Sorry for the long wait on updates, folks. I’ve been meaning to get up info on Long Beach and L.A., but just never got around to it! Later I guess.
So, Bangkok! There are too many things to tell you. Don’t take the first price you’re offered. That’s the best advice. Always try to get your address printed in Thai, it will save you a headache and some baht. Otherwise, don’t worry too much! Thai is not as hard to learn as it seems, or as people may tell you. Yes, it is a tonal language, but so long as you’re within context, people will basically understand you. However, it is a hard language to convey via text–it’s so much easier to hear someone say it, even if it’s Google translate.
Bangkok has a metro system, and you pay by distance. It’s very economical, but similar to the LA metro, doesn’t go nearly as many places as you want it to. You can also take a taxi–metered or unmetered, but even the metered ones will try to convince you that the price they quote is the same as it would be with the meter on. Tuktuks are super fun and instantly make you feel like you’re in another land; just pile your junk in and cram into this little open-sided mini wagon–with cartoon vinyl ceilings and candy-striped seats. If you aren’t fully laden, you can take a motorcycle taxi–the most fun way to get around, in my opinion. All fares are completely negotiable; you say, “Too expensive”, they say, “No, it’s not”, you walk away, they run after and ask “How much?”.
Learn your Thai numbers! Phonetically, and as a laugh for those of you who do speak Thai: (1-10) noong sahng sahm see hah hawk jet paat gow sip. 100 is rolled-R “roi”, do yourself a favor and say “loi”. 56 is hah sip hawk (5 10 6) and 123 is loi yee-sip sahm (100 20 3). For some reason, twenty in Thai is yee-sip instead of sahng-sip. Yee is 2 in Cantonese. There are definitely some numerical carryovers from Cantonese in Thai.
Book online for where to stay, but you’ll do alright in person, if you know how to haggle. Khaosan Rd. is the watering hole for backpackers/foreigners/farangs (farang also means guava!). If you’re more into backpacking than the backpacker culture, don’t stay there. Guest houses are a great way to secure a place to stay, with a bathroom/washroom somewhere in the vicinity, and sometimes free breakfast! You can find a bed, a locking door, and a cold shower with no wi-fi for 100-150 b per night, which is between $3-5. A nice guesthouse in a forgotten corner can be had for around $6. The first few nights, I stayed in one such place: Khaosan Baan Thai. It’s at the end of this little street, BEHIND another guesthouse. It was so nice though! Very clean and friendly. I also stayed nearby to Khaosan Rd. itself. My House Guest House came highly recommended by an inebriated Brit out front, but was in fact essentially a flophouse. Literally every person inside was sporting dreadlocks, be it man or woman, old or young. I tried to use the little covers, but felt bugs biting me and gave it up to sleep under my towel.
I had intended to get my remaining vaccinations in Thailand as soon as possible (Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies), and I had elected to walk the 3 km to the Thai Travel Clinic (a bad move, already) when I was stopped by a friendly by-walker. He informed me that today was Chinese New Year (I was confused, because that had already happened in the U.S., before I left) and that all the tuktuks were going to be 20 b to go anywhere, all day, as the Government was sponsoring their petrol to keep tourists in Bangkok during the political turmoil (first I’d heard of it). Come up!
So, I hailed the first yellow-lighted tuktuk I could find–apparently yellow lights equals government funded–and hopped aboard. We went first to the Golden Buddha, which was dazzling in the mid-morning light. I felt very self-conscious in my tank top, but Ole, the tuktuk driver, said it didn’t matter. I had no idea there were so many wats (temples) in Bangkok! They all tended to run together in old Ken Brown’s Asian Art History…
And so they did in Bangkok, too. Ole would park his tuktuk outside, say “Take your time” and I would wander around the wat to my heart’s content. Some were in disrepair, some were quite low-level, and some were distractingly large. And on my first true day in Bangkok, I was lagging hard. Sweaty, thirsty, tired…I stumbled from tuktuk to wat to tuktuk in a state of suspended animation. At one point, I asked to go to the T.I.T. or tourist information something-rather. The man I had been waylaid by earlier had recommended the T.I.T. as a way to get out of Bangkok, seeing as the election was the next day. So Ole brought me to the T.I.T. and waited outside. And waited. And waited. I was pitched so many packages, and kept having to turn them down. What started at $1,200 became $500, but I still couldn’t pay, and had to decline. It was rough having to rely on my own judgement that the price was too high, that the danger level in the city wasn’t as menacing as promoted, and that I would be able to find transportation to and boarding in the areas of my choice. But I was pretty sure it would work out. After that I was abruptly shown the door.
Ole and I stopped for lunch, buying some of those little meat kebabs you can get for 10b everywhere and some sticky rice. The lady claimed every stick was chicken, and some fish, but I’ve never seen so many varieties of chicken in my life…She grilled them on a little rack above a stoneware brazier heaped with ash and charcoal. She also had a bucket of some sweet, spicy sauce she would pour into your meat stick bags if you asked (a great option). Lunch probably cost around sixty cents.
After lunch, Ole kept trying to bring me around to some fashion hot spots, and I kept bailing out of them. Finally, he said he didn’t get his free gas coupons unless I stayed for 10 minutes at each spot. Whoops! At the next wat, the jig was up, and Ole left. I paid him an extra 100 b for taking me all day, but he didn’t seem too keen. Ah well. I found the wat on the map, and decided to walk from there to the hospital I had been heading for in the first place, just to see where it was. It ended up being a pretty long walk. I walked around four sides of a giant park, and got a Thai Iced Tea from some nice old ladies on the way. I found the hospital, and headed back–sweaty, dirty, and footsore.
Arriving back at the guesthouse, I elected to wash and refresh before heading out towards Chinatown, where there was the promise of fireworks. I set out around 8PM, and tried to hire a government tuktuk to take me there for 20 b, however, none were having it. One agreed, if we stopped by an informational site on the way. He said, however, that if the site was closed, it would be full pop. I figured I could walk.
It turns out I can’t find Chinatown with just a horrible tourist map at night on foot. I found several markets, selling everything from fishball curry to secondhand shoes to unlocked Samsung Galaxies, but no Chinatown. I also didn’t hear any fireworks, so I’m not sure what happened, really. At one point I found a young lady selling congee, or in Thai, chok–a thick rice porridge with usually pork meatballs, served with green onions and ginger, plus whatever Thai side you want to add. I LOVE CONGEE. It was delicious.
I also finally found someone selling khanom krok. I had assumed these would be easier to find, but apparently they’re a night food, not a day food. They consist of little half-eggs of fried coconut batter: crunchy outside and hot, gooey inside. You can get about 12 for 20 b, and it’s worth every penny. So, I missed Chinatown. But I had an extravagant walk and some delicious street food.
On the way back to the guesthouse, I passed a group of partiers (partyers? party-ers?) I had elided on the way there. A group of inebriated, middle-to-old-aged Thais were getting down on their karaoke and beer at a funny little open-air bar by the canal. I was sucked in by some friendly ladies in cheongsams, and we danced the night away to what I’m pretty sure were Thai adaptations of American pop love hits. Everyone was very nice and friendly; all the ladies danced, all the men clapped and cheered, and it wasn’t so different from a lot of family parties I’ve been to. When the party broke up around 2, long goodbyes were heard all around.
Something I love about Thailand is the overabundance of pretty lights. The place is chock-a-block with flashing LEDs, hanging lanterns, pink, blue, and green neon, vendors with laser pointers…so satisfying to a light magpie.
Anyhow, the next day I did go to get my shots. I hailed a motorcycle taxi, haggled my rate, and rode sidesaddle, just like a real Thai! I checked in to the hospital, and was quickly processed into the Thai Travel Clinic. I was required to pay my fees before I received the shots, which came to about $37 and included the hospital fee, the doctor fee, the administration fee, the new member charge, and the shots themselves. I met some Kiwis in the waiting room almost ready to head back to New Zealand; they were receiving the Yellow Fever shot as they were en route to Honduras, and some countries require Yellow Fever vaccinations for foreigners, etc. etc. I had to wait under surveillance for 30 minutes after the shots were administered, and then I was free to go! The Travel Clinic is so amazing–clean, efficient, and helpful. Go, if you need anything! I returned home to ship out to my Khaosan Rd. locale.
Wandering around that area is dizzying, if only for the press of Western, rather than Eastern, humanity. I don’t have much to say about it, other than that you can take the ____ out of ____, but you can’t take the ____ out of the ____. Does that make sense? People are people are people.
Bangkok is full of outdoor eateries. You can’t walk 1.5m without running into someone selling sliced fruits, soup, or an iced drink. And the prices are quite reasonable, even to a cheapskate like me. You can get a bowl of noodle soup for 20b, which is a little less than sixty cents. Your sliced fruit will run about the same; you can choose from pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, and green mango. Green mango is definitely a learned taste–it’s extremely similar to our Granny Smith apples. Vendors have a selection of seasonings as well, and are surprised if you decline. Your options are chile and sugar, chile, sugar, and fish sauce, or chile, fish sauce, and salt. I prefer the spicy sweet myself. So long as you are off the tourist path, food sellers will quote you an equal price to their Thai compatriots, and generally humor you as you flounder through ordering sans menu (i.e. pointing and nodding). Something to remember, that is still bizarre to me, is that in Thailand you’re expected to pay at the end of the meal, whether you’re eating a meal that costs less than a dollar, or a full-on 400b meal ($13–pricey fare!). No one will approach you with the bill until you look like you’re ready to leave. You could sit for hours and no one would think of coming near you to ask for your money.
It’s interesting, because you’re generally expected to buy SOME thing if you’re sitting in someone’s restaurant or outdoor table/chair setup, but it doesn’t have to be much. Buy a cup of hot coffee to perk up, and they’ll leave you be as long as you please, even in a deliciously air-conditioned and obviously nicer bar. Use the wi-fi. Charge your many amenities. It’s all good.
Besides food, there are areas that are crammed with dinky little shops selling cheap clothing, cell phone covers, shoes, jewelry, and anything else you left at home, at cheap prices. The word for cheap in Thai sounds like “took”, and I can’t help but think it’s also the tuk in tuktuk. These are where you get your haggling practice. Again, just keep trying to walk away and you can get whatever you want at whatever price you want. Most vendors keep a calculator or cell phone to type out the price they want to show non-Thai speakers, and they’ll offer it to you to quote your own price once you start haggling. It’s a great way to start out, because it’s sometimes difficult to make out exactly what number you’re arguing over at such fast speeds.
If you can’t get the price low enough, walk around the corner. There’s an extremely high probability someone is selling the exact same thing who’s willing to meet your price.
In general, Thai people are friendly and accommodating. The further you are off the tourist beat, the nicer people will be to you. People are also more willing to price match you when you’re not in tourist areas, as those selling in such regions know another schmuck is waiting just around the corner who will take their price.
I would highly recommend getting a massage as often as you can afford. Massages are a luxury I seldom, if ever, indulge in in the U.S. and I imagine many of you are the same. You can get an excellent Thai massage for 150b, and probably less, in many massage parlors in Thailand. That’s about $5 for an hour-long massage. Your wallet can handle it. I especially love Thai massages, as they’re designed to target pressure points on the body. There are certain moves you’ll receive in every Thai massage, and others that are left up to each masseuse. In Thailand, you are generally led to a small, curtained-off area in the massage parlor and left standing before a small mattress with a tidy pile of clothes. Enjoy trying to figure out how to tie those pants. The Thai pants used for massage are probably a meter wide, with a sewn-on cloth strip on the back. I was once shown how to do a neat, origami-esque fold and tie, a feat I have never been able to replicate on my own. The best I can do is knot the belt in front, with a sort of attractive blouson effect of the excess material over the top. You’ll also get a light cotton shirt or shift. Then you lie back and enjoy. The lady or man massaging you might prod you out of your doze to request that you flip over, or hand over your arms for a cobra pullback, and they’ll always ask if it’s too hard. Just keep murmuring, “Sabai dee, sabai dee” and they’ll laugh and keep going.
When going out at night, don’t be afraid to go alone. No one will accost you, and there are always people and lights so you have no reason to be afraid. Obviously don’t go out wasted and tripping in heels with your purse swinging, but sandals or shoes and a pretty dress is not a problem. If you walk anywhere, every passing taxi and tuktuk will honk at you. It’s not because you’re a pretty lady! (Of course you are!) It’s because they want you to hail them for a ride. If they won’t leave you alone–tuktuk drivers will dog you for a minute–just yell “Mai, kahp koon ka! Mai, mai!” (No, thank you! No, no!) I was a good traveler and brought my 25% DEET Deep Woods bug spray and all that. Yeah, so the mosquitos don’t care. I mean, it must be having some effect, but they get you anyhow and the bites, when first administered, are the size of a 2 baht coin (like a fatty quarter). As the bites start to go away, you are left with a hard little nub that looks like you’ve developed warts. My favorite friend in this domain is Tea Tree Oil. The second I notice a bite, I dab a bit on. It helps with the itching, works to prevent more insect invasions, and is antibacterial.
Some things I’ve noticed about Bangkok–I can’t find where to buy a sketchbook! I ended up getting one from a Tesco Lotus, which is like the Thai version of Walmart. It is definitely Walmart quality. If you want to take money out, do it at an Aeon ATM. They are difficult to find, but don’t charge that 150b fee you’ll get at literally every other ATM. All those crazy clothes you bought to wear “that one time” and never did? Wear them here. So long as you’re not going to temples, you can get away with wearing that sheer minidress or high-waisted hotpants with that print of a cat smoking a cigarette.
Another thing that’s hard for me to come to terms with is how open Thai parents are with their children. I don’t mean they’re openly yelling at them or beating them, I mean they allow their children to be petted and picked up and played with by just about anyone. I watched a little Thai girl, the daughter of the proprietress of an outdoor eatery, climb into the lap of the male half of a middle-aged foreign couple, with nary a wink from her mother. I watched a Thai young woman ordering a coffee tease a little girl at lunch with her mother and aunt for a few minutes whilst waiting for her order. She pulled her pigtails and said, “Suay, suay” which means pretty. The little girl was too shy to say anything, but you could hear the mother enjoining her to be nice, something like, “She says you’re pretty! Why don’t you say thank you?”. Many Thai children smile and wave if they catch you watching them. It might just be me, but they seem less conditioned to be wary of strangers.
Getting more personal, Thailand weather is doing wonders for my beauty regime! I’m not sure what it is, but getting up, washing my face with water, walking around all day sweating, putting on sunscreen and bugspray, and showering off at night with a face rinse is what makes my body and face happy. I don’t understand it. By every right of proper hygiene and beauty I should be an acne-ridden lump, but my face has never been clearer. Sometimes I use deodorant, sometimes I don’t. I’m not super smelly (in my opinion, ha!), but the daily shower seems to control the stench, for the most part…Thai people smell great, in other news. Don’t think that everyone goes around like me, water-bathed and grimy. Walking behind locals, you’ll notice a light floral or clean scent and you’ll be reminded that you forgot your deo again.
I’ve been wearing a light, belted, faux-jean shirtdress for days. It’s sleeveless, and seems fresh compared to the other farangs, and not super boring. I’ve been toting a pashmina in case I get cold at night, or have to go into a wat. I’ve been rocking the wool socks and trail shoes, just because those shoes are comfy as heck, but it’s way too hot for them and if I wasn’t doing so much walking I’d ditch them. I have a mini satchel I can keep a tight handle on that I carry my camera, sunglasses, Chapstick, and zippered coin purse full of Thai money in.