Bangkok

2 Nov

As we have now established, long bus rides in Asia are my least favorite backpacker activity, particularly when they are sleeper buses or when they are border-crossing buses. I refuse to put myself on a bus that falls under both categories and therefore subjected myself to an “eight hour” bus (it was of course longer) at 8:00 AM on October 27. We awoke early, to get breakfast and be ready for the pick up for the bus, which we were told would be between 7:00 and 7:30 AM. Two separate workers at the Funky Flashpacker Hostel told me to go upstairs, enjoy my breakfast and that they would come gather Angela and me when the pick up was here. The minutes ticked by and it wasn’t until a little after 8:00 that I started really wondering where this bus was. We headed downstairs and asked the guy for the bus. He told us that the bus was gone and that he had looked for us but couldn’t find us. Funny, because we were sitting in plain sight right at the table closest to the staircase that the man allegedly ascended to look for us. Anyway, cue my freak out at the guy for not getting us. The interaction went something like this:

-Guy: Oh the bus just left. We couldn’t find you.

-Me: You’re fucking with me right? You have to be joking because we were sitting upstairs. Go ahead and call that bus driver right fucking now and get him back here. I don’t care where he is.

-Guy: Uh okay. *slowly walks around with phone in hand*

-Me: I SAID CALL HIM NOW. NOW.

-Guy: *makes phone call* Okay you can take a tuk tuk to the bus station and the bus is still there and waiting for you.

-Me: Okay but you’re paying for this tuk tuk you understand that right. MR. KIA HE WILL PAY YOU.

-Kia: Okay

-Guy: Uh, I guess

-Me: Goodbye, I can’t say it was a pleasure

Thanks to our old friend Mr. Kia we actually made it to the bus station in time. The bus itself wasn’t bad at all, I got some writing, some reading and some sleeping done. Then we arrived at the dreaded border. A man got on the bus, told us what we were about to do, which made about no sense to anyone and then told us to meet him in Thailand. So, we got off the bus taking all our luggage because you must scan it at the Thailand side, and waited on a massive line to be stamped out of Cambodia. From there, we started a long trek towards what we assumed to be Thailand. The walk was so long and included exactly zero signage. We eventually found the building and were sent upstairs to yet another massive line for Thailand visas for foreigners. After making it through there, and getting our free 30 day visa, we moved downstairs and had to figure out where to go yet again and put our luggage through an x-Ray that didn’t seem to be manned by anyone. Finally, we were spat out in Thailand, with no bus in sight. We walked and walked and walked and sweated until, around an obscure corner, we met the man who had jumped on our bus with directions, who then pointed us further along to the bus, which appeared like a little speck of a mirage in the blistering distance. By the time we made it through, we were drenched in sweat, stressed, and aged. After hours of traffic we arrived in Bangkok, greeted by the most beautiful sunset while on the bus. When we got off the bus, after hours of transport, we didn’t bother to figure out any public transportation and attempted to hail a cab. The first cab, however, told us he had no idea where our hostel was, so we had to go to the cab line at the bus station across the street and get a guy there to take us. While he too didn’t know where it was at first, we eventually figured it out using Maps Me and some teamwork. We arrived at the hostel at around 7:00 PM, exhausted and hungry.

We stayed at the Niras Bankoc Hostel located in a gorgeous restored building in the Old City, removed by about a mile from the backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road. The location was perfect for us, right next to a park, surrounded by street food, and a few feet from our very dear 7-11, which are apparently everywhere in Thailand. 7-11 is to Bangkok as to Starbucks is to NYC – there’s at least one on every block. This 7-11 became our water, snack and iced latte central. The night that we arrived, after grabbing water at 7-11, we headed across the street to Thip Samai, Bangkok’s most famous Pad Thai spot, where we received paper-wrapped packages of Pad Thai with accoutrement, including scallion, red chili flakes, and bean sprouts, on the side. It was the perfect, most delicious welcome to Thailand before going straight to bed.

The following day we got a taste of the atmosphere in Bangkok after the King’s passing. King Bhumibol Adulyadej died at the age of 88 on October 13 after a whopping 70 year reign. The country immediately entered mourning, which is to last a year, for their most revered King. The city is covered in posters and memorials for the King and most people wear all black for at least the first month. While walking around that day we were stopped from crossing the Main Street for a procession that seems to occur each day (don’t quote me on this). The police line the streets and stop all traffic, saluting the memorial monument for the King. Then, for about ten minutes, what seemed to be the city’s entire fleet of cop cars and motorbikes of all shapes and sizes sped down the street. It is amazing to see how much of an impact this King had on his people. On this first day we walked to the Grand Palace, which was closed for visitors given the death of the King, and instead went into the temple Wat Pho just next door. Perhaps the most amazing part of this temple was the tented section with free food, which we quickly realized was for celebrating the King. Even though we had just eaten breakfast, we were fed noodle soup, some sort of sweet taco-like snack that I can’t even guess the contents of, some very strange hibiscus tea and a very troubling shaved ice dish, served over red beans and bread, topped with some red liquid and condensed milk.

After our feed and walk about the temple we walked to Khao San to see what all the fuss was about, and were sort of surprised. Everyone describes it as a disgusting area but we didn’t seem to think so. It’s filled with bars and street vendors and guest houses and had an electric energy even during the day. While we thought we would maybe try and go out there that night, we got back to the hostel, had dinner and, not surprisingly, decided to pass out instead.

Since we hadn’t gone out, I was feeling motivated to get a work out in the following morning. Angela and I went to the nearby park, where they had an actual outdoor gym. The gym seemed like a men’s club, however, so we stuck to running and interval training. We were both completely dead by the end of it. After a quick shower we headed into town to find food and came across yet another tent of free food, which was perfect for me because I had no idea what I wanted to eat so free was good. I had some sort of omelette over rice with soy sauce, followed by a vanilla ice cream cone. Thank you people of Thailand for saving me money. Back at the hostel, we attempted to figure out our next moves in Thailand and after hours of confusion and deliberation, we decided we would head all the way up north to Chiang Rai and make our way back down to Bangkok before heading to the south. We decided, after three nights in Bangkok we would take the overnight bus there. The hostel informed us that we had to go to the bus station to book the tickets, which seemed ridiculous to us, but we chose to just bite the bullet and go take care of it for the following day.

We took a cab to the bus station, which is extremely far away from where we were staying, and from where anyone stays apparently. We thought we were heading the right way towards the bus station according to Maps.Me, until the driver veered right and dropped us at the Mo Chit sky rail stop, when we were trying to go to the Mo Chit bus station. We had to walk a mile and a half around the park and down the freeway to get to the bus station, where, when we finally made it, we balled out and booked tickets for the VIP bus. Afterwards, we attempted to hail a cab back to the hostel, but no one would take us because of the traffic and because we wouldn’t agree to an absurd flat rate amount. We were forced to walk the mile and a half back around the park and take the sky rail to the end of the line which left us closer to the hostel than before. Here, we got a cab back to the hostel. We told him what we had been doing and he laughed at us, telling us that you can just book the ticket at a 7-11 or show up at the station the evening you want the bus, because they never fill. Thank you Niras hostel, for completely failing us in the bus info game. Once we got back to the hostel, we went next door for some street food that we had been eyeing for the previous two days – a delicious noodle soup with fresh noodles that are cooked in the broth when you order, sliced pork, chili, peanuts and plenty of scallion. After so much time staring at it during walk-bys we are glad that we can now say we tried and enjoyed it, although we still have no idea what it was called. While we were eating it started to downpour, and we wanted to use it as an excuse to avoid going out that night. But alas, it stopped and we forced ourselves over to Khao San Road. However, we were super disappointed by the crowds and with the exhaustion of having walked 12 miles that day (yes, it was actually 12) we gave up on the going out plan and returned back to the hostel to do our favorite nighttime activity in Bangkok, sleep.

The following morning, after we checked out, we decided to drag our extra sore bodies to central Bangkok, which involved another absurd amount of walking to avoid paying for cabs. We walked two and a half miles from the hostel to the National Stadium stop on the sky rail and took that a few stops to Lumphini Park, located smack dab in the center of the bustling city. We spent the afternoon walking around the park, which reminded me of Central Park with its swan boat rentals and tranquility within the big city. After walking around the park we headed towards the US Embassy, which was nearby, just to see what it looked like, and also walked past the Holland embassy, whose lawn was hilariously adorned with an absurd amount of fake cows. We did a return walk through the park and stopped at a salad place that caught my eye. Jones’ Salad was a gift from the Bangkok gods. It was the first proper salad shop I saw in Asia. I was able to get a chopped salad, pick all my veggies, proteins and dressings, and sit in pure bliss while I scarfed it down. After the salads, we headed back on the sky rail, walked the two and a half miles back to the hostel, got quick showers and took a cab to the bus station. Luckily, the driver knew where he was going and took us as far as he could, before giving us the boot so he wouldn’t have to u-turn into traffic. We climbed the overpass over the highway and had a short walk to the bus station, where we miraculously found our platform and faced no issues at all.

I actually really loved Bangkok. I loved the old city just as much as the metropolitan center of the city and felt completely safe no matter where I was. While I abhor the cab drivers for denying rides to areas deemed too far, I find the city to be very livable and clean. I even started to see myself living in a city like it. But until those life decisions need to be made, on to Chiang Rai!

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