Still on a high from the elephants in Chiang Mai, we hopped on our next one-way, Air Asia flight to Bangkok. Bangkok is a much larger city than Chiang Mai so navigating from the airport to our apartment was comparatively stressful primarily because our first taxi driver got lost and could not find the address. After driving in circles for way too long, we finally had to ask him to just stop the car and let us out.
Trying desperately to orient ourselves, we wandered up and down the block, luggage and backpacks in tow, looking for street signs with those confused tourist faces that scream “I can’t read Thai street signs!” Then the clouds parted and the sun shone down (actually that’s not true…the sun was already blazing down on us and sweat was pouring through all cracks and crevices) BUT, we were saved by the genuine kindness of the Thai people when a lovely group of street-food-selling women came to our rescue. After much consultation among themselves while we stood by hopeful, they walked us to a new taxi stand and explained to the driver where we needed to go. And he drove there!!
Transportation is always the toughest aspect of traveling abroad, isn’t it? Luckily for us, once at our apartment, we had an easy time navigating the city. The BTS line was right outside the complex and was clean and efficient.
The BTS line only covers a portion of the city however as diagrammed with the purple, blue and green lines below.
For areas in the older part of the city closer to the upper bend of the Chao Phraya River, water taxi is a mode of transport.
And if that didn’t get us where we wanted to go, tuk-tuks and cabs were readily available. We loved the green and gold ones. Packer fans all the way in Thailand!!
Bangkok is just teeming with activity in all corners and neighborhoods. We loved exploring! First order of business was the ‘other’ side of the city. Some might call it seedy. We called it another layer of culture about which to learn. We actually hired someone to show us around here as we weren’t sure we’d feel comfortable on our own. Most of the places were on Soi Cowboy – ‘soi’ translates as street. It’s called Cowboy Street because an American who often wore a cowboy hat opened the first establishment back in the 1970’s.
That’s a temporary tattoo on Alex, BTW. You might recognize it from Mike Tyson’s face in the movie Hangover which was filmed in Thailand. Lest you think she was the only one to take part in this goofy little exercise, there’s this.
Learning about the Ladyboy culture was fascinating. We met Nugirl who sat and chatted with us for awhile.
Boxing is a huge sport in Thailand so we were happy to see a match that same evening. In ten minutes they cleared away the stage and set up a boxing ring and Ding! Boxing match commence!
On a much quieter note, we toured the Jim Thompson House late one afternoon. Mr. Thompson was an American architect who fell in love with Thailand when serving in the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA) during World War II, so he moved there upon his discharge when the war ended. He built a complex of six gorgeous traditional Thai homes using teak wood and decorative structures as only an architect could and he filled it with a wonderfully unique collection of art. He, his house, and his art became the talk of the town and a central hub of social gatherings.
His real legacy though is that he revitalized the Thai silk industry boosting its value and demand worldwide. It’s beautiful stuff but speaking of its value – definitely outside of our price range so we did not come home with any. Unfortunately, after 22 years in Thailand, he disappeared while hiking in a jungle in Malaysia when on vacation. Shortly after, his home became a museum. A few photos of our visit are below. The first is of Joel by one of the spirit houses (a typical site near every Thai home.)
A gentleman demonstrating the art of silk spinning.
Baskets of silkworm pods on the right and left with a basket of colorful silk in the middle.
And this one – can’t resist – a barrel of floating lotus flowers. Perfection.
Bangkok provided a couple of temples for us to explore – one manageable and sacred, the other insanely touristy and exhausting. Let’s start with manageable and sacred, shall we?
Wat Pho is home to the giant reclining Buddha.
The feet were most impressive.
Oops! Let’s try that again.
Even the bottoms of the feet were amazing with patterns and carvings throughout.
You could buy a little packet of coins to make offerings and prayers in each of the metal alms bowls. There was a lot of tinging and pinging going on.
This is where I attempted to light a candle for our sweet friend, Laurie. We really hoped that it was the thought that counted because the slight breeze was positioned just right to blow the flame out every time I lit it. We love you, Laurie!!
OK, so on to the Grand Palace. I hate to relive this, but it has to be done. The Grand Palace is listed as the number one tourist attraction in Bangkok. I can understand why. It is definitely grand with a campus so large that I still don’t know where we entered or exited despite my above average map-reading skills. The buildings are impressive with gorgeous detail and color.
That last photo is us from the rear, donning the stylish short-sleeved top (me) and long pants (Joel) we had to rent for our time there. The inside of the building we are walking next to was reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City – beautiful, filled with chatting tourists shushed by the guards, and no photos allowed.
Below is a central offering area with flowers and food that could be purchased for prayer offerings. Note the umbrellas’ messages – the Buddha is only for respecting and his image should not be used for any other reason including as tattoos or on furniture.
So yes, beautiful, but also uber crowded, filled to the brim with tour groups and gazillions of hot, sweaty folks like us who read that it was the number one site to see in Bangkok. Add to that the warnings from the entrance guards and signs everywhere telling us to protect our possessions due to pickpockets – the first time we had to really worry about this the whole trip.
It all sort of took away from the sacredness we had experienced at so many other temples, so we decided to leave earlier than planned and salvage the day. The problem was we couldn’t find our way out, stumbling repeatedly into dead ends we thought were exits. BUT the silver lining is that one of those dead ends was a barber shop. Joel had been hunting for one since we arrived in Thailand and ta da! Air conditioned to boot!
We recovered with a foot massages and a stop at Cloud 47, one of the many rooftop bars.
There must be some regulars that come here. Their purchased bottles of favorite liquor get locked in the slammer between visits.
Cloud 47 provided a great view of the city. (Click on the photo below for a larger panoramic view.)
Another evening, we checked out Banglamphu, a neighborhood on the north side of Bangkok that has a real Bohemian feel to it due to the hordes of backpacker tourists that hang out and hostel here. We found our perch on a balcony so we could enjoy it all above the fray of tourist booths and crowds.
And as was not uncommon, a parade happened by. We have no idea the occasion, but chalked it up to the eclectic, festive surroundings.
Our very best evening in Bangkok was spent at the nightly Flower Market. One aromatic stall after another offered breathtaking piles of fresh flowers.
We couldn’t resist a small purchase for our little apartment.
This was one of those nights where you say, “Hey, we’re hungry,” and then you walk by a little sidewalk restaurant that smells great. Why not? The array of ingredients ready to go.
A fast-chopping seafood chef.
Our meal half eaten. That bottom middle dish is larb – a ground meat dish that had been on our list to try. Spicy and delicious.
Accompanied by a toast of Leo.
Looking back on the ‘kitchen’ post dinner.
Note the elder woman in pink seated in the photo above. She’s washing dishes. Thank you to her. And without meaning any disrespect whatsoever, our tender American systems were grateful for the Hep A shots we had received prior to departure. Just in case.
We had missed the familiar Thai icon Wat Arun on our temple-seeing day due to our exhaustion following the Grand Palace (see above), so we thought we’d just take a look at its lighted tower across the river. Great plan except that no amount of charades by yours truly could convey the idea of ‘across the river from Wat Arun’ to the cab driver. He did the more logical thing and drove across the river directly to the base of Wat Arun. It was closed for the evening, so we snuck some peeks between the fence.
A security guard spotted us and instead of shooing us away, waved us in to get a closer look. Nice.
A cool photo enhanced by Alex.
Another sneak peek between half-open gates – a Buddha statue outside some monks’ living quarters.
A few additional miscellaneous Bangkok adventures include:
A successful seek and find of the Monk Bowl Village. A tiny mention on one map, we thought for sure the tuk tuk driver wouldn’t know it at all, but alas he did! He drove us right to the shop and there was an artisan hammering away.
These bowls are made from eight separate pieces of flat steel, hammered into shape by hand and fired with copper seams to connect. Only a few families still have the skills to make these by hand and the rest are fashioned in a factory. You can see more of this process by visiting their Facebook page. The bowls are used for collecting alms at temples and for ceremony as they make a resonating hum when the wooden stick is rotated around the inside of the top rim. Here is the bowl I purchased.
Another Bangkok adventure: shopping at the Amulet Market Sunday morning along with the monks and other locals. Notice the person in the background of this photo using a magnifying glass to get a closer look at the small icons and charms. I have no idea what he was looking for, but it was a common sight.
A fortune teller session for Alex. Note the Thai to English translation for common phrases she’s referring to. Partway through she called over a very shy young man to help with translation (he’s standing in the background of this photo with his back to us), so Alex had the joy of relaying her love life reports and career hopes through him while he desperately tried to speak perfect English back to us. All we know is that Alex picked the Sun card and that was a very good thing. Only bright days ahead!
We wandered through Chinatown and discovered it is as crowded and wild as every other Chinatown we’ve ever visited.
Note the gold hanging on the walls inside this store above. These were the Walgreens and CVS of Chinatown – meaning they were on every single corner. It is apparently the place to go if you’re in the market for gold. And in the photo below, we had a lunch of Chinese food – so different from Thai food in that it was heavier and more saucy. Plus, our only chopsticks of the trip. Thai folks eat with a fork and spoon.
Speaking of lunches, we hunted all over one day for a specific noodle restaurant Alex had read about. The GPS ended up guiding us smack to the middle of a modern shopping mall. Hmmm…no noodle restaurant. Long story short – we were hungry, our resistance was down, and Alex hadn’t seen an American salad bar in 18 months. Don’t judge.
And one last stop on our very last shopping day – more fattening, refreshing Thai tea!