Jolts of excitement and adrenaline rushed through me as I sat on my train to Bangkok. My first impression of the city was that it was old but familiar, it reminded me quite a bit of Jiangmen, the city in Southern China where I stayed and Hong Kong mixed in together. And like many developing cities, Bangkok’s skyline was a jagged line of glass skyscrapers and short concrete buildings
My train to Bangkok glided smoothly towards the heart of the city, passing many intricate highways with green and pink taxis. I was glad that the airport employee convinced me to take the train instead of a taxi. It was bright, clean, and spacious. I picked a seat near the door. The man sitting across looked at me and something tells me I was painfully obvious as a tourist. I wondered how many backpackers he has seen come through this way. I remind myself to be nicer the next time I see tourists on the subway coming from Time Square in New York City.
A half hour later I arrived to a station named Phaya Thai. I stepped off the train carefully and skillfully weaved my way through all the commuters during rush hour. At last my skills as a New Yorker were coming in handy. I descended to the street and waved at the first taxi I saw. He took one look at my guesthouse address and drove off. Did he not know where my guesthouse was or did he not want to go there? I hoped it was the former. I tried again and this time a smiling middle age driver greeted me. He accepted my destination, turned on the meter, and waved me in.
Folk Thai songs blared through the stereo. Thai sounded strangely like Cantonese but not quite. I tried to see if I could make out any words, but I couldn’t. All of a sudden the driver shouted at me.
“Me! Thailand! You?”
“Me? New York.” I replied.
Out of nowhere he produced a New York City subway map and a postcard of Niagara Falls.
I stared at him wondering if he was telling the truth, or if this was just a ruse he played for all the tourists. I decided that he was genuine, so I nodded and smiled to let him know I acknowledged our connection.
About twenty minutes later, we crossed a short bridge over a green river, and entered a different part of town with much shorter buildings. I noticed an increasing amount of English signs on the stores. My driver turned left at a 7-Eleven into a much narrower street, passed a small temple, several other guesthouses, and finally at the end was my guesthouse. I counted my Thai bills carefully, handed them over to my driver, and waved him goodbye. I dragged my fifteen pound backpack to the entrance of the guesthouse, where a metal gate with several pots of plants and a tree greeted me. The gate was open so I walked in. A young man smoking in the front saw me and pointed me to keep going. At the back of the guesthouse I found the receptionist. She was a middle aged Thai woman sitting behind a tiny desk and didn’t look a bit surprised to see me. I slumped my bag onto the ground and told her I had a room reserved for one. She smiled and asked for my passport. I handed it over, wondering what she thought of me, but she didn’t make any expressions. After some typing she handed me a key, a fortune cookie paper size paper with the wifi password, and led me to a room diagonally across from to the reception area.
My room was tiny, but neat and clean. It reminded me of one those tiny houses that non-conformists traded for when they got tired of paying their mortgages. Outside my room were the bathrooms, the showers and washing machines. This was my first and last night in a non air-conditioned in Thailand.
After settling in and giving my parents a text to let them know I was alive and sound, I forced myself out of the room. I needed to get some food even though all I really wanted to do was to crash on my bed facedown. It was starting to get dark outside too, and I was scared to go too far since it was my first day in Thailand.”Just go to a 7-Eleven for shampoo, body wash, mosquito spray, and food,” I told myself. I got to 7-Eleven, spent 30 plus minutes examining every Thai label and product. At the register, a man spoke to me in Thai, but all I could do was laugh nervously, shake my head, and say “Don’t know, sorry.” Outside the door I reminded myself to review some common Thai phrases.
I scanned the street for the food carts that Thailand is known for but I didn’t see any. I walked a little farther down and finally on one block spotted a bunch of food carts selling hot noodle soups. I looked at the pictures on the menu, and decided to go with a vegetable noodle soup. It was 40 baht which is a little over $1USD. The sky were getting darker at this point, so I quickened my pace and rushed back to my guesthouse. I was afraid of the mosquitoes.
Quickly after my meal (which had meat in it for some reason) fatigue took over. I used the last remaining ounce of energy I had to quickly showered and slumped into a deep stupor. The last thing I remembered hearing were the voices next door of a Spaniard, a German, and a Brit.
The next day I woke up at 8:45am. “Not bad” I thought to myself, I will be on Thai time in no time. I checked to see if I had any signs of traveler’s diarrhea or mosquito bites, but nope I was good. I went outside to the lounge area, and ordered a plate of breakfast which was an egg with toast and made myself a cup of coffee. When I started to drink it, I started laughing because I couldn’t believe that I was in a foreign country, alone, drinking hot coffee in 98 degree weather in the morning.
The June heat in Bangkok was suffocating. By 10 AM in the morning, the sun was blazing on my skin. I made fun of Asian women carrying umbrellas under the sun all summer, now I realized how smart they were. In Thailand they weren’t doing it just for vanity reasons, it was to make sure they didn’t burn into a crisp. I started carrying one around too and sunscreen became my lotion.
Alex joined me for about 10 days. We kept ourselves busy by visiting different tourist attractions such as the Grand Palace, the reclining Buddha, and all the places that people told us to go. The temples were magnificent and beautiful, but the hype only lasted so long. After two temples they all started to look the same to us in the sweltering heat, and we turned our attention to restaurants, bars, and markets.
One of our best memories in Bangkok were actually in a mall in Bangkok near Siam Center. I never thought I would say this because I’m usually the type of person who would avoid malls when I travel, but then I realized the malls in Bangkok were the local experience. That’s where all the Thai teenagers and young professionals hung out after school or work. They were just like most American teenagers; obsessed with fashion, glued to their the latest gadgets, and enamored by Thai celebrities.
In general Bangkok was extremely easy to get around, except during rush hour. Coming from Beijing just before this trip I was convinced that Beijing had the worst traffic in the world, but Bangkok was even worse. Taxis would turn me down during rush hour if we wanted to go somewhere popular. I don’t know why we didn’t use the trains in Bangkok more, but once we did, we didn’t want to hop into another taxi ever again. They were nice, clean, cool, cheap and so convenient! There were just a few things I wished someone would have told me about the trains in Bangkok. I’ll share those with you:
Bangkok has THREE separate train systems and they each require a different type of ticket. There are a few central stations where you can transfer between them, but you have to purchase separate fares for each one. Fares are calculated by distance, and start at 30 baht. Coins is extremely useful for purchasing tokens because some kiosks do not accept bills or cards. There is an employee at each station to exchange bills for coins if you need.
- The Airport Rail Link (ART) makes stops between central Bangkok and Suvarnabhumi Airport. It pretty much goes in one straight line from east to west.
- The Skytrain (BTS) makes the most stops in and around Bangkok.
- The underground rail (MRT) has the least stops and mainly goes north and south.
Food was extremely easy to find in Thailand. The cheapest being street food for about $1USD to $15USD in nicer restaurants. Thailand has everything from Chinese food, to sushi, to burgers, to Italian food, to Korean food. Surprisingly I was never that hungry in Thailand because of the the heat. All I wanted to do was drink coconut juice and fruit shakes all the time, which were sold everywhere. The only thing I never figured out was where to discard the coconut shells. There were no trash cans anywhere.
Throughout my entire time in Asia, I’ve seen and heard of many touts and scams. For the most part I was able to dodge most of them, except one. I want to share this one because I did not see anyone else mention this on the internet.
On our way to the Grand Palace, Alex and I were approached by an old lady on the side of the street feeding pigeons. She seemed harmless, but when we passed her she came over to tell us to feed the pigeons for good luck. We said no, but she insisted, and that’s when we knew something was weird. She began to force the bags of pigeon feed onto us by placing them onto the folds of our elbows. I declined politely again and placed them on the floor, and that’s when she ripped open one of the bags and asked me to pay. Clearly since I did not rip the bag, I ignored her and kept walking, but in an attempt to stop me she ended up snagging her finger on the umbrella on the side of my backpack. She made an outraged face as if to say it was my fault and asked again for me to pay. Again knowing this was not my fault, Alex and I quickly walked away and thankfully she did not pursue us. So that was our most frightening moment in Thailand, which sounds like nothing but at the time seemed pretty intense. All I can say about this is that despite how much you plan, things like this can still unexpectedly pop out when you’re traveling. What’s important to know is how to react fast and smart.
Lodging was also pretty easy to find throughout Thailand. One thing I do regret though is not finding lodging near the train stations in Bangkok, which led me to wasting a lot of time and money to find hotel shuttles and taxis to get to places. Also one thing that saved me throughout this trip was a bed liner. If you’re going to stay at hostels or guesthouses it’s a good idea to bring one because although most of the hostels I stayed in were clean I did notice some stained sheets. Most guesthouses will change your bed sheet everyday, but they do not change the blankets.
After about a week in Bangkok I headed off to Chiangmai by myself, which is a completely different story.