Taking on Thailand Part I: Bangkok
And so begins the first post in a series about my adventures in Thailand.
A little background: D and I traveled around Thailand spontaneously for three weeks and landed in five different cities and islands. We each packed a big backpack and brought enough money to allow us the comforts of air-conditioned hostel/hotel rooms and plenty of day trips.
Our first stop was, naturally, Bangkok. A smoggy city filled with bright-eyed adventurers, tuk-tuks and non-stop movement. Initially I was overwhelmed. I like to take things in, soak up my surroundings. I allowed myself the freedom from expectations on my first journey to Asia and as soon as I stepped out of the taxi and succumbed to the wave of heat waiting for me outside, all five of my senses were simultaneously attacked, welcomed and overwhelmed. Culture shock hit me harder than I first cared to admit: it was sweltering, the air thick with moisture and a stench unfamiliar to my nostrils, cars jerking forward, people left, right and centre and taxi drivers coming toward me with smiles and friendly questions...
"How are you, my friend!?"
"My friend, where you from?"
"Taxi? Tuk-tuk? Where you go?"
I'm in a country for not even an hour and I'm already buds with the locals!
D and I spent three nights and two days in Bangkok. We stayed at New Joe's Guesthouse for 500 Baht per night (15 CHF). I spotted two cockroaches in the room on the first night, D heroically killed one with a swift flip-flop manoeuvre and the second one never made a re-appearance; I'm sure it danced on the pillow next to my head and made fun of me while I slept.
On our first full day in Bangkok we strayed from Khao San Road and organised a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled motorbike with a little coach on the back for passengers) for the day. We visited temples like the most devoted Buddhists, hitting up the must-see sights that cover the city: The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha, Wat Arun, Wat Benchamabophit and Giant Buddha and Golden Mount.
These temples are beautiful, dripping with gold and gold-coloured decorations with an impressive statue of Buddha in the middle of it all. Songkran, Thai New Year, would be that weekend (something I'll go into more detail in the next post about Chiang Mai) so there were locals galore paying their respect to Buddha, praying and leaving small floral and monetary sacrifices.
Bangkok is bustling, but still at the same time. The travellers keep the city busy, but everywhere you see locals waiting, visiting and watching. Families seem tight and the religion is everywhere. If there isn't a temple in close proximity then a small edible sacrifice (rice, chicken and maybe some water) has been set on a nearby sidewalk or ledge.
On our second day we met up with a friend who drove us to the Amphawa Floating Market (three hours out of Bangkok in serious holiday traffic). We saw Thai chefs/fishermen cook on their "long-tail boats" and vendors sold traditional seafood delicacies. After trying to eat yellow curry that was spicier than anything I've ever encountered (emphasis on "trying"), we wandered through the stands and shops, taking a moment to try what we thought was a piece of mango but what was actually candied egg yolk. Not a fan.
Locals flock here to shop and eat, the spiciness of the curry and the extremely limited English were giveaways that not too many tourists visit this gem of a market and cultural hotspot.
On one of our evenings in Thailand, our close friend and personal tour guide took us to a street-side restaurant, Tipsamai Pratu Pi, in Bangkok. It's known as the first restaurant to serve Phad Thai and the menu tells a story of the founder who learned the recipe from her grandmother. So of course I went for the Phad Thai and I enjoyed the hell out of it (try it with sugar! yumm!). I contently sipped on my fresh coconut shake while inhaling exhaust fumes from the passing tuk-tuks, taxis and mo-peds and watching the chefs drag bags of bean sprouts across the street; locals speaking Thai to each other, horns honking, sweat beading above my upper lip and on my nose, a man scrambling eggs in an oversized wok behind me; curry, rice noodles and bean sprouts in my mouth...
That was real Bangkok, true Thailand, and suddenly I felt welcomed in this unique and somehow exotic country. From that moment I was no longer a tourist, I was a traveler.
"For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it." - Richard, The Beach
I'll take the next two-ish lines to encourage you, dear reader, to subscribe to the blog so you get a friendly little email when the rest of the posts in the series are published. Chiang Mai is up next!