I had always wanted to go to Bangkok! But unlike in Paris and Granada, I had very little idea of what it has in store for me. All I had was just this vague notion of temples, fruits and shopping.
My adventure really started at the Terminal 2 Airport where I flew PAL for the first time. But cutting the story a bit short, I had a great PAL experience and I was able to land at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport all in awe.
Another first time for me was the timezone! It was the first time that I was traveling to a different timezone and Bangkok is an hour late from Manila. I was pretty excited about the extra hour I gained and how I was going to spend it. Unfortunately, that extra hour was spent queuing up at the immigration (area smelled like dog poo!), finding our luggage carousel (PAL said we were on the 6th but we’re actually on the 16th!), figuring out how the touchscreen pay-phone terminals worked (not easy when the instructions were not clear and most were written in Thai!) and basically just looking for Honey (who was worried-sick about me). Globe did not activate my roaming and I was feeling helpless and lost the whole time, not knowing how to reach my friend who flew in from SG just to accompany me. But well, I did spend some of the time marveling at the really big Thai airport (where walkalators were everywhere and made more sense), changing some money (1USD = 30.17THB) and gawking at how cosmopolitan BKK is (9 in 10 tourists were Caucasian). It was still pretty awesome.
After finally meeting up, there at the WAY OUT and not at the EXIT, we took a taxi to our hotel (฿400). The driver was nice and his taxi was filled with Buddhist paraphernalia. He made some small talk and inquired a bit about our stay. Looking at the highway, I felt like I was back home. The streets did not look too different from what I’d see if I went to Subic or Laguna. And that was when the game started between Honey and me: we made it a point to compare every place we go to some place in the Philippines.
Our hostel was at Take a Nap which was located along Rama IV street, across the Chulalongkorn Hospital. We called this street “Taft Ave.” because it was like we were across PGH with the LRT on top of us. We paid our balance first before the hotel staff gave us the key to our room. We booked the Pause and Play Twin Room (฿1300/night) which had twin beds, air conditioning, “cable TV” (only shows local channels plus a Chinese channel V), an electronic safe, some hangers (no wardrobe available) and a private bathroom that had a satisfactory water heater, flush and hand-held bidet. It was fairly sufficient for travelers like us.
After depositing our stuff in the room, we went to the front desk to ask where we could possibly go at that time. We were advised to go to China town and try to check out the Traimit temple before it closes at 5pm. We walked to the Sam Yan subway station, which was at the corner of our block. But first, we looked around this compound that houses the Saphanluan Chinese Church, Wat Si Phraya and Wat Koew Chaemfa. It was already raining really hard by then, so we went to take the subway from Sam Yan to the Hua Lamphong station (฿15).
From the Hua Lamphong station, we crossed a very flooded street and a steep bridge that spans the Klong Phadung Krungkasem moat. We saw some French backpackers and we just followed them, thinking they’re probably headed to the same place. We were able to see the exteriors of the Wat Traimit, but unluckily for us, the temple was already closed. Because of our detours and plain disorientation, we were not able to see the world’s largest solid gold statue.
After Wat Traimit, we tried to find out what the China Town was about but I think we got lost and we just found ourselves in a residential area, very similar to what we would find in Guadalupe. Then we stumbled upon the Rachawongse Pier where we took a boat to The Sathorn (Taksin) Pier (฿15). We took the sky train from the nearby Saphan Taksin station to Sala Daeng (฿25), managing to confuse train lines and even get another tourist lost.
From Sala Daeng, we looked around for a place to eat dinner and found NOODDI. A lot of tourists and locals were eating there and they had this cute display of colorful noodles. We had some Thai noodles (฿69) and I tried their iced tea with milk (฿39).
After dinner, we looked around some more and found ourselves at the Thaniya red-light lane. Turned out that the Burgos of Thailand was just behind our hostel! It was really weird, and really funny, having had to walk down the street where various guys and girls could be seen holding out menu-like laminated cards containing photos of women in varying degrees of undress in highly provocative poses. No one really minded us, two high school-looking girls, except for some offers of Thai massage. Ah, the massage places we saw from the street were very different indeed from the ones I am accustomed to. Places that offered massages were basically made up of some front room with lounges (probably where the foot and hand and head massages were done) and a more covert location for longer services.
After freshening up for a bit, we had to go to the Asia Hotel to watch the famous Calypso Cabaret. We had a bit of trouble with getting cabs: one was overcharging while another just didn’t know where the hotel was. We finally snagged a taxi that took us to our destination, and we were only charged ฿49 by the meter. We made it at the hotel for the 9:45pm show and paid an expensive ฿1200 for the ticket.
The Calypso Cabaret is about these incredible ladyboys dancing around on stage in these ludicrously revealing costumes that practically made everyone in the audience wonder where they were hiding their male parts. Plus, the ones who played female roles were clad in these really high-cut bikini thingies and we were like, “they don’t have any dark spots on them!” and “they’re even more flawless than me (or anyone I personally know)!” It was really amazing and some parts were really fun to watch. However, some parts were really boring because they performed to some very old songs that virtually no one recognized. I liked the parts with the more current hits like “Nobody” by the Wondergirls and “All That Jazz”, but my favorite I guess was the one with Marilyn Monroe who was very beautiful. Another amusing aspect was the guys who were clad in bikinis but were sporting mustaches at the same time! But what I found somewhat annoying was that every time a number is finished, all the performers’ names would be mentioned. It really felt unnecessary and time consuming, what with having to introduce about 50 performers, I mean, come on!
The cabaret had been our last activity for the day and after buying some snacks at a nearby 7-11, we got some shuteye and readied ourselves for the big temple run the following day.
Temple run day started with the free buffet breakfast at the hotel. There were cereals and rice and some dishes available but just like always, I had some continental breakfast of toast, butter and jam. Then as early as 8:45am, we were already on our way to the temples. Once again, we took the train to Saphan Taksin (฿25) and after getting off the station, we took a boat to the Tah Chang Pier (฿15) or The Grand Palace Station.
The first temple off our list was the Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha or Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan, the oldest and one of the largest temples in Bangkok (entrance: ฿100 with one free bottled water). It is basically a temple complex wherein the most famous attraction is the massive statue of the reclining Buddha: 15m high and 46m long and covered in gold, with the soles inlaid with mother of pearl. This pose indicated the passing of Buddha into nirvana. According to our temple-run guide, visiting this temple will give you a happier and peaceful life.
Behind the statue and along the back wall were the 108 bowls, said to indicated the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. What one does here is to give a ฿20 donation in exchange of a bowl of coins, each of which should be dropped into a bowl. According to Honey, if one managed to drop one coin into every bowl and finish all 108, a wish would be granted.
After the getting our fill of the very impressive reclining Buddha, we toured the temple grounds.
Next stop was the Grand Palace which was beside the Wat Pho complex. Entrance was a whopping ฿400 per person. The compound consists of about 100 glittering buildings aside from the Grand Palace. The current royal family no longer resides here but the Grand Palace is still used for royal functions and state ceremonies.
Within the grounds is the famous Wat Phra Kaew, regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. It boasts of the 26-inch Emerald Buddha which is said to be carved from a single block of jade. The statue is very important that only the King can change its robes, a ritual that is believed to bring the country good fortune. According to our temple-run guide, visiting this temple will give you wealth and rich rewards.
Temple running was sure hungry-making. So, despite our goal to sample some Thai street food, we ended up in this really expensive restaurant: the Royal Navy Club 77. This was my food:
Our next destination was the City Pillar Shrine. The shrine contains two pillars, the longer and original one by Rama I and the shorter was added by King Mongkut. It is also believed to house the city spirit deity. Visiting this shrine is said to discard bad luck and lengthen life with good fortune.
After the City Pillar Shrine, we walked back to the Tha Chang Pier to cross the river. On the other side was the Wat Rakhang Kositharam or the Bell Temple. Here we can find a set of bells which devotees ring. According to our temple-run guide, visiting this temple will help one to become more popular and likeable.
From the Bell Temple, we tried the tuktuk ride to the Temple of Dawn or the Wat Arun. This very short ride cost us ฿50 but at least we got to experience this signature Thai ride.
Wat Arun is apparently one of Bangkok’s beloved icons and gives a great view of the Chao Phraya river (entrance ฿50). That is, if you’re willing to climb all those steep steps up to the temple’s top. Visiting this temple is said to give one a prosperous life.
After that workout at the Wat Arun, we took another boat to the Wat Kalayanamitr (boat ride: ฿30). One observation about the exteriors of this temple is that there were more people begging here than in any of the other temples that we visited. There weren’t a lot of tourists either on this side of the river. Inside the temple was another big Buddha statue and there were certain rituals that we could do. One was the continuous shaking of this tube which had sticks inside. Each stick contains a number and whichever falls out of the tube first will correspond to your fortune. Unfortunately, the fortunes were in Thai and we could not understand them.
Another was the tossing of beans. First step would be to toss the beans and request for permission whether it’s ok to ask your question. If the beans go flat and half round, it means YES. If they are both half round, it means NO. If both beans show flat, then the answer is MAYBE. If the answer to your permission is YES, then proceed to asking your questions. If NO, then come back another time. If MAYBE, your question might be to vague or complicated. Try to simplify it first then ask again.
The last ritual that we did was ring the gongs. I really did wonder how the devotees managed to concentrate with their prayers with all the shaking of sticks, tossing of beans and ringing of gongs in the background.
From Wat Kalayanamitr, we crossed the river again (฿3) and walked back to the Tha Chang Port so we could go to station 21 or the Kiak Kai Station. We were then on our way to Chatuchak – shopping! Unfortunately, the boat to this far off station was very infrequent so we spent a lot of time at the pier. There we saw all sorts of tourists, from Asians, Europeans, Americans, etc. It was really fun eavesdropping on them. Hehe. We finally managed to board the second boat to go to station 21 (we missed the first one because Ate Boat Lady did not tell us). Fare was ฿15.
We took a taxi from Station 21 to Chatuchak Weekend Market (฿63) and it was like, hello, Divisoria! The place was packed with booths that sell all sorts of goods from books, to hats, bags, dresses, accessories, etc. It seemed like paradise to bargain hunters. However, due to exhaustion, I was not really in the mood to buy anything. Besides, it felt as if I could already find all the stuff there back home. So what we did after looking around was eat at this street-side eatery. I had this very spicy “pork basil with rice” and it was good!
The day was still young and we haven’t done any real shopping so we decided to go the Platinum Mall. From Chatuchak, we walked to the Mo Chit Station where I had to line up for a long time to get some exact change for the ฿35 ticket to Chid Lom Station. The Platinum Mall looked pretty much like our local 168 mall or St. Francis Square. It was almost closing time already so only a few shops remained open.
We walked the Thai streets and saw more street-side eateries selling really big tilapias and other fish. But what I was not able to resist was a scoop of ice cream from Baskin Robbins! We saw the ice cream shop along the road and I bought a scoop of Neapolitan Dyanamite – vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice creams swirled together with strawberry and chocolate pieces. Oh, so yummy!
On our walk back to the Chid Lom Station, we also passed by a McDonald’s. It was pretty amazing to see this there:
Lastly, we checked out this mall where I was able to buy the Boots Sun, Swim & Gym shampoo and conditioner (perfect for my active lifestyle) and the ever-elusive Stabilyx CWX tights (for Moche). The saleslady who assisted me was very efficient in that she immediately did the paperwork for the tax redemption. It was really cool.
At that point, Honey and I were already looking forward to some good old massage because we had been so tired from running all over the place. We took the train from Chit Lom to Sala Daeng (฿25) and there we saw the Body Tunes Thai massage. I initially suggested this place to Honey because I read about them back in Manila. I read that they were the first massage salon to be stationed inside a mall. Still, we looked around some more but the massage places seemed really creepy, us being so near the red light district and all. And because the Body Tunes place looked better than the rest, we decided to go there instead.
Before we had our massage, we headed back to Take A Nap to deposit our stuff and freshen up a bit. Then we headed back to Body Tunes. There we had the Thai-Swedish Aromatic Massage for a staggering price of ฿790. We both chose the lavender aromatic oil. When our turn finally came, we were herded inside the massage area. One really cool thing about the whole experience was the disposable underwear. They were nothing like I have ever tried before and I loved them. Too bad that we were the last batch of customers and there was no one at the lobby when we went out. I would’ve bought tons of those wonderful disposable panties!
About the massage though, well, we did not tip our obviously already-very-tired masseuses. We were not so satisfied with the massage and it was there that I realized one of the grossest things they do in massages: do the feet first then do the face last. Ugh! It was icky, really.
Anyway, getting a massage can made us really hungry. But since it was already midnight that time, we had to scour the red light district a bit to find some food. We ended up at Tom N Tom’s Coffee where we had some pretzel and coffee (฿170).
After a very hectic temple run in day 2, Day 3 was mostly eating and chilling. We had some breakfast at the hostel (same set of offerings like in the previous day) and had the front desk call us some taxi to the airport (฿450).
We got there really early because Honey’s flight was about an hour earlier than mine. After she checked in her luggage, we went to the Item Check desk where they ‘d check my purchases before I could get the VAT redeemed. But after all that, I still had plenty of time to kill so walked around until I was able to check in.
After check in, I had to walk a long way to the VAT redemption booth. And there I found that they would be charging ฿100 for the redemption. So in the end, I was able to only get ฿135, which is very little to buy pasalubong.
Boarding time came and it was officially time to say good-bye to Bangkok. Our stay had been really short but really very eventful. Honey and I had lots of misadventures but really had fun getting lost, being mistaken and being with each other. Hopefully we could travel again next year to another exotic location and have another blast.
June 30-July 2, 2012