Oh Bangkok…what a roller coaster ride. We arrived early in the morning after an overnight train from Chiang Mai. So we dropped our bags at our hotel and explored the area around infamous backpacker stomping ground Khao San Road a bit before checking in. In the afternoon, we pulled a complete 180 and headed to the Peninsula for afternoon tea, moving Ting one step closer to her bucket list goal of having tea at each of their locations. From there, we boarded their free ferry across the river and headed for the heart of downtown.
As night fell, we needed a plan. The nightlife in Bangkok has a less than salubrious reputation; a distinction that would cause most cities to launch exhaustive marketing campaigns or an overhaul of legislation to shake the negative attention. But Bangkok embraces its reputation. And so do thousands and thousands of tourists. We wanted to see what all the fuss was about. We headed to Soi Cowboy, just one of several epicenters of Bangkok’s red-light nightlife. Soi Cowboy was made all the more infamous after its Hangover II cameo. Somewhat overwhelmed, we strolled through, giggling like middle school kids at the offerings flashing in neon. Men with flyers advertising all sorts of illicit shows and venders selling bracelets with slogans we can’t repeat approached us to add to the overwhelming atmosphere. We parked ourselves at a streetside bar and just observed the goings on, inventing a new drinking game…involving ladyboys instead of scooters this time. Many of the lady boys were surprisingly convincing and were actually pretty cute girls (according to Ting). Others got an A for effort. Others still seemed as if they hadn’t put in much effort beyond slipping on their gilttering stilettos. All in all, an interesting evening. We had experienced that side of Bangkok and felt no need to experience it again.
The following day, we slept in a bit late and wandered around the downtown area before meeting our friend Annie for lunch. Annie is interning this summer with the US consulate in Bangkok and entertained us with stories about how thorough the screening process is to become even a temporary State Department employee. After lunch we went to check out the wholesale market section of the city, which was a blocks long chaotic maze of stalls and plazas selling mostly junk at insanely cheap prices. Tired from all the browsing, we stopped for a snack in a local food court and had a delicious assortment of Thai dishes. As we meandered through the mall, Ting realized that she no longer had her cell phone. Panicking, we ran back to the food court and split up to look for the phone. Miraculously, the phone was just sitting on the table we had eaten at next to a woman enjoying her late afternoon snack. Having spent the last 3 years in Shanghai where if a phone goes missing for a second its gone forever, we were truly amazed.
At this point, our day was halted by a rainy season downpour. We decided to check out a popular mall, Terminal21, that was directly connected to the MRT station. Each floor of the mall was decorated to reflect a different international city (Rome, Istanbul, Tokyo, San Fransisco, etc.). Despite this sounding like the tackiest gimmick ever, they pulled it off quite well. The top floor housed a movie theater that offered comfy couches to guests willing to pay a bit extra. Extra for two people in Bangkok however, was less than a single movie ticket in America. Still waiting for the rain to pass, we bought a ticket for Despicable Me 2 in 3D, found our couch and started chatting through the promos that ran before the movie. Suddenly the whole rest of the theater fell silent and everyone stood up. We exchanged confused glances and followed suit. The beginning of our movie, as with every movie in Thailand, was marked by the playing of the King’s Anthem which accompanied a glowing slideshow of various scenes throughout the King’s reign. It was either slightly propagandist or he’s the most amazing man ever. After the movie, not wanting to leave Terminal21, we headed to the food court. We got a root beer float at Milk Solid, an ice cream shop that makes your ice cream on the spot by mixing ingredients with liquid nitrogen.
The following morning, we planned to visit the Grand Palace, but when we arrived we were dissuaded by buses unloading swarms of Chinese tourists. Instead, we headed to nearby Wat Pho. The temple complex houses an enormous reclining Buddha statue and claims to be the place where traditional Thai massage originated. We had to test the masseuses of course…for the blog. We then walked into Chinatown in search of a famous suckling pig restaurant that had been recommended by Anthony Bourdain. After wandering for an hour or two we found it. It was closed. So we kept walking and found ourselves at the intersection of Chinatown and Little India. Everywhere we looked were venders offering shark’s fin soup, bird’s nest soup, curries, spices, trinkets. The barrage of stimuli on our senses was about all we could handle at that point, but it was a good preview of what would come a week later in Penang, Malaysia.
That evening we had plans with Somi, one of Ting’s friends who grew up in Bangkok. Back in college, Ting worked at a DC Thai restaurant as a hostess. Somi, another hostess, had moved back to Bangkok in 2007. The team of Thai employees treated Ting like family and in the years since, she has yet to find a Pad Thai as delicious as the one at Bangkok Bistro. After not seeing Somi for almost 6 years but keeping in touch across the world via Facebook, Ting was very excited to see her. We met Somi at a famous Pad Thai joint near our hotel and reminisced about the rest of the Bangkok Bistro team. After dinner she took us to an extremely popular bread restaurant called Mont that essentially just served toast with a variety of toppings. Much like liquid nitrogen ice cream and gac fruit juice, this will inevitably catch on America and become wildly popular. It was great to have a local guide lead us to some of Bangkok’s secrets and even better to catch up with an old friend.
The next morning, emboldened by a successful sidewalk haircut in Hanoi, Eric decided to give it another go in Bangkok with very lofty expectations. This time however, there was some slight confusion between “cut only this much” and “leave only this much.” It’s always an adventure getting a haircut if you don’t share a language with the barber.
Finishing out our final day, we headed to the famous Bangkok flower market. It was amazing. But according to Eric the experience ruins future Valentines’ Days for Ting. In Bangkok, three dozen red roses only cost $1-2. Clusters of beautiful orchids were slightly over $1. Every type of flower you can imagine and many you can’t were all on offer for absurdly low prices. Some venders arranged intricate bouquets in the shape of dragons, other prepared prayer offerings, while others still somehow managed to eke by selling fake flowers within a sea of gorgeous authentic blooms.
From the hectic sweaty street markets to the state of the art shopping malls blasting cold air conditioning, from the notoriously sleazy nightlife to the calm serenity of the many temples, Bangkok had a lot to offer and we really enjoyed the dynamic vibe of the city.
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