Bangkok was everything that we were told – frenzied and crowded, but packed with cool things to see, do, and eat. From the dozens of temples and statues covered in gold to the smells of fish at the markets, there was always something to check out.
Our hotel (th e Erawan House) was located in a sort of “Old Bangkok” with incredibly crowded, narrow streets and people everywhere. It’s also right next to Khao San Road and near most of the other tourist attractions. This wound up being a great spot to stay because everything we wanted to see and do was within a short walk/tuk-tuk/water taxi ride.
Another thing that is everywhere is people peddling stuff. They kind of take it to a new level here, though, going so far as to wear official-looking uniforms with fake (but very convincing) credentials around their necks or planting “random” people to seem like their giving you helpful advice from a stranger, not a vendor. As an example, when we tried to tour the Grand Palace, there were uniformed people with credentials around their neck stationed right next to the military guards at the entrance who would tell you that for some reason you can’t go in right now. The reasons tend to be 1) that you can’t get in with shorts on (which is true, though the palace has pants/skirts to borrow for free once you get in) or 2) that there is some kind of “Buddhist Ceremony” occurring at that moment (there isn’t). Instead, the official-looking individual will suggest you visit a nearby attraction instead and return later. They then helpfully find a taxi or tuk-tuk to take you there. The scam is that the taxi/tuk-tuk will inevitably stop at places you don’t want to go in order to try to get you to buy stuff you don’t want before taking you to the other attraction. At one point, we had 3 people (an “official” at the Grand Palace, a driver, and a “coincidental stranger”) all working together (even though they were all in different locations) to get us to go to a particular travel agency. They are very good at doing it subtly and it’s surprisingly convincing. The bottom line that we discovered is to believe printed signs that you see, and absolutely nothing else.
But enough about the cons. The Grand Palace (once we did get in) was definitely something to see. It was filled with different temples and buildings that have every inch of them covered with gold, statues, and multi-colored tiles. It really is a sight to see and worth elbowing the “officials” outside out of your way for.
We also got to see the Reclining Buddha, which is sheer size is amazing. It’s probably over a hundred feet long and sits alone in its own building. The statue itself is gold, and the bottom of the Buddha’s feet are black stone inlaid with Mother of Pearl designs. It’s pretty impressive.
The river boats are also something to see. There is the cheap (50 cents) but crowded water taxi service that is a good way to avoid the traffic of Bangkok streets, but there are also the faster long-tailed speedboats that give 1 and 2-hour tours of the city from the river. These long-tails are about 2 feet wide and 20 or so feet long. In the back is a large car engine just sitting on top of a mount, completely uncovered. The engine has a long control tiller in the front for the operator and a 10’ shaft at a shallow angle off the back. At the end of the shaft, just barely below the surface, is the prop. When these things are revved up, they make a big rooster tail off the back of the boat.
The food has been fantastic. We visited a couple different markets and restaurants and really haven’t had a bad meal yet. Curry dishes, pad thai, veggie dishes, and even banana french toast have all been great. One funny thing is that many of the restaurants around our hotel have the same menu. Not just the same items, the exact same menu. The only difference is the name on the cover.
Kim and I also got foot massages on Khao San Road. Now, Kim does pedicures and stuff as often as most girls do, but I’ve never had anything done to my feet by anyone. Aside from a quick scrub in the shower, I don’t even really touch my feet, so this was more than a bit strange to me. I think spent about 2/3 of time twitching and convulsing from being tickled, but the lady doing the massage managed to keep from laughing at me too hard. When it was over my feet did feel pretty good, but I think in the future I’ll stick to the head-neck-back massages.
Our final “attraction” before heading out to Cambodia was something that I’m pretty sure only civil engineers and their spouses would ever do. We took a 30-minute taxi ride to check out the subway system and the sky train. Now, don’t get me wrong, they were both very nice and it was cool to get to see the more modern part of town (including a free, outdoor boy band concert), but I was sort of chuckling to myself the whole while as we explored and photographed Bangkok’s transit system so Kim could give a presentation on it when she gets back to work.