After nearly two weeks of fake parenting our nieces and nephew back in Texas, we were ready to start Sabbatical Part II: Thailand. That meant a 4 hour flight from Dallas to San Francisco, followed by an 11 hour flight to Tokyo and a 7 hour flight to Bangkok. Add in layovers, delays, and travel time to and from the airport and we had ourselves a 28 hour journey. Seemed easy after entertaining three kids age five and under for so many days.
We chose to have that extra layover in Tokyo so that we could fly Al Nippon Air, the Japanese airline known for great service and comfortable economy class seats. It did not disappoint. In fact, on the 11 hour journey we got lucky and had a three seat row all to ourselves. Bliss.
About a month before we left, while we were still in Denver, we ran into a colleague of mine at an event, and she mentioned that her cousin, Barry, lives in Thailand and used to work at the Embassy. She was kind enough to introduce us via email, and he and his wife, Mitt who is a native Thai, offered to pick us up at the airport and let us recover from the journey at their home for a few days. What a great way to start this adventure.
Bangkok Day 1: Nichada Thani Ex-Pat Community
We arrived in Thailand around 10:45 in the evening, and Barry and Mitt were there with smiling faces to greet us. It was such a comfort to have their guidance and support as we arrived. I knew I wasn’t in American anymore when in the parking garage, they began pushing cars out of the way to get their car out. Apparently it is common in Thailand to park people in as long as you leave your car in neutral when you do.
We were exhausted so even though our bodies thought it was midday (Bangkok is 14 hours ahead of Denver), we crashed (after playing with Basil and Brumby the two mini schnauzers of course).
Bangkok Day 2
I awoke around 9 the next day (Trent woke much earlier around 5), and came downstairs to see Trent and Mitt finishing up a yoga session. When in Thailand… I then enjoyed some home brewed Thai coffee that Barry is in the process of perfecting now that he is retired. Then Trent and I took a nice long walk around their neighborhood, an ex-pat community that is north of Bangkok about half an hour (with traffic make that up to two hours).
Not gonna lie, we spent an hour or so in the Starbucks because it was right there and familiar. I hope that will be the last time for this trip. Mitt and Barry own a wonderful little Thai-Korean restaurant called Baan Kimchi near their home, and they took us there for lunch. To date the cashew chicken I had there is one of the best meals I have had in Thailand, not to mention the pickle kimchi. After the meal they served a delicious cinnamon tea which was just slightly sweet and the perfect end to the meal.
That night we crashed at 5:30 and were up and down throughout the night. Really hoping to get over the jet lag soon…
Bangkok Day 3
The following day we enjoyed some more Thai coffee by brewmaster Barry, and another delicious meal at Baan Kimchi. We also met some of their friends, Pom and her son Tom, who were just delightful! Pom had the best sense of humor and they were both so kind and generous. In fact, I complemented Pom on her cute scarf and she took it off as I protested and tied it around my neck. If this is what to expect of the Thai people, we are in for a real treat.
After lunch on that second full day in Thailand, Barry and Mitt were kind enough to drive us into the city to our hotel, the Pathumwan Princess Hotel near a major university and in one of Bangkok’s many shopping districts. It was perfect because it was very central and accessible to the Skytrain, which we used to get around often.
We decided to use credit card points to “splurge” on an actual hotel in Bangkok for the first week as part of our “ease into it” strategy. No complaints here, but I kept reminding myself not to get to comfortable because we will be living on a budget the rest of the six months, mostly staying in small AirBNB apartments or homestays. Still, the dollar goes a lot further around Thailand than back in the states.
Barry had told us that Bangkok has a unique personality all its own, and that most people either love it or hate it. After a few days, I was swooning.
I really loved the city. The people watching. The food. The culture. The international vibe. The window shopping. The fast pace.
Were there some less than pleasurable experiences like when our tuk tuk driver tried to get us to pay more and it caused Trent and I to have some tense moments between us as a power struggle ensued? Yes. More than once… But even so, it was a really cool place to begin discovering Thailand.
I think I was hooked when we realized that even in the city we really could get a fabulous massage for less than $10. Trent started with the Thai massage and I had the foot massage on that first full day in Bangkok. Heaven.
On that first day in the city we also swapped out our SIM cards on our phones for Thai SIM cards, which is saving us lots of money over the next six months. We are paying $20 a month back home to keep our account frozen and about $30 a month here for unlimited data and about an hour of voice. That is a fraction of what we were paying at home in the U.S. And so far I have no complaints about the service.
We went to bed early, woke up in the middle of the night and ordered fried rice, and went back to bed. Ah, the life.
In that first week in Bangkok, I never interacted with anyone who did not speak some English, at least enough to communicate with me about what it was I needed. I was really surprised by that and fully expect that not to be the case as we move further out from the metropolis of Bangkok.
Bangkok Day 4
On our first full day actually in the heart of the city, we explored. We took the Skytrain, an elevated train that goes all around Bangkok, we visited wats (temples) and the Grand Palace, we road in a riverboat and a tuk tuk for the first time. It was exhausting, hot, and fantastic.
Bangkok Day 5
After finally getting my first full night’s sleep since that very first night (thank you Tylenol PM), we set out to discover the Chatuchak market, one of Bangkok’s flea market-esque shopping extravaganzas held every weekend. On the train, we overheard a local advising some other tourists who were also headed to Chatuchak and were fretting over how they would know how to get there, “Just follow the crowds. Everyone is going to the same place.”
There is nothing I can write to do justice to the size and chaos of this place. It was a massive complex system of tiny booths and stalls selling everything you can imagine for no more than a few dollars. There were food stalls and clothing stalls and massage stalls, and electronics stalls, and artisan stalls, probably thousands of them. I bought a cute little makeup bag (it is even lined!) for about $3. It’s the color of the tuk tuk upholstery, green and pink, so it will always remind me of Thailand.
Some sections were “nicer” with actual walls and more built structures while others seemed to be held together by a little bamboo and sheet metal. The nice sections sold new clothes and crafts while the grungier sections sold used goods, most of it seemed to be American t-shirts and shoes. Used Converse and Levis were everywhere.
And there were thousands and thousands of people meandering through this place. One could definitely get lost in the windy narrow aisles and you would easily survive because everything you need is there.
It started raining at one point and I was so glad that it was mostly covered except where the roofs came together at various points and urban waterfalls sprung up randomly. There were giant puddles everywhere but we stayed relatively dry.
We got back to the hotel room and promptly fell asleep. We awoke around midnight and thought we would go to a rooftop bar only to find out that most of them closed at midnight. Really, Bangkok? Where is the Bangkok from the Hangover II? I suspect our concierge didn’t think we were ready for that.
Bangkok Day 6
We resolved to spend some time in nature at Lumpini Park, a lush Central Park-ish green space right in the city. Unlike most signature American parks, Lumpini Park wasn’t perfectly manicured, didn’t have signs warning us to stay off the grass, and showcased more art than homeless people. It felt a little more wild and natural, with big lizards roaming around like squirrels or ducks back home.
On our last night in Bangkok, we finally made it to a rooftop bar. Not just any roof top bar, THE rooftop bar, the one that boasts being the highest in the world, the one in the Hangover II scene where the helicopter flies up over the edge. The one with 360 degree views of Bangkok.
Very cool way to end our first Bangkok experience. We will certainly be back to Bangkok because the hotel is storing our extra bags (at no cost!), and you can bet I will be heading back to Chatuchak for souvenirs before we head home many many months from now.