I had been warned off China Town. I had been…
I didn’t go to see the big buddha or any of the temples. I didn’t go to a ping pong show. I didn’t even get scammed by a tuk-tuk driver. Most of the tourist traps in Bangkok held little interest for me. Particularly because I’m on my own. Even though I had a fairly lazy week I didn’t feel like my time in Bangkok was totally wasted.
Getting to Bangkok
After three weeks hopping around the islands I decided it was finally time to head north. I wasn’t sure which route I should take to get from Koh Tao to Bangkok; there were a few options to choose from. I would have to catch a ferry to get off the island, of course, but after that I could either catch a flight from Koh Samui or Surat Thani or I could catch a train or bus from Chumphon. In the end I chose not to fly since it was pretty expensive. I had met a girl from New Zealand in my hostel who happened to be going to Bangkok the same day. So, I decided to tag along with her. Which meant travelling by high speed catamaran and bus. In theory this was a good plan. It was the quickest way to get there and was budget friendly. In practice? Not so much. I will never get on one of those high speed catamarans ever again! I almost never get motion or sea sick but it took a lot of will power to hold onto my breakfast. It was awful. I even had to witness a man throw up into a bin right next to me. Other people were carrying around bags containing their regurgitated stomach contents. I spent half of the trip with my eyes closed and my headphones on. I had attempted watching the onboard televisions but Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off music video really didn’t help the situation. In a feat of mind over matter I made it to the end of the trip without throwing up. My travel buddy wasn’t so lucky. Once I had static earth beneath my feet and food in my stomach I felt infinitely better. Then it was just a seven and a half hour bus trip to Bangkok.
We pulled up near Khao San Road just before 8:30. I said my goodbyes to my travel buddy of the last few days and walked to my hostel. I was tired and hungry. I just wanted to get some food and get some sleep. If you’ve ever been to Khao San Road you’ll know that it is pumping until about 2am every night. My first night involved hunting down ear plugs so that I could sleep through the loud music from the street.
I had heard that Bangkok was pretty good for shopping and with Christmas looming I decided to do some gift hunting for my family back home. The original plan was to post anything I bought home but I didn’t want to risk losing it in transit. There was also a chance that I would beat the parcel back to Perth so I bought a carry on size duffel bag instead. I am now going to have to check my main bag on flights which is annoying and expensive but this is temporary. It also encourages me to slow down so that I don’t have to be a pack mule too often.
My first day I wandered around the streets near my hostel looking at what was on offer. By the afternoon I felt like searching further afield so I made my way to MBK (Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre) and the city centre via the canal ferry system. The ferries are very inexpensive and easy to navigate. The pier closest to Khao San Road is Phanfa Leelard and it is the end of the Golden Mount Line so you can get on any boat. The stop closest to MBK and Siam is the Sapan Hua Chang Pier, the fourth stop along the line. It costs 9baht, just tell the boat person collecting the fare that you’re going to MBK.
MBK is an interesting place to shop. It has pretty much everything. Like most shopping centres in Asia each floor is organised by category and the closer you get to the ground floor the more expensive things get. For that reason I usually like to start at the top and work my way down. The top floor of MBK feels more like a market than a shopping centre. You can even barter in the “shops” on this level if the item doesn’t have a fixed price written on it. I didn’t buy much that day. I did cave and finally buy myself a pair of hippy pants though. Just a fairly plain pair and I only use them for pyjamas, I’m not quite ready to wear them in public yet!
Time seemed to melt away during my time in MBK. Before I knew it the sun was going down outside. Earlier that day I had looked up english language cinemas since I wanted to see Mockingjay. It was showing at the Paragon across the road at 6pm so I decided to finish up my evening there.
I actually did most on my shopping in Bangkok on Khao San Road. I know it’s not the cheapest market in town but I didn’t find it as expensive as MBK. There was only one item that I really wanted for myself and I managed to find in in a store on Khao San Rd. If you have spent a decent amount of time on the Thai islands then you have probably come across the Thai Triangle Pillows. I fell in love with them while I was in the islands and after hearing that it was possible to buy them I just had to have some. Logistically I wasn’t sure how I would manage getting them home. Apparently customs isn’t too fond of them either because of the Kapok stuffing. But browsing online I found it was possible to buy them unstuffed! I managed to pick up two for 620baht. Some assembly required, but at least I’d be able to carry them around.
My biggest shopping day wasn’t until the weekend. The Chatuchak Weekend Markets are a major attraction for tourists and locals looking for good deals. It takes a visit to really appreciate why. The place is absolutely massive. I spent about 6 hours there and I still didn’t see all of it. I’m actually thinking about visiting again since I have to make my way back to Bangkok before going to Cambodia anyway. The markets are reported to stretch out over 35 acres and house over 8000 stalls. Needless to say I was pretty exhausted by the time I got back to the hostel. You can find pretty much everything there. The market is split into sections, each section is supposedly meant to be a category but it really doesn’t work out that way. If I go back I won’t tackle the market the same way. I dived in and just wandered. It really needs to be done methodically section by section because it is very easy to get lost. Somehow I ended up walking past the same stalls over and over and yet I didn’t feel like I was retracing my steps. Whenever I did attempt to retrace my steps to find a specific stall I got lost and ended up in a new section. The markets are a maze.
It is pretty simple to get to the markets by public transport. They are located right next to the Mo Chit Skytrain station. The easiest way from Khao San rd was to get the ferry back up the canal to MBK and get the train from the Ratchadathewi station (once you get off the ferry walk over the bridge to the other side of the canal and you can’t miss it). The trip costs 37baht each way. Taking public transport is probably about half the price of taking a metered taxi and if the traffic is bad on the day -Which it probably will be. It’s Bangkok after all- it really doesn’t take much longer.
Going to the Cinema in Bangkok
I had been planning on going to the cinema to see Mockingjay since it was released. I almost went to see it while I was in Phuket but it was a night showing and I didn’t want to walk back through that neighbourhood alone after dark. My first day in Bangkok I decided to find out if there was anywhere I could see it. It turned out that my options were limited. Some theatres had dropped the movie because of pro-democracy protesters adopting the three finger salute. I gave up on the idea.
I had spent the day in MBK and hadn’t realised how late it was getting by the time I finished looking around. I remembered that Mockingjay was showing at the Paragon Cineplex at 6pm which was just across the road. I was in the area. Why not? I got a bit of a shock when I got to the cinema and tried to buy the ticket. 1000baht?! It turned out that they were only showing it in Gold Class there were no regular seats. I decided to treat myself to it despite the price.
Gold class, indeed the cinema experience in general, is a bit different to back home. Instead of buying food and drink from the gold class lounge to be served during the movie you get to choose from some complimentary options. I went with the Starbucks cappuccino and banana muffin. The muffin was even warmed up which was nice. The seats were also super comfy and they reclined almost completely. It turned out that the gold class is actually it’s own cinema. Back home most of them are more like a lounge set behind and cordoned off from the general cinema. At least now I knew why there were no regular seats available. I hadn’t brought a jumper which might have been a problem in the regular cinema, the aircon is set to glacial, but you’re provided with a pillow and blanket in gold class. Quite a luxurious way to watch a movie on the big screen. I’m not sure I want go back to regular seating in future! The biggest difference between Thai cinemas and those at home comes after the credits and just before the movie starts. The national anthem and a video honouring the King is played. Everyone stands for this. Even tourists are expected to. I knew about this before I got there but the couple sitting next to me were oblivious and got told off by a Thai patron when they made no move to stand with everyone else. How embarrassing!
I love food and I love trying new foods. I’ve had a pretty easy time finding good vegetarian options since I arrived in Thailand. I have decided, in the interest of my sanity, that I won’t be too strict while I’m travelling. I won’t turn my nose up at street food just because they cook non-vegetarian versions in the same pan. When I’m eating in a restaurant I don’t know which pans they are cooking my food in either after all. Dairy and eggs have found their way back into my diet occasionally too. The language barrier can be difficult at times. The fact that Thailand has their own alphabet means I can’t read labels on things most of the time either so even if I think something is vegetarian I can’t be 100% sure. I’ve decided that it is not worth stressing over and I just do my best. I have developed a liking of Thai food. Well the not-so-spicy versions they make for tourists anyway. Most are easily adaptable for vegetarians. Tofu is readily available or you can simply say vegetable only even if the menu only gives the meat option. Since most of the dishes have plenty of vegetables in them anyway it’s not a big deal for most places to simply leave out the meat.
Staying on Khao San Road meant that there was a lot of street food available at very reasonable prices. I had pad thai quite a lot since it was only 30baht a serve. I really liked the coconut ice-cream that was available. I’m putting an ice-cream machine on my wish list so that I can make my own coconut milk ice cream one day. There were some really interesting toppings for it, including sweet basil and candied pumpkin. I stuck to plain. For the adventurous (non-vegetarian) souls there were also vendors selling fried insects on a skewer. I don’t think they made much money from actually selling their “food”. Most of the income would probably come from the 10baht they charge to take a photo.
It took me three weeks from arriving in Thailand to have my first massage. Now that I’ve done it once I don’t feel so weird about getting one. I really like how soft the oil leaves my skin so I decided to have another one while I was in Bangkok. I picked out a place that looked good on the next street over from Khao San. A little different from last time, I was led off the street to a room upstairs. They had curtains around the massage beds here. So I didn’t have to undress in front of people this time which was a relief. I was even more relieved for the privacy when the masseuse tucked the towel into my underwear before exposing my ass. Unlike the last place they didn’t massage through the towel. Despite that the masseuse was very professional and I had a relaxing massage. I can’t say I enjoy when they crack your toes though. It’s a bit uncomfortable having someone pull on your toes.
The day before I left Bangkok I was wandering down the road when I spotted a massage parlour with a fish spa. I had heard about these and since my feet are a bit rough after a couple of months of travel I decided to give it a go. I almost paid for an half hour but decided to go with 15 minutes to start off. Before you put your feet in the fish tank you get the dirt washed off by one of the attendants. The fish nibble the dead skin off your feet and it is the weirdest sensation. I couldn’t stop laughing at first because it tickles so much. After about 10 minutes you kinda get used to it but every now and then I’d jump when the fish nibbled the bottom of my toes. It felt really odd when they swum between the gap between my big toe and the next one. I’m glad I had the experience but I don’t think I’ll be trying it again in a hurry! 15 minutes wasn’t really enough for a thorough exfoliation but my feet were a bit smoother when I took them out. The fish didn’t seem any worse for wear either. I’m headed to the Erawan Falls soon where wild fish do this so I’m probably going to end up getting a free fish spa if I go swimming there. Apparently they’re bigger fish too which is a little worrying!