Nothing that I had planned on doing in the 24 hours I was in Bangkok actually happened. By the time I had finally gotten to Lebua at State Tower (27 hours later from South Africa), Skybar at The Dome was already closed, which was pretty much the only reason why I wanted to stay there. Oh, and not to mention, not only did I lose my debit card already at the airport, but when I told my friend Kelli about it, she said, “Oh my god, I lost mine too right before I left!” Great.
The solution: Throw away the itinerary and just go with it. Normally I’m a planaholic but there wasn’t even time to try to attempt re-planning, especially since I hadn’t researched anything besides where I could pet tigers. The only thing we had planned that day was our flights to Krabi the next morning, which only cost about $40 for the last minute, one-hour flight on SkyScanner. After that we just went downstairs and attempted asking for recommendations on what to do.
A sweet little Thai woman brought us a tourist map and showed us how to get to the main river that runs through Bangkok called the Chao Phraya River where she told us we could get on a ferry. We didn’t quite understand anything else she was saying besides “temple” but figured it was something important to see. We thanked her with our newly learned “kap kun kah” (‘thank you’ in Thai, obviously), and headed off.
The second we stepped out of the hotel, we both froze then slowly turned to look at each other with wide eyes and giant smiles. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This must be what Culture Shock is’. I had been to dozens of other countries, but had never seen anything quite like this.
There were people EVERYWHERE, and different food stands were set up along every square inch of streets and sidewalks. The smell and sound of foods sizzling swirled around every sensory organ I own as my brain tried to register it all and figure out what was going on.
“This is so cool! Oh my god, look! What’s that?” It seemed like we repeated that sentence in different variations every step that we took. Most of the food looked like weird meat on sticks, or bags of liquid, and I suddenly recalled my featured blogger for my Bangkok Blogger Guide, who’s a food blogger, had told me about the many amazing dishes you could find there.
We weren’t ready to try any mystery meat, so opted for some traditional Pad Thai that was being sold for only 40 Baht (roughly $1.20) near the ferry terminal. The Thai women were more than excited to have us and although we thought we were supposed to just get it to go, one of the ladies shuffled us inside the little tent behind the cooking area and sat us at a small folding table with two plastic chairs.
After she set the table for us, and by set, I mean brought over the plastic bin of mixed silverware, the cheap napkin dispenser that everyone used, and a massive array of sauces, she shuffled away to the tent next door. I felt a little bit of my normal anxiety about being on time but then remembered that we had no where to be…and what an amazing feeling that was.
While we waited for our food, we used Kelli’s translator app to practice our white girl Thai so that we could say ‘thank you’, ‘tastes good’, and ‘what is this’. We also noticed an old photo on the “wall” of the tent that had named them as a top restaurant (this is a restaurant?) and of course, a traditional photo of the Queen that everyone had plastered everywhere we went.
A few minutes later, the other Thai lady brought over two heaping dishes of noodles on ceramic plates while the other lady brought us a water bottle with two glasses of ice (that we didn’t dare touch). Since we both hadn’t eaten all morning, we immediately dug into savory smelling meal like savages.
Words cannot express the amazing explosion of delicious tastes that occurred in my mouth in that first bite. She made mine with glass noodles, fried egg, bean sprouts, scallions, and peanuts, which all came together to taste so good that I’ll never eat Thai food anywhere in America ever again. It seemed like the never-ending plate of Pad Thai, but I got so full that I literally could not eat another bite. Not bad for $1.20.
After we finished our meals, paid, and attempted saying bye and thank you in Thai, we set off again to try and find the ferry terminal, stopping in random spots to examine the strange things that were being sold on the streets.
Although the lady from the hotel suggested that we get on the cheap “stop-stop” ferry that would have taken us immediately to the temples, we quickly ditched that idea when we saw the pretty, colorful long tail boats that were also docked at the terminal.
“Excuse me? How much?” Kelli asked, pointing to the long wooden boat with strings of flowers dangling from the front. The men at the counter pulled out an old, ratchet looking laminated paper with different prices for the boats and held it out for us. They somehow suckered us into the 1200 baht (about $40) canal tour that takes you through the narrow canals where locals live and work, and also where there was supposedly a Floating Market, which was one of the things we originally wanted to see.
Let me pause for a moment to explain how difficult it was to pay for things at this point. So not only did we both not have debit cards, but we also had a limited amount of cash. The cash comes in bills that are terrible for splitting things so we pretty much ended up spotting each other for everything. Oh and sometimes our credit cards wouldn’t work for certain things like the flights to Krabi, so I’d put Kelli’s flight on my card and she’d owe me cash, except it got more complicated when we started running out of cash. It gets worse.
Anyway, we set off on our private long tail boat tour of the Chao Phraya River with our adorable little Thai gondolier leading the way. The second we got out into the middle of the river, the same speechless culture shock slapped silly smiles on our faces again. “We’re in f*cking Bangkok!” was all we could manage to repeatedly say. We drank in the gorgeous views of the buildings, both new and very old, that lined the wide river, before our boat turned off into the narrow entrance of the canals.
The culture continued to bewilder me as we slowly glided through the calm murky waters of the canal. All along its edges were shack-like houses that were traditionally decorated and held up over the water by unstable-looking stilts, one was even an old wooden boat that was turned into a house. We could see people in many of them, cooking, cleaning, and carrying on with their normal everyday lives, which made me wonder what their lives were like.
We started to approach an area that was filled with tropical palm trees that hung over the water and an area of sticks that held up cloth canopies. Suddenly, a woman on a much smaller boat glided out from underneath one of them effortlessly and used a long stick to direct herself towards our boat.
“Sawadee kah, I have many nice things for you,” she said, as she somehow docked her seemingly unstable little boat to ours. She quickly began taking out different trinkets and souvenirs from the pile of bags on the front of her boat. I realized that this is what they meant by visiting the ‘floating markets’. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I decided that technically it still counted.
Since I wouldn’t be seeing any real floating markets, and since I always feel bad not buying something when someone takes the time to pull everything out to show me, I purchased some extremely overpriced little bags and a hand painted fan. Of course right when I thought we were done, she offers us some cold beers to buy, which we immediately took since it was beyond hot outside, and I mean, why wouldn’t you have an ice cold beer on a boat in Bangkok?
“Look! Look!” Our Thai gondolier shouted suddenly from the back of the boat. I spun around to see him pointing to the gross grey-green water, where I thought I was going to see a giant fish or something. But NOPE.
“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!” I screamed, jumping so hard to the left that I made the slender boat sway. It looked like a swimming dinosaur. A giant, slimy, white-girl-eating, freaking dinosaur. Like if crocodiles and anacondas weren’t scary enough, someone had to go mix the two together to come up with this monstrosity.
“Is it a komodo dragon?” I asked him very seriously even though I was pretty sure those are extinct. I couldn’t understand what he was saying but I later found out they are called Monitor Lizards and that I hate them.
“Oh my god, ew.” Kelli gasped from a few rows in front of me. I shifted my attention away from the slithering monster and towards the rancid smelling, bloated object that Kelli had spotted. I gasped and spun back around to look at our gondolier for his explanation at what the giant dead animal bobbing up and down in the water as we passed it was. “Dog.” He said half-apologetically.
Just as I was wondering how a dog got into the canal, I spotted another dog on a dock, eagerly watching a very chiseled Thai man who was waist deep in the disgusting water. He suddenly pulled a net up out of the water that was filled with black and grey fish that had been swimming in the same water as the dinosaur and dead dog. Guess who didn’t eat any fish in Bangkok?
Next we passed some beautiful, ornate outdoor temples that seemed to become more common as we approached the opening to the river. We saw school kids, monks in training, adults with small children, and people hard at work, who all enthusiastically waved at us as we passed by.
Suddenly we were back in the middle of the wide Chao Phraya River, surrounded by other boats and the views of the grandeur buildings and temples. “Wat Pho,” our gondolier announced, pointing to a dock on the right and steering us in its direction.
The little Thai lady from the hotel had recommended the Wat Pho temple, and since it’s where the first original Thai massage school is, we decided it was a good idea. After getting slightly distracted in the dock house that was filled with souvenirs that we couldn’t afford after the floating market, we made our way to the street to try to find this giant reclining Buddha.
There weren’t as many food stands as there had been near the hotel, and these ones did not smell nearly as good at all. We got distracted again by the clothing stands that were selling beautiful dresses, skirts, and pants, that were only about 100 baht ($4) but we still couldn’t buy due to our limited cash.
“Do you take credit cards?” I joked to one woman who would not stop trying to sell me something. She didn’t think it was funny, but at least she got the point. Kelli’s cash was completely gone since she used her bills to pay for the boat, so I used my remaining cash to budget out our costs for entrance to the temple, a Thai massage, and emergency money in case we missed the last ferry and had to cab back to the hotel.
“Too sexy! Both! Too sexy!” A Thai lady sitting at the front of the temple snapped. She pointed from our tops to the rack of lime green robes behind us. “You put on, too sexy!” We tried really hard not to laugh, but it was just way too funny. We reluctantly pulled on the questionably clean robes, and placed our shoes in the mandatory shoe bags in the bin next to them.
We looked beyond ridiculous and couldn’t stop laughing, much to the amusement of some younger tourists ahead of us who asked if we’d take pictures with them. I tried not to think about how gross it was to walk barefoot on the floor where hundreds of other feet walked, but it wasn’t like mine weren’t already disgusting from wearing Tom’s all day.
The giant reclining Buddha was exactly that. He laid casually on his side in all of his golden glory, stretching across the entire length of the entire temple. It was actually pretty amazing, and so impressive that I didn’t feel embarrassed at all taking multiple selfies with him. We also kept hearing a clinking sound that was a little eerie, especially since we didn’t see anyone playing a triangle anywhere.
I’m not entirely sure what the fascination with feet is in Thai culture, but his feet were the most important part of the statue. They were made from Mother of Pearl, which was used to design hundreds of extremely detailed pictures in a square grid with two giant circles in the middle of each. On the other side of the giant Buddha, we found out where the clinking sound was coming from; a row of tin pots that extended along the length of the building, that people dropped coins in as they walked by as a donation to the temple. We couldn’t afford that either.
I was more than happy to take off the ratchet lime green robe and put my shoes back on at the exit, and then looked around for where we were supposed to go next. We spotted some buildings that looked like a mixture of Gaudi and Dr. Suess, so headed over to check it out. It was another temple, which is nice and all, but we were way more amused by the dozens of stray cats that were roaming around everywhere.
“What is that!” I gasped as one of the cats ran in front of us with a large rodent hanging out of its mouth. “Maybe we should feed them?” I wasn’t expecting Kelli to agree but was happy she did. We spotted some kittens in a bush and tried to get them to come out so we could pet them, but they were too scared. Finally when we had them cornered for some pictures, a lady came over with a bag of cat food that she sprinkled on the floor in front of them.
Within seconds ten cats came out of nowhere, including the two kittens that we were sure weren’t going to be able to get any of the food. We were wrong. The kittens spazzed out like they had rabies, hissing and throwing themselves on top of the pile of food, preventing any of the bigger cats from getting any. They weren’t so cute anymore after that.
We wandered into another outdoor temple, whose walls were lined with dozens of life-sized golden Buddhas. Each one of them was sitting exactly the same way on their pedestals but when I looked closer, I noticed that each statue was different from the rest.
By the time we left, we only had about an hour left until the last stop-stop ferry, but still wanted to get our traditional Thai massages. We negotiated a half hour massage for 120 baht (about $4) since that’s all we had time and money for. We took our shoes off outside and followed the massage lady up to the second floor of the sketchy building. It kind of felt like one of those situations that you were warned to avoid and were slightly scared in, but did it anyway because…well…why not?
The room had four bed mats lying next to each other on the floor, separated by cloth curtains. The two Thai massage ladies instructed us to lay face down, then proceeded to manhandle us in traditional Thai massage manner. At one point I couldn’t figure out which of her limbs were doing what, and how they managed to twist me around like a pretzel.
I won’t lie. It was a little painful. But I definitely had 0 knots or tightness in my muscles after that! We made it just in time for the last stop-stop ferry that was already jam packed with locals and tourists trying to get to their final destinations. Of course our stop was the very last one, so by the time we got close, it was already starting to get dark, which I slightly worried about.
But seeing Bangkok at night was a totally different experience than seeing it during the day, and we got to see all of the tall towers light up and reflect in the water. The streets looked completely different as well when all of the shops and signs lit up. It was what I expected Bangkok to look like for some reason, and although I thought it would be very dangerous, we actually felt quite comfortable roaming around by ourselves at night.
We were starving again, and knew we wouldn’t be able to afford eating at the restaurants in the hotel, so stopped at a small street market outside of the terminal for another plate of Pad Thai. We had to wait ten minutes for her to make it from scratch, but it ended up tasting even better than the first one we had earlier despite the questionable tiny dried shrimps she added.
I wanted to keep exploring the night markets but it was already 8pm and we were running out of time if we wanted to get dressed and go to Skybar, so bypassed the various scents and people, and headed back to Lebua.
Since both of my Thailand bloggers recommended Skybar and since I didn’t get there in time to see it the night before, I decided to just bite the bullet and book our hotel at Lebua for a second night. There was also no way in hell I wanted to pack up and find another hotel after the long day of exploring we had just had.
I was beyond exhausted and reeked of Thai food and sweat, which I didn’t realize until we got to our clean, luxurious hotel room, but I pushed myself to get ready to go see this damn Hangover bar anyway. I didn’t exactly pack anything nice to wear considering that my travel plans included Africa and the beaches of Thailand and Sydney, so opted for the nicest thing I had; my go-to black and white striped maxi dress.
As expected, the rooftop bar was packed with tourists, but the view of the city and The Dome was more impressive than I thought it would be. We had to push through the crowd of people to get to the one small, circular bar in the corner of the lower terrace that was surrounded by a 360-degree view of the city and The Dome.
I knew the drinks would be overpriced because the stupid movie was shot there, but I definitely was not expecting them to be $32. And that was for the cheapest one. I got some girlish martini that had a vodka-infused ice pop in it that I attempted drinking as slow as possible since it would be my only drink of the evening at Skybar.
Since we couldn’t afford to continue drinking at Skybar, we decided to go check out the other restaurants in the hotel to see if any of them were more reasonable. We went down a few floors to Mezzaluna whose interior was a little too old and stuffy looking, but got lucky with an opening at the bar on the outside patio.
It was a completely different atmosphere but just as visually enticing as The Dome. We followed the accommodating hostess along the bright blue illuminated glass runway that floated above the outdoor dining area and bar. The drinks were a tiny bit cheaper, but we were still forced to drink sugary cocktails like Mojitos instead of our preferred white wine because of how expensive it was (almost $40 a glass).
Ironically, I had brought some of my anti-hangover Resqwater‘s with me to the Hangover bar, which I knew would save me from all of the sugar water and vodka I was drinking. I couldn’t believe that just a week ago the most expensive glass of wine was only $4 and now I was paying $30 for a freaking sugar high and hangover. Whatever.
Another major difference from South Africa to Bangkok was the weather. I went from constantly rainy, freezing cold weather, to hot and humid with bipolar rain cloud weather. Although it had been perfectly clear out when we were at The Dome, we were suddenly startled when the entire sky lit up from lightning inside of a cloud. After the initial shock, it was actually really cool to see the bolts of lightning striking sideways through the clouds. I tried to capture it on my GoPro but of course that was a fail, and made me look like more of a tourist than I already did.
When we finally couldn’t handle our exhaustion, bar tab, and annoying conversation with the bartenders who were freaking out because they thought we were famous, we headed back to our comfy hotel room. Once we were finally all packed and ready, we started embracing our next adventure; getting to Krabi with no cash, and finding a Western Union.