Thursday, 3 April 2014

Bangkok - Temples, Tuk-Tuks and Tropical Cuisine

Ever since I saw Danny Boyle's 2000 film, The Beach, it's been my dream to visit Thailand. It was actually one of my favourite films as a teenager, and while in more recent years I've come to recognise its mediocrity as far as acting, script and story go,  I still can't fault it for its gorgeous cinematography and its inspiring depictions of paradise. I have to credit it, to some extent, with my first yearnings to travel the world, and it has made Thailand, for me, a mysterious place of beauty and adventure, an exotic unknown of golden temples and undiscovered islands.

Fourteen years after seeing that film, I'm finally here. Angela and I have been in Bangkok for a few days now, having safely made the flight from Tokyo last Monday. I'm happy to report that so far, we're having a blast. I'm actually surprised at how much Bangkok is living up to how I imagined. It's dirty, congested and a little bit shadier than we're used to, but I actually like that; lately I find that the cleaner, developed countries of the world don't excite me as much (probably part of the reason I struggled to fall in love with Japan). What I'm after, these days, are adventurous, exotic, otherworldly places that don't resemble anywhere I've been to before, and so far Bangkok is ticking all those boxes.

As a result, it finally feels like we're on our way. Florida was an interlude between two adventures. Japan was supposed to be the start of our grand Asian journey, but everything there felt a little too safe, too familiar, to really count as adventure. Now, in Bangkok, we're finally in true "backpacking" mode, slowly easing ourselves into the lifestyle we'll be following for the next however many months: sampling new foods every day, learning the local phrases so we can communicate, hanging out with other backpackers, embracing the heat and the sweat so as not to become irritable, trying to avoid getting scammed, watching our wallets, taking hundreds of photos...

Maybe one day all this will get old. But I hope that's not for a long, long time. Here are some photos from our first two days.

Leaving Tokyo behind us on the last day of March...
...and stopping for a five-hour layover in smog-covered Shanghai, China.
The really strange thing about our layover was that our flight to Bangkok left from Shanghai's other airport, located on the opposite side of what is one of the world's biggest cities. There was no public shuttle bus between the two airports, and instead we had to take the city metro. Chinese customs and immigration granted us 24 hours on Chinese soil. It felt really strange being able to walk around knowing that we didn't even have Chinese visas!
On the Shanghai Metro, which was actually pretty similar to Seoul's.
Posing at Pudong Airport, before taking our flight to Bangkok, which landed at 2 in the morning. We took a taxi to our hostel and went straight to bed.
The next morning, we went to the roof of our hostel to get our first glimpse of Bangkok by daytime.

Then we went for a walk around our neighbourhood, which is pretty close to the backpacker haven of Khao San Road.
Everywhere we go we see these golden-framed images of Rama IX, the reigning king of Thailand, and the longest-serving head of state in the world.
Our first mission was to book some train tickets, since our plan is to head to Chiang Mai after we've done a week in Bangkok. So we went to Hualumphong Train Station and bought some tickets there. Because of Songkran - the Thai New Year - we had some trouble getting return tickets, and we're going to be staying in Chiang Mai for ten days, a lot longer than we planned. But hopefully we'll find stuff to keep us occupied.

After leaving the train station we headed for Lumpini Park, as there was a clinic nearby where we could get cheap travel vaccinations. Unfortunately, the whole area around the metro station was taken over by the protest movement that has been disrupting Bangkok for the past couple of months, and the numerous barriers and makeshift walls made it difficult to find the clinic. We gave up and headed back to our area to do some exploring.
Wandering through street markets on the way to Khao San Road.
On Khao San Road itself. The name khao san means "milled rice" in Thai, harkening back to the days when the road was a rice market. In the last few decades, however, it has developed into a "backpacker ghetto," filled with cheap hostels, travel agencies, pubs, bars, tattoo parlours, and stores that sell handcrafts, clothes and other souvenirs.

We bought some delicious coconut ice cream from this guy...
...and since that didn't fill us up enough, onto the scorpion-on-a-stick!
We enjoyed a few drinks at a local bar, then explored the nearby streets as night drew in.

One of our room-mates at our hostel, Mike, joined us for some more exploring later that evening.

At night, Khao San Road becomes a lot busier and a lot louder: boom-boxes blast dance music down the street; vendors, tailors and ticket touts coax you to buy their wares; and the smell of street food attracts hungry passersby.
Our first try of Pad Thai. We've since had it several more times at different establishments, and it only gets more delicious each time. We're loving the fact that you can eat wholesome, delicious meals here for just a dollar, sometimes even less!
We haven't had a Thai massage yet, but since they're also very cheap I imagine we'll be trying one soon enough.
As we walked down Khao San Road, one of the many vendors stopped us and offered to take us to a live ping-pong show. Curiosity got the better of us, and we agreed to have a look.
He let us try out his tuk-tuk.

Driving to the ping-pong show.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the show, and I won't describe it in great detail, but suffice to say, it involved entering a very dimly lit strip-club with a circular stage in the middle, where we watched as naked women entered consecutively, each one performing a different "trick" with her private parts. These included projecting ping-pong balls into buckets, opening beer bottles, smoking cigarettes, turning water into wine, firing darts at balloons, etc. It was, at turns, bizarre, amusing, disturbing, and a whole host of other adjectives, and after an hour of it we were ready to leave and return to the relative sanity of Khao San Road.

The next morning, after getting our vaccinations done at another clinic, we were straight back onto the pad thai, this one a peanut, lemony variety. I promise I will try to tone it down with the food pictures as time goes by, but right now every meal feels like an exciting discovery that must be documented (even if I'm the bazillionth person to do so).

At Khao San Road a tuk-tuk driver offered to take us around to a few city sights for about a dollar. At that price, we thought it seemed a pretty sweet deal. Of course, we should have known there'd be a catch: he would also take us to tailors and jewellery shops along the way, so that he'd get a commission from them. It was a bit of a drag having to browse items that we had no desire to buy, but at least the tuk-tuk ride cooled us down a lot more than if we'd walked from site to site.

The first site we went to was Wat Intharawihan. Like most temples we've seen here, it's utterly beautiful, with ornate, gilded rooftops and dragon-like formations.
It also has a 32-metre-tall standing Buddha.

Locals pray and leave gifts at the Buddha's feet.

Just as we were about to leave, this man sold us a small cage filled with birds. He told us that if we set the birds free within the temple grounds, it would give us good luck.
Angela, emancipating the prisoners. I wonder how popular these are with tourists that come here. After all, you get to set some animals free for just a few bucks and feel good about yourself afterwards. I just hope that the man doesn't apprehend the birds afterwards, condemning them to a life of temporary, fleeting freedoms and inevitable recapture.
At the jewellery store that the tuk-tuk driver took us to, we were allowed to watch some goldsmiths making new creations.
Then we were off to another temple, or wat, this one called Wat Benchamabophit.

That evening, back in our area, Angela had a tasty Thai green curry.

That's it for now. We're having a lot of fun here so far, but because of the intense heat, and the fact we have much more time, we're taking things a little slower than we did in Japan. So the blogposts might not be quite as frequent. But there's still lots too look forward to throughout the month.


  1. Wow looks like u experience! Seems like fun except for the constant bargaining and trying not to get scammed (i'd hate that). And i'm so jealous of ur pad thai, really! Please keep posting pics of food!!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Okay, I'll try to keep posting food pics :)