summer travels part 4

Day 6: Arrival in Bangkok, Wat Saket, wandering
Day 7: Wat Pho, Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo
Day 8: Ayutthaya day trip, Khaosan market/area
Day 9: Chatuchak marketplace
…then home!

Layla and I arrived in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, and decided to KTFO at our hostel until whenever. We ended up lazily waking up in the late morning, and making a vague plan for the day.

First order of business was to get us some Thai bahts (exchange rate about 30 THB to the dollar, same as NT$), preferable from a Citibank where I would be able to feelessly withdraw from an ATM. The nearest one was a ways away, so we looked up a bus route on Google maps before heading out. Near our hostel was a Thai bank, from which we exchanged just a bit of cash for the road. Then we made our way to the bus stop, which was an adventure in itself.

Bus stops in Bangkok are more like general bus slow-down areas. There are not always signs posted/visible, especially at busy intersections, and the bus only stops if you flag it down. On each bus is a driver and a fare collector. The fare collector carries a cylindrical container that rattles with coins and rolls of tickets: tell him/her your destination and pay up, and s/he’ll return the appropriate change along with a ripped up ticket. Buses with A/C cost about 16 baht per trip, double that of a ghetto wooden non A/C bus. All this we learned from a nice white guy riding a bike, getting his morning Thai tea near our “stop.” Thanks, stranger!

We got ourselves some Thai tea as well, as per recommendation of said white guy. It came in a bag, surprisingly, as we found out later all street foods do. Here I feel obligated to note that Thai tea in Thailand tastes just as good as Thai tea in California.

We headed to a mall (Central World, maybe?) and wandered around for awhile. Layla decided to get a haircut (for 100 THB = $4), and I adventured around the huge mall shopping for misc things like phone cases (not cheap!) and earphone jack plugs and Asian BB creams. I found a giant UNIQLO at the top level, where I bought a pair of jeans, parachutey PJ pants, and shirt 😀 While we waited for my pants to get hemmed (for free, thanks, UNIQLO!) we went outside to peruse the mini-market on the streets surrounding the wall. I got a shaved ice dessert with misc things in it, and some fried chicken parts. When we finished at the mall, we were ready for our next adventure.

Since we knew where we were on a map (not always a guarantee) and our next destination was just along the street for a mile-or-so, we decided to take a tuk-tuk instead of a bus or taxi. It was important to me that we ride on one during our trip, so we seized the opportunity! The driver of the empty one we flagged down tried to extort us (I think he said 100THB?), but having already taken the bus we knew how cheap travel could be. We took the ride for 40 THB (I think) :)

We got to Wat Saket (Golden Mount Temple) and got to see a view of the city from the top. I was happy to overlook a city full of green trees, compared to Los Angeles’ concrete jungle.

Next, we tried going to the Grand Palace, but it had closed for the day already (at around 4 or 5). The infamous tourism swindlers were at the entrance, ready to bring us on various alternative! boat! trips! instead, but we rejected them and decided to wander across the street and get some food. I had some mango sticky rice (40 baht) but the rice tasted salty? so I just ate the mango itself. So yummy :) After dinner we headed home to ktfo; I slept and Layla went to adventure at Khaosan Road.

On our 2nd day in Bangkok, we woke up early and headed to Wat Pho for our Thai massages! It cost about 350 THB for an hour of massage, which was a great experience. It was cool to see how the masseuses manipulate their bodies to massage yours, and it was obvious afterwards that “Thai massages” in the US are toned down versions of the original. We also took a look at the biggest reclining Buhhda in Thailand, which had giant 10+ ft tall feet made out of mother of pearl.

After Wat Pho, we got on a bus to head to the Samphram Elephant Ground and Zoo. The ride was about 40 minutes and took us far from the city. 600 bahts later, we were in the zoo!

It really depresses me to think about animals that should be wild but have been trained for humans’ entertainment (and not practicality, ie horses). The first show we watched involved two guys pulling around a number of crocodiles and doing tricks, but it was primarily things like not getting their heads/hand bitten off, which just required the crocs to stay still. (Less unnatural, since crocs spend like 90% of their lives staying still.) But the elephant show we watched was super depressing, because they made them dance with one or two of their feet in the air, and shake their bodies and heads around, and ahhhhh it made me so sad and I don’t want to think about it anymore. Our ride around the park on the elephants’ back was not as depressing but still kind of sad, since with all the gear + guide on the back we must have been 4-500 lbs. (Although I just looked it up on wiki and it says the average Asian elephant weights about 10,000 lbs. Maybe it’s not a big deal after all…) But we got some amazing pictures! So I’m mostly glad about that.

On our way back to the city, it started crazy thunderstorming and raining. The bus we were on (a non A/C one) started leaking in a number of places, through the roof and windows, and the wooden floor got soaked. It was definitely an experience, especially noting that the locals were not phased at all.

The next day, we had our day trip tour planned to Ayutthaya, the old capital city of Thailand. Our tour cost 1800 baht/person, and included a bus ride to the ruins, a few stops some temples and landmarks, and a boat ride back down the river to central Bangkok. It was really nice to get away from the smelly city, and have a planned day instead of just wandering around. (The city was really hard to get around and not especially tourist friendly.) The picture above was taken at the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, where the royalty still visit sometimes during the summer. Compared to the Summer Palace in Beijing, it was tiny… but still pretty interesting to see the Chinese influence/gifts to the Thai.

The actual ruins of Ayutthaya were really amazing. I’m not sure how much of it was restored, but it seems like a lot of the ruins are in great shape. There were super tall monuments and steps in tact, everything made out of brick. You could see where the buildings and rooms were set, with some doorways still around. A few years ago (15 or 20, I think) there was a big flood in the area, and there were still water damage marks on the sides of the ruins (and buildings in the surrounding villages). Crazy to see how time passes.

Delicious pad see ew from the street! For less than $2. It really hit the spot; Layla and I devoured it in minutes.

We got back to our hostel and rested a bit before heading out to see Khaosan Rd. The area we stayed in is a popular place for backpackers to stay, and so there were a bunch of American/European style bars and restaurants a few streets away. It was a weird backwards culture shock to walk down a street with loud English music playing and drunk young people having fun. It definitely felt a little bit out of place! On the street there were many carts selling typical “Thai” food (for the tourists) so I tried some pad thai. Tasted very similar to the US version, but not orange! And no peanuts!

On our last day in Thailand, we took a bus north to the Chatuchak weekend market. It was a huge market with all vendors for everything over a large area, maybe a square mile big. We wandered around and saw shops selling toys, furniture, artwork, clothes, Ikea-type shops, pet fish, other animals… it was ridiculous how many shops there were crammed together. Oh yeah, we even saw a bunch of stalls selling used/worn/dirty American sneakers? If I had more money and space in my luggage, I would have definitely bought more stuff! As it was though, I left the market with a couple of colorful tanktops ($3 each), some voodoo keychains, a giant safety pin, and a mango rice :) It was super delicious and I want more.

I wouldn’t really recommend visiting Bangkok as a primary destination. It was difficult to get around, and a lot of the interesting things (besides temples) were far from the city. I was kind of disappointed and thrown off by how low-tech and dirty the city was, but I guess that might have been post-Taiwan-relativity. But I’m glad I visited, and now I have a better idea what to expect from a Southeast Asia trip :)

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