Sawatdee Khrap and welcome to Thailand! We arrived in Bangkok over a week ago to begin the SE Asia portion of our trip. We planned to stay with my old friend Dustin, but a few days before we arrived his eye became irritated and inflamed. He thought might be remnants of a recent eye infection, so we booked a cozy little room (9’x9’) near Khao San Road (the bohemian touristy area) for the first night. It was only about $19/night, but almost twice as much as we’d been used to paying. After a long day of travel, we immediately set out for authentic Thai food. The first place we came across was a small shop that seemed a bit commercial, but Pad Thai was only 60 baht (about $2) so we each ordered one. The portion was small, especially coming from India and Sri Lanka, and the taste wasn’t anything special. Something didn’t seem right…
Winding our way through sidewalk stalls of salesmen a few blocks away, we hit a lively street with outdoor restaurants and neon lights. I saw a street-side vendor cooking up something delicious, so we sat down and I ordered another Pad Thai. This time the portion was twice as large and only 40 baht! Now we’re talkin’! We then indulged in a cup of coconut ice cream out of a hollowed coconut with coconut shavings on top ($1) for dessert. There were many other little carts cooking all sorts of different dishes. The bars were coming to life with outdoor seating and live music. It was a far cry from Sri Lanka as it seemed the Westerners outnumbered the locals and everything was tailored for tourists. This is Khao San Road.
Luckily, Dustin’s eye was not infected, so we moved over to his place the next day to save on accommodations and experience Bangkok with the locals. What a great guy he is! That night, he took us out to a nice Thai dinner with his girlfriend, Ped, and we finished off a tower of beer to celebrate the reunion – we hadn’t seen each other in over 6 years, since he left to teach English in Japan. Over the next few days, Gabriella and I set out to explore Bangkok.
The city is sprawled out like any major metropolis. Traffic floods the streets into a frustrating gridlock; walking is quicker than driving between 3-7pm. Motorbikes fill the empty space between cars, tuk-tuks, and pedestrians. Bicycles are rare. The public transit system is clean and reliable, but only runs on two lines covering the eastern part of town. Advertising is rampant. Entire metro cars are blanketed with logos, and video screens speak incessant propaganda on the platform and inside the train. Images of the King creep around every corner. Building façades have begun to sport the logos of major corporations in the space billboards can’t occupy. Establishments alternate between restaurants and massage parlors with questionable sanitation in both. Vendors clog the sidewalks like the arteries of an overweight carnivore forcing pedestrians to pass through single file. Anything is for sale—tee-shirts, backpacks, knives, electronics, movies, Viagra—all of the knock-off variety. The smell of food drifts from sweet to savory and there’s always something new a few meters away. It’s a buyer’s market for the wide-eyed Westerner.
During our days, we visited the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, took a trip down the Chao Phraya River to see Wat Pho, and explored the weekend Chatuchak Market (as if we needed more stuff to buy). Buddhist temples are scattered throughout the city, but Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok. It is home to one of the largest Buddha images (The Reclining Buddha, which extends 160 feet) and is believed to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. The temple grounds were extraordinarily ornate with an intense attention to detail. There are over a thousand Buddha images throughout the 20 acres of temple grounds! We’ve seen quite a few more temples since then, but Wat Pho was certainly the largest and most interesting.
Coming to Thailand has been quite a shift from the India/Sri Lanka experience. Living is still cheap, but slightly higher than India. In return, the standards are a notch higher and the environment a bit cleaner. Bangkok is a bustling capital competing for international recognition in its own stress-free style. Although the setting can be overwhelming, the people are nonchalant. Most are more interested in what’s happening on their smartphone or iPad. Thailand is well-accustomed to tourists and possesses the infrastructure to help foreigners get the most bang for their baht. After Bangkok, we headed west to Kanchanaburi!