They say that the beginning is a very good place to start, so although I want to BOMBARD you with pictures from the entire Thai-European adventure, I will try to go slow.
In order to go slow, I will go sort-of-chronologically, which is to say that I’m going to start with Bangkok.
Before this trip I could legitimately say I had been to Thailand, but not to Bangkok. And if you haven’t been to Bangkok, have you really been to Thailand? I’ll leave that one to you but I always felt like I was missing out on something by saying “No, I’ve never seen Khao San Road. But I’ve been to Chiang Mai!”
We scored a good deal on flights to Ljubljana from Sydney, and that was because we had a 20+ hour layover in Bangkok on either end. Instead of it being a hindrance, it presented as an opportunity. I had all these fantasies of mouthwatering coconut milk-infused dishes, sweating cold beers, night markets, and, well, that was pretty much it. Yes, food and shopping were how I summarized Bangkok in an nutshell.
What I didn’t consider: the traffic. The crowds. The full on intensity of one of Southeast Asia’s busiest cities.
Getting into the city was easy. On the way there we booked K Maison, a hotel within walking distance of the BTS airport train link. On the way back we stayed closer to the airport at Lilac Relax-Residence due to a 7 am flight. Both hotels more than met our needs and I can recommend them – if you have any questions feel free to drop a note in the comments. (This isn’t a sponsored post! Just my plain old opinion.)
But once we were in the city? Mayhem. Chaos. Bangkok. Somehow I hadn’t mentally prepared for that. I felt trapped in the city, unsure of where the nearest water source was and therefore unable to center myself. With only one night in Bangkok there wasn’t time to venture far, but we got to Victory Circle – a massive shopping center and roundabout. It was hot and sticky with people everywhere, tuk tuks chugging past, intermittent deluges driving us for the nearest overhang in search of shelter. We had no real objective, and just walked until food presented itself.
When it did, at an open air cafe on a street corner, we went straight in. The waitresses directed us to the impromptu foreigner section at the back, next to a table of four English-speaking expat women in a restaurant full of Thai people. Jared and I ordered two cold Chang beers and pointed at a number of menu items: papaya salad, satay chicken, something spicy, something spicier, and something spiciest.
The next day we were whisked off to Ljubljana via Zurich and Bangkok quickly became a hazy memory.
Coming back home 10 days later – to renovations, to work, to routine – was made easier by another nearly-24 hours in Bangkok. (Yes, that song always starts playing in my head when I think about these stopovers.) All flights between Europe and Australia should be broken up by such an indulgence; I have been reading about groundbreaking nonstop flights between Sydney and London and they sound to me like the purest form of airborne hell.
This time we arrived in the morning and essentially threw a dart at a map of the city to determine our agenda. When in doubt, head for water; I just wanted to get to the river. From there, I reasoned, we would be able to find something worth seeing.
PSA: the touts of Bangkok make themselves known by asking if you have a map. First, they are friendly – they work for the airport, they want to help, they want to make sure you have a good time – but then they will ask you for a map and tell you that the place you want to go is 100% inaccessible on foot, you should take a tuk tuk…oh hey! Look at that! A tuk tuk that is totally and in no way connected to the friendly stranger, ready and willing to take you where you need to go.
Which, by the way, on a Saturday is the floating markets. I lost count of the number of people who told us that we needed to go to the floating markets, which we had no intention of visiting. Had we more time, perhaps, but when you are jetlagged and wish for little more than a glimpse of the river, not high on the priority list.
Long story short, we arrived at the river, hot and tired, and quickly agreed to drop the equivalent of $12USD on day passes for a hop-on-hop-off tourist boat.
Best decision ever.
Cruising along that murky river next to floating debris, admiring the random temples and trash-towing barges, was the best thing we could have done.
It had quickly become apparent that the touts and occasional good Samaritans hadn’t been joking; it would have been torture to attempt to walk from the Hua Lamphong train station to the Grand Palace. Traveling by boat, however, made it much easier. We got off near Khao San Road, purely so I could tick it off my list. In the early afternoon it was hardly teeming with people; the only thing earmarking it as a famous tourist spot were the high menu prices, three times that of restaurants only a few streets away. Apparently it transforms at night, but I was satisfied with a quick day stop.
We caught the boat to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, which we were content with walking past; I didn’t learn that Wat Pho houses the world’s largest reclining Buddha until returning home. When I think about it I feel a twinge of disappointment – why didn’t we just go in? We were right there – then I remember how tired we were, and how the only goal was to soak in Bangkok, to be there for the limited time we had, which is what we did.
Plus (more on this in an upcoming post) I’ve just booked a work trip back to Southeast Asia which includes – you guessed it – one more night in Bangkok.
We caught the MRT back to the BTS and hailed a cab to the Lilac Relax-Residences, where we wandered into a night market selling US college basketball t-shirts. Right on top of the pile was an Indiana Hoosiers shirt, and next to that was one for Notre Dame. Home town coincidence? Probably, but it still made me smile.
When booking our hotel we’d read on TripAdvisor that there was ‘nowhere’ nearby to eat, which was a misguided observation. There were no western-style restaurants, that was true, but if you wanted meat on a stick or a good Thai feed, you were in luck. We slid into a picnic table at a spot where everyone else was occupied with the Thai version of ‘The Voice’ and had ourselves a meal.
In short, we fumbled our way through Bangkok but it worked out in the end. It’s rare that I do virtually no research on a destination outside of determining the ideal accommodation location. Could we have made better use of our time? I’m sure we could have. Do I have regrets? No. Only the hope that through a series of one night stands in Bangkok, I might start to get a handle on this city.