So I think I left off right before my first night bus. Here are just a few of many highlights from that adventure:
- There was something about our bus and a full moon party the previous night, I never figured out the connection, but I believe this led to us using one of the oldest busses available.
- The ticket I booked was for a trip with one bus change (the direct route was booked, but I later found out they changed busses too). The first bus left 45 minutes late and after three hours of driving, several U-turns, some borrowed cell-phone calls, and lots of yelling in Thai, we arrived at our second bus.
- Several unexplained stops later, we were on our way. We drove until 12:30 am when we stopped at a night market, clearly designed for tourists on overnight busses. Lingering stomach ailments aside, I probably still wouldn’t have eaten here. And after a quick glance at the toilet I decided I would be able to wait five to six more hours.
- We departed once again at 1:00 am and amazingly arrived exactly on time in Bangkok, albeit at a bus stop roughly 10 miles from where my ticket said I’d be dropped off.
- After being offered laughable prices by the awaiting taxis (~$20 for a 10 minute drive), I followed some other passengers to their hostel which were walking distance, found out I should pay roughly $3, managed to negotiate one down to $6, and after a lovely Skytrain ride at sunrise, arrived at my hostel.
- I’ve already booked my flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, no sense in reliving that experience when a flight costs $40!
When the overnight bus dropped us right in the middle of backpacker-central Khaosan Road at 5:30 am, I was cursing myself for opting for the “off-the-beaten-path” hostel roughly 10 miles away. However, after spending a few days there I was reminded why I booked it, as I feel like I got to have a much more local Bangkok experience than most.
I spent the day wandering around my neighborhood, eventually making it to Terminal 21, a shopping mall. Correct, I hate shopping. But I was told this mall was interesting as each floor is designed to look like a major city, and for some reason there were two floors dedicated to San Francisco (others included Paris, Tokyo, and Istanbul). It ended up being kind of weird, one entire area was called Pier 21, designed to look like Pier 39, along with a Golden Gate Bridge replica and a bunch of other SF related things, including a Cold Stone Creamery and Swensen’s ice cream.
One of the reasons I enjoy staying outside of the tourist zone is because I love taking public transportation with the locals. There’s something about figuring out how to get around like a local that makes me feel like I’ve conquered a city. So that night I did my best to feel like a local by taking the BTS Skytrain, transferring lines, and hopping on the river ferry to get to Chinatown to meet up with some old friends, Karlee, Devon, and Phillip (friends from Ko Phi Phi/Krabi).
We bought so much food and spent about $3 each, ending with a 1/2 hour foot massage for another $4.50.
Something I wanted to do in Thailand was go to a movie because I had heard that between the previews and the movie there is a tribute to the King. So a few of us from the hostel went to see Jumanji (it’s so bad that it’s good?) at the local theater. I thought there would just be one screenshot with the King’s photograph while the national anthem played but it was so much better than that. Throughout the anthem everybody stands while you watch a photo montage of the King and his family doing various good deeds, serving in the military, visiting important places, etc. I really wanted to take a picture or video but felt a little weird about it. They are very serious about royalty in Thailand, which can be seen by the massive pictures of the King (new and old) all over the country.
Oh yeah, and we took motorbikes to the movies (dad, I’m sorry, I had no choice, and this is real fear on my face):
The owner of the hostel also took us to the local weekday market, where we were definitely the only white people, and I had the most delicious pork on a stick.
The local “kitchen” on the block also made amazing pad thai, though I had to bring along a Thai speaker to order it.
We also took in the sunset at a nearby sky bar:
Seen during one of my “local” commutes:
Because “when in Bangkok” I did visit one temple, mainly because I got to retrace my Skytrain to ferry commute, but the temple actually ended up being really amazing with incredible detail and really bright colors (called Wat Arun):
After three days in Bangkok I took a shuttle about 90 minutes north to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand from 1351 to 1767 (then the Kingdom of Siam). Ayutthaya used to be a big deal – in the 16th century, it was one of the wealthiest cities in the East and was compared to Paris. However, the royal city was under constant invasion by the Burmese and after several Burmese-Siamese Wars the city was eventually sacked in 1767, when it fell into ruins. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site and the entire city is absolutely gorgeous at sunset.
I spent a day riding around the city on a bicycle, because that’s what tourists do. It’s so popular that city wide a full day bike rental costs 50 Baht ($1.50). While it was a good way to see the sites, if I did it again I’d just rent a tuk tuk for the day. The streets aren’t that crowded but keep in mind they are backwards (UK style), there are a lot of big intersections and roundabouts, motorcycles do whatever the hell they want, and even in the park you have to be on the lookout for giant potholes, low hanging electrical lines, and dinosaur-sized lizards.
After further research, this is a monitor lizard, descendent from the same lizard as the Komodo dragon, but supposedly not dangerous to humans. In fact, in Thai it’s called “Tua Ngern Tua Thong” meaning “Animal of silver and gold” and is supposed to bring good fortune to anyone who sees one (I saw two, so I’m praying this good fortune comes in the form of no bed bugs for the remainder of my travels).
Ayutthaya also has a nice night market, though a little too local for me, so I wasn’t embarrassed to eat pad thai at the foreigners stand. It was pretty fun watching the mom yell at her kid to hold up the “pad thai” sign every time she saw a tourist walk by.
As always, ending with a little more food (to name a few: Thai green curry with chicken, mango juice and mango sticky rice, coconut ice cream with roasted peanuts, Chinese donuts with green tea filling, and pineapple fried rice served inside a pineapple).
Tomorrow I’m heading to Kanchanaburi to check out, among other things, the Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway Museum. So tonight I’ll be finishing the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai 🙂 .