Destinations, Food, Thailand

Onward to Asia: Surprised In Bangkok

December 1, 2012

Hey friends, welcome to Asia! We’ve sunk completely into New Zealand life after completing a five-week tour of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. At long last, with a bit of reasonable wifi and more than a few cups of tea and toastie sandwiches to fuel the photo sorting and story gathering, we’re finally set to start sharing the new series. Hope you enjoy the tales as much as we enjoyed the adventures! Cheers, Bethany

Aspects of Asia intimidated me. Challenging alphabets, unidentifiable ingredients, eastern traditions of dress and worship and dwelling. Mayhem on the roadways. All so decidedly different from my upbringing as an English-speaking westerner living in calm-as-mashed-potatoes Oregon.

Bangkok, Thailand made sense on the map when we worked out our RTW route: an easy jump into the shallow end of Southeast Asia, a hub for accessing neighboring countries. We bought the tickets and committed, and I fully expected to do more research and trip planning while we were in Africa. Reality took a different shape: our wifi access was expensive and limited during the string of months leading to arrival, and quite unlike our preparation for beginning-of-the-trip South America, we had little on hand in terms of guidebooks, itineraries, or resources.

Thankfully, our friend Lindsay posted Love at First Sight about her summer visit, and Meg and Tony, our pals at Landing Standing, shared their (promising!) First Impressions of Bustling Bangkok. Others, like Bethaney at Flashpacker Family, wrote about Tough Times in Bangkok. After experiencing our own bouts of travel fatigue and more than a few cravings for stability and calm, we honestly didn’t know what to expect.

Armed with little more than a few free iPhone apps, unsure how we’d acclimate or navigate, we landed in Bangkok and jumped in for a blind try, working successfully through the BKK Airport obstacle course of health inspections and customs and snatching a taxi to downtown for a fair price.

Surprisingly fun tuk-tuk rides…

After a day and a half of travel (departing Zanzibar, returning to Dar es Salaam, and flying to Thailand via Ethiopia) we were absolutely ready to crash once we arrived at our room. Grateful for our shot in the dark accommodation location in Ratchada, far enough from buzzing spots like Khao San Road but near enough to the Huai Khwang MRT station, we lucked out on peace and quiet combined with easy transportation.

By week’s end, after leaving Bangkok for greener sites farther north, I noticed an unresolved feeling.

I’d been subconsciously waiting for the other shoe to drop – for the city to grind us into a pulp and spit us out – and it never did.

Where was the angst? Where was the claustrophobia from dwelling in a giant, chaotic urban center? Where were the ragged nerves from transportation mayhem?

Our fears never materialized.

Rather, we quite loved our first foray into Asian travel, thanks in part, I think, to giving ourselves permission to skip what we felt like skipping and enjoy what we felt like enjoying.

Bangkok is a huge city. The 2010 census puts the population at 8.2 million, and a 2012 review of Twitter yields a list of 82,000 must-see/eat/experience recommendations for visitors.

One of our best choices? Saying no.

Here’s the shocker: We didn’t go to Khao San Road. We didn’t go to the Grand Palace or Wat Prakeaw. We didn’t visit the Floating Market. We didn’t visit Jim Thompson’s House. We didn’t take a tourist ferry or a local taxi boat down the canals. We didn’t take the bicycle tour or the dinner cruise or attend a glittering cocktail party at the tip top of the flashiest skyscraper.

Instead, we enjoyed a week of Ted and Bethany Live Life in Bangkok, we threw in a couple of mini adventures when we felt like it, and we let the little things become the most memorable.

A few of our favorite moments in Bangkok:

Ted grinned the first night we used the city’s MRT subway system: orderly, air conditioned, queuing lines easily marked, paperless machines, plenty of room, and a uniformed janitor running rags with disinfectant down the stairway handrails. (Argentina: take note!)

We both grinned when we paid pennies for delicious food, like these bowls of pork belly/egg noodle/crab soup for a buck:

A great sketching spot with views of Wat Arun at Amorosa Bar also yielded a chance encounter with fellow Oregonians (DTJ Day 266), and a few baht for fresh-squeezed orange juice in Lumpini Park seemed too good to be true:

A different sort of “green street”:

Drama of rainy-season flooding unfolding in front of our hotel:

Goofballing in the elevator, playing in the rain, and coming home soaking wet (flashback: Buenos Aires):

Watching Skittle-colored taxi cabs, daring motorbikes, and frantic drivers scoot through the massive streets:

Heading on a nearly wild goose chase to find Cup of Trees. Indulging in Earl Grey Thai Iced Tea, pretty-good brew, and unbelievable chocolate cake:

Entering the land of affordable body work! Thai massage, oil massage, foot massage, head and neck massage…just steer clear of the seedy sounding spots and legitimate therapy may be found for a fraction of the costs on neighboring continents! We jumped at cheaper spots later on, but our very first hour-long Thai massage cost less than $20 at Raintree and the extra few dollars were well worth upgrade in atmosphere:

Visiting the Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha – happy to see an enormous pair of (beautiful) feet. My size elevens felt like they were in good company.

And lastly, a testament to our easy-going time in Bangkok: Suda. We stopped in for ice-cold drinks and amazing yellow curry on our first night in town and returned at least three times more…

Suda Return #3: Thanks to the small world of Twitter, we met up with Ric and Bobbi of Heels and Wheels during their week in Bangkok visiting friends Felicity and Luke.

Unbeatable Bangkok Favorites: Yellow Curry & Mango Sticky Rice at Suda

Thank you, Bangkok, for being such an unexpected charmer with your clean mass transit systems and smiling street food vendors and good-natured expats. Thanks for the traditional buildings with their lovely architectural details. Thank you for blowing Raindrops and Roses out of the water with your thunder and lightning storms and for helping us laugh at ourselves when we were lost or soaking wet or dying of one-too-many-bites of spicy food. We couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining and gracious welcome to your continent…

If you venture into Bangkok and feel like trying a few of our favorites, I hope these are of help:

Sketching and Drinks at Amorosa Bar
Upstairs above The Deck at Arun Residence
36-38 Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong
Maharat Road, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok, 10200, Thailand
tel: +66 2221 9158-9

Delicious Dishes at Suda
The coldest beer we found in the city + the best yellow curry I’ve ever eaten.
Sukhumvit Soi 14, next to BTS Asoke, 5 min from MRT Sukhumvit
tel: 0 2577 6445/08 1854 9989

Chocolate Cake, Earl Grey Thai Iced Tea, and Cuteness at Cup of Trees
Rangsit – Pathumthani, Klong 6
tel: 02-577-6445

A Tasteful, Peaceful Retreat from the Sounds of Sukhumvit at Raintree Spa
3/1 Sukhumvit 11, Klongtoey, Wattana,
Tel.66(0) 2651 2206-7

P.S. Take our word for it – if you take a taxi, be sure you take the phone number for your destination. Drivers quickly move from nodding their heads to scratching their heads once the meter’s running.

Bonus: One Night in Bangkok from the musical Chess. Written by Tim Rice… I didn’t know him, either, until I looked up his credentials and found out he wrote “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” for the Lion King. The world gets more and more interesting by the day…

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  • Reply Lindsay December 1, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Yay! So glad you liked it! And thanks for the shout out :)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:12 am

      I really enjoyed seeing Asia through your eyes. It was a pain to keep up with you in real-time since we were in South Africa with sketch internet, but once we got to a decent connection, I had a great time reading back through all your posts. Thanks for sharing your photos as you traveled!

  • Reply Bethaney - Flashpacker Family December 1, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    I’m glad you liked Bangkok. I genuinely like the city too but it can be rough at times. I think you were smart to steer clear of KSR and all the tourist traps. When we go back I think we’ll stick to an apartment or a house in the burbs.

    Hopefully see you two in NZ somewhere! Let me know when you get to Chch. :)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:15 am

      Yeah, when we passed back through town on our way to the airport, we stayed at a downtown hostel and it was a good reminder about why we prefer apartments and b&bs and quieter, cozier spots… I do like big cities, it’s just important to have space to retreat!

      The timing might be pretty tight, but it’d be great to meet you in Christchurch : )

  • Reply Jo (The Blond) December 1, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Bangkok is such a great city. Ok, it stinks and is busy, but it can surprise you on every corner and show you things you’ve never seen before. I loved it, too!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:16 am

      Exactly! : )

  • Reply Meg from LandingStanding December 2, 2012 at 1:24 am

    Love the post you two and thanks for the mention! We surprisingly loved Bangkok. Did you ever visit the restaurant May Kaidee’s? It’s vegetarian/vegan Thai food and is to die for! Plus, it is so cheap… Although, everything is in Bangkok! We loved all the curries and Mango Sticky Rice – And we never went a day without a fruit shake!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:21 am

      Ohh…no! That sounds delicious, though. Add it to “the list” for a someday return, right? : )

      Also, how did I not appreciate the glories of Mango Sticky Rice before this trip??? I think I’d even seen it on the menu at Pok Pok in Portland, but it didn’t occur to me that it would be so AMAZING. I’m really curious to go home and see whether or not the local Asian markets carry pandan leaf – I want to make my own sticky rice and I hear that’s the magic secret!

  • Reply rachel carlson December 2, 2012 at 1:31 am

    you are wearing travel WELL, cheers and happy trails!!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Thank you for that, Rachel! You’ve been such a great cheerleader for us this year : ) xx

  • Reply Kim December 2, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Beautiful photos you guys. Keep the posts coming :)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:24 am

      Thanks, dear! xx

  • Reply Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 December 2, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Reading about Thailand makes me miss it! Glad you liked it – we loved Lumpini Park and usually grabbed coffee and spent breakfast there , it got us outside the city crazy for a few hours! The fresh OJ on the street is delicious!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:29 am

      Mmm…loved all the fresh juices! It’s amazing the difference a park makes to a city, isn’t it? As a traveler passing through, I’m noticeably calmer and more relaxed once I’ve been surrounded by green, living things. A few hundred yards away are multiple lanes full of fast cars and frenzied billboards and chatter and commotion, and walking into a park can be like entering a completely different world.

      It’s been interesting to me this trip to see which cities have developed public green space for their residents and visitors. For example, I think a generous green oasis in the middle of Beirut, Lebanon could do wonders for people’s psyches…

      Anyway … ; ) thanks so much for reading and sharing your memories!

  • Reply Marco Fiori December 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    This is awesome to read as I’m heading over there in January and need recommendations of ‘avoid-the-tacky-tourist’ stuff. Sounds like you managed to do the same as I hope to.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:32 am

      Very exciting, Marco! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. There’s a little cafe waaay on the outskirts called “A Cup of Trees” – if you’re keen for an adventure and a retreat from downtown skyscrapers, try finding a taxi driver who knows the way and head out for a delicious slice of cake cake and cup of Thai iced tea. The shop shares a parking lot with a bunch of nursery-center stalls, so you can browse through the plants and find gorgeous flowers and butterflies.

  • Reply Jane Sadek December 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Great advice. I’m notorious for trying to see absolutely everything wherever I go for the simple reason I may never go back. But I’m trainable.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:34 am

      I know what you mean, Jane! It’s in my nature to make a giant to-see list and then spend all my effort trying to cross them off. I’m learning, too ; )

  • Reply Carmel December 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    After reading Torre’s post on The Fearful Adventurer, I got One Night in Bangkok stuck in my head. It finally disappeared, but looks like it’s back again…uh oh.

    This is really good information and a reminder that travel doesn’t have to be about seeing everything you’re “supposed” to see.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:47 am

      I just had to share the earworm… ; ) I’ll admit, I’d never heard it before the trip, but Ted played it for me before we flew to Thailand and I went from thinking it was catchy and hilarious to thinking that it would never quit bouncing around my brain. I was literally still hearing it in my head weeks later in Laos and Cambodia… Anyway, you’re welcome?? ; )

      Thanks, as always, for your kind notes!

  • Reply Andrew Buck December 7, 2012 at 5:14 am

    I love the picture of the traffic at night and the comparison to skittles. : ) I’m glad the city wasn’t overwhelming, but then, I think you mostly just underestimated yourselves thinking that it would be.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 15, 2012 at 8:47 am

      You would be the expert at navigating large Asian cities with confidence : )

  • Reply It's The People. - twoOregonians January 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    […] Bobbi and Ric (above), Felicity and Luke. Thanks again to Twitter for making the world just that much smaller… […]

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