Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One night in Bangkok and the World's your oyster

For our honeymoon I chose Thailand. Why Thailand people ask? Well first of all it's far away...a 12 hour plane ride to tokyo then a 5 hour flight to bangkok. Second it's exotic and completely out of our comfort zone. What could be more romantic than spending two weeks with your new husband where no one can speak your language? And Third I knew it would be the perfect way to show Chad just how much of a benefit free flights are. Especially when he was getting waited on hand and foot in business class watching his own personal tv and enjoying lay flat seats.

The majority of our vacation took place at the beaches which will be a separate post. First we had to discover Bangkok.
Since we were flying standby into Bangkok and had confirmed tickets traveling to Phuket I decided to give us a few days cushion in the city just in case something happened and we didn't get on the initial flight. As it turns out, a few days is all you need in the big city.

(picture: street food in bangkok)

We arrived in the city on a Saturday night which meant we had all day sunday and monday to explore the city. Since we were there on a weekend we decided to spend sunday at the Chatuchak weekend market. If you ever get a chance to go to bangkok and you find yourself there on a weekend I recommend going here. It's full of stall after stall of anything you could imagine. Tiny buddha statues, elephant carvings, yards and yards of silk, scarves, jeans, jackets, puppies, birds, furniture, and lots and lots of weird food. At first the smells were overwhelming. It's pretty much hot year round in Thailand but we came at the end of the rainy season so it was humid and hot and all the vendors cooking food everywhere just added to the heat hanging in the air. Of course nothing except the food really has a price on it so this is where we learned to haggle. Most vendors have calculators and they will show you a price in baht on there and then if you disagree you type in what you think you should pay. The general rule is the more you buy the better deal you get. I had luckily downloaded an app on my iphone that was a currency converter (highly recommend this) so I could know how much things were actually costing us. Something about foreign currency you spend it faster because it just seems like monopoly money. We had our confidence up at the end of the day so we took the public transportation sky train back to the station near our hotel on Silom road. This allowed us plenty of street walking time where we learned two things, don't make eye contact with anyone or they will try to sell you something and don't talk to the taxi drivers or tuk tuk's because they stop constantly for you trying to give you a ride. Pull out a map on the street and you are an instant target (nevermind being white with blond hair).

The next day we ventured to the Grand Palace which is pretty much the main attraction in bangkok and one of the few reasons I can think of to spend time in the city (unless you like big crowded cities).
(picture: detailing of one of the palaces)
In general Thais are very modest in their dress but this holds especially true at the Grand Palace. You must cover your legs and arms and if you don't they will make you wear a sarong, tshirt or pants over what you are wearing before you come in which you can borrow for free. The tshirts resemble painting smocks you'd wear as a kid and the pants are like hospital scrubs. Chad was fine but I had to borrow a shirt to wear over my dress because I had spaghetti straps and even though I had a wrap it wasn't enough. This is probably one of the most busy tourist areas (and we went in the "off" season) especially outside the palace which is lined with street vendors and taxis and tuk tuks. This is also the time to wear slip on shoes because you must take your shoes off when you go inside the rooms with the buddhas. Also there's no photography and you have to sit on your legs (feet are dirty and you can't point them at the buddha out of respect). The grounds of the grand palace are huge and it takes a few hours just to see everything. We ended up taking a tuk tuk from this palace to some smaller temples that were off the beaten path. We discovered that while tuk tuk's are cheap (about 2 dollars to take you around town) and a great experience they are also con artists. Our tuk tuk driver took us to the two temples we wanted to see and to a silk shop but then he took us to a travel agency and two gem places. The thing about the tuk tuks is they want you to buy something at these stores so they can get free gas. You end up in a high pressure sales environment where people basically follow you around these gem galleries trying to get you to buy something. We ended up buying some CZs (fake diamonds) for about $5 just to get out of the store which then funneled you into another store.
Since we didn't buy a tour package or anything at the first gem store and not a lot at the second gem place the tuk tuk driver was done with us and basically dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We probably walked 5miles if not more back to the skytrain just to get back to our hotel.
Our last night we went to Khao San Road which is basically a hangout for all the backpackers and tourists in the area. I'm glad I didn't book our hotel there as I originally planned because with all the bars and restaurants and street vendors it is a bit loud but it was also a great experience. We got fish pedicures at this place that had giant fish tanks and you put your feet in and let the fish eat all the dead skin off your feet. They have a place like this in DC that costs probably $60 and we paid about $5 to do it. fish nibbling on your feet for beauty felt very strange but worth trying if you ever get the chance.

Overall Bangkok was an amazing place but I definitely wouldn't spend much time there again after already being there once. It's hot and crowded and you just get bothered by people trying to sell you things way too much. Of course we found the beaches to have the same type of sales people (they even come in the restaurants and shove bracelets and hats in your face wanting you to buy) but at least you have the beach to relax on. I was impressed with the amount of food and drinks readily available on the streets and how cheap everything was. The restaurants were a bit more pricey but there are plenty of bars and malls with air conditioning. Also the hotels here cost a little more but the taxis are usually metered so you know you aren't getting ripped off. Traffic is a nightmare here so taking a taxi usually costs a little more than budgeted because of this. One night we ended up getting out and walking back to our hotel because all the roads were blocked off by our hotel for the indian festival. There are plenty of street festivals to enjoy which means you won't get bored no matter how many days you are in town for.

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