Chapter 1: Bangkok, Thailand
In 2017, I spent the month of December in Southeast Asia, staying for several days in each of the following locations: Bangkok, Thailand > Siem Reap, Cambodia > Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia > Phuket, Thailand > Pattaya, Thailand. To be able to get there, we needed to apply and obtain a Thai visa from the Embassy of Thailand, here in Bucharest, Romania, a few months before our departure.
For my fellow Romanians, interested in travelling there, make sure you do a thorough research a few months before travelling and start putting together the file needed for visa application. As we wanted to leave Thailand to visit Cambodia and Malaysia and then return within 30 days, we also needed a sort of re-entry permit, which we obtained once we got there from the Immigration Bureau. But, although this all sounds very complicated, it was both doable and totally worth it, as we had the experience of a lifetime.
Today start a series of 4 stories, beginning with my story of Bangkok, Thailand.
We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on the evening of December 3rd, and got lost while trying to find our accommodation. So, off to a good start, once we got settled in, and being very hungry, we headed towards a night market I saw on the map, some 3 subway stations away, where I, luckily found some more weather-appropriate pants, that I wore almost every day for the whole month and as we were unfamiliar with the food, we thought we’d go for the “safe”, familiar option: KFC. First off, the menu looked nothing like the one back home, so we ended up ordering what looked good in the pictures. Bad idea. If you think KFC is spicy, you’d probably die eating Thai KFC. I barely got down 3 tiny pieces of chicken and 3 spoons of rice before tears came tumbling down my cheeks and I had to abort the mission.
Later that evening, we visited the closest farmers’ market in the neighbourhood, which we reached by dangerously crossing a 6-laned road because we didn’t see the footbridges, thus giving me a tiny heart attack. Once we got there, though already dark, the market was still open and running and we got to marvel at all the fruits and vegetables, some of which we were seeing for the first time. We also tried a bunch of them, from which I only remember the “rose apple”, a very watery, red fruit that felt like a God-sent, in the extreme heat my body was suddenly experiencing in the middle of winter.
Speaking of weather, in December, Thailand – or at least Bangkok – has temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, which is what we have in Romania in July. However, the difference is in the humidity which makes the heat less bearable, for someone not used to it. We also had some cloudy, slightly rainy days, but with roughly the same temperature.
On our second day in Bangkok, as we were concerned with our plans of leaving and re-entering the country, we went straight to the Immigration Bureau, located on the other side of the city. We took an Uber and I think it took us almost 2 hours to get there, which might give you a sense of what traffic in Bangkok looks like. As we were obviously rather late, we took a ticket and waited to be called for about 2 hours or so, until an announcement was made that we had to clear the room – it was lunchtime – 1-hour break. We tried the food in the cafeteria there, most of it traditional Thai food, that wasn’t great, but not too bad either, although it came with a smell that was rather strange and not very appetizing to us. We blamed it on the fish sauce, although even now, I couldn’t say for sure if that was truly the culprit. We sensed the same odour in many other food places, which made us not so keen on trying out different Thai foods. By the time we left Bangkok, however, we managed to discover some delicious food right in the neighbourhood of our accommodation. Although street food, the place and the ladies cooking were very clean and the food was simple and tasty: rice, omelette, pork – simply lovely.
By the time we got our re-entry permits, it was already late afternoon, but we couldn’t help not satisfying our curiosity and seeing at least a bit of the city. We headed to Khaosan Road, probably one of the most popular tourist places in Bangkok.
Khaosan Road is a conglomerate of street food stalls, buildings holding hostels, massage parlours, and some restaurants. At night, the street is brimming with tourists flocking around, getting drawn by vendors of scorpions on sticks or stalls of yummy squirming worms. Funnily enough, that was the only place I saw this type of exotic food. Although Thai food is completely different from Romanian or European food, I think the “eating worms and snakes and scorpions” thing might be a bit embellished. But then again, I might be wrong. We were looking forward to getting a massage, especially after standing in line for what felt like an entire day and were glad to find foot massage available at every parlour and at what seemed to us very good prices. We finally decided on a parlour and were taken over by two masseurs who massaged our feet for a full hour. It was so relaxing, I nodded off at some point.
If you’ve never had a foot massage, I can tell you a bit about how the Thai one goes. Once you decide on a parlour, depending on the looks of it and how convincing the masseurs are “Hello sir! Hello lady! Massage? Foot massage? 200 baht!” you go in and you can further negotiate the price. Once set and even paid for, in some cases, you are invited to take a sit on a very comfortable leaned-back armchair, take off your shoes (if you haven’t already done so before entering the venue) and the masseur proceeds to wash your feet. Once washed, they start off with a cream or oil and they also use a small wooden stick, rounded at the ends, the type of which we ended up buying and using at home – a very good investment 😉
The “Temple Run”
The following day we started a sort of “Temple Run”, that lasted for about 3 days. We started with Wat Pho (The Temple of the Reclining Buddha) where we saw, of course, a gigantic golden statue of Buddha, lying on his side. What was interesting and something that we saw in many other temples, was that the statues are often covered with a golden-orange cloth and believers also stick golden foil to the statues in a form of prayer. After Wat Pho, we took a boat to the other side of the river and visited Wat Arun, a beautiful white structure, with impressive and intricate decorations – probably one of my favourites. We ended the day by climbing some stairs up to “The Golden Mount” – the Wat Saket Temple, where we found at the very top a sort of bell-shaped golden statue. However, what fascinated me more, was the stairs and some smaller statues on the way, such as the one with eagles.
On the next day, we left Bangkok, for a trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand, now a town about 3 hours away from Bangkok by train, a town that holds over 10 ancient temples worth visiting. Experiencing public transportation is probably one of our favourite things to do wherever we go, so naturally, we were fascinated by the train. It looked quite old, made a lot of noise, and most importantly the “air conditioning system” was made out of fans, stuck on the ceiling from place to place, some working and some not. However, in that heat, you can’t afford to complain. Every gust of wind is a blessing, although it sometimes comes with another heatwave.
Once off the train in Ayutthaya, we quickly booked a tuk-tuk right in front of the train station, where they were all lined up, waiting for tourists. This tuk-tuk was a pick-up truck made to accommodate 2 to 4 people in the back, sitting on small benches and being hidden from the sun or rain by a tarpaulin. The driver showed us a map and pictures of the temples and took us to 10 of them. Although fascinating, by the time we reached the 6th it started to feel like we’ve seen everything already and the tiredness was settling in. One of the temples definitely worth mentioning was the one with the Buddha head embedded in a Banyan tree. Not that the others weren’t very nice, but this is the one that stuck with me after 3 years. This particular temple is called Wat Mahathat.
The day after visiting Ayutthaya, we resumed our visit of Bangkok, with the Grand Palace. We spent plenty of time here, as it is quite a big domain and it also, of course, contains a big temple, the Wat Phra Kaew. Once out of the Grand Palace domain, we headed to Sanam Luang, a sort of a park/public square, that holds different monuments and at that time was fully dedicated to the late king, which the Thai people were mourning. It was very impressive to see how much the people of a country can love their king.
The “animal tour”
After this, we visited a zoo, where I saw a real-life giraffe for the first time in my life, which for some reason, I’m still excited about. We also took a long boat ride on the river and visited the Museum of Royal Barges, which we didn’t take photos of, but I do recommend going there, though it is a bit out of the way. All the boats are very impressive. The next day we also went to an aquatic park, called Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World, which was quite small, but still fun, and finally, on our last day, we wrapped up our “animal tour” with a visit to the Snake Farm, where we attended a short presentation about different snakes and even got to take pictures with one.
Some final tips and advice:
- Try as many types of food as possible – though it might seem weird, street food is very good in Bangkok and very popular among the locals
- Use public transportation as much as possible. Both the subway and the Skytrain are very fast and reliable. Also, you should take at least one bus trip purely for the experience. The drivers drive as if it’s a race and a lady snaps a metal box to cut your ticket and collect the payment. Probably one of the most exciting bus trips i’ve had.
- Do take a trip to Ayutthaya if you have enough time.
- Drink a lot of water and try some bubble tea as well
- Wear sunscreen and breathable clothes that cover you as much as possible. Most temples won’t allow shorts and tops, for example.
- Enjoy the smiles and hospitality of the locals – all of them are very nice, pleasant people who try to help you as they can.
My next story will continue the Southeast Asia experience and take you through a whole new adventure in Siem Reap, Cambodia.