Thailand, part 1 – Bangkok

Out of all of our Asian destinations, I was most excited for Thailand, so here we go!

Day 88, part 2: More curry everything, please

Our arrival in Bangkok (from Kathmandu) was smooth, especially because it was only upon arrival that I realized that US and EU citizens don’t need a visa to enter the country! Based on what I had briefly read online about Thai visas, I was all ready for some dumb, on-arrival application process with fees, but I was very pleasantly surprised when the lady at the counter told me that we could go straight on through to immigration for a simple passport stamp. Done and done.

We had grand plans to grab an Uber from the airport to our hotel but soon learned that Uber is not sanctioned in Thailand and thus not a good idea for airport rides. Wompwomp. Fortunately, an airport employee helped us out by writing out our hotel name in Thai on a little slip of paper for the cab driver, and thank goodness for that, because we soon learned that there’s far less widespread English use in Thailand compared to India and Nepal (to be fair, we were mostly with tour guides in India so that probably colored our experience, but I don’t think it’s that far off). My next most important observation about Thailand? Drivers actually follow rules of the road! A very pleasant finding after a million tiny heart attacks in India and Nepal. Sure, there’s still plenty of hectic traffic–it IS a big city–but people seem to generally drive in their lanes, in the right direction on the road (though still on the left side 😒), and without constant honking! It was lovely.

Our hotel for the week was actually a hostel (Glur Bangkok Hostel), but a private room with a private bathroom and it was still quite cheap. In retrospect I wish we had just booked a proper hotel (which would have probably only been an extra $5 or so a night) because this hostel was a bit shamble-y. Too many reasons to list here, but I honestly only booked it because it had good reviews at the time, and those have gone down since we initially booked, so clearly we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed the issues.All that said, it wasn’t bad enough to merit losing the money and having to find a new place.

After checking in, all we wanted was to grab dinner and pass out. Luckily, the hostel was right next door to a Thai restaurant with fantastic reviews: Queen of Curry. The lady who runs this place is a legit queen of curry because our food was DELISH. We got spring rolls and I had a green curry fried rice while Ben had yellow curry chicken with steamed rice. We also had our first Thai beers–Singha for Ben and Chang for me. (I love Chang but Ben claims that it tastes like ‘elephant ass’. We’ve been battling ever since. #marriage)

Day 89: Malls in Bangkok are SWANK

Our hostel included free breakfast each morning, so we headed downstairs on our first morning to try it out. I was very disappointed. I suppose I should have expected this, but breakfast was composed of steamed rice with stir fried chicken & veggies. It didn’t taste bad, I just can’t start my day with stir fry…my brain and taste buds can’t handle the confusion. I’m too American for my own good, I know.

After lazing about a bit in our room, trying to figure out what to do for the rest of the week, we decided to head to one of Bangkok’s various malls, maybe do a little shopping, catch a movie. A 30 minute $3 (!) cab ride later, we found ourselves at Siam Paragon. This is the mall entrance:

Needless to say, Bangkok malls are swank and American malls are a tragedy. Our amazement continued as we walked the halls and slowly made our way to the top floor to peruse the movie selection. Then we saw the movie theater entrance:

Seriously, American malls are the worst. The movie theater was a little harder to figure out than it should have been–they have various types of theater rooms with different seating and pricing–but we sorted it out after some Googling and settled on Geostorm. It has TERRIBLE reviews, I know, but in our defense, we watched it before it was technically out in the US and thus no reviews were available. PLUS, I love ‘end of the world’ movies, especially if it’s due to preposterously unreal weather events (e.g. The Day After Tomorrow, San Andreas, etc). Anyway. It was terribly wonderful and everything I was looking for.

There was a Mickey D’s (and a Haagen Dazs!) on the same floor as the theater, so obviously I had to try Thai McDonald’s (sadly, my world tasting experiment hasn’t gone perfectly since I wasn’t able to taste in India and Nepal, but alas, the science must continue). It was ‘eh’. Fries were good, chicken nuggets were subpar–mostly because the breading is a little off. Plus, they don’t have real BBQ sauce…it’s some sort of sweet & sour sauce that they call BBQ, and that just makes it even worse. I did get some ice cream from HD after to make it all better 😬

After the movie we decided to do a little shopping. I needed to replace a pair of lost headphones and Ben was on the hunt for a new suitcase (his ‘little check-in suitcase and big carry-on backpack’ plan has backfired a couple of times and he was ready to upgrade the suitcase to something a little larger). I did find a decent pair of headphones (and stupid adapter, THANKS APPLE) but Ben didn’t have as much luck with the suitcase. But worry not–there’s plenty more shopping time left in Bangkok! If you weren’t convinced about the fancy mall thing, here’s another picture:

Siam Paragon entrance

Day 90: Ben almost gets decapitated

I had a hankerin’ for a giant American breakfast so we skipped on the hostel’s free food and made our way to The Coffee Club, an Australian chain with locations throughout Bangkok (and other Thai cities). They did not disappoint:

Breakfast should always come with dessert.

We had a very leisurely brunch, with dessert and reading included. Just what the doctor ordered. Sadly afterwards we needed to deal with my least favorite part of this trip: laundry. Ben doesn’t hate it nearly as much as I do, but laundry used to be an enjoyable task for me and now it’s the worst thing ever. If we’re lucky enough to have access to an actual washing machine, I never trust that it’s clean or will do a good job. When we have to wash by hand or using Ben’s ‘laundry bag thingy’, the task takes a century and still I’m convinced that nothing is clean enough. And if we need to send it out to be washed because we can’t find a laundromat at all, I get totally creeped out about strangers touching my laundry. And then the drying! We don’t normally have dryer access, so that means line drying. Ben brought along a pretty legit rope for this that works really well, but finding a place to hang it can be a nightmare. I’ve gotten used to non-dryer fluffed clothes, but it still makes me a little sad. #firstworldproblems

ANYWAY. Yes, we did laundry. Our hostel had a washer we could use, so that simplified the process a bit thankfully. The task does still eat up an afternoon, but we managed:

Later that night we made our way down the street to Nalin Kitchen for dinner. It was another delicious Thai meal, though we only managed to remember to take a picture of the spring rolls–the rest we consumed too quickly 🤷🏽‍♀️

Right across the street was Robinson’s, a big department store where you can basically find everything you’ve ever wanted. Sure enough, Ben found his suitcase, at a good deal too. We bought a few things for the room too (water, snacks, etc) and headed back. While getting ready for bed, Ben took a shirt off of the clothes lines, triggering his near decapitation…the bicycle that was hanging on the wall? Well the hooks holding it in apparently couldn’t cope with the weight of our laundry line and the bike ended up JUST slightly bypassing Ben’s head as it slammed to the floor. It did manage to ram into Ben’s new suitcase on the way down and gave it its first scuff mark, thus the suitcase was christened.

Day 91: Temples, temples, and more temples

There are SO many temples in Bangkok but we decided early on in the week that we would dedicate only one day to temple viewing given the number of temples we’d be seeing in Asia as a whole. This meant narrowing it down to the top sights: The Grand Palace (not technically just a temple but a top landmark in Bangkok), Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. If time permitted, we’d tack on Wat Benchamabophit. I did a lot of research on the best way to tackle these landmarks (and the best order) given public transport and the typically massive crowds, and we started our sightseeing day early and ready for battle.

First up? The Grand Palace. From our hostel, the best way to get there would be the ferry, which is very cheap (~$0.50 per person) and pretty efficient. Fortunately, one of the main piers of the city was right by our hostel, so that made things convenient in the morning. We JUST missed our ferry as we got to the pier but we only had to wait about 10-15 minutes for the next one given that it was still rush hour.

Yes, the river really is as dirty as it looks.

The ferry was definitely a bit crowded, and trying to stand on a packed jerky-moving boat isn’t easy, but we made it to our first stop easily. As we walked to the Grand Palace, I noticed a total lack of crowds…first I think we’re super lucky and then I realize that we’re actually super unlucky:

With the former king’s cremation coming up, apparently the Grand Palace was closed for the month in preparation. We knew the event was coming up–the city is covered in signs about the king, not to mention the anthem-type thing they played before our movie that we needed to stand up for–but there was no obvious mention online about any closings. Needless to say: WOMPWOMP. This was our best view of whatever is going on behind those castle walls:

Oh well. An activity for next time I suppose. Onto Wat Pho. Fortunately, this one was open for visitors!

There is one reason above all others to come visit Wat Pho: the gigantic reclining Buddha statue. It’s 46 meters long and gold plated, and the feet are inlaid with mother of pearl. This thing is magnificent.

After we left, we grabbed a quick breakfast to keep our energy up and then onto Wat Arun. First we needed to cross the river, as the temple is on the opposite side from the Grand Palace & Wat Pho. Good thing there’s a little ferry you can take across for 3 baht per person (that’s 9 US cents 😲).

This temple is pretty amazing too–the spire is over 70 meters high and the entire temple is decorated with what seems like millions of tiny pieces of glass.

It’s supposed to be most beautiful at night when it’s lit up but we unfortunately didn’t get to see that. Another goal for next time! For now, given that we saved plenty of time in the morning by not getting to access the Grand Palace, onto Wat Benchamabophit, or as I call it, Wat Ben (because I’m not sure I’m pronouncing the full name correctly). We had to take a cab to this one as it’s a bit far away but it was still only like $5, despite the traffic we hit along the way. This temple is a bit unique compared to others in Bangkok as it’s made of marble. The buddha inside is pretty impressive too.

By this time in the day it was scorching hot and we were exhausted, so we decided to head back to the hostel for a break from touristing. Easiest option was a cab and we managed to hail one quite quickly, but about 15 minutes into the ride realized that he was totally scamming us with the meter. He had somehow rigged it to jack up the cost to well over $10 in just those 15 minutes, when we knew that our full ride home would end up being somewhere around $5. One of the top Bangkok scams. When we confronted him about it, he tried to negotiate a flat rate of $10 for the full ride and I was not having it. He could tell he’d been caught and quickly offered to let us out of the cab, free of charge–clearly he didn’t want to be reported for his sketchy shenanigans. So annoying. We managed to find another cab within a few minutes and eventually made it back to the hostel. We stopped by Swensen’s on the way back for a little cool down snack.

Later that night we grabbed dinner at Queen of Curry again–it was too good and too convenient to not stop by again. This time Ben got panang curry with white rice and I had yellow curry fried rice (sensing a theme in my eating habits?). Once again, yum yum yum.

From here we took a short walk to Sky Bar, one of Bangkok’s highest (and fanciest) rooftop bars. We had heard about this place when we were researching things to do in Bangkok, but we ruled it out when we saw the drink prices–I don’t pay USD$25 for drinks in NYC, why on earth pay that anywhere else but especially in Thailand where I can get a beer for USD$2? But, a friend said we should try it, that the views of the city would be spectacular, so we decided to could budget one drink each for the views. It was definitely a froofy place to get into–with elevator attendants and elegantly dressed Thai women greeting you every 5 feet–and we were definitely underdressed, but c’est la vie. When we got up there, we had to agree…the views were amazing:

That said, within seconds of getting up there, we were politely shoo’d away from the restaurant area and into the bar area–and forced to stay there. Supposedly, that’s the only area that you can take pictures from? It would have been fine if the bar area weren’t so crowded, with everyone trying to move around each other to look around, grab a drink, etc. Add in the dozens of smokers and I was in my own version of hell–hot, claustrophobic, and choking on other people’s cigarette smoke. We did get our $25 drinks–they had some signature drink from The Hangover Part 2 that I enjoyed thoroughly and Ben got some other fancy cocktail that was tasty too–and as soon as we finished, we ran out of there. I’m glad I got to see the city from a rooftop at night, but in retrospect, I definitely could have found a cheaper place to do it from that probably would have been more enjoyable.

Day 92: A night out on the town

This time we walked over to Luka Bangkok for breakfast. Lucky for me, they have a brunch menu, which meant I could have the grilled cheese 😬 Ben had a proper millennial breakfast–smashed avocado on toast. At least he followed it up with a morning tiramisu.

Ben’s friend from college, Tom, who now lives in Vietnam, happened to be visiting Bangkok for work and so we met up with him and his girlfriend for some afternoon drinks. We walked around his hotel’s neighborhood looking for a rooftop bar to enjoy the sun a bit, but apparently Bangkok rooftops are only available in the evening! All of them were closed. Wompwomp. That’s ok though–there’s always the hotel restaurant for a drink and some snacks. We had a good chat over beers, coconuts, and fries. Eventually, Tom needed to get back to work so we bid them farewell and made our way to another one of Bangkok’s malls–this time, Terminal 21. This place is even crazier than the other mall we went to. It’s got like 7 floors and each has a different theme based on a big city around the world, from San Francisco to Rome to Tokyo. A tad overwhelming to explore it all in one day, but really cool nonetheless.

We had an afternoon to kill and decided it was as good a plan as any to catch yet another movie–it’s hard to resist these fancy movie theaters. This time we went for Blade Runner 2049, mostly because the reviews were stellar (and maybe partially because Ryan Gosling is kind of the best). Neither of us had seen the original Blade Runner, at least not recently, but it turned out not to matter. Movie was good and worth a watch.

By the time we got back outside, it was well after dark and time for a little dinner. A friend recommended a restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms–they promote safe sex & family planning–which happened to be nearby so we tried it out. The food was good (whoops, forgot to take a picture!), but the decor is better. Everything is condom themed and hilarious. Case in point:

Bangkok is popular for a lot of reasons, and a major one is its late night partying and red light districts. I kept debating myself all week about whether or not we should go out to one of the city’s many ‘adult entertainment clubs’, vacillating over and over again between “This is a ‘thing’ we’re supposed to do while we’re here” and “This is gross, we shouldn’t go support body ogling” and “Well, if I’m REALLY a feminist, I guess it would be ok to go since these women are allowed to do what they want with their bodies”. I suppose the tourist side of my brain won because after dinner we headed to the infamous Soi Cowboy, arguably Bangkok’s most famous red light district. Like the nerds that we are, we did research the clubs on that street to try to find the best one, meaning the least skeezy one. We ended up at Shark Bar, got a couple of beers, tried to find a balance between ogling and awkwardly looking away so as not to make a girl think we wanted to take her home, and rolled out. Lessons learned? 1) It was probably less skeezy that most US strip clubs, at least at Shark Bar, 2) The girls are eager to have you spend $$$ so don’t make eye contact unless you want to be approached for ‘extras’, and 3) If you don’t want to be approached, it helps to bring your wife–all of the girls stayed far away from Ben the whole night 😂

Day 93: Why can’t massages be so cheap everywhere?

For our last day in Bangkok, we had a list of ‘errands’ to run. With that in mind, we started our day early. What better way to start the day than with a little toilet explosion? That’s right. A toilet explosion. Poor Ben was in the bathroom getting ready, and when he went to flush the toilet on his way out, the toilet exploded with bubbles. Here’s the proof:

Googling tells me that it’s likely drained bubble bath water from another bathroom in the hostel that was rerouted to our toilet due to a clog elsewhere in the drainage pipes. Who the hell knows, but thank god it was our last day in this crap hostel. 🙄🤦🏽‍♀️

We walked across the street to Robinson’s for a quick breakfast in their food court and then parted ways. Ben was off to the post office to mail his small suitcase back to the US (it was too expensive a suitcase to just leave behind, plus a good opportunity to mail back a few souvenirs that were taking up too much suitcase space) and get a haircut, and I was headed to peruse some jewelry and get a foot massage. Ben’s post office experience was good, the employees were friendly and helpful…now let’s see if the package makes it! He went with the cheapest possible option, which means shipment by sea, so it may or may not make it before we get back next year 😂 Afterwards, he got his long-awaited fancy haircut (head massage, hot towel, etc included) at Pheen Barber Shop. Highly recommended, he says.

While Ben was out running proper errands, I was checking out fancy jewelry at a big jewelry mall to see if I could find reasonably priced diamond earrings for my mom–she figured they would be cheaper in Asia, right? Wrong. It became very clear very quickly that the diamond industry controls pricing across the globe, not just in the US. So that shopping trip was over real quick. Afterwards, I walked over to a small massage place near our hotel for what I’d been waiting for all week: a $7 hour-long foot massage. These Thai massage places are no joke–I left that massage feeling like I’d just left an hour long physical therapy session, i.e. great and achy all at once. In other words, the best $7 I’ve ever spent.

Ben and I made it back to the hostel around the same time and lazed around a bit, trying to decide what to do for dinner. I was in the mood for a burger and so we made our way to 25 Degrees later that night for just that. It was quite good! As we’ve seen in previous posts, I’m picky about my burgers (let’s be honest, I’m picky about most food, but burgers are one of my favorite foods and thus something to be particularly picky about), and this one was quite yummy–and so were the fries and onion rings. The only thing that was off was the BBQ sauce, but you can’t win them all. (Oh, and the “New York cheesecake” was pretty disappointing too. Something else to add to my ‘eat as soon as you’re back in America’ list.)

And so ends our time in Bangkok! It was a roarin’ good time and I look forward to our next visit. We headed to Chiang Mai the next morning for the next leg of our time in Thailand…more on that next time!

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