Thailand is a place I've been trying to get to since the sixth grade when my friend Melissa Nonsrichai told me all about it and invited me to accompany her to visit every summer. My parents were too nervous to let me travel, but I don't have to worry about that anymore. So, here we are, in Bangkok, eating as much spicy food as possible.
The flight from Tokyo to Bangkok was bearable. Seats were small, and the guy sitting next to me reeked of cigarettes and had foul breath. But, it was only five or six hours or so, so whatever. At the airport we were able to get a really cheap data plan for the iPhone (about $30 a month for unlimited data), so now we can have maps and even write and publish blog posts from the phone. So, hopefully that will mean more content. We hopped in a metered taxi and made our way to Khao San Street to find our hotel. Man oh man, I hadn't anticipated the scene when we arrived at Khao San. When the Rough Guide said that Khao San was the tourist/backpacker mecca, I pictured something similar to our time in Thamel in Nepal. Khao San is like Thamel's younger, rowdy, cousin, who is on the edge of being out of control. The first few establishments you see are 'hometown favorites'. Golden arches, the King, and the Green Siren all have real estate on this small street. Storefronts are eclipsed by street vendors selling overpriced cheap wares like tank tops with kitchy logos, dreadlock extensions, and bathing suits. You have to watch your toes at all times or you may be run over by a street food vendor, but I'm okay with those. Street food carts hold anything from pad thai to fresh coconuts, and all of it is delicious. Bars selling overpriced alcohol and multiple 7/11 shops quench the thirst of tourists who would not otherwise be of drinking age. Staying in a tourist area like Khao San has both advantages and disadvantages. For one, everything a tourist may need is condensed into a small area, but the prices are inflated, and in Thailand the government encourages inflated prices for tourists. But, you have to push through mobs of people at the end of an evening to get back to your room, which won't necessarily be a quiet place to sleep. Though I will say, our room was very clean, well appointed, and reasonably priced for the area.
Our first night we found a little restaurant to grab some dinner, and it turned out to be delicious. Seth ordered a medium spicy, red curry with chicken and baby peanuts. The flavor of the dish was delicious. I ordered a seafood soup with mussels, fish, shrimp, squid and lots of vegetables. We both ordered well, and truly enjoyed our first meal in Thailand. They were both quite spicy, and the change was welcome. Although, between the heat outdoors and the heat of the food, it is going to prove to be a sweaty trip!
Our next day we covered a lot of ground. We walked all the way to Bangkok's Chinatown area. It took quite a while, but we stopped at many food carts on the way. This is where we met the boy with the sugar glider (aka squirrel). We sampled sweet, little, taco looking treats comprised of a sugar wafer 'taco shell', filled with 'marshmallow fluff' and one was topped with toasted coconut shavings and the other with bonito flakes. They were delicious. We, also, found a bag of Jackfruit on the way. Jackfruit is awesome. It's a huge, bumpy, melon like fruit with little pod like flesh inside. The flesh is firm and tastes like a mix between a ripe banana and a pear. I love it. Though it is not in season at the moment, we, also, bought durian. Durian is known as the king of fruits for it's size and it's 'spiky' exterior. Because it's not in season at the moment, I guess it's not as stinky as normal. It was pretty good, but it did leave our room smelling a bit. Note to self: only eat outdoors. We tried so many other delicious Thai treats. The Thai sausage was delicious and filled with ginger and pork, and we enjoyed a bowl of spicy noodle soup as well. There were other treats too, but too many to name!
After doing tons of walking around Chinatown the skies opened up. When it rains in Thailand it doesn't mess around. The lightning is blinding, and the thunder is deafening. It's really cool. It started to look and feel like it was going to rain, and our hypothesis was confirmed by all the shopkeepers covering their goods with plastic. We found a covered area of the market and walked around as the rain poured down. In the markets they sell just about anything you could need, down to sink faucets, hair ties, stove burners, and bootleg porn DVD's. It serves as an interesting place to walk around.
Eventually we caught a tuk tuk that told us he'd take us to our street for 20Bht if, on the way, we could stop at a market first. We noticed we were going in the complete wrong direction and inquired with our tuk tuk guy. He handed us a card that said that if he took tourists to this market he would be given 4 liters of gas, even if we didn't buy anything. He began to drive even more, and when asked he was hazy about details and told us we'd be going 10 minutes before we reached the market, and we were driving in the wrong direction. We decided it was possible we were being scammed, so we hopped off at a red light. He didn't protest, so perhaps our suspicions were correct. Many guide books warn you about being taken to a shop just to look, then being forced to hand over large sums of money to be released, and being roughed up in the case that you don't pay up. We potentially dodged a bullet there.
That night we found our way to Lumpini Stadium, where we watched Muy Thai Boxing. I was nervous to attend, but Seth assured me I'd be ok. I was imagining the chain link cages of ultimate fighting, but this was nothing like that. You could tell that the guys were not going for a kill, or even a knock out. It was about points, and it seemed like a respectable sort of fighting. Though the fights were interesting to watch, the exciting part, for me, was watching the crowd. During certain matches the crowd would become so animated and would call out at each individual hit. Though gambling is illegal in Thailand, it was blatantly taking place inside the stadium, with police turning a blind eye.
The next day we took a boat ride down the Chao Phraya River. We were able to view many temples from a distance. We got off at the Sky Train stop and took a short ride above the city. We disembarked at a giant fancy schmancy mall that we'd heard about. It was interesting to check out the food court. It was almost as if we hadn't left Japan. The food court was dominated by Japanese restaurants. In a wave of nostalgia we stopped for some takoyaki. Though it was decent, it was not nearly as delicious as the ones in Japan. No big surprise there. Afterwards we searched the mall for a new pair of sandals for Seth. His were done. We were successful so we put his old Reefs to rest later at the boat dock in hopes that someone who needed them would pick them up.
After the mall experience we walked around the streets and found some street food. We found some delicious Thai Sausage. It comes on a stick accompanied with some cabbage, ginger, and what are called mouse dropping chilis. Oh so good.
The following day we made our way to Wat Pra Khao to see the Emerald Buddha. Though he and the room that enshrined him were quite spectacular, just as magnificent were the grounds surrounding it. The architecture of the buildings were quite dramatic with roofs that sloped down and out, fashioned in bright colors, accented with mirrors of many hues. The stone temple guardians were equally impressive, towering over us with bright menacing faces.
Later we visited the Wat Pho which holds the colossal, reclining, golden buddha. This buddah is huge and though relaxed in his pose, quite imposing. After a long day of walking we made our way back to Khao San for massages and relaxation.
The next day was a bit of a flop. We took a taxi all the way out of town to the Tailing Chan Floating Market, only to find that it was strictly a weekend market, and we were there on a Friday. Oops! But, we were able to find a great meal of noodles, soup, beef, and fish balls. We had another flop that evening. Seth had read about a restaurant called the Royal Dragon which, in the 90's, The Guinness Book of World Records named the largest restaurant in the world. It sprawls across 4 acres of land, is run by over 2,000 servers, and holds entertainment like dancers and muy thai boxing within. Pretty impressive. Well, something to know about many foreign cities, is that taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers are mostly criminals. Even when their taxi boasts a sign that says 'metered taxi' they may refuse to use it and refuse to drive you without your commitment of an exorbitant fee. Similar with tuk tuks. So, when we wanted to hop in a cab to go to this restaurant which was way too far to walk, we found no one who would use their meter, and no one who would agree to a reasonable price. After standing and trying to flag down taxis left and right for quite some time, a monk approached us and told us a better place to stand and when we told him where we were going he recommended us not to take any deals over 120 baht because that was more than enough. To give you an idea, drivers were asking for 500 plus. Criminals! Not all, but most. After about an hour or so of searching we gave up and ate at one of the overpriced touristy restaurants nearby.
The next day we hopped in a taxi to take us to the airport so we could begin our journey to Ko Phayam. Somehow, even though it was a metered taxi we were charged way too much. He apparently pushed the toll button despite the fact that we gave him cash for the tolls. We paid at least twice the price for this cab ride than we had paid when we arrived. But, we made it to our flight on time and it was a quick and easy flight with some rewarding views of slick ocean flats and islands that seemed to leap out from the ocean.
The next step was to take a minibus from the airport into town to get to the bus station. See, our flight landed in Surat Thani, and that was not our final destination for the day. We waited an hour and a half before we embarked on the minibus, and then waited another half an hour or so before we actually left. After stopping for gas, lunch or dinner for the driver, and to pick up some papers, we finally left town and made the perilous 3 hour journey to Ranong. It was cramped, the roads were a bit scary, and our driver was in a real big hurry to pass all other cars despite oncoming traffic, blind corners, and military check points. But, somehow, we made it to Ranong. We called our hotel who sent a shuttle to pick us up. He took us to our nice hotel with nice people, we settled in, then left in search of dinner. We were lucky to find a street nearby with tons of food. We returned to our room with flat noodles with chicken and greens in a thick brown sauce, a 'salad' of sorts with a melange of ingredients such as fish balls, tomatoes, onion, chicken feet, hot dogs, wood ear mushrooms, and so much more, all doused in a lime, vinegar, chilly sauce, and we topped it off with a bowl of vermicelli rice noodles with various fish paste shapes. It was all delicious. We feasted back at our room.
This morning we are going to catch a high speed boat to a lazy little island named Ko Phayam.