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Everything that you need to know about Bangkok

Ok, yeah – this is probably not everything that you need to know about Bangkok. But if you’re coming from Chicago after spending 6 months in South America and you’re only going to be in Bangkok for 4 nights (but really 3 nights because you arrived at 2am) before you head north to Chiang Mai for a few nights and then plan to spend a couple weeks in the Southern Thailand islands — then this will be pretty much everything you need to know.  😎

The food in Bangkok is good and it’s cheap

And, like Lindsay said in our first day recap, the food is spicy.  I don’t think that I really ever wrote about it, but if you talked to me about South America and some of the surprises I probably mentioned how I was disappointed in the food. Don’t get me wrong, we had some excellent food – both in Buenos Aires & in Lima – food that ranks up there with the best of them, but in general your everyday food was just not that good. Here though, in Bangkok, different story.

The food in Bangkok is cheap – we were paying $4-$5 per person (including drinks and tip) for sit-down service at some very well rated local joints. Were we the only white people in the place? Yeah, we were. Did we look funny when Lindsay ordered off the picture menu by just pointing and not saying a word? I think so. And were a few of the Thai people in the restaurant looking at us with concern when we both started sweating profusely because we unknowingly ordered a couple of spicy dishes. I think so. But the food was so good and so cheap we went back to that place again for lunch. This time we ordered some different foods and were impressed again.

We had no idea at the time Lindsay ordered it, but turns out the dish was Som Tam – a spicy Thai salad made with unripened papaya. Most all Thai food is some level of spicy, but this salad is found in the designated “spicy” section on the menu. Whoops.

And then there is the worlds largest Chinatown located in Bangkok. If you’re brave (or speak a little Thai) and have 100 baht on you (100 baht = $2.81) you can do some damage.  I say brave not because they are serving a bunch of weird stuff, I say it because it’s so hard to tell what is going on. No menus, a bunch of yelling in a foreign language, often times no “restaurant” but instead a food cart with or without tables near it and lots of people waiting in lines..in the streets. It’s hectic to say the least. But if you’re smart, like we were, you hire a guide to take to all the hot spots. We tried fresh donuts, fresh soup, fresh ginger something, arguably not fresh fried oysters and a strange jelly/coconut/ice/milk/fruit drink during our tour. Definitely worth it.

This was the very first dish we tried on our Chinatown food tour – Red Soup with Fish Balls. The guide claimed that only the fish filet was used in making the ball. I’m not buying it. To me it tasted like a home aquarium would smell after not being filtered or changed for a few weeks. The red soup part however was incredible.

The fresh donut vendor. The little containers of green stuff closest to you in the picture are what make this special. Interesting little note: Krispy Kreme is a thriving business in Bangkok and everyone knows the donuts sold in Chinatown “are better than Krispy Kremes” which is impressive.

There are a lot of similarities between their Chinatown and our Las Vegas. Tons of bright lights and plenty of gambling, although the gambling in Chinatown is done behind closed doors because it’s illegal. Reports say that 70% of adults in Thailand gamble regularly even though it’s banned. Also, I would have taken this picture from the center of the road but that would have resulted in almost certain injury from a car, motorcycle or tuk tuk.

Hailing a taxi or tuk tuk in Bangkok is really annoying

Full disclosure – Uber is in Bangkok and we did not use it because we seldom have a reliable internet connection. If Uber can dominate a market like the U.S. I cannot imagine what it will do to the tourist market in Bangkok.

I love the look and the open-air setup of tuk tuks, but I can’t stand the constant negotiation and back and forth for simple rides. Walking is what we prefer, but if you’re running late or if it’s 95 degrees out walking can be a pain too.

In theory the process shouldn’t be that hard. The cabs all have meters. If they were used I wouldn’t be writing this.

But when you’re white in Bangkok you’re clearly a tourist and the drivers of cabs and tuk tuks (motorcycles converted to drive 2-4 people in the back little wagon area) try so hard and so often to take advantage of you. It’s stupidly annoying. Every single time we tried to hail a cab or tuk tuk we were:

  • Quoted a ridiculous rate. Usually 4-8x what the metered rate would be for cabs and 2-3x what a local would pay for a tuk tuk
  • Told that our destination was closed or there was a traffic jam between where we were and where we were going (so they could take us somewhere either closer or to a place the driver would receive a commission from)
  • Questioned once inside about our plans, where we going, why, etc.. in the hope they could help book us a tour or something

It’s barely fun the first time, and after the 12th I’d rather walk. The silver lining? We are top-notch negotiators after getting it handed to us by a few drivers.

If you can, take the BTS (Bangkok Sky Train – their version of the Chicago El) or the MRT (Bangkok …I don’t know what it stands for – their version of a subway). Traveling this way is way cheap ($1 per ride) and is in comfortable A/C.

You don’t need to go to the Weekend Market, but you should

What started off as a market for business to business transactions has morphed into I don’t know exactly how to describe it ..a must visit market selling literally everything that you can imagine that is visited by over 200k people each weekend. That is the best, and most accurate description of this place. It covers over 65 acres – part indoor (sort of) and part outdoor. There is some…and I cannot stress some enough…semblance of organization, but not much. For the most part the art is kept with the art, the clothes are kept with the clothes and so forth. But you will find the only-astroturf vendor setting up shop next to the used silverware guy who shares a wall with the family who is selling dog food.

It is truly a sight to see. And it’s fun. You can grab a beer and walk around. Bartering is the name of the game. Stop in somewhere..ask the price..pretend to be interested, walk away. Rinse and repeat. We bought some stuff but I actually don’t think that the market is the cheapest. We saw everything we bought (pants and shirts) at other stalls throughout Bangkok for the same price, if not cheaper. The experience of the market though is second to none. I have trouble describing it. If you’ve been to a flea market take that experience, pack it in much, much much tighter, multiply the size by 10 or 20 and dedicate a section to some of the most legit and beautiful looking original artwork and you’ll be close.

“Hey, Jim – I am at the Weekend Market. This place is crazy. Did you say meet at the only-crazy-knives booth?”

“Or did you say the gorgeous, custom-made art work booth? Oh, it doesn’t matter because they are right next to each other – perfect.”

The temples and top tourist things to do are awesome

And spoiler alert – a lot better than what is in Chiang Mai. (We’re in Chiang Mai right now – Thailand’s 2nd largest city known for it’s access to the mountains and many temples placed throughout it’s city)

One of my favorites. Not quite sure what it is exactly, but it’s cool.

This sort of looks fake – out of a movie or a video game, but it’s real and was taken with a so-so camera phone (Motorola Moto X). Just a pretty average view from (I think) The Grand Palace.

This picture is taken from inside the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Perspective is tough with this picture. The rough measurements are the statue is 150ft long and 35ft tall. It’s incredible.

We spent the first few days somehow avoiding the top things to do in the city. Not sure how we accomplished that, but we did. In hindsight we saved the best for last. It’s really cool to see these spectacular temples set right in the middle of a gigantic metropolis that is Bangkok. Our only regret was that we didn’t take a guide with us. Unlike in South America there isn’t a ton of education and information in English. There is some, but it’s sparse and really doesn’t do a great job telling the story and the history of the places we visited. You live and you learn.

It’s still incredible to think that all of these crazy buildings are located dead smack in the middle of a hustling and bustling global city. Brilliant!

It is true – you do need to wear long pants or skirt and a shirt that covers your shoulders to visit the places. We were told by our food guide the night before that wasn’t the case (language translation mishap I guess) and I showed up wearing literally the examples they use as to what not to wear: shorts, flip flops and a tank top. Typical America tourist. Luckily this wasn’t the first time they’d seen some a-hole western tourist come through this place and had an entire building dedicated to borrowing proper clothes before entering. That is why in a few of the pictures you will see that Lindsay and I are wearing the exact same business-casual dress shirt. We shopped from the same rack. 🙂

The Red Light district is for real

On night #2 we headed out to a rooftop bar (Cloud 47 – no dress code vs Sky Bar at Lebua (from Hangover 2) that has a strict dress code). What we didn’t realize at the time was the bar wasn’t too far the original red light district in Bangkok. Note: There are now three red light districts. The biggest one is now in a part of town called Soi Cowboy, the one we were walking through was in the Patong area (near the financial and business district) and the most intense one (based on what I have read) is in the Nana neighborhood. Lindsay and I were wondering why random dudes were jumping in front of us as we walked down the street with advertisements for a variety of different shows. All of them extremely erotic. Lindsay elbowed me in the side and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to one of those…”  Haha…I’m kidding.

The next day I did some research and confirmed that the Thailand sex industry, while technically illegal, is thriving. There is a place called Dr. BJ’s Salon. Feel free to google that if you’d like.

You don’t have to stay in a 4-star hotel to be treated like a guest

After a long night of speciality dining in a locals house and drinking with 20 somethings outside a hostel down the street from our hotel until 3am we were feeling like absolute crap the next morning. Life was a chore. But being the troopers we were we headed out anyways. Feeling terrible we walked 50 minutes in the brutal heat and sun to the famous Koh San Road. This is the road where all the dirty backpackers converge on at night. The road closes, the booze is cheap (many bars advertising the fact they do not check id and their cocktails are strong) and you can buy anything from a fake diploma to a tailored suit. We walked down the road once and had enough.

Then we stumbled upon the fish spa! It looked sketchy (most things in the area do) so we decided to have the little fishies give us a once over on our nasty feet. Afterwards we asked the spa attendant to grab us a beer and sat down for a foot massage. Life was getting better. We finally worked up a hunger. But we knew that we were going to need some A/C. A quick search (spa had free wifi) showed a highly rated 4-star hotel just 1,000ft from where we were staying. Yum.

We walked right in like we were staying there, saying hi to all the staff and made our way to the restaurant. Had some lunch (very good). As we were finishing up we were getting mighty sleepy. But we were so far from our hotel and the Chinatown food tour was going to start in less than 3 hours. What are we to do?? Easy, pay the lunch bill, get up, casually stroll over to their pool, find an empty reclining chair with a cushion and settle in for a 2-hour power nap. We called it a “Snack and a nap”. When the phone alarm woke us up we got up, acted like nothing going on here and walked out the front of the hotel. Technically Lindsay did a “Snack and a nap” while I took it a step further after we woke up and made it a trifecta – “Snack, nap and a crap.”

Lindsay at the Fish Spa!

My understanding is that Fish Spas like this are banned in 14 states back home. Why? Probably because they’re completely gross and easily spread stuff because people bring their nasty-ass feet into a common tub. Did we care? Yeah, of course we did – but what were we supposed to do, ya know?

The view from the apartment where we had dinner overlooking the river and a beautiful fireworks display to celebrate Halloween!

All of our new friends kicking the night off right with a glass (which I am not kidding would turn into a bottle before we sat down for half of the guests, myself included) of champagne with a chili. By the end of the dinner we were all “feeling no pain” and somehow got on the topic of politics. Interesting end to the night to say the least. I definitely was stirring the pot. 🙂

 

 

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