Nate pulled me into Southeast Asia a little unwilling. I was dreading the heat, the dirt, the crowds, the smells, the inevitable illness. We had been a little spoiled in Eastern Europe in terms of comfort and I knew it.
Maybe it was because I had successfully mentally prepared myself, but I arrived in Bangkok ready for it all. We stayed in the Banglamphu neighborhood, known for hosting backpackers and away from the high-rises of downtown. While this meant that if we wanted to travel outside of Banglamphu we had to take a taxi and be stuck in 45 minutes of traffic in any direction, I loved our little area.
On our corner was this abandoned mall. I had read about this place before coming here and had no idea it was right on our street! Shut down before it ever opened due to code violations, eventually holes in the roof led to standing water, which led to massive mosquito breeding. In order to quell the problem, fish were let loose in the mall. Though it was officially closed for years, knowing travelers could pay the right people and head inside at their own risk to see a weird, abandoned, aquatic world. However, a few months before we arrived, the fish were removed and the place truly closed for good. An interesting story, though!
As soon as we arrived, we got lunch and I ordered some pad thai with Thai beer. I couldn’t stop smiling as I realized I could eat this every day if I wanted. By the time our weeks in Thailand ended, I would think most pad thai is super boring. Growth!
We found a lot of great places to eat in our area, including this stand offering pad thai for less than a dollar.
We caught dinner here one night, sitting on plastic chairs on the side of the road, when it began to downpour. I thought it felt good after the stifling heat (it was around 95 degrees everyday) and sat in the rain for as long as I could. By this time the “bar” next door – a truck selling beers – was putting up a tarp to keep the tables dry.
We waited out the storm for around 30 min and when it eased up, we went for our white-tourist pilgrimage to Khao San Road. Famous from The Beach, where Leonardo DiCaprio is offered snake blood here in the opening scene, we found a much less interesting atmosphere here 15 years later.
Khao San is ridiculously crowded, with competing techno beats blasting out of every bar. Vendors spill into the street so much so that there really isn’t one. People stick all sorts of things in your face: jewelry, menus, an offer for laughing gas. That isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy our trek through; it was very entertaining. But we found a quieter street to enjoy some beers and local music.
Bangkok, with Thailand’s population being 96% Buddhist, is known for its many gorgeous Buddhist temples and the Grand Palace. We walked around a lot of temples during our few days in Bangkok, getting adept at slipping our shoes off and covering up with a scarf where required before going in. There would often be a few tourists and few practicing Buddhists in each one, bowing or leaving offerings. Some temples even had a fan or two to keep the breeze moving. I sat at those a little longer.
We got a few traditional massages in Thailand, which are very intense and physical. This statue was interesting to us as we passed by, but it wasn’t until we got a massage ourselves that we understood it a little better!
We had heard the warnings before coming to Bangkok: be aware of scams. Tuk tuk drivers will offer you a cheap ride but will actually bring you to their friend’s tailor shop and insist you buy something, or similar operations. But we found another interesting scam we hadn’t heard of. Twice, friendly Thai men approached us and began asking questions about where we’re from, what we’ve seen, and where we’re going. “Oh to this temple over here,” we’d say. And their response would undoubtedly be to tell us that temple is closed today for the Buddhist holiday (not a thing). Then they would offer to take us to one that is “only open one day a year: today!”. Immediately our friendly smiles would fade as we’d realize we were being led into some unsavory business. We’re learning all the time how to be smarter travelers but trying not to get too jaded.
I never would have imagined I’d spend my 30th birthday in Bangkok, but that’s where we ended up! Nate planned a great day, including a private three-hour couples massage at a spa. It included a body scrub (Nate got a coffee scrub, I got tamarind), a full body massage with oil, and then a foot massage. It was a very unique experience unlike anything we’ve ever done before! Then we walked to a rooftop bar downtown and just caught the end of the sunset.
After dinner and drinks, we headed out to meet Hunter, a friend of a friend that we had met a few years prior at a wedding. He lives in Bangkok, working on a campaign to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth here. It was refreshing to talk about shared passions in a faraway place with such an awesome human.
In Thailand, the royal family is a big deal. If you are caught slandering them, you could be looking at jail time. The current king, Rama IX, is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 69 years. Thailand has never been colonized and has had a peaceful recent history, especially when compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. The day after we left the country was the King’s birthday, which is the same day as Father’s Day because he is seen as the father of Thailand. The entire city was decked out with gold and white ribbon, lights, and huge, framed pictures of the king outside every building.
And finally, Bangkok is where we tried seaweed snacks and green tea flavored Kit Kats! Both big nos.
From Bangkok, we headed about 10 hours north to Chiang Mai to enjoy a whole different side of Thailand. All our adventures there definitely require another post!