August 23-26, 2016
Arriving in Bangkok
To get to Bangkok from Koh Samui we had to first take a ferry to Surat Thani and then a bus up north to Bangkok. We booked an overnight bus and slept uncomfortably for the most of the ride, except when we got off the bus for a questionably timed stop for dinner at midnight. After arriving in Bangkok at 5:30 in the morning we headed down Khaosan Road to find our hostel. The infamous party street was still kicking in the early morning hours. Stragglers were hanging around left over from the night before. At the hostel it was back to bed for us for a few hours and then out to explore the city in the day light.
Recouped from our long 12 hour journey, we set out to get back Scott's repaired laptop. After many stressful hours finding a certified Apple repair shop, we mailed his broken laptop from Koh Samui, express to Bangkok so it would be ready when we arrived. Getting an Apple product repaired overseas in not an easy task, especially in Thailand. We read accounts about computer repair stores stealing ram, changing out processors, and swapping hard-drives to sell for profit. This complicated our search to find a reliable and trustworthy repair store. We have to give a special shout out to Mac Bistro Cafe in Bangkok for fixing Scott's laptop in a quick and professional manner. All of our trip photos are saved. Thank you Mac Bistro Cafe!
The walk through the city took us through several of Bangkok's districts which were largely clean and modern with unsuspecting temples tucked away here and there.
At the large eight story mall we were entertained by the vast display of replica watches, everything from Rolex to Omega and more. Some of the watches were of impressive quality and it was hard to tell that they were fake. One of the 'giveaways' of the replica watches was the apparent Japanese or Asian movement in the watch which contributes to a more staccato movement in the turning of the second hand. The watches with Swiss movements have a more fluid movement, making it higher quality and thus more expensive. While asking to look at some of the watches we were told in hushed voices that the police were present and they couldn't show us until later. Officers routinely do their rounds in attempt to prevent the sale of replica watches. They are most concerned with the sale of watches with Swiss movements which carry a fine of 50,000 baht a watch. There were a high number of Arab buyers at many of the watch stands, either purchasing for themselves or to resell in their home countries.
With our hotels proximity to Khaosan road we found ourselves walking down the party street often during our stay. It takes less than five minutes to walk the whole street, that is if you don't stop to take in any of the action or food. The street is abuzz with street vendors selling Pad Thai for as little as a dollar, coconut ice cream in coconut shells, banana pancakes, satay, and fried insects and scorpions. The ladies at these fried insect carts have wised up and charge 10 baht for a photo or video of the product without purchase. There are bars with music blasting and countless massage parlors with chairs set up on the street for easily accessible foot rubs. Surprisingly the street is not the image of debauchery that I had conjured up (though the sight of tourists with Thai escorts is visible throughout the city)
On Khaosan Road there was a crowd each night, strictly made up of tourists, but it was by no means crowded, hard to move, or rambunctious. However, we did notice a common attitude around the city, a sense of impatience for tourists. Many people working in the street stalls and as tuk-tuk drivers had little desire for negotiation, and were even rude and hostile at our attempt to negotiate. We were shut down, yelled at, and told to go away and stop looking at the products several times, as if our offers of a fair price were offensive.
Around Khoasan Road we stumbled upon a restaurant frying up Pad Thai on the street with a long line winding down the side walk. On a whim we figured, why not see what the hype was all about? After a 30-minute wait we were seated in the restaurant and ordered what everyone else was ordering, Pad Thai with shrimp. The food arrived shortly after- a plate of fried vermicelli noodles with shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts, and fish sauce wrapped up like a gift inside of a fried egg pouch. The taste was great, but not noticeably better than any of the other Pad Thai we've tasted (though 3x as expensive). We later learned that this restaurant, Thip Samai Pad Thai started in 1966 and is considered to have the best Pad Thai in Bangkok. This is debatable...
The Thai Table
In every Thai restaurant, on every table we noticed the same 4 condiments. Thai people like to customize their food, it's more or less expected to modify your food before eating. The meal is modified according to the predominant flavor profile of Thai cuisine: hot and sour, hot and salty, hot, and sweet. To assist in creating the perfect flavor, every Thai table is equipped with khreuang puang, or cirlce of spices. This includes four condiments in four small containers: arenaam plaa (fish sauce), phrik pom (chile powder), phrik dong (green chile slices in vinegar), and white sugar. When you order Pad Thai, often times peanuts will be included as an additional topping. Tooth picks as well are almost always present.
While reading about the ubiquitous presence of these four containers, a funny statement rang true, "the biggest set-back on the Thai table is their use of a small box of fragile tissue paper, or a covered roll of toilet paper to stand-in for napkins. These tissues are one-ply only...Eat anything the least bit messy and you can go through mountains of tissues and still not get the grime off." So true! The darn napkins are useless. We can definitely attest to this predicament.
We spent a day exploring Bangkok's Chinatown and caught the river ferry to get there. Bangkok is a huge city and getting around can be a challenge. Public transportation is available. Buses are wide spread, but the ferry and skytrain only connect certain districts. We walked down China Town's main street Yaowarat and weaved in and out of crowded markets.
To appreciate the immensity of Bangkok, we had drinks on a roof top bar near the Pat Pong district. We then headed down to Pat Pong to check out the night market and dine on street food. The district of Silom is a bit of a contradiction hosting a variety of upscale hotels while also being home to Pat Pong, notorious for it's "ping-pong" shows. We checked out the counterfeit items for sale in the market and were continuously approached by men with a small pamphlet with prices for sex shows in some of the go-go bars bordering the market.
We attended one of the shows after negotiating for the price of drinks- the entrance is free but they get you with the mandatory purchase of overpriced drinks. The show was...interesting. Let's just say there were ping-pong balls, sharpies, balloons, and blowing out candles involved. We were abruptly and a bit force-ably told to get up from our seats and pay after about 15 minutes in the show. They lead us over to the counter and demanded 1,900 baht, even though we had negotiated a price of 100 baht per drink before entering. On the bill there was a 600 charge for drinks and a fee for the performance. They proceeded to threaten and intimidate us to pay the bill, but ultimately after some arguing, we left only paying the 200 baht we promised.
Buddhist Meditation Class
The Wat Mahathat Temple offers 3-hour Buddhist mediation courses each day. It was hard to find out much about the class online, we even called but due to the language barrier were at a loss. We crossed our fingers, headed the temple and hoped we would find the class somewhere on the sprawling temple grounds. A security guard pointed us to section five of the temple, where we managed to find the class. We settled into the meditation room with five other tourists from Hong Kong, Brazil, Tunisia, The Netherlands, and Germany.
During the first half hour of the class the teacher, a Buddhist monk clad in traditional orange robe, talked about the Buddhist philosophy. He spoke about undertaking every action in your life with love and kindness, the Buddhist lifestyle and the practice of meditation, repeating many points that I was familiar with after reading a book by the Dalai Lama. He also spoke at great length about religion, stating that every religion is ultimately more alike than different. He was full of wisdom and spoke with great poise.
We first practiced sitting meditation by sitting still and attuning ourselves to the rise and fall of our abdomens, and acknowledging other thoughts that passed through our minds by labeling them as "thinking," "bored," "itching"...giving a name to each thing we were experiencing, acknowledging it and ultimately returning to our breath. He also taught us walking meditation.
At the end of the class, the monk, rather uncomfortably asked several students in the room which religion they practiced. One girl was Muslim and another atheist. The monk chastised the girl stating that not having a religion is dangerous, he then said that Muslims are violent. It was hard to hear these things from a man who had before praised all religions as helping people seek freedom through love and kindness. I really wish he hadn't done this; it left a bad taste in my mouth. I'd like to forget the distasteful display at the end of the class and continue to see Buddhism for the beautiful philosophy that it is. Overall, the class was an enjoyable and unique experience off of the typical beaten tourist track.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Initially we planned to take public transit to the Floating Market, over an hour outside of the city. This involved getting ourselves to the Southern Bus station 9 miles away before 6:30AM, taking public bus number 78 for an hour and a half, then walking a kilometer to the bus station. With little information online about how to do this, we gave in an uncharacteristically signed up for a half day tour to the market. For 200 baht per person we took a minivan with 12 other tourists to the market. The disadvantage of this was the higher price and arriving to the market later in the morning when the crowds were worse. Oh well.
The tour made a stop prior to the floating market to see the 'Train Market.' This market is set up along side a narrow train track. When the train passes all of the vendors pull in their baskets and tables of food (many of which are on wheels for that purpose) then after the train passes, they reorganize and continue about their business.
The floating market was our next stop. It was heavily designed for tourists and sold trinkets both on land and water. Again we noticed some aggression and quick tempers among vendors.
We ended our visit to Bangkok with what other than a Thai massage. While getting our massages, our relaxation was interrupted by two young, loud and obnoxious British guys in rooms across from us. Their incessant, mind-numbingly dumb banter continued for at least half of our massages until thankfully they fell asleep. OK, so maybe now we have a bit more sympathy for quick tempered Thai's working in the tourist industry as they have to deal with that crap day in and day out.
We'll Be Back!
Our time in Bangkok may seem a bit nontraditional as we left out some of the major tourist attractions. However, we will get to share these sights with Scott's parents when they come to visit in November. We can't wait!