After dropping our bags in the corner of the hotel room that first night in Bangkok, we were both a little hungry and not quite ready for sleep yet – though it was 2am in Bangkok, our internal clocks said it was 11am, well past time to wake up. At Pichai’s suggestion, we walked outside to the 7-11 down the street to look for a small bite to eat. As we would soon discover firsthand, 7-11s are everywhere in Bangkok, though rarely accompanied by a gas station as we are accustomed to back home. Julia bought a small bag of cashews, and I got some soy sauce-flavored (?) seaweed chips, and we each bought a small container of strawberry yogurt drink. It was the perfect late night snack! After showering and laying in bed for a bit, we finally took half of a sleeping pill each and were asleep by 4am.
The next morning, we woke up around 9am and wandered downstairs to get some breakfast. The breakfast buffet was a nice mix of Thai cuisine and American food. We had a little of each and went outside to sit down. In the light of day, we could see that our hotel had a beautiful view of the river in Bangkok!
We met Pichai at the hotel lobby at 10am to begin our only full day in Bangkok. We started by walking to the nearby dock where we took a ferry to our first destination of the day, the King’s Palace! Bangkok was once known as “The Venice of the Far East” because of how prevalent boat travel was along the many canals. However, in more recent years, most of the smaller canals were covered by roads for a more traditional (and practical, in a city of twelve million people) method of transportation. The main artery known as the Chao Phraya River remains, and is still heavily used by tourists, local workers, and industrial/commercial use as well.
Our ride on the ferry gave us a great view of the city – or, at least the city that was viewable from the river. The buildings overlooking the river ranged from shopping complexes, high rise hotels and apartments, abandoned buildings, slums, and of course – temples! Bangkok has over 350 “wats”, and they are very distinguishable from the more modern style buildings of the city. Bangkok is actually a very young city by Asian standards – only about 250 years old – and the city didn’t really start growing rapidly until the last thirty or forty years. With such rapid growth, there is construction everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to see a very fancy, modern looking building right next to low-income or abandoned apartment complex.
We got off our boat and started walking towards the King’s Palace. Despite the name, the King and the royal family don’t actually live there anymore – it is now used only for ceremonial and tourism purposes. A quick note about the King – he is everywhere in Thailand. In power since 1946, he is the world’s longest reigning current head-of-state. Pictures of him, often accompanied by his wife, are on just about every street corner, in many restaurants and hotel lobbies, on billboards, and everywhere else. His face is also on every piece of Thai currency, from the 1 Baht coin to the 1000 Baht banknote. We’ve heard from multiple people who have visited here that it is very, very bad to criticize the king or royal family in any way. Obviously we have not tried to test that!
We made our way to the palace and took in the sights. Many of the individual wats were not open for public viewing, but we did see the inside of the largest and most impressive temples. Unfortunately, taking pictures was not permitted (neither was wearing shoes) so we can’t share any pictures of the insides. You’ll just have to come see it for yourself!
We left the King’s Palace and walked over to the flower market. We were not adequately prepared for how many flowers there would be here. There were at least 300 individual stalls (that we saw…there may have been even more), all packed to the brim with hundreds or thousands of flowers. Some stalls had arrangements, some just had the flowers, but all of them were beautiful…and incredibly cheap! A bunch of roses (which looked to be about thirty individual flowers or so) was selling for about two dollars. They had more than just roses…orchids, chrysanthemums, and many other flowers that were not common back home. And they were beautiful! If we had more time to spend in Bangkok, we definitely would have bought a ton of flowers to take home. Once we get situated in Chiang Mai, our place will be filled to the brim with flowers (if Julia has anything to say about it)!
After walking through the flower market, we headed back towards the river to find something for a late lunch. We decided on a Thai restaurant that overlooked the river. As Julia and I read over the menus, Pichai called the server over and spoke to her for a little while in Thai. The server went away, and Pichai informed us that he ordered for us! I should probably mention/reiterate at this point that Pichai has paid for every single thing since we’ve been here. He picked us up from the airport, put us up in a hotel, paid for our ferries, paid for any taxis we took, and paid for all of our meals. We originally emailed him just to ask for a recommendation for an area to stay in, but when he responded by saying “you will be my guests” he really meant it! It would have been very difficult to manage Bangkok without Pichai, but he really went above and beyond anything we would have dared ask him to do!
Anyway, Pichai ordered us some broiled bone-in chicken, a salad comprised of shrimp and crisp, hot snap peas, and a deep-fried white fish of some sort – bones, head and all! I was a bit apprehensive about eating the fish until I saw Pichai eating around the bones and head, just going straight to the meat. After lunch, we got a quick espresso (to help stay awake), and the Pichai took us back to our hotel. After relaxing in and around the hotel pool, it was time for the next activity!
Pichai picked us up and drove us back to the river, where we would get on a large boat for a dinner cruise! He treated us even though he wasn’t coming along with us! He said that he wasn’t coming because he has been on the cruise a hundred times, but really I think that he wanted us to have some time to ourselves. Either way, very kind of Pichai to think of us!
The cruise was great. We sat at our table for a little while taking in the sights – it was dark now, so we had a new look at the city – and ordered some drinks. As we waited for our drinks, a guitar duo walked around playing acoustic versions of classic rock ballads. After sipping our drinks and enjoying the music, we got up to go to the buffet. The buffet had a mix of different types of food – Thai food of course, but also American food, and other things like sushi.
After eating, we wandered around the boat a little more. The main lobby had a stage that saw several different performers over the course of the two hour cruise. Julia and I danced for a couple of songs when there was a group playing some good songs that we knew, but we stopped when nobody else joined us (much to the dismay of the performers). We didn’t stop and chat with many people – so far in our travels, we haven’t encountered too many people that speak English as their first language – but we had to talk to a Filipino family of ten to twelve people that were ALL dressed in Seahawks jerseys! Above deck there was another stage, but more importantly, the best view of the passing city.
By the time the cruise was over at 9:30, we were feeling pretty tired and ready for bed. We took a taxi back to the hotel (first transportation without Pichai was a success!) and collapsed in bed.
We woke up at 4:30am the next day, unable to get back to sleep. We still aren’t completely adjusted to the new time zone, but we’re getting a little better! We had a relaxing morning while waiting for Pichai to come get us at 9am. We don’t have a lot of time to spend in Bangkok today – our flight to Chiang Mai is at 5pm, and it’s best to leave for the airport three hours in advance because traffic can be very bad.
Our first stop is to see Pichai’s apartment that he shared with Eddie (Julia’s relative) for many years. The apartment was near the top of a thirty story building, and offered a fantastic view of the city! The apartment itself was beautiful – two adjoining rooms that were combined into one, actually. Eddie had passed less than a month before that, so many of his things were still in the apartment. Pichai left Eddie’s room how it was, and had music playing that Eddie liked to play. Pichai talked about Eddie for a while as we looked at old pictures of him – it was very sweet.
We left the condo to head to our first destination of the day – the famous Golden Buddha of Thailand. The Golden Buddha is a statue weighing five and a half tons at the top of Wat Traimit – and I want to be clear, this isn’t a gold plated statue. The Golden Buddha is comprised of solid gold, and the gold alone is worth about 250 million dollars. Unlike the other temples we saw, this one did allow pictures!
We took a taxi to the nearby Chinatown to explore that area and have lunch. Chinese culture has a huge impact on Bangkok, as one third of the city’s twelve million inhabitants are Chinese or Chinese descendants. Chinatown in Bangkok actually resembles Chinatown in New York and San Francisco in many ways, except that the food and wares are maybe a little more “out there”. We saw a shop that specialized in selling things such as dried fish bladder and bird nests, meant for making bird nest soup. We also saw a lot of places selling shark fin soup, a delicacy that is banned in many countries because of the harm it does to sharks and the oceans as a whole.
For lunch, we stopped in a place specializing in Dim Sum, which is something that Julia and I both love but rarely get an opportunity to eat. During our meal, Julia was still looking at the menu out of curiosity and saw something on the menu called a black egg. It looked like a basic hard boiled egg, except that it was black. She asked Pichai about it and he said that the colloquial name was “10,000 year old egg” – and then he ordered one for her. Not one to back down from trying something new, she took a bite…but I don’t think she liked it very much!
After lunch, we began the journey back to the hotel to check out. We took the Skytrain, which is basically Bangkok’s above-ground subway, and gave us yet another perspective of the city. We passed Bangkok’s main arena, a soccer stadium, a large park, and even a golf course, which was formerly a horse racetrack!
We got back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, and checked out to begin the journey to the airport. And just like that, our time in Bangkok was over! A whirlwind adventure that kept us busy for every waking hour, and we were very thankful for it! If Pichai weren’t there to guide us and show us what to do, we wouldn’t have been able to see even half as much as we did. It was the absolute perfect way to begin our time in Thailand! We really hope that we can see Pichai again while we are here, because we would love to repay his kindness. Pichai told us that he didn’t like getting his picture taken, so I only had a couple of pictures that I took of him secretly. Sorry, Pichai – but I had to share your kindness with everyone! I’ll end this post with the best picture I got of him. Hopefully we’ll host him in Chiang Mai and we’ll get a proper picture with the three of us.