When contrasted with our past adventures and countries, Thailand was pretty tame. The bustling city was reminiscent of New York City or London, but with unique Asian quirks. I hope you enjoy this jaunt!
Our first day begins slowly, with an unnecessarily lengthy wait for our passports. From the ship we take a shuttle (through SAS) to Bangkok. It takes about 2 hours and is dotted by interruptions from the tour agencys representative trying to sell his captive audience tickets, hotel rooms and tours. I stare out the window watching the landscape go from industrial (our port) to rural and then finally to suburbs and city. We are dropped off at Central World, a sprawling foreign mall complete with an Apples Store and department stores. We (Perri, Brittany and I) shy away from the mall in an effort to find our hotel shuttle. Unfortunately we must have missed it (we arrived a little late due to the 3 hour bus ride) so we had to hale a taxi.
Thailand was never colonized (the word Thai is translatable to our word free), which means that English is not particularly prevalent (although there are a lot of Australian tourists) which meant that explaining to our driver where our hotel was located was a little challenging. We have, unfortunately, benefited from British colonization as South Africa and India have large English speaking groups. In order to adjust to our lack of communication skills, we decided (I more reluctantly then they) to hire a tour guide for the rest of the day (fairly cheap, I think 10-15 USD each).
Since we are in such a hurry to meet her (her name is Natalie) we decide to just go for the first taxi we can see. A bright pink Toyota Camry (which was the norm in Thailand except for some Tuk-Tuks) pulls to the side and we quickly ask him if he knows where the hotel is (we had a paper in English). He looks at us reluctantly but nods yes. We decided to just get in (he quoted us 150 Baht or 4$, its about 35 Baht to the dollar and even though that was a little steep at a little more than a dollar each we needed to just get there). The taxi ride is pretty uneventful as we balance our luggage on our laps and stare out at the gridlocked traffic (Bangkok is infamous for) and the colorful street vendors. America is truly lacking on the yummy street food (I can only guess due to sanitation reasons) but Thailand certainly was not!
As the driver turns from Sumkavit and onto Soi 19 we look anxiously for The Key Bangkok, afraid our driver is lost. Finally, Brittany spots the sign on a rather large and built out alleyway and we pull in. Perri checks in and tries to locate our guide, while Brittany and I drop our bags off in the luxurious (although only 30$ each a night!) hotel room, decorated in plush oranges and browns and complete with a flat screen TV!
We meet Nat downstairs and introduce ourselves. She was born and raised in Thailand and has only been a tour guide for a short period of time. Our afternoon plans are to orient us with the citys public transport and to visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market, one of the largest in Thailand! It is home to over 20,000 stalls and sells everything from counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags to home cookware. We take the SkyTrain, which is a nicer, cleaner version of the Miami Metro, to the market, eyeing the locals as we go. I always like to use public transport because it feels like I am experiencing the city the way the locals do and the people watching is always awesome!
We arrive in the sweltering heat at the market as our guide explains to us that most of her clients can only last a half hour. Somehow we managed to last three hours. I chalk it up to lots of cheap bottles of water (10 Baht) and cool items for sale. The market was set up with covered paths between stalls with open breezeways every 50 or so lanes. It was quite chaotic, but in a very good way. There was certainly a mix of individuals, from locals buying fresh fish (they dont have great refrigeration so they must buy their food fresh everyday) to tourists like us looking for cool paintings and souvenirs.
Our hands down favorite section was the Designers District which housed up and coming fashionistas who sold their handmade clothes for next to nothing. I ended up with a few T-Shirts (good news Ilana!) which the others ended up with a new wardrobe. Making our way through the crowded paths was not easy and required a hand across our valuables (my Nikon) at all times. But it certainly was an experience! We sampled some of the local cuisine (chicken and fresh strawberries) which also cost next to nothing. I found some cute flower silhouette earrings that would have been super expensive at Urban, but were less than 10 dollars and I got to see how they made them! Finally, I picked up a turquoise flower ring and after some hard bargaining, I got it for half of the asking price.
Bargaining in Thailand was interesting. They werent aggressive in the same way as those in Israel or Morocco, they dont try to insult you or grab at you, but they sort of whine at you saying give me more or more for me which was off-putting in its own way.
After three hours, our sweat was sticking to us and the sun was setting, so we asked Nat to direct us to a good place to eat. She asked us if we wanted a fancy restaurant or a local dive. When we replied with How much is the fancy restaurant we were fascinated to find the answer being 80 baht for a main dish (or about 2.50 USD). For less than 3 dollars we decided to head to the classier joint and with a quick Skytrain ride and short taxi trip we were on Khoisan Road, the young hip backpackers district of the city.
The streets were flooded with people and the clubs, bars and shops were bright and flashy as we walked towards the restaurant. The restaurant, however, was a quite sanctuary for us to discuss our day. Open-air, yet truly upscale, defined this touristy joint. I ordered Pad Thai and Chicken Skewers, while Brittany and Perri dined on sweet and sour chicken and Masaman Curry.
After dinner we continued to explore the travelers quarters, hearing German, French and Australian English as we went. After finding the same sea-shell earrings I had bought in South Africa (after being reassured by the shopkeeper that they were local), we decided to get our first Thai Massage! For only 7 USD we were bent, twisted and elbowed for an entire, which was actually quite reinvigorating after a tiring day. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel (this time with a taxi with a meter due to Nats Thai!) and grabbed some bottled water at the 7-11 (theyre on every street corner) before falling quickly asleep.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Thailand Day 1