Ohhhh, Bangkok, you strange and mysterious jewel of the orient. Our hostel was pretty shnazzy by hostel standards (of course to get there, we had to do the same song and dance before Hua Hin ((minivan to Bangkok then shuttle bus to victory monument)) except in reverse with an additional metro train to connecting metro train. The metro was actually pretty nice and would prove to be a great way to get around this behemoth of a city. The Lub D Hostel was a pretty new and modern place. It had a shared bathroom and the tiny bunk bed room was a little tight but it had a good location, nice staff and a bar.
Our first night we met up with some friends we’d met in DaLat, Vietnam. Jerome and Charlotte are a really nice couple from the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively. They were only 2 days behind us on the Thakhek Loop, in Laos, and our paths have been close a few other times but we all happened to arrive in Bangkok on the 26th. We had a fun night finding some really good street food – although it nearly killed Jerome from spice, he actually started turning purple. It was a great night of swapping both horror and success stories in our travels throughout Southeast Asia, while weaving our way through shady back alleys on our way to Chinatown. The Chinese New Year happened to start just as we arrived to Bangkok so the 4 of us went looking for dancing, dragons and fireworks. Sadly, there were no celebrations that night. The first night is more of a family night or so we were told. Through our wandering, we were able to find the China gate, which resulted in more than a few failed pictures and a pretty nice temple. All of us were fairly beat so we grabbed the subway and made our way home. It’s always great to see some familiar faces and you cannot beat these two for positive attitudes; they smile as much as McKayla… okay, almost as much as McKayla.
It’s hard to imagine a better start to a day – good sleep, nice breakfast, short train ride… ferry taxi! Are you sick of all the hustle and bustle? Long commutes? Endless stop and go? Bridges? Terrifying tuk-tuks? Well the ferry taxi is right for you. We showed up at the Sathorn Pier, bought 2 tickets to Tha Chang, the stop near the palace, then were ushered onto the dock by a surprisingly intimidating 12-year-old that I wouldn’t want to fight (not sure those tattoos were fake) and watched the boat come in. Most boats were the ‘long boats’, about 8 feet wide by 40 feet long and took. People either on tours or to different docks lined up and down the river. It was really a sight to see, the organization and timing of these guys was impressive. We didn’t wait 10 minutes before they had enough passengers going in the right direction to send us up river. Most boats had colorfully decorated covered and flowers hanging from the bow. The river was a great way to see the city and an eye-opening experience to see that kind of transportation with such precision in such a chaotic city. It may have seemed very calm and precise given the lack of motos and whizzing tuk-tuks in transport, certainly smoother than we’d been used to despite the wake given off by other boats.
The boat docked just 2 blocks away from the palace entrance. Out of the 4 or 5 people we’d talked to about the palace, not a one mentioned the need for a passport. Normally, they’re on me at all times but the Lub D was the first place in Thailand with a safe in our room and let’s be honest, the less shit you have in your pockets in Bangkok, the better. In all fairness the new king seems like a douchebag anyway, I didn’t want to see his palace or the royal grounds which were also gated off and as far as I could tell, completely paved and I definitely didn’t care about seeing a royal parking lot.
Koh San Road is supposedly to Bangkok as Bourbon Street is to New Orleans. Now, I cant be fully certain of Koh San Road’s night time party atmosphere, we were only there at 2 in the afternoon but I can tell you that Bourbon Street at 2pm still has jazz, laughter, a fun vibe, and 4 for 1 drinks. Koh San Road had tank top stands, dread weaving booths and yuppies bars that I can only assume turn into yuppie bars filled with drunk backpackers willing to pay triple for their Big Chang beers. However, one block south was very charming with nice restaurants and down-to-earth atmosphere. Again, I didn’t see it in its prime form but I’m certain I didn’t want to.
Then there was the giant swing. It’s in downtown Bangkok and Tut-tuk Loui was the only thing that saved it from being the worst attraction in any part of SE Asia. He jumped on the opportunity to amuse two pedestrians with his new found English skills. If we hadn’t been set on walking around, he would have been our driver for sure.
McKayla read about a temple that had crocodiles kept on the grounds. She wasn’t templed out enough to miss out on crocodiles so we stopped by to see it. It was not at all what we were expecting. Three large crocodiles in a cement enclosure with some water. The monks take care of them; one came out and hosed down the crocs while we were there. Pretty interesting.
On our walk back towards the hostel, we went through the heart of downtown Chinatown. The Main Street was starting to come alive with women in red dresses and kids carrying dragon puppets. We made our way down one of the alleys that was pulsing with people and strange smells. After 2 blocks, McKayla found the cart she was apparently looking for. It teamed with all sorts of bugs – grasshoppers, maggots, beetles, roaches, crickets and some huge 4-6 inch scorpions on a sick. While she wasn’t quite craving roaches or scorpions, she did grab a bowl of those ever comforting crunchy crickets, mmmmm…… an oldie but a goodie.
Since the king died 4 months ago, the government somehow thought it inappropriate to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The first really cool celebration we’ve come across was canceled for a dead guy, who clearly had a great life and lives on through countless posters, billboards, currency and t-shirts. We heard any Chinese New Years celebrations could move to Lumpini Park and share with the tourism festival. That’s where we met back up with Charlotte and Jerome but they informed us the festival was lame and very dry so we went with them and a fairly annoying Canadian couple to find some beers.
After about 2 hours we split up from the group and said our goodbyes to a great couple, who will be forever our travel buddies. McKayla and I then hired the wildest tuk-tuk driver to date. The goal was to get to Soi 11 and find a bar called Cheap Charlie’s. The tuk-tuk driver, however, had other plans for us. We’d heard of tuk-tuks and taxis taking foreigners to night clubs where they would collect a commission for bringing guests. We were watching our route on the MapsMe app and noticed he passed our requested destination. After 4 blocks of telling him to stop and him telling us he was going to loop back even though there had been plenty of opportunities. We waited for a red light, jumped out of the tuk-tuk and threw him our agreed upon fare. Jumping out of a moving tuk-tuk wasn’t on my bucket list but I can check it off. We didn’t find Cheap Charlie’s or any renegade New Year’s celebration so we had a beer and took a long walk through the embassy/prostitution district. Not sure if they’re related or if it was coincidence, I’ll let you be the judge.
Day three we headed for the tourist festival in Lumpini Park. For being downtown, it’s a fairly big and nice park. We found some pretty great food vendors and enjoyed some brightly colored costumes. I’d never had schwarma, but it was fantastic and served by an extremely kind and patient Muslim woman. She also made some mean curry meat pies.
We did some more research and had a better idea of where Cheap Charlie’s was located. Though we’d scoured the back alleys of Soi 11 we were confident we could find it in the day time. At least we had good reason for not finding it last night – turns out it was a bar made of scrap wood barely hanging onto the outside of a building and they closed at 11:30 pm by draping a tarp over it. So today Cheap Charlie’s was ‘discovered’ and true to its name, it offered pretty cheap drinks. The bar looked like 3 kids had tried to build a fort, gave up, grew up and started selling liquor. The seating was made up of a dozen small tables with stools sitting in an alley. The bar itself was decorated in an array of skulls, bird nests and wood carvings.
On the absolute opposite end of the bar spectrum, next we went to the moon bar. This bar sat on the 64th story of a very swanky hotel. I even had to zip on my pant legs for this one due to their strict dress code of pants, close toed shoes and no tank tops. The bar offered an eye-opening 360* view of Bangkok, the last glimmer of the sunset (not guaranteed) and stadium priced beer.
Our last day in Thailand was a fairly lazy one. After 3 days of walking all of the city and 2 late nights, we were ready for a mellow day before having to get up at 4 am to get to the airport. We went to a cafe across the river using a ferry. Throughout all of SE Asia, massages have been available nearly on every block, sometimes 4 or 5 on a block. Today I was going to answer the other call of Thailand – “massage kaaaa?” A Thai massage is equal parts normal massage, wrestling and forced yoga. I couldn’t relax. She would be giving a nice back massage then I was in a suplex, hand massage to wrist lock, shoulder rub into half Nelson. I walked away feeling like tenderized meat, less sore in some places, more in others. I’m glad I did it but glad it was just the once. McKayla got a pedicure while I was being twisted into a knot by a deceivingly strong Thai woman. We spent our night doing laundry and trying to watch a movie on a scratched DVD. We’d be waking up at 4 am the next morning to head to the airport and move on to a new country.
I have to admit, as negative as this post makes it seems, I really enjoyed Bangkok. It was definitely a pretty crazy city, but it was a still a great time, and we had a blast trying to discover some the of the shadier areas the city is so well known for. In all honesty, those places certainly existed, but you had to seek them out and Bangkok has done a good job of isolateing the areas where they still allow thier crazy flag to fly.