I made it! I survived 22 hours sitting in planes, and 12 hours sitting in taxis and airports. I am finally in Thailand.

A funny thing happens on the first day of a trip. Your body is in the new country, but your mind hasn’t arrived yet: it still thinks it’s home and clings to the old and familiar. This is especially true in a far away and exotic place, like Bangkok.

If you just want to see pictures, here they are! If you want to know what I’ve been up to, keep reading.

Day 1 – Dazed and confused

Having arrived in Bangkok without a map, a guidebook, or a clear plan, I spent my first day trying to figure out the streets, the signs, the currency, the accent. A new city is always an interesting challenge, and an Asian city even more so. And it’s easy to get distracted by all the colours, smells, and sounds! Bangkok smells of food, car exhaust, incense, and sewers all at once.

I have four full days in Bangkok, and only one task to accomplish: getting my visa for Burma. Other side goals are: catching up on my sleep, eating Thai food, meeting a few friends of friends, and trying not to get run over by traffic.

I am staying in a small guesthouse in the older part of the city called Banglamphu, not far from the Chao Phraya river. Being close to all the main attractions, Banglamphu is a big tourist area in Bangkok. This is where the famous Kao San Road is located, with its string of backpacker guesthouses, travel agencies, bars, shops, and restaurants.

I arrived late Friday night, in a pretty exhausted state, and didn’t go to bed until 2:45 am. I was up by 11:00 am on Saturday morning, feeling pretty good but hungry. Given the late hour, I decided to skip breakfast and go straight for lunch.

Glorious Thai food

I started walking in the direction of the Tourist Office, planning to find some food along the way. I would have been happy to grab something at one of the small Thai eateries down my street, but then I came across an indoor restaurant called The Joy Luck Club, and even though it was obviously aimed at foreigners, I decided to give it a try based on the TripAdvisor reviews (conveniently posted at the door) and the reasonable prices.

I had the green chicken curry with rice and a pineapple juice. Nothing too original, but I tend to be conservative on the first day of a trip. The food and service were good (it looked like a small family restaurant) and the decor eclectic with collections of teddy bears, dolls, and small figurines lining the walls. They had A/C even though it was not particularly hot today (by Bangkok standards). Total bill: 175 Bahts (about $6).

Walking further down, I figured that I wouldn’t starve in Bangkok, as restaurant after restaurant came into view. I even spotted a coffee shop (with real espresso) called Jaywalk and made a mental note of it. The reason for the name became obvious five minutes later as I needed to cross the street and realized it had no traffic lights (or apparent stop signs) anywhere!

After picking up no less than three maps at the Tourist Office, I made my way back to Jaywalk (after having to jaywalk across the street once more). The place was empty but the cappuccino was good. The streets seemed unusually quiet. Is everybody shopping in the new part of the city on a Saturday afternoon?

I turned down a touristy pedestrian street that I thought might be Khao San Road. I don’t think it was, but it had everything travellers might desire, including tattoo parlours, transport bookings, cell phones, massages, not to mention guesthouses and restaurants, and of course the ubiquitous 7-11 convenient stores. I bought a SIM card for my phone so I can use it in Thailand.

The infamous Khao San Road

I spent a couple of hours at the guesthouse doing some more research and decided to go to a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet for dinner called Poj Spa Kar. I’m usually good at finding places given an address and a map, but not so much here. Street names have been transliterated into English from Thai and have a variety of different spelling. The main roads don’t run at right angles from each other and are interspersed with small alleys. The street names don’t match from one map to the next, and none seems to have all the streets and lanes marked.

I didn’t have big hopes of finding this place, and sure enough I ended up somewhere else and rather disoriented, but in the process I did discover Khao San Road, crowded with travellers and all the people who cater to them. Music in English was piped from loudspeakers, and the place felt about as Thai as the Philippines.

I did end up finding my restaurant though, but it was closed! What kind of restaurant closes on a Saturday night?? Since I was getting hungry and cranky, I decided to go back and grab some food on Khao San Road, even though I expected it to be bland and disappointing. You don’t want to be cranky when you have to deal with Bangkok traffic (which drives on the left, a fact that doesn’t help any). And it seems that the later it is, the busier the streets get with people and vehicles. Bangkok is a city that lives at night.

I had Pad Thai from a small food cart on Khao San, and as expected it was bland. You can’t argue with the price though: 30 Bahts ($1). It would have been 50 Bahts with chicken or shrimps. I was looking around for somewhere to sit when a guy noticed me and offered me a chair… Where? Next to his drink stall! I ordered an ice tea for 20 Bahts and watched the zoo unfold before me. I rather dislike it. I’m glad I found it though, as Khao San has become an attraction in its own right. I honestly do not remember any of these tourist streets from my first visit here in 1995.

Day 2 – My brain catches up

I don’t seem to be suffering too much from jetlag apart from waking up at 4:45 this morning and having trouble falling asleep again. I made the mistake of going for a Western breakfast (eggs, ham, toast) and it was pretty bad. The coffee tasted like instant coffee and came with horrible powdered creamer. I definitely must learn to eat Thai breakfasts (whatever they are). Before you find your stride in a new country, you’re bound to have a few less-than-satisfactory meal experiences.

Today Sunday is sunny and feels much hotter than yesterday. Because it took me a while to get going, I arrived at Wat Po (temple of the giant reclining Buddha) a little before noon, as it was already crawling with tour groups and other tourists. Fortunately the crowds seemed to remain at the front of the complex. The site had tons of other monuments with a profusion of glittery tiles and gold (or gold paint?) and carved ceramic flowers, as well as rows of golden Buddhas in different poses. Thailand suffers from a serious case of Buddhatitis!

Getting there was easy on the river taxi, only 15 Baths (50 cents) and 5 stops away. The boat was pretty crowded but not uncomfortably so. The river looks just as dirty as I remember from my first trip 19 years ago, but Bangkok feels like a wealthier place now. Thailand has become a mainstream tourist country and people take their families with young kids on vacation here. I’m curious to see what Burma will be like in contrast.

I decided to return to Joy Luck Club for lunch, where I knew I could count on good food in air-conditioned comfort. This time I went for the cashew chicken and watermelon shake.

What’s up with the protests?

The manifestations are starting to turn violent as the pro-government guys have now begun to assemble as well and clash with the anti-government protesters. Two people were killed last night and 45 wounded according to an article I read. I haven’t run into any protest yet. I think I would hear them coming from quite a distance.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email