Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Experience Touring in Bangkok, Thailand

Okay, okay, so I started this series about Thailand talking about all the things I did. But rather than write about what I did in Thailand, let me try and write about what Thailand is actually like.

Our tour guide that we had on Friday told us a nickname for Bangkok. She said, you know how New York City is called “The Big Apple?” Well, Bangkok is called “The Big Mango.” And like a mango, it can vary greatly. It can be incredibly sweet or it can be incredibly sour. I think most cities are like this but from what I have found, in developing countries, the differences between sweet and sour parts of the city can be really distinct. In many parts of the city of Bangkok you would just see mounds of electrical wires hanging above the streets.

The streets are bustling and sidewalks are narrow. The sidewalk is uneven and you need to constantly be watching your step. Stray dogs roam the streets and there are pop up or makeshift shops down a number of the streets.  Another thing common in developing countries is the sight of cranes everywhere.  Construction and growth are everywhere.

As I roamed down one street in Bangkok, there were tons of food stands, plastic chairs with people sitting around eating meals, men lounging or walking around without shirts on, trash littered along the sides of the roads – something that I attribute to the fact that I could not find a public trash can ANYWHERE the whole time in Thailand. Even in some of the most popular markets and tourist areas where food and drink were sold off the streets on the norm, I could not find a place to put my garbage anywhere throughout the city when I would finish a bottle of water or the snack I had purchased. It left me thinking, no wonder there is trash everywhere!

Aroma fills many of the streets – often it smelled of Thai food – lemongrass and curry - and often it smelled as fish. I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if you think about the fact that Thailand is a small island with much coast line, but I was surprised with the amount of seafood prevalent throughout Bangkok. I guess it is just the Americanized version of thai food that substitutes chicken and beef for shrimp and prawns.

On Thursday when our work day ended, my friend Melissa and I took a cab and had it drop us off at the Grand Palace so that we could walk around a bit. Melissa was returning to the U.S. the next morning so it was really her only chance to explore. We knew that the museums and attractions would be closed but we wanted to try and see what we could in the time we had. When you walk down the streets they are bustling.

Of course, the tourist areas are filled with…touristy things… but the other streets, some of the “normal” streets… well you see people sitting, laying down, sleeping in all sorts of makeshift homes.  People selling food off carts.  Trash everywhere.  Piles of what seems like junk overflowing into the streets.  Everything seemed a little dark and drab.  At one point when we were walking around we got a bit lost trying to find the little squiggle our bell hop had drawn on our map telling us where to go.  I got a bit nervous but didn't want to say anything and suggested we find a hotel to call a cab to get us back.  Then we turned a corner and stumbled upon this.

We stumbled upon what we were looking for, which is a road that is a backpacker's paradise in Bangkok.  There were all sorts of shops, bars, restaurants, music blasting, and just a great atmosphere.  All the restaurants had big open layouts.  There were huge open doors to the restaurants and shops, nothing closed off, which is the style of the Thai design I later learned.  We ate dinner at a little restaurant when the rain threatened our night and had the company of a little stray cat who sat and stared at us the entire meal.

I thought it was interesting that Thailand was the first asian country I have been to where they do not use chopsticks.  Often I found myself asking for chopsticks because I am just more used to using them for certain types of food and feel comfortable with them.  I asked a colleague about it and they said that they don't really use them for informal occasions and such.  Interesting.  The street we were on just got cooler as the night went on.  It was a fun road and definitely a place I could see myself hanging out more if I was in Bangkok for longer.  My friend and I got a good amount of shopping done there and also stopped for a roadside foot massage before heading back to our hotel.

The taxi system in Thailand is pretty neat.  They are so so cheap and some of them are bright pink.  I took taxis a lot to get around and spent the majority of the time trying to figure out how the drivers were still making money when they were charging so little to get from place to place.  Of course, as with vendors and merchants in many parts of the world, you have to be careful not to be taken advantage of.  Some taxi drivers would try to negotiate a price with you when you first got in, which you could either try to do or make a request to have the price be paid by meter.  You'd also have to negotiate the cost of the toll booths that you encountered as well.  And traffic could be totally fine or a complete mess (sounds like Atlanta...)

Friday started off with a messy day of traffic as a coworker and I set off on a tour with a hired guide.  The tour guide is something else that is so inexpensive there it makes it hard to justify not doing it!  We visited the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Jim Thompson house, and did a canal tour by boat of Bangkok's winding river canals.

Starting by sharing Grand Palace and Wat Pho... these two sites were amazing.  The palace is where the royal family lived and also the home the Golden Buddha, a really famous and important Buddha.  Thailand is the first Buddhist country I have visited so it was interesting to see the different types of temples and monuments that they have to the Buddha.  The Golden Buddha you are not allowed to take pictures of within the temple, but you are allowed to take pictures outside of the temple.  There are also incredible ornate decorations and hand designed statues and buildings all throughout the Grand Palace and also Wat Pho.  Wat Pho is another monument site and home to the reclining Buddha, which is one of the largest Buddhas.  I will just share a whole bunch of pictures here so that you can get a sense of how beautiful everything was.  But, really, it was hard to share all of this and capture it through photos.  I could have spent the whole day here just staring, it was so incredible.  The design reminded me a lot of the Park Guell designs by Gaudi in Barcelona that I was so mesmerized by last year.  Except these, were just geometric patterns whereas Gaudi's designs included animals and nature.  As well, the Thai designs were much more bedazzled!

I seriously could post these pics all day long.

This last pic what I loved about it was that white platform that is in the picture is of is where the king would go and stand to then get on his elephant!  I don't know why but I totally loved that.

All those pictures were from the Grand Palace alone.  I have more.  They are from Wat Pho and I can't not show them to you.  This may be breaking my rules and showing you more pictures than I ever have before so I apologize but I am struggling to narrow them down!

During the canal tour, which was amazing because it was a private tour (they could have packed us in to the boats, they were huge, but they didn't!  It was amazing) I had an out-of-body experience almost where I just was looking at myself and looking at what was going on around me and thinking "Is this really my life?"  Sometimes I just don't understand how I managed to be so lucky to be able to experience all that I do.  I am so appreciative of the opportunities that are afforded to me and I do my best to take them all in, learn from them, and become a better, more open and understanding person because of them.  I like to be able to share those experiences through photos through the blog and through stories with my friends.  I talk about the travel I have done a lot, and hopefully it doesn't seem like a pretentious way but in a way that I want to be an ambassador for what I have seen and an advocate for others to go outside their element and experience a new culture.  I know it isn't always easy for some, which is how I am so amazed that I landed this job that provides me with them and want to use that as a place to share.

We cruised around and saw all of these homes built right into the canals and over the waterways.  The water looked sort of gross and dirty to me but there were people fishing, kids swimming, men sitting shirtless looking at the river, women washing clothing, and just all around me there was life being lived by the Thai people.  I was curious how long the families with homes along the waterway lived there and if they were considered to be the wealthier, more sought after homes, or the poorer families that lived there.  I saw a range of homes - some that looked full of trash and like they could be featured on an episode of hoarders and some that looked beautiful, so I suspect it is a range.

At one point we pulled up to the side of the canal where a monk was sitting and our tour guide handed him a few coins and he gave her two loaves of bread that she passed to my coworker and I.  Truly, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it and thought maybe this was lunch?  I wasn't sure.  And then she said that we should feed the fish.  And as soon as we started throwing some bread in the water, fish came from everywhere!  It was amazing!  And sort of scary!  But cool!

At the end of the day we did walked another market, one of which was a pretty cool flower and fruit/vegetable market, then went to a street called Nena Street and did some people watching, and relaxed with a drink.

The next day was hanging around some more markets, did some more shopping that helped get my suitcase to an uncomfortable level of stuffed, and then got a two hour Thai massage that cost a total of $14.  It was blissful.  In an incredibly painful type of way.

And with that, you heard about my return back to the U.S. and the adventures after that.  If you read my post yesterday, I am feeling a bit better and ran a light 5 miles this morning.  I'm still unsure what I will do tomorrow in terms of mileage but felt good this AM and finished my run with lots of foam roller and stretching.  Whoever invented that thing is evil!

Hope you enjoyed experiencing Thailand with me!

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