This wasn't my first rodeo in Bangkok. I knew, sort of, what to expect, where to go for the sights, and where to go for the shock value. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect of our visit, we only had a few days here but it was our first stop in Asia, so the excitement of culture shock was upon us. Bangkok was a first good stop in SE Asia to acclimate and get used to the new foods, culture, attitude, filth, and beauty...if those two can even be in the same sentence. Hannah hadn't ever been to Asia and we were both incredibly excited to experience all it had to offer together.
We arrived Bangkok early morning on August 1st, 2013. The 11 hour Thai Airways flight from Capetown was easily the best flight we had taken the entire trip. The food was amazing, the flight attendants were pleasant, and there were unlimited on demand movies on the entertainment system. We could have stayed on this flight for 20 hours. When we landed it was so early in the morning that we decided not to take a 300 Baht ($10) taxi to our hotel, but instead, we'd try out the public transportation which involved a train for 45 Baht/pp and then a tuk tuk ride from the last stop on the Bangkok Skytrain (motorcycle/moped/pickup truck device, named for the sound it makes, "tuktuktuktuktuk"). This entire trip would save us about $5. When the Skytrain dropped us off at the Phaya Thai station in downtown Bangkok we realized the taxi may have been a better decision. We walked in the 7am sweltering heat through rush hour traffic in the busiest district of Thailand looking for a taxi or tuk tuk to take us to our guesthouse, which we incidentally had no idea where it was. We finally found a willing tuk tuk driver and we piled into the back of the vehicle and made it to our hotel.
We stayed in a little zen mecca of a guesthouse near, but not too near, Khao San Road backpacker hell. The place was called Phranakorn Nornlen, which called itself a "vintage style family guest house in Old Bangkok". The place was decorated with an old vintage style, each room with its own unique touches like old televisions or radios, a rooftop bar, and a large area in the outside lobby for sitting, having coffee, reading, etc.
They were expecting us at Phranakorn!
Our first mission in Bangkok was to check out the area around the Phranakorn guest house, and see what local street food and markets were in the neighborhood.
Street meat adventure #1 of many, sausage on a stick with obscenely spicy peppers.
As we wandered we attempted to walk to the Khao San Road area, but we soon realized that we were much further than we had thought as Bangkok is so large that only a fraction of the streets show up on maps. After walking about 30 minutes (20 in the wrong direction), we decided to abort and go back to see if our room was ready.
The next day in Bangkok was spent doing much of the same thing that we did on the first day. We wandered around our area and went to Khao San Road and thanked Buddha that we weren't staying there, but more about that later. We did end up in a modern, Western style, shopping mall in the Sumkhumvit business district of Bangkok thanks to Hannah's cousin Jillian's recommendation. It was here that I lost my battle with masculinity. I got my hair buzzed and watched Hannah get a manicure and pedicure for a nominal amount of money. I decided it was time for me to clean up my act and go metro (meaning Hannah decided my safari nails needed some cleaning), so I got one too. I then spent the next week telling everyone I saw, many people several times, how soft my hands and feet were occasionally asking them to feel for themselves.
The next day the real Bangkok experience took off in high gear. Hannah's work buddy Drew, and his lovely fiance Alicia, flew out from Singapore and met us in Bangkok for a very low key, tame, weekend jaunt. We met them at their hotel, a beautiful resort called The Siam on Friday night. That first night was merely a taste of what was to come. We ordered delicious Thai room service and emptied the mini bar, getting back to our hotel at 2am.
The following morning we met up at The Siam and started the day with some coffee made from refined elephant dung and brewed in a special contraption that looks like a meth lab. The coffee wasn't bad, but we didn't want to spoil the elephant dung taste with cream and sugar, so it didn't appeal all that much.
We then took The Siam's boat to the first of a couple of temples and markets.
We did the obligatory visits to Bangok's main tourist attractions which were the temples of Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. We quickly bored of dodging tourists and attempting to navigate the passageways so we made up a game. The winner of the game would end with the most pictures of tourists giving the Asian smile in their pictures, which looks like a peace sign and bunny ears. The game quickly got out of hand with Hannah offering to take every Asian tourists' pictures as I lurked in the background waiting to take a picture of Hannah taking a picture of them giving the peace sign. We then evolved the game into simply taking pictures of tourists doing ridiculous things. The afternoon rains cooled us off and none of the 4 of us really minded walking around fully soaked...especially because we were wearing clothes on loan from the temple.
This didn't count, dq'd due to incorrect finger direction.
Khao San Road is basically an entire district in Bangkok where backpackers converge and locals avoid like the plague, unless they are trying to sell useless, Chinese made trinkets or bracelets embroidered with popular english expressions like "rape me", "i f*ck you", "eat my sh*t, "I'm a c*nt", etc. We tried to tell the vendor that what he was pedaling was not only stupid but offensive to most people, but as expected it fell on deaf ears. We can't imagine anyone ever buying or wearing such things.
It was clear that things were going to get ugly fast. We didn't really have a plan when we arrived to Khao San Road after a stop into 7-11 for a few beers to take on the street. As we walked into different vendor stalls we found some spectacular pink guitars that were begging to be strummed. As I played this horribly tacky instrument the woman selling them became more and more aggresive. She finally snatched that thing out of my hand so fast all of our heads spun. Maybe our reaction time was dulled by the beer, but it was more likely that she was a ninja.
We stopped into a brutally touristy streetside bar and at Hannah's request (demand), ordered a 4 liter "tower" of beer. So, here we were, in the most shittily touristy place in all of Bangkok having the time of our lives with a tower of beer on our table.
Rather than attempting to find a local place with a risk of wasting our time searching and ending up with a bad meal for one dinner together, I convinced the group to venture across town to a hotbed of nightime activity in the Sukhumvit area of town. I had been to a restaurant years ago called Cabbages and Condoms which I recall having an interesting theme, fit for 4 drunk college students (which is what we were behaving like), and decent food. I'm not one to give myself a pat on the back, but this was a great call. We had a blast, and Drew proved himself yet again to be able to make a complete ass out of himself but somehow not annoy, rather entertain, everyone around him. When he blew the condom up and let it fly around the restaurant I was sure we were either going to jail or at least getting ejected. Instead, he got giggles and laughs from the table of Japanese girls whose plate it landed on. It somehow became commonplace for one of us (meaning Drew or Hannah) to arrive at the table with 4 shots of whiskey, and the intervals between when this happened grew shorter and shorter....the night was young.
Drew, please don't.
The crew posing with Captain Condom.
The following morning hurt very badly, but we made it to The Siam to have one final lunch with Drew and Alicia before they headed off home. We bid farewell with the hope of seeing them again somewhere in SE Asia before our next hop to Japan.
That evening marked an important turning point in our trip. Our good friend, and constant project of a human, David "Cherry Tree" Kirschenbaum met us in Bangkok. He flew out from LA to spend the next 2-3 weeks with us on the journey to northen Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.