Thailand Part 1: Bangkok

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It’s been a couple weeks since I returned from my Christmas trip, and let me just say, Thailand is AMAZING! Seriously, it is by far the most exotic, interesting country I have been to yet in Southeast Asia.  I must admit, as much as my mind loved the country, my body was not always a fan. Over the course of a week and a half my allergies were terrible, my face broke out, and I got diarrhea on several occasions, not to mention I was forced to take several cold showers and totally got my butt kicked on a really strenuous jungle trek. But in the end, everything was worth it, and I got to see some of the coolest sights of my life.

So it all started in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. Josh, one of my best friend’s from high school, was meeting me there from Tennessee to join me on a two-week, Thailand/Malaysia adventure. Since Josh’s first flight was canceled due to snow, I found myself with an extra day in Bangkok to see some of the sights he hadn’t been interested in. As I made my way down Khao San Road, the touristy/backpacker area near where we were staying, I started to get really excited. Khao San Road was so cool! All up and down the street, the road is filled with markets selling, surprisingly, really interesting stuff including clothes, food (deep fried bugs, yum), paintings and a whole bunch of knock off goods. At night, all the restaurants play pretty good live music and the street performers come out, and it’s just a really fun atmosphere. Before we left the city, I already had bought a t-shirt, a dress, funky Thai pants, a backpack and a Buddha wall hanging, it had been a much-enjoyed shopping trip!

Our room in Bangkok. This was the farthest back I could get without leaving the room, it was so small and the mattresses were so hard!

But as I was walking down the street that first afternoon heading to the bed and breakfast we had reserved, I soon became acquainted with the room accommodations in Bangkok. Our room at the Tuptim Bed and Breakfast was one of the smallest rooms I had ever seen in my life. It came with two twin beds (with hard mattresses) merely a few feet apart and was so small we could not even open the door completely before hitting one of the beds. Not only did this room not have a bathroom, it didn’t even have a closet, and our luggage space was limited to one shelf with a bar overhead. The place had promised hot showers in the community bathrooms down the hall, but as I soon found out, that was often a myth in Thailand. (According to an American woman who was living in Thailand, the water heaters are quite expensive but break easily and no one knows how to fix them, so they just don’t). Thus began the first of many cold showers that would punctuate my Thailand trip.

Anyway, after settling in, I went to the place’s restaurant to order my first official Thai meal: green curry chicken, rice and chocolate milk with ice. It was absolutely delicious, but as I soon learned, don’t drink the water, and ice counts as water…  Things were fine until I reached my first destination, the Jim Thompson House. On first arrival, things were fine. The house is beautiful. It is a mansion made of teak wood comprised of several traditional Thai houses, with quite a collection of art and china. Jim Thompson was the American who made Thai silk famous in the west by organizing the silk production using traditional hand-woven methods. He disappeared in 1967 in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and, to this day, his death is still a mystery.

Things were fine and dandy until my stomach started cramping up, and I found myself regretting part of that first Thai meal I had found so delicious. Seriously, it was quite embarrassing. Every time I would stand in line to wait for the next tour group, I found myself running to the bathroom! The only thing I can say is I was eventually able to make it through a 25-minute tour with no problems and was grateful I found myself at a relatively high-class, well-maintained tourist attraction with clean, well-equipped bathrooms.

As I took a cab back to Khao San Road (most of the cabs are delightfully bright pink!), feeling weak, exhausted and dehydrated, I decided to take it easy the rest of the night and chuckled to myself that of course this would happen on my first day, such a stereotypical travel story!

Josh’s plane arrived later that night and by the next morning, we were both semi-well-rested and ready to really hit the ground running. Our first stop was Ko Ratanakosin, Bangkok’s former royal district. Let me tell you, this was one of my absolute favorite sights in Thailand. The grounds are full of temples and former palaces/royal buildings that are absolutely beautiful, full of architecture that I had never seen before. To start, the temples are huge and often come with a “chedi”, a large, bell-shaped tower that often hold relics of Buddha or a Thai king. The temples are covered in gold, colored tiles and mosaics that just sparkle in the sun. They are also full of images of mythical creatures with tails and strange faces that was really just unusual and interesting to see. And unlike all the churches in Europe, these temples are well-maintained and look like they were built yesterday.

Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest temple housing Thailand's largest, reclining Buddha.

Next we headed to Wat Pho nearby, Thailand’s oldest temple and home of the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. After having spent a couple hours in awe of the buildings in Ko Ratanakosin, I was delighted to find myself in awe once again: the Wat Pho Buddha is HUGE!  Seriously, as Josh and I waited in line outside the temple, I got a glimpse of Buddha’s head through the window slit, and I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. This Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high, with my head making up the size of just one of his toes!

Wearing the sarong I was forced to buy to enter the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

Later that afternoon, we headed over to Dusit Palace Park, Thailand’s current royal district containing the Vimanmek Teak Mansion, a former palace from the early 20th century full of Victorian-like décor after the Thai king got inspiration from Europe. More interesting, however, was the old parliament building turned museum, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. The museum has a pretty interesting collection of Thai arts and crafts, including some really cool-looking gold thrones/decorations and some really intricate, iridescent green tapestries colored from beetle wings. What I found both interesting and irritating, however, is that I was forced to buy and wear a sarong to enter the building! Now, just to be clear, I was already fully-dressed including long blue jeans, closed-toe tennis shoes and a t-shirt with my hoodie JUST IN CASE I had to cover even more. Not to mention the fact, I wasn’t even in a temple! But no, on King’s orders, all women must be wearing a skirt or something, so I paid the 40 baht (about $1.30) and wore the sarong, over my jeans. Yeah, I looked hot.

After all the excitement and beauty of day one, I must say day two was a little bit of a letdown. The day started off just fine. Wearing my brand new, super cute (super cheap) Thai dress, Josh and I headed out to visit Wat Arun, a temple full of tall, spire-like buildings covered in porcelain tile. The buildings were beautiful and you can take extremely steep, dangerous steps to walk all over them overlooking lovely views of the Chao Phraya River.  From there, we took an hour-long boat tour of the river to reach another part of the city, where we were treated to a relaxing ride viewing modern Thai houses and giant lizards sunbathing on the rocks.

Bangkok tuk tuk driver covering his nose and mouth while driving around Chinatown

All was great until we reached Chinatown, when all the negative ideas I had about Bangkok being crowded and dirty suddenly came to life. The sidewalks are so full, you can’t even walk down them without touching people and the air is so polluted a lot of people cover their mouths and noses as they walk or drive down the street. Furthermore, the stuff they’re actually selling is mostly a bunch of tourist junk, nothing interesting at all. And worst of all, it is never ending!  I swear to you, every time we turned a corner in the hopes of leaving Chinatown, we just found more Chinatown! Finally, I told Josh we just had to grab a cab and get the hell out before I went crazy. I finally was able to get some much needed peace at Wat Traimit, home of a three meter tall, solid gold Buddha where I was able to “meditate” (Josh called it napping, whatever…).

Our day ended with an evening of Muay Thai boxing, a very long evening… Unlike American boxing, in Muay Thai boxing boxers can use all parts of their body (except the head) to hurt their opponent, including the more fun parts like elbows and knees. Honestly, after expecting a really brutal fighting match, I was a bit disappointed that a bunch of the moves ended with the guys really close to each other, almost “hugging” it out. Not that I’m really interested in watching people beat each other for entertainment (not enough testosterone), but if I’m going to sit through five hours of this stuff, I’d at least like to see someone get knocked out or something. Of course, that is exactly what happened during the most interesting fight between the current champion and his opponent. That one was quite exciting but the guy got knocked out in the third or fourth round, so it was over pretty fast. All in all, I’m glad I saw it, but find it unlikely I’ll ever do it again.

So thus ended our stay in Bangkok (at least for a few days). Then Josh and I headed back and prepared to visit Ayutthaya!

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