Bangkok, Thailand

Many people have asked why I decided to go to Thailand and I am here to fill you in.  After four adventure-filled months in Europe, I was bit by the so-called “travel bug” and spent my summer making fake itineraries for trips to bizarre places.  One day in August, I became very motivated and decided to make a trip happen during my few remaining college breaks.  Thailand was initially on the radar because of a co-worker who had endless exciting stories from her time in the Peace Corps (Thanks Erin!).  Thailand was also so financially do-able for this point in my life and is an extremely popular destination for backpackers. So with that, my mom and I set out on a grand adventure to a place of beautiful people, bustling cities, and one too many monkeys…

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Although there was no smog in Thailand, we experienced a lot during our transfer in Beijing.

The public transit in Bangkok was confusing at first, but easily the most fun part of our time there.  To get from our lodging to downtown, we needed a taxi, a train, a longtail boat (a hold-onto-your-hat cruise through the canals), and finally a tuk tuk (a hold-onto-your-head 3-wheeled motorized scooter).  Although the daily trek was long, it was by far the best way to see the city from all angles.  Our most memorable tuk tuk ride had to be where our driver insisted on street-racing the other tuk tuks at stoplights and finally crossed four lanes of opposing traffic, all while blasting the Hangover soundtrack (pictured below).

Our first stops consisted first of some easy tourist sites to combat the complete 12-hour time change. The Jim Thompson House was a nice transition, as it was the home and art collection of an American who fell in love with Thai culture. Here, we learned about some Thai customs and the process of making silk. Costumed performers were there to demonstrate traditional dances as well as show the tedious process of silk making.  Here, we learned that “tourists” to Thailand were mostly from China and Europe, with much fewer from America than we thought, giving the trip even more of an international flare.

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We visited many Wats, or Buddhist temples, while in Bangkok.  What I did not know before coming to Thailand was that temples not only consist of indoor meditation spaces, but also an entire property of peaceful places, beautiful gardens, and many many golden statues of Buddha in various poses.  I came to Thailand with next to no knowledge of Buddhism, and I still have so much more to learn.

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We accidentally stumbled upon Wat Ratchanatdaram and were pleasantly surprised by its lack of tourists and peaceful atmosphere.
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I learned that believers do not necessarily pray to Buddha, but rather practice meditating in his perfect presence.
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We had to cover our knees and shoulders and take off our shoes to get inside the temples.

We continued our journey to the Siam Mall with many many levels and cluttered stores flooding into the main walkway.  A seasonal market was set up at the bottom where we sampled food and checked out merchants’ stands.  We had to pass through a metal detector and a bag-check in order to enter the mall.  Later, we stopped for delicious Pad Thai at the very touristy, but necessary to see Khao San Road.  Here, you are surrounded by lively people, vulgar souvenirs, and edible insects- what a time to be alive!

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Bangkok’s malls put US malls to shame.
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Footage of dozens of pedestrians getting traditional Thai foot massages on the side of the road.

Our next day was filled with more chaotic activities.  We started the day by meeting up with my friend from UNH, Magna, who was visiting her boyfriend working in Bangkok.  She showed us some side-street sites with amulet markets (selling religious tokens) and introduced us to some of the ins and outs of life in Bangkok.

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Magna showed us her favorite quiet riverside spot in the local university.

After, we made our way towards the very busy Grand Palace, but decided not to venture in due to the large crowds of mourners.  The King of Thailand passed away in October, 2016 and the country is in a year of mourning.  This means that most people are wearing all black or wearing a black ribbon.  The block surrounding the Grand Palace was shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of mourners and it appeared the government was providing free meals for them.  He was a very well-respected king.  Black and white bunting lined the streets, even covering chain businesses, elaborate memorials were very frequently seen throughout the streets, and about a third of the city’s billboards had an image of him on it.

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Just one of many memorials of the King in the city.
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Important individuals were passing in and out of the Grand Palace, so they had a big fanfare with military each time.

Because of our lack of motivation to wait in impossibly long lines to have maybe an hour in the Grand Palace, we instead wanted to focus our time on one of the most famous Wats in Bangkok, Wat Pho, home to Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha.  I wish I knew more about the Buddhist religion, but what I learned along the way was that the Buddha has many different positions that represent various virtues, and the reclining position is one of them.  Although this was a big tourist attraction, the temple grounds were large enough that you could easily find a peaceful corner, especially if you visited late in the day like we did.

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The Buddha’s feet had inlaid mother of pearl.
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Walls were lined with golden statues of Buddha with very ornately decorated pedestals.
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We ended the day with a stop by the flower market where we saw large shipments piled impossibly high on the backs of pickup trucks.

Reaction

I am not too much of a city girl, but Bangkok sprung to life for me.  I was in awe of the international flare mixed with Thai culture.  Mom commented that the city was dirtier than she imagined, but I said it was cleaner than I imagined, so this is up to interpretation.  Very quickly, things such as stray cats, greasy food carts, and chaotic bundles of wires became fascinating to me.  There is something very new and eye-opening around every corner and you will never be bored!  We were completely satisfied with two very full days of touring, but I personally could not see myself staying for more than four days, as it is a city.

Good Eats

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Our first meal was a watermelon fruit shake and mango sticky rice.  Little did we know that this dessert dish would be our new favorite throughout the trip.
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Food stands are the yummiest, cheapest, freshest, and most authentic way to grab a bite to eat.
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We could not resist this cute ice cream in a coconut bowl…

Want to Visit Bangkok?

  • Know that you will have to negotiate prices for almost anything you buy on the street.  Think of your threshold price before bargaining and only bargain if you are genuinely interested in buying the product.  If the price is not already marked, ask for their price.  Next, offer a lower price and wait for a response.  Remember to smile!!
  • I always kept leggings and a scarf (used as a shawl) in my purse for going into any temples.  Your shoulders, knees, and sometimes even elbows and ankles must be covered in order to enter, and your shoes must be placed outside.  Be diligent to not point your feet towards any statues or images of Buddha, as this is considered an insult.  If giving something to a monk, do not give it to him directly, but rather place it on a surface in front of him.  And finally, do not buy novelty images or figurines of the Buddha, as this is seen as disrespectful- there are signs at customs in the airport.  Please be respectful of these religious traditions.
  • If taking a taxi, ask for a “meter” before stepping in, or else your price will be suspiciously absurd at the end.  Only about half of the taxis will turn the meter on for you, so it is a lot of trial and error.  If taking a tuk tuk, negotiate a set price for your destination beforehand.  If taking a longtail boat or bus, good luck with figuring that out and please let me know how it goes.
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