Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Thailand: Bangkok

Tuesday, 2/3/04
My first night in Bangkok

I arrived into Bangkok late Tuesday night without having slept much. The hard plane seat on United made my ass hurt, but I at least had a lot of leg room given that there were no seats in front of me. During the ride, I was surprisingly not nervous at all. I was eager to start my trip and when I got my stamp in my passport by customs, I was more than ready to brave Bangkok at 12 in the morning.

Originally, I thought I would jump into a cab to take me straight to Suk11, (the guesthouse that I found on Lonely Planet's discussion board, it's not actually listed in the guidebook, which is sometimes a good thing since popularity often rubs off in a bad way - drawing rowdy groups / raising prices, etc.), but I decided to take the airport bus to save money and to avoid getting ripped off from a taxi driver sensing fresh newly arrived tourist blood.

As the bus pulled into the highway going past skyscrapers and bill boards with pictures of paradise and messages saying "live life, be happy", I developed an immediate attraction to the City of Angels, which is the actual name the Thais had called Bangkok. Bangkok is, what Westerners derived from Krungthepmahanakorn Amornrattanakosin Mahintrayuthaya Mahadilokpob Noparat Rajataniburirom Udomrajanivej Mahasatharn Amornpimarn Awatarnsatis Sakatadtiya Wisanukamprasit, which is interestingly enough registered in the Guiness Book of Records as the city with the longest name!

It's funny that Bangkok is called City of Angels, since I would go on to notice many similarities between it and Los Angeles. Both metropolitans are expansive with no real city center and have really bad air pollution from all the smog/numerous traffic jams.

Anyway, the bus dropped me off on the Sukhumvit main avenue near Suk 11, and I started to make my way. Although it was 1 in the morning by now, I felt pretty safe walking around with my big backpack. There were a few street vendors still around, and people walking about, sitting in bars,etc. I had to ask a few people using my directions written out and hand movements to point me in the right direction and after wandering back and forth for 15 minutes, I finally made my way to the door steps of Suk11. The guesthouse turned out as charming as it looked in the pictures on its website ( Sweaty and tired, I was relieved to see my room with private bathroom was clean, big and more than sufficient (500 baht~$13US, prob be my most expensive room for Thailand). More importantly, it had AC. Bangkok, even in the middle of the night was hot and humid and without AC I prob would have not slept a wink.

Wed, 2/4/04
First day of sightseeing

The next morning I got up around 7, and was glad that I made it through the night without waking up. Apparently, I was able to shake off any jetlag. I went downstairs for breakfast (breads, fresh fruit, tea - all included) and met a Chinese-laotian-parisian woman and her British bf. Both were very friendly and gave me pointers on how to get around Bangkok and to the Grand Palace, which I decided would be my first sightseeing stop of the day. I even chatted a bit in Mandarin with the woman - good practice for my trip to China.

To get to the Grand Palace, which has the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and a variety of frescoes and buildings, I first took Bangkok's subway system. It was like BART-running above ground, clean, efficient, but of course much cheaper (most expensive fare 40 baht~$1). There was luckily only two skytrain lines, making navigation much easier for me. From the skytrain station stop, I took a water taxi - long tail boats ferrying passengers to various stops along the Chao Phraya River which cuts through the Western bit of Bangkok. Bangkok, I learned, used to have multiple canalways throughout the city thus earning the moniker, "Venice of the East." However, most canals have been covered up now, making Bangkok susceptible to flooding during heavy rains.

After getting off the taxi, I assumed I would follow some Farangs (Thai word for Westerners) to get to the Grand Palace. But, as I made my way down a busy sidewalk, I soon realized no other tourists were around. No biggie I thought, since I enjoy wandering and getting lost, often the best way to discover new surroundings. Soon, I was getting squeezed between a throng of people making their way through the narrow sidewalk lined with food vendors hawking many food items unfamiliar to me. It reminded me a lot like Taipei, except Bangkok seems to have food/street vendors 24/7.

I wandered around for about 30 minutes, stopping to buy a skirt for 100baht in the process. I was looking to see if the other women were paying cheaper than the listed price, but I couldn't tell. I was not ready yet to bargain either so I readily handed over the note in exchange for the cute skirt. Bargaining is expected in Thailand (except for in dept stores) as long as its done with patience and a smile.

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Luckily, I ran into a British girl who was living and teaching English in Bangkok, who told me I was actually on the wrong side of the river and needed to take a taxi to shuttle me across to the Grand Palace. By the time I got to the Grand Palace it was about 2pm, and hot as hell.
The British guy at brekkie, told me that I can try getting in for free, since I can pass for Thai. So, at the entrance, I walked through the gate that said "Thai" bypassing the "Foreigners" gate and not paying 200 baht (~5$). I did however, think maybe I shouldn't do it in case of bad karma. But, oh well.

Inside, the complex was astoundingly beautiful. The architecture was unlike any I had seen before, and I only wished I knew more about Buddhism and the history behind the place. My only info was from my Lonley Planet - the temple was consecrated in 1782 and the Emerald Buddha was originally discovered in Chiang Rai (northern Thailand) inside a stucco Buddha. I was happy to try out my new Canon A80 digital camera in a place filled with picture opps.

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

After an hour or so, my stomach was growling, so I went back to the pier and succumbed to the touristy restaraunt situated there. For my first foodie rendezvous into Thai cuisine, I ordered veg fried rice, papaya salad, and a pineapple shake all for $3. It was decent, but nothing great. I at least, was not about to pass out any longer.
Back at Suk11, I rested up and went next door to the Thai Rest. determined to raise the bar of my culinary experience.
Sadly, I was disappointed again after the waiter brought out Veg fried rice, which I just had(!) since they ran out of noodles for my Pad Thai. He was so full of apologetic smiles, that I could not be angry with him. Thais are known for their friendly demeanor and Thailand is also known as the "Land of the 1000 smiles."

Tired, I went back to my room after dinner and passed out before midnight.

Bangkok's Chinatown

Bangkok's Chinatown

Thurs, 2/5/04
Second day of Bangkok fun

Today, I was set to visit Chinatown first thing in the morning. In Bangkok, about 30% of the population is ethnic Chinese. Afterwards, I thought I'd go to Wat Po, the temple of the Reclining Buddha, "a statue measuring 46 meters long, with feet 3 meters high and 5 meters long soles of ft inlaid with mother of pearl showing the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha".

However, still not familiar with the water taxi system, I missed the Chinatown stop, and so I did Wat Po first (this time not chancing bad karma, I paid the admission fee like a good tourist). Again, I was impressed by the colorful temple architecture and even more so upon seeing the magnificent larger-than-life reclining Buddha. Afterwards, I strolled through the grounds looking for the Wat Po School of Massage, to treat myself to an hour traditional Thai herbal massage. Of course, I didn't have enough money, but I was not about to forgo my massage, oh no. So, I left the temple for the nearest ATM, in the process, running into Bangkok's flower market. All day, ladies sit in front of their flower carts, stringing together garland after garland of sweet smelling orchids. In Thailand orchids are cheap and plentiful and many buy them to hang around their house as decorations and airfresheners.

With money in hand, I was soon back in the massage room with about 20 other people all laying down on their own beds. Thais don't use massage tables, just normal beds. An hour later, I felt relaxed and calm. The massage complete with hot bag of Thai herbs rubbed all over my body, was just what I needed. I tipped my masseuse 40 Baht, which she was happy to get. Tipping, is not customary in Thailand except at big resort hotels.

I then ate some yummy "Pad-see-ew" from a street vendor, which together with a nice bottle of cold Coke, was only $1. The vendor could have easily charged me more, but in Thailand, as I have found out, people are pretty good about not ripping of tourists for the most part. Back on the water taxi, I soon stepped off into the streets of Chinatown and into an area that could not have been more true to Bangkok's reputation. It was hotter than hot, humid, noisy, the streets full of cars, tuk tuks, taxis, buses, all stuck in a slow traffic jam spewing hot exhaust and smog, which was making my contacts blurry! Along the sidewalks street vendors, tourists, and locals filled every space, causing some sort of a human traffic jam. I proceeded to do some shopping, and flashed my biggest smile to multiple vendors trying to use my bargaining skills. But, I for some reason lack something because no one even spared me a single baht! Oh well, I was loving Bangkok anyway and loving my independence as a solo traveler to explore at my own leisure. Before going back to Suk11, I stopped by the vegetarian Hall, a building more than 200 years old and displaying old world charm.

Instead of resting up at Suk11 upon return, I ended up rushing to meet Chris, my boss's grad school buddy, who had been living in Bangkok with his wife and son for four years. They had started their own enviro NGO specializing in energy, so I thought it would be good to meet them to chat enviro stuff and get some traveling tips for Thailand. Unfortunately, Chom, the wife couldn't make it, so I met Chris, his mom, and his baby for a stroll through Bangkok's biggest urban park, Lumphini. The park was really nice, reminding me a bit of Central Park. The funny and cool thing was that there were about 100 thais and expats, gathered at the entrance of the park dancing aerobics to some Thai techno. Every night aruond 6pm, the city pays for an aerobic instructor to lead a free class for the masses. Quite a sight to see! For din din, we ate at the food stalls, and I was glad to get some help ordering my dish. None of the thai street food vendors really understand English, so ordering is a haphazard guess/pointing at best, unless you can utter a few thai food phrases. I ended up with a blasting hot Thai basil stirfry, with only a watermelon shake to soothe my stinging tastebuds. I thought I could handle spicy foods before coming to Thailand, but real Thai food is about a million notches higher on the spice level it seems.

Finally, back at Suk 11, I decided to hang out in the common room in hopes of meeting some friendly travelers. Although, I love exploring the city by day alone, I thought it would be fun to experience the night life with others. In a matter of minutes, I was invited to go out with Anil-the son of the family who owned Suk11, and some Thais, and other people Friday night. Yipee. I also met Amy, who I thought at first was Canadian. She was actually from Chicago and had lived in London for the past two years and just quit her consulting job to travel and to make a career change to the social services. I liked her immediately,and invited her to come out as well on Friday. I also met Steffen, a german and world traveler-ten times over. He had travelled SE Asia ten years ago (and has been to countless other countries), when it was still somewhat dangerous to do so and not exactly a tourist destination like it is now. He'd also lived in Thailand for a couple of years, and has since made multiple trips back. Steffen, was to join us as well, so I went to bed happy to have met some cool folks.

Friday, 2/6/04
Day Three, Shopping Till I dropped, literally.

Today I woke up fully in love with Bangkok, and ready to some serious shopping. I also wanted to squeeze in a visit to the Jim Thompson House (CIA agent turned silk entrepreneur, who bought six traditional Thai houses and turned it into one grand one filled with Thai and Chinese art) to get some Thai culture sight seeing under my belt. I never made it to the Jim Thompson House.

I first went to a shopping mall, with many stores found in the states,like Guess and Bebe, thinking maybe I can score some major deals with the conversion rate. I was totally off, as the stores were very expensive, which was why the mall was practically empty. So,I left and headed out to the cheaper shopping complexes, buying a few shirts, still unable to bargain tho! And for lunch, I ended up crying as I ate spicy-ass noodles that a nice Thai girl ordered for me, since I had no clue what to order in the restaurant that spoke only Thai. My stomach felt like it was on fire, as I painfully finished my noodles. At this point, I was actually sort of frustrated that my culinary quest in Thailand, so far was only supplying me with way too spicy food. I just wanted a nice Pad Thai, was that too much to ask for? Apparently, it sure seemed that way.

By the time I found my way into a gigantic shopping complex, my feet were being torn up by my sandals, and I was starting to get blisters. I felt like I could no longer walk, and wanted to find a place to sit down. Soon, I was passing by a salon that tempted me with happy hour specials. For 500 baht ($13), I decided to get the manicure/pedicure/foot massage combo. My feet were in heaven, as I got my first foot massage ever. I also got suckered into a facial. I didn't feel too guilty tho, and was enjoying the pampering. It didn't suprise me, that my french manicure started to chip away the same day considering how cheap it was, but nevermind.

Night out on the town with people from Suk 11.

Night out on the town with people from Suk 11.

It was already 5pm, too late to go to the Thompson house, by the time I stepped out of the salon. So, I grabbed some Pad Thai at the food court in the mall (blah) and headed back to Suk11 to go out. By 8ish, a group of ten of us (a mini UN gathering of sorts Canadian, Austrialian, American, British, German, Thai, Japanese) jumped into a cab and headed out to Royal City Avenue, a nightlife section full of neon lights and outdoor seating and a part of town, favored by the younger, trendy Thai bunch. Our first stop was a live music pub, where we ordered dishes and pounded whisky/cokes and Thai beer. When the bill came, one of Anil's friends footed the entire tab! It was awfully generous of him, but they told me that it's Thai tradition for the oldest one of the group to pay for everyone. We then went on to one of the outdoor venues, where thumping Thai techno was blasting out huge speakers. It was great fun to experience, and I was on my way to being drunk and merry as were all the others.

When it was about 1:30 I decided that my Bangkok nightlife experience wouldn't be complete without a trip to Patpong, to see a ladyboy show. So, me, Amy an Aussie, and a Brit (who totally reminded me of Sam Cooper), jumped into a cab and landed smack in the land of hedonism. We were led to a ladyboy show, by a local thai who saw that we had no clue where we were going. For the cost of a very expensive Chang Beer (300 baht, ~$8) we were treated to a show of pingpong balls, ten ft string, and firecrackers for the next twenty min. Use your imagination here. I won't go into details . Let's just say it wasn't the flamboyant, ladyboy-caberet I was expecting. But, it actually wasn't that seedy either. At 2am, lights were out, show over. Bangkok, has recently been slapped with a new nighttime closing curfew by the Prime Minister. Many people are not to happy of course about this. The four of us still with beer in hand, then decided it was time to head home. We jumped into a tuk tuk, which is a three wheeled covered bicycle, and our driver maneuvered his way through the crazy street traffic that was still going strong in the wee hours. Back at Suk11, we proceeded to stay up drinking more beers and playing card games, with the other group we had started off with. It must have been 5am when I finally hit the sack, tired, but fully satisfied with my first Bangkok nightlife adventure.

Some young Thai hipsters hannging out in Royal City Avenue district

Some young Thai hipsters hannging out in Royal City Avenue district

Saturday, 2/7/04
Day 4 - Chatuchak Market and Jim Thompson House

At 11 am, I was supposed to have met Amy and a few others to head out to one of the world's biggest markets, Bangkok's "Chatuchak Market", held on the weekends. However, no one was down there, which was not a surprise given our previous night time escapade. An hour later, Amy and I did manage to pull ourselves together and we jumped on the Sky Train, which took us straight there. Divided into various sections - clothes, furniture, live animals, etc, etc - the Chatuchak Market sells everything under the sun. (Except when we went, the live chicken section was eerily empty due to the bird flu. BTW, the bird flu while splashed across the front pages of the Bangkok Post daily, has not made any major impacts on day to life nor my travels here in Thailand.) For two hours, we wondered through the various stalls, but it was almost too much too take in - esp with the hot sun heating up the aluminium roofs and raising the temperature even more. The only thing we bought was lunch and two striped belts for 20 baht (~50 cent) on our way back to the Sky Train.

Around 2pm, we decided to hop to the National Stadium Sky Train stop and go to the Jim Thompson house, which turned out to be a rather nice tourist attraction. I paid 50 baht for admission, the student rate with my ISIC card. I had no clue who he was before, but Thompson's love for Thailand and her beautiful art was apparent in his big traditional teak house. Our tour guide shared with us some interesting facts, like how Thompson disappeared in the Cameroon highlands the year that an astrologer predicted he would die. Afterwards, Amy and I ran into Diana and we joined her to eat some Thai food at the cafe there. I had a papaya salad with coconut rice for 90 baht, and was loving it.

That night at Suk11, we decided to have a quiet one in. Steffen, Amy and I watched "City of God" - one of the many pirated DVDs he bought in Bangkok - in the common room. Steffen and I also stayed up to watch one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I don't even remember the title, but Tara Reid was her usual ditzy self in this college comedy. And while it was filmed at UCLA, my alma mater, I insisted to Steffen that college life in America was really not all that scandalous and pathetic .

I finally went to bed at 5am to the sound of the pouring rain. (BTW, after having my own room Tues/Wed I had decided to move into the dorm room for half the price - 250 baht (~6.50$) - for the rest of my stay at Suk11. The room was very big, and I recommend the shared room if you want to save some Baht.)

Jim Thompson's House

Jim Thompson's House

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Thailand Bangkok
The trip
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
The Author
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.
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