So if one night in Bangkok makes a “hard man humble,” what does four nights do to a soft girl (really only just soft to the touch)?
It exhilarates and exhausts her!
Bangkok was the first destination on my month long Southeast Asia tour, and it was the perfect introduction to this exotic part of the world as well as all things Thai. Its biggest impression? Undoubtedly the hospitality, unequivocal friendliness and sheer helpfulness of the Thai people. From the owner of theguest residenceI stayed at (no shoes allowed inside), Bally, to my guide for two of my three days in Bangkok, Tui, to tuk tuk drivers and the guy who sold me coconut ice cream at the floating market, everyone was genuine with their true sincerity to “be my friend” (this is a quote Bally included on all the signs he put in the hotel…never were we to hesitate to ask for anything as he would serve us as a friend).
I did and saw a lot! So perhaps an interesting exercise as I sit here on my island terrace overlooking a small bay in the Gulf of Thailand (I am currently on the tiny Thai island of Koh Samet) is to rank all that I did and saw during the whirlwind that was Bangkok. And since it is raining here, there is nothing better I can think to do right now anyway.
View from my room on Koh Samet…when it wasn’t raining!
Let’s start with the least favorite and improve from there:
Bangkok Traffic: Before I came to Bangkok, a well-traveled friend of mine warned me to steer clear of cabs and tuk tuks. “Utilize public transportation as much as possible,” he advised, “as traffic in that city of 16 million can be maddening.” Never have more true of words been spoken. One evening, after sitting in the same spot for 20 minutes, I asked my cab driver if I could just get out and walk to the restaurant I had reservations at. After a quick call to Bally to help with the translating, he happily agreed…and then continued to sit there while I walked the 200 meters to eat. The next evening it took metwo hoursto get home from my nearby Thai massage…and for part of that trip I did use public transportation! Traffic even inhibited me my last evening from meeting up with friends at the famous club, Sing Sing. I just couldn’t muster the energy to sit in another hour of traffic at 10pm (yes, it was bad even that late) after sitting in 2 hours of traffic earlier in the evening…and no fancy drinks, go-go dancers or strobe lights were going to persuade me otherwise (although I was a bit tormented by the fun pics they all kept sending over Whatsapp throughout the night).
The All-Night Flower Market:
Prior to arriving in Bangkok, I didn’t even know this important flower market existed. However, within 24 hours of being inside its city proper I had visited it twice…once during the day and once at night when it is at its busiest.
While my expectations of it weren’t super high, I may have had visions that this flower market would be a grander version of the flower stalls at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. But instead of abundant pre-made vibrant bouquets, I found lots of marigolds, jasmine buds, orchids and roses stuffed into plastic bags. Interesting.
The biggest customers at this flower market are the downtown hotels. After midnight they come load trunks and vans full of bags of flowers.
It was a pleasure to watch vendors string jasmine buds into pretty wreaths that would be used as offerings to Buddha (10 baht is about the same as .25 cents). These wreaths were not only found at the temples, but also on the dash boards in cabs, hanging from the mirrors in tuk tuks, on the bows of boats, decorating spirit houses and even around the wrists and necks of people in the street.
Discovering My New Favorite Fruit:
Its purple-red rind is bitter and inedible, but inside is the most sweetest, juiciest, delectable fruit I have ever tasted EVER. If I cry when I leave Southeast Asia, it will be because I am leaving this tangy treat behind.
The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha:
In a country of over 33,000 temples built to Buddha (95% of the population is Buddhist), I went to go visit the most important and sacred on my first day. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located within the grounds of the former home of the Thai monarch built in 1782. Today it is Bangkok’s biggest tourist attraction and an important pilgrimage site for devote Buddhists.
Inside the grounds of the Grand Palace wearing temple appropriate attire.
More of the Grand Palace grounds…but on the temple side. Elephants are the national symbol of Thailand and are considered sacred. After two days with my guide, Tui, she gave me a little purple elephant keychain…which I will keep sacred!
This temple’s facade is decorated with beautiful ceramic and porcelain tiles and its entry is flanked by two half man-half rooster guardians.
Flowers from the flower market in action! Offerings to Buddha are made in three forms; flowers, lit candles and money
Blessing myself with holy water administered to my head by a lotus flower.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the only temple of the 33,000 temples in Thailand where pictures are not allowed to be taken. While it isn’t really made of an emerald, the Buddha carved from one piece of jade was remarkable to witness. He even has his own wardrobe and gets it changed 3 times a year. I got to see his rainy season ensemble.
On the way out of the Grand Palace I grabbed this photo with a guard who wasn’t able to protest it!
Chinatown was a thrill to visit as it had its own buzz and energy that felt different from the rest of the city. As the name would indicate, it was full of Chinese markets, food stalls, temples and, surprising to me, a concentration of gold markets. My guide took me here because I said I wanted to go shopping, and she thought the wholesale markets found in this part of town would be satisfactory. Frankly it was a lot of cheap sh*t at rock bottom prices (jewelry, office supplies, phone cases, shoes all under $2), and I quickly understood how back home we can still sell this cheap sh*t at rock bottom prices.
So while the wholesale markets didn’t impress me, Chinatown did have its highlights, and for me they were two fold; the delicious cup of steamed sweet corn stewed in sugar and cream Tui bought for me from a street vendor and the absolutely perfect handmade miniature replica of a plate of pad thai I bought from one of the shops along the main thorough fare…for only 80 baht (~$2) at that (I am a sucker for all things itty-bitty)!
A street vendor in Chinatown selling the fowl smelling Durian fruit (one of the prolific gold shops is behind him).
Wat Pho – The Reclining Buddha:
This temple in Wat Pho holds one of the largest reclining Buddha’s in the world. The reclining position represents Buddha’s passing into nirvana (his death). His feet were also impressive with 108 mother of pearl auspicious images inlaid into teak wood.
On the opposite side of the reclining Buddha I donated 20 baht to place 108 coins into the 108 bronze monk bowls. I am now guaranteed good luck…and with Cambodia and Vietnam still in front of me, I need it.
The blue bag contains my shoes (no shoes in any of the temples, homes…or, here on the beach, any of the shops).
Admiring a few of the 394 gold gilded Buddha statues at Wat Pho.
我最喜欢的部分窟越南河粉是回去看the stuppahs all lit up at night. It was absolutely splendid! But what made it even more special was that not another tourist could be found…not many people know that Wat Pho is open until 11pm.
After learning how to fold the leaves of the lotus flower, I made my own personal offering to Buddha.
Dinner at One of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants:
The Spicy Wagyu Steak Tartare “Laab” with a Fried Quail Egg atEat Me.
Per the 2016 list, Eat Me is the 23rd best restaurant in Asia! And of all the foodie destinations I could have chosen from in the City of Angels (yep, not just LA is called that), it wasthee perfect choiceas a solo diner. They spoiled me with attentive staff, small plates, a relaxed atmosphere, beautiful cosmopolitan patrons, incredible food and an alluring wine list. I was left wanting for nothing. And while the bill was steep for this part of the world, coming from my part it was impossibly reasonable.
As an additional bonus, my Cambodian server gave me tips on where to eat during my stay in Siem Reap in a few days!
Riding in a Tuk Tuk:
Can you see me? Check out one of the rear view mirrors!
Put me in an under developed country and you will find me most happy on the back of a motorbike (without a helmet…always) or being chauffeured in a tuk tuk. Perhaps it is the feeling of the wind in my hair or the exhilaration of knowing I am completely vulnerable around so much traffic (who doesn’t like a little controlled danger) or perhaps I just like inhaling the toxic exhaust fumes. Really, who knows. But I do know that if you show me a tuk tuk or a limo in Asia, I will chose the tuk tuk every time.
The Floating Market of Damnoen Saduak:
一个人不能没有阅读研究曼谷a floating market located about 90 minutes outside of the city. And while I have seen a market or two in my wanderings, I never once have I been to one that was FLOATING! Just the idea gave me little shivers. I had to experience it!
The Damnoen Saduakmarket began around 50 years ago, and only became a tourist attraction about 20 years ago. I have to admit the experience was a little like a theme park with passing vendor boats selling fried bananas, noodles and coconut ice cream, men draped with pythons coaxing passerby’s to get their picture with the snake and customer boats shuttling visitors from China, the Middle East, Europe and, well, America, so it was hard for me to conceptualize the market catering to anything but tourists…but Tui, my guide, assured me that the Thai people do come here on the weekends to shop, mostly for their fruits and vegetables.
Critical to surviving the floating market was keeping you hands inside the boat. If you were to grip the side for even a moment you could lose a finger because the canals are crammed with side by side boats. Fights did ensue as boats bumped, scraped and jostled one another on the narrow canals. My boat captain, however, was only yelled at once.
My guide would only allow me to buy food while I was floating the market. Anything else, she warned, was marked up too high a price. Okay, fine. But I did see some cute little dresses I wanted to buy my nieces. Her solution? After we disembarked she escorted me to one of the standing stalls beside the floating market to get prices that were more fair according to her (which means I likely saved $3…although that is nothing to shake a stick at here in Thailand).
The delicious coconut ice cream I bought at the floating market…served in a half coconut shell! One cannot have a peanut allergy in Thailand!
And my favorite thing I did in Bangkok…
The Railroad Market of Mae Klong:
Me posing with a passenger train. At the time, I wasn’t sure why Tui wanted me to take my picture next to it…but I soon found out.
It is true that while many people may love a parade, I do love me a good market (hence the excitement to witness the floating market). The problem I am finding, however, is that after traveling a bit, a lot of markets do start looking the same…that is until Tui introduced me to the Railroad Market in Mae Klong, the only market like it in the WORLD!
What is unique about this market is that it functions on an active railroad track with trains that pass through it several times a day. Since the market is literally on the immediate sides of the train tracks, it needs to retract each time a train passes. To witness it is indeed something special and completely unique.
After the announcement was made that the 9am train would be coming through, the market bustled as vendors drew back awnings and pulled fruit and fish away from the tracks. Shoppers also stepped out harms way….only tourists jumped on the tracks with their smart phones to record the event.
This short video is of the final moments as the train passed through the market and the market getting back to work!
At the end of the video you will see the slightly blood splattered hand and arm of a man helping a woman put the awning back over her vendor station. That hand and arm is of the horrific catfish butcher who did his ghastly deed directly across from my watch station as the train passed through. I jumped each time he dropped his clever onto the head of one of his unsuspecting live catfish. It is incredible how much blood one of those creature has too….
The bucket closest in the picture has live catfish. The bucket furthest away has the freshly dead ones.
Try to imagine the sound each time he brought that knife down onto that bloody block…and now try to imagine the smell.
My time in Mae Klong not only introduced me to the only railroad market in the world, but also the best donut in the world made by this fine couple. For the 3 baht (.8 cents) per fresh donut, I am not sure why I didn’t get 20. One of life’s regrets.
Things you see in Thailand…just a woman doing alterations next to the train platform.
So that was Bangkok, and I didn’t even touch on my delightfully torturous 120 minute Thai massage, eating “the best Pad Thai in Bangkok,” or the riff between my guide, Tui, and our driver. Indeed an exhilarating and exhausting time…which to me is always the true mark of one of our world’s greatest cities.
I do have one more night in Bangkok at the end of this journey. And I do plan to hit the red light district. Let’s see if that one night leaves this girl humble.
I wanted to make sure I included a picture of my wonderful guide, Tui. We stopped at the salt flats on the way home from the markets so I could buy salt…but they only sold Costco sized portions.