tuck them into plastic sacks so you don’t actually hold onto the cup.
Breakfast turned into a shrimp stir fry on the sidewalk with a bunch of locals. We pointed at a lot of things the first few days. Menus weren’t really in English at a lot of places, so we’d wait until we saw something we wanted, and then pointing did the rest. I don’t think we paid more than 120 baht [$4] at a street cart meal for two. The most expensive part of this whole trip was flying to/from the US/Bangkok. The rest can be super, super cheap if you want it to be. The rest of the day we clocked about 14 miles of walking [thanks, pedometer!] through the city, stopping to drink coconuts, check out stores, and eat. I unlocked my old iPhone before we left to be able to purchase a Thai sim card. For $30, we had unlimited internet on the phone for a month. It was perfect for using the GPS, turning it into a wifi hotspot for the iPad, or booking a hotel on the fly [I highly suggest agoda.com]. It’s the one thing I regretted not having in Italy. While I can read a map, it’s not easy to tell where you are on said map. GPS for the win.
The most random thing that happened that day was stepping inside the National Stadium indoor gymnasium to catch some National Badminton Championships. It was intense [and air conditioned]. It was around 85°F+(30°C) most of the time, and humid as hell, so anytime you could dip inside to get some relief, it was welcomed. Over at Lumphini Park, there are monitor lizards just wandering around at their leisure. There’s also a really big emphasis on being active, so lots of places to run or little gym areas outside with older gym equipment. It’s weird to see, but also nice to see. People care about being in shape. This would continue to be a theme at every park we saw.
Food for the rest of the day would consist of this chicken stir fry topped with a fried egg, and a bowl of soup with various chicken parts and noodles. You eat less when you’re walking everywhere, and you’re hot and sticky. The Thailand diet would shrink my stomach over the next few weeks for sure.
The next day, after a breakfast of liver and eggs over rice, was a trip on BTS [their train system] to the river to take the Chao Phraya tour boat down to the Tien Pier and then the ferry over to Wat Arun. It’s probably my favorite wat in Thailand [wat = temple]. You get to climb all over it, see the ornate details, and take pictures of the great views from the top. You’re surrounded by tourists, but it’s worth it. It’s not like you’re going to see anything like this back home. If you cross back over the river, it’s just a short walk to Wat Pho, which has the large reclining Buddha. It’s impressive. The rest of the grounds also have smaller Buddha statues and little nooks and crannies to explore. We had to check out of our hotel, or we probably would have continued checking out the other wats in the area, or the Grand Palace. We only ended up seeing it from the river, which is impressive in its own right.
Chinatown was a different place whether it was night or day. One of my favorite mornings of the trip was wandering through narrow alleys of Chinatown with an iced coffee in hand, dodging merchants setting out their wares or people navigating the markets for some early shopping. We were getting stares, but in a good way. They were surprised to see us. I’m guessing most tourists don’t go creeping through these side streets, and certainly not that early in the morning. We stopped at a little food cart for some soup, and the cook and her husband were really proud that we had chosen them for breakfast. It was really just an amazing thing to watch the world wake up from the street side table, slurping on some noodles.
We booked our flights to Krabi from Bangkok’s smaller, northern airport, and would head there the next morning.