Today Nicole and I visited Wat Arun, a temple along the river Chao Phraya. The temple is one of Bangkok’s most recognizable and memorable locations. Its easily accessed by ferry, there’s a stop right at the temple, and admission is only a few dollars.
[box type=”info”]Side Note: They had some of the nicest and cleanest bathrooms in Bangkok[/box]
Although the spires of Wat Arun, were built in the 19th century, the temple itself has existed in some form as far back as the 17th century.
Nicole and I walked around the temple and admired the intricate tile work and the temple guardians. We climbed the very steep steps to the top of the temple and looked out over the Chao Phraya. Today felt hotter than previous days, and upon checking my phone, I discovered I was right. It was so hot out that both my phone and Nicole’s phone turned off automatically due to overheating.
[box type=”alert”]I apologize for the picture quality. I didn’t bring my camera with me since I forgot my charger and my battery was running low. All of these photos were taken with my Nexus 5.[/box]
The Bangkok National Museum
Nicole and I visited Bangkok’s museum of history and explored its depths and various collections like Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum. It was a nice museum and pretty inexpensive, like the rest of Thailand. If you find yourself in in Bangkok with a free afternoon, I recommend a visit. There was a lot of information about the royal family and about Thailand’s history. Nicole and I learned a lot about Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand that we visited yesterday.
After the museum, Nicole and I headed to Kao San road to eat Israeli food at a restaurant called Shoshana, hebrew for “rose”. We never found the restaurant, but we did manage to find Kao San road.
Kao San road is a street in Bangkok filled with foreigners. It’s a very bro-tastic place with lots of tank tops and wayfarers. There are carts and vendors along both sides of the street and many restaurants and guesthouses.
Nicole and I stopped for a bite to eat at a little cafe before heading across the street to enjoy a foot massage. It was awesome, and the second massage I’ve ever received. My masseuse was a guy and he was much stronger than the lady masseuse I had several nights previous.
After our massages, Nicole and I bought some cheap souvenirs. I bought some sandals and shorts. She bought a bathing suit and some tank tops.[divider_flat]
Asiatique and Dr. Fish
For dinner we found ourselves back in Asiatique, the warehouse-turned-market plaza near our apartment. We had delicious pizza and Dr. Fish feet massages. Not massages from fishes’ feet, but massages of our feet by fish. You put your feet in small fish tanks and the little fish eat the dead skin cells on your legs. Its supposed to make your legs feel smoother. The fish tickled a lot and I can’t say my legs felt noticeably smoother after the fish massage but it was an interesting experience.
This is the fourth day of our trip to Thailand. If you haven’t read them yet, I encourage you to read day one, two, and three.
Nicole and I got up early again today, just like our Railroad market day. Nicole booked a Travel Zoo food tour around central Bangkok for us. We met up at the Skytrain stop/ferry port nearest to our apartment. Our Thai guide led our group of 10 around Bangkok and we spent the morning in different restaurants trying traditional Thai foods as well as popular foods in Bangkok from different cultures such as China and India.
Our First Stop: Roast Duck in Chinatown
Our first stop was in a Chinese part of Bangkok at a little restaurant called Chareon Wieng Pochana. It was run by an old Chinese man who owned the restaurant for over 50 years. He’s too old to cook anymore but he still sits out front and greets customers as they come inside. We ate traditional roasted duck served on rice. The meal was served with peppers on the side, and I foolishly applied the peppers liberally to my dish: bad idea. Aside from the peppers being too spicy, the meal was awesome.
Our Second Stop: Curry Noodles at a Muslim Cafe
At our second stop, we visited a small muslim cafe and ate curry noodle soup. There were condiments on the table to season the soup as we wished. I believe this is the same soup Nicole and I had been enjoying for the past several days.
Our Third Stop: Catfish and Est Cola
After our second stop we took a boat across the Chao Phraya river to a small cafe called Yum Rod Sab at the end of a narrow alley. Inside of the cafe we ate Yum Pla Dook Foo, crispy catfish with a green mango salad and a refreshing Est Cola, Thailand’s own version of Coca Cola. It tasted like a cross between Pepsi and Coke.
Our Fourth Stop: Pan Lee Bakery
All of our stops so far had been lunch foods and more of the savory persuasion. So our next stop at the Pan Lee Bakery was a welcomed pit stop on our food tour. The cafe was like any coffee shop/bakery in the states. There was a corner for sitting and a chalkboard menu with various caffeinated drinks. On the right side of the cafe were a variety of cookies and pastries. Nicole and I each picked up a few bags to bring back to our coworkers for helping to cover our classes while we were away.
Our tour group sat at the cafe and ate delicious Thai-style Green Custard Buns, BBQ Pork Buns and Thai Iced Tea. I really liked the buns, the pork bun was like a slightly sweeter version of Korean Mandoo while the Green Custard Bun tasted more like a fruit danish. I couldn’t have any of the Thai Iced Tea since it was made with milk, but Nicole liked it.
[box type=”info”]This was also our only bathroom stop on the tour. Our guide explained that the polite euphemism for going to the bathroom was “shoot a rabbit” for boys and “pick some flowers” for girls, as in, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to shoot a rabbit.”[/box]
Our Last Stop: Thai Curry and Ice Cream
Our last stop of the tour was at a cafe called Kallaprapruek. We ate traditional Thai Curry served on Roti and Thai-style Coconut Ice-cream. This was our fanciest stop so far. The restaurant was very modern. There were business people enjoying fine foods in a classy establishment. It was the polar opposite of everywhere we’d been up until this point.
After this meal, our guide brought us back to the skytrain stop/ferry port near our apartment where we’d started. We said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and hopped on another ferry to visit the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is centrally located in Bangkok, alongside the Chao Phraya river. The king and his royal government lived there from 1782 to 1925, after which absolute monarchy was abolished and the king moved to a different palace.
Nicole and I wandered the 2 million square feet of palace grounds and looked at the many different buildings and temples. A large part of the complex is the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The complex is really interesting because there are buildings from almost every single era of Thai architecture.
It was nice to see a different style of temple from what we were accustomed to in Korea. These temples were far more ornate and almost every surface of them was covered in gold. They were a site to behold. The Korean temples are detailed in their own way, but made of wood and, I would say, simpler in design, perhaps less gaudy as well.
After the Grand Palace, Nicole and I walked down the street to Wat Pho, one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok. Also home to a great massage school. However, Nicole and I didn’t get a massage there. One of the biggest attractions at Wat Pho is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, a massive Buddha reclining on its side. We were beat from viewing so many majestic temples so we headed over to the neighborhood we’d visited two nights before for fish and chips to have a different international meal.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had patatas bravas, or “brave potatoes”. They were one of my favorite foods at my hometown tapas restaurant, Ceviche. Nicole and I used to go on Tuesday for their tapas specials. In Bangkok, Nicole found a tapas restaurant for us to dine at. The two of us split a ton of delicious tapas and some wine before heading back to the apartment.
This was our fourth day in Thailand and a really enjoyable day at that. After a few days away from work I was feeling refreshed. Its easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your 9 to 5, or in my case 1 to 9:40. Getting a chance to step away from work for a few days and relax really changes everything.
In Korea they celebrate two new years’: Solar New Year, the traditional western New Year, and Lunar New Year, an exciting double New Year you get to celebrate if you live and/or work in East Asia. For Lunar New Year, Nicole and I had two days off: Thursday and Friday. We both additionally took off Monday through Wednesday giving us an awesome 9 day holiday from Friday night to the following Sunday night.
Before you read
If you haven’t read about Solar New Year, check it out here. If you have read it then check out my trip to Thailand below!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Getting to Bangkok
I left work at my usual time around 10pm and hailed a cab over to Nicole’s apartment. From her apartment we both grabbed our bags and took another cab to the bus station. Our bus left for Seoul at 11:40 and we arrived in Seoul at about 3am. From the Gangnam, yes that Gangnam, Station we took a cab to Seoul station to take a train to Incheon where the airport is.
[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: The first train to Incheon is at 5:20am.[/box]
What’s a person to do at the Seoul Train Station between 3 and 5am? If you guessed wait inside you’re wrong. Unfortunately the station is closed until about 4:30. Nicole and I waited at a crowded Lotteria immediately adjacent to the train station. Clearly we were not the only people waiting for the station to open. Almost every single seat in the joint was taken. Many patrons were sleeping on tables or waiting impatiently, luggage in hand.
Finally 5am rolled around and we went into the train station to purchase our tickets and head to Incheon. The train left promptly at 5:20 and an hour later Nicole and I were on a moving walkway slowly making our way towards the airport terminal.
Check in was quick and we made it to our gate with about an hour to spare, about 8:30am. Since we were sitting in row 58, a row so far back, on most planes you would be sitting behind the plane, we got to board first. It was neat.
Let me say this about the flight, Thai airways is fantastic. If you get a chance to fly Thai airways, I strongly encourage you to do it. There are touch screens in the back of every headrest and remotes in the armrests. The touch screens have dozens of movies, music, and tv shows to choose from. The food was pretty good too and there were free potent potables for consumption. Nicole and I indulged in celebratory gin and tonics and then Nicole fell asleep again and I watched a ton of movies because I can never sleep on transportation.
We touched down, or landed, in Bangkok at 1:30pm due to a two-hour time change. It was hard to believe that we were finally in Thailand after traveling almost nonstop since 10pm the previous night. Customs was a breeze, just like it was entering Korea and Japan. In a matter of minutes Nicole and I had our bags and were on our way to meet a man I would later come to call Pimon, his name.
Pimon, or possibly Simon
Our air BnB host, Bee, offered to have her father pick us up from the airport and drive us directly to the apartment all for $20. Considering Nicoleand I had zero idea of how to get to the apartment this seemed like a great proposition. We met up with him in front of the airport and we walked to his car. He introduced himself as Pimon, at least I think that’s what he said. He was difficult to understand.
Pimon was an interesting fellow. I would say he was in his late 50s. He loves his family and kids, his wife died of cancer, he enjoys hiking in Canada, and he is very proud of his daughter, Bee. That was all I understood of what he said. On an unrelated note, for some reason he reminded me of what Dave Thomas, of Wendy’s, would look like if he was born in Thailand instead of the US.
[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: People drive on the left side of the road in Thailand.[/box]
Getting to the Apartment
From the airport we hopped on the highway and he drove us the 30 minutes or so to our apartment. We took the highway over much of downtown Bangkok. It was a view to behold. Bangkok is such a modern and futuristic city at its center, but its antiquated and poor just about everywhere else. In the center of downtown there are designer boutiques and multistory shopping malls. Meanwhile only blocks away people live vastly different, and poorer, lives.
Pimon drove us past a nearby plaza area called Asiatique and a few other sites in our neighborhood. Afterwards he brought us to the apartment and gave us the key. Nicole and I had booked a studio apartment for our stay for about $300. The apartment was incredible and much nicer than both of our apartments in Korea.
It was nice to finally be done traveling, almost a day after we started. We both passed out on the bed from exhaustion and probably slept for an hour.
Waking up in Bangkok
I woke up with one of the worst headaches of my life, probably from not eating and drinking enough while traveling. Luckily, there was a “café”.
The soup we shared was just enough to tide us over as we walked towards Asiatique and dinner. Along the way we got to see our first taste of Bangkok, outside of downtown. The buildings were old and run down, but lively and bustling on the first floor. Most of the buildings were concrete block and maybe 3-4 stories. The first floors of most of the buildings were shops. There were lots of internet cafes, hair salons, and little cafes selling that same soup we had near our apartment.nearby where we could get food. By café, I mean there was what looked like a hotdog-cart parked on the side of the road with several plastic tables and chairs. Nicole and I split a delicious soup that was one of the best meals I had on the trip. There were bits of beef and spices in it and it was the right balance of spicy and flavorful. A few bites of soup and I was good to go.
The soup we shared was just enough to tide me over until dinner. Nicole and I stopped at a small restaurant that Pimon had recommended to us. We ate delicious fish and steamed octopus in a lime chili sauce. It was amazing, but also amazingly spicy. I thought I knew what spicy was, living in Korea and all, but Thai spicy is on a whole other level.
After dinner Nicole and I walked down to Asiatique, the market that Pimon told us about in the car earlier. Asiatique used to be a derelict warehouse park on the water. However the area had been renovated and each of the former warehouses were converted into hip outdoor markets with various shops and stalls. Nicole and I bargained a bit with a few shop keepers and bought some gifts for our family. We also got some dairy-free coconut ice cream, served in an actual coconut and sprinkled with peanuts. It was amazing and it quickly became a staple of our Thailand trip. I probably ate it everyday.
Next to Asiatique was a giant ferris wheel, I believe the third largest in the world. As we were walking over to it, fireworks began to go off and the two of us decided to watch the fireworks from the edge of the river instead.
This was a spectacular end to a very long and very eventful day. We rode buses, taxis, trains and planes. We traveled almost all day and all night. However, at the end, it was all worth it. We enjoyed delicious foods in a variety of venues and got to experience a new and interesting culture.
The best part of all, this was just the first day.