Hospitality at the Shanti Lodge
As we approached the Shanti Lodge, we were greeted at the front entrance by a brightly smiling Thai woman who walked us through the restaurant to the reception desk towards the back. It was only 11:30 AM, and our reservation for the Shanti Lodge was for a 7:00 PM check-in, but the staff informed us that if we could wait just a half hour for them to clean the room, we could get settled in early, no problem.
We had originally booked six beds in a shared, eight-person dorm room and asked about renting the other two beds out for privacy, but they were able to amend our reservation to accommodate one two-person and one four-person room instead.
Within moments we had stowed our shoes in the common area, on the tiered shelves along the side entrance, unslung backpacks and were sipping glass goblets full of a deliciously refreshing beverage that we didn’t bother asking the name of while we waited. Fifteen minutes later we were headed up the stairs to the third floor, beverages in hand.
Our Rooms at the Bangkok Shanti Lodge
Bekka and Heather tend to go to bed earlier than the rest of us, so they were automatically designated bunk mates in the two-capacity room. Travis and I nabbed the single bunks in our four-person occupancy room and left the double bed in expectation of Thirza and Leanna’s impending arrivals. Each room had a small bathroom, with the kind of swinging shutter door like you see in the entryway of a saloon in movies about the Old West. There was a traditional western-world style commode, as opposed to a sunken one, with a long-hosed spigot to spray your nether regions clean after using the said, porcelain throne. If we wanted toilet paper, a visit to the store was going to be required. The shower head was affixed overhead to a wall opposite the sink. There were towels provided for each occupant. The ones on the double bed were a matched set of blue towels, artfully rolled to resemble the arched necks of two swans meeting in a heart shape.
We retired briefly to our respective rooms. Each duo unpacked, alternating use of our showering facilities. We realized quickly if you wanted to keep the toilet seat dry, it was a good idea to flip it up while showering. Feeling refreshed, our foursome met downstairs in the restaurant for lunch.
Shanti Lodge Restaurant
There is a cozy, inviting ambiance to the Shanti Lodge Restaurant. The front of the building and length of the left-side are mostly open to the air from floor to ceiling with a variety of plant life along them. A latticed awning stretches to the curb and covers what at home would be considered a stretch of sidewalk facing the street, but in Thailand is prime real estate for seating. The closest neighboring structure is home to a business called Turtle Tours. A mix of bamboo, lattice work, brick, stone and sponge-painted walls in warm hues are found throughout the interior. Native art pieces, ornamental items and water elements add to the feeling of homey-serenity. The furniture is mostly hand-crafted, dark wooden tables, chairs and benches with large, patterned pillows in olive and mauve scattered around.
We found out later that one of the employees at the Shanti Lodge is the craftsman of these sturdy and beautiful furniture pieces. Our inborn capitalist-sides observed that he would make a mint on these back home!
Ceiling fans, combined with the occasional breeze helped keep most of the heat at bay. With the open setting, there is an abundance of natural light, supplemented when necessary by subtle, overhead lighting.
The music that set the tone transitioned between what would be widely considered traditional Thai music and more modern-pop sounds in the Thai language. Occasionally the familiar and laid-back sounds of Bob Marley and other international musicians would overtake the speakers. Voices of street hawkers and the ever-present tuk-tuk drivers called out to each passersby, but they’re background noise that can easily be honed in on or ignored.
There is a vegetarian menu and a regular one. The food and beverage options are quite extensive and cater to practically any dietary preference. We had hoped to force Bekka into being more adventurous in her dining choices, as her palate tends to be…uncomfortable with even slightly spicy food, but alas, there were too many mild options!
Coming from Maine, and New England in general, where we have a flourishing craft-beer culture, we anticipated the beer selection as being one of the few disappointments we would encounter regularly while in Southeast Asia. Singha and Chang, both what I would equate to being an improvement over Budweiser, but not by much, were on the menu as either a mug or a personal-sized jug. There are a few wines, a fantastic selection of fresh juices, smoothies and shakes, hard liquor, coffee-based beverages, tea and of course – bottled water.
We all ordered different items, and as the food and drinks arrived we passed them around to sample.
International Reunions: Our Quartet Becomes a Quintet
A steady, pattering rain had waited until just after our arrival at the Shanti Lodge to commence, and was still coming down outside. Out of nowhere, Travis sat up straight and said loudly that he thought he had seen Thirza’s hair inside a taxi. We were both up in seconds, he a few moments faster, and were moving towards the street. As I rounded the tables I could already see Thirza’s curly, dark head of hair as Travis swept her up into a big hug. I am not ashamed to say that the three of us were a teary-eyed spectacle for the rest of the restaurant patrons before long.
The last time that we had seen Thirza, Travis and I had taken her to Boston’s Logan International Airport when her work visa was up in May of 2013. There were infinitely more waterworks at that leave-taking.
There were more heartfelt greetings from Bekka and Heather before Travis escorted Thirza to drop her bag off in our room. Upon returning to the restaurant area, meals were finished as we spent time catching up on the bits of daily minutiae you so often miss when someone isn’t right in front of you. Eventually it was decided that Bekka & Heather were going to retire to their room for some R&R and the remaining trio would walk to Khao San Road.
Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
It is about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk from the Shanti Lodge to Khao San Road, our intended destination. A right turn off of Thanon Sri Ayutthaya on to Thanon Sam Sen and straight ahead. En route, a Thai man stopped us, asking where we were from and where we were going. He said it was a holiday, the Day of the Buddha, and if we wanted to get into some of the more famous temples for free we could do so before 6:00 PM. He was very insistent and even hailed a tuk-tuk driver that was passing by to take us, without really gauging our interest. He had written some information in Thai on the back of a card that he suggested we give the driver and then was off, continuing his walk down Sam Sen. While Thirza and I had paused to let him complete his spiel, Travis had heard the word tuk-tuk and booked it across the intersection, shaking his head the whole way. He looked back at us and waited as we discussed the merits of giving in to our curiosity.
Tuk-tuk drivers have an unsavory reputation when it comes to taking advantage of tourists who see riding in a tuk-tuk as a necessary part of their authentic experience. Are there tuk-tuk drivers out there that are simply trying to make an honest baht? I’m sure there are plenty. You can also help keep the others on the straight and narrow by being an informed traveler about your route and any deviation from it. Was that particular tuk-tuk driver coincidentally going by? Was the gentleman in question merely being helpful? We will never know as Thirza and I decided we shouldn’t split up quite yet, and there was no way Trav was going to get into a tuk-tuk after everything he’d heard, so we continued together on foot.
There was in fact a holiday – the day before. Chulalongkorn Day, which is a commemorative holiday named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) of Thailand. It takes place on October 23rd each year. If you’ve ever heard of Anna and the King of Siam, or the more widely recognized Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King & I, King Chulalongkorn is the son of the real King Mongkut.
We turned on to the short stretch of street in central Bangkok referred to as Khao San Road, or Khosan Road, which was bustling with tourist traffic in the late afternoon heat.
For a backpacker, or any traveler for that matter, it is easy to replenish your travel supplies and find an assortment of cheap accommodations here, both hostels and hotels. If you’re looking for advice and assistance with transport or attractions in Thailand and neighboring countries this is one of many concentrated areas where you can visit a touring company and speak to a travel agent. They can also assist with the acquisition of entry visas for your country of choice.
Our interest in Khao San Road was purely to see what all the hullabaloo was about, and of course, to do some people watching. Travis was inundated by men asking if he wanted a suit tailored, which he demurred, while Thirza and I were left largely to our own devices. A mix of handcrafted and mass produced items line each side. From paintings and Buddha statuettes, postcards, toiletries, clothes and used books to food stalls with options like fried chicken and various fried insects, were all in ample supply. The fried insects are on my “to try” list, but not the first day out of the gate.
The wealth of international languages represented along Khao San Road was also interesting to listen to, although most business between natives and foreigners, unless they know Thai, is conducted with many flavors of accented English. English is a mandatory subject in schools in Thailand. That does not necessarily mean that the grasp of English by the general Thai population is great or maintained as they age, and it’s definitely not as prevalent or kept up with in rural communities. Our little party, however, appreciated every English syllable uttered, as none of us speak Thai, except the few words that we’re learning along the way, like salutations, leave-takings and of thanks.
We finished our perusal and rounded the turn from Khao San Road to Thanon Tanao where there were a series of wedding dress and jewelry shops. One of the running jokes of the trip is that Travis is going to go back to the states married after our three weeks are up. Walking by these shops, we teased him that he could buy a wedding dress now and find a bride based on who fit in It. Needless to say, he walked away empty handed, and we made our way back to The Shanti Lodge.
I can see the allure of a quick visit to Khao San Road, but we three agreed that it wouldn’t be somewhere we needed to go repeatedly.
Last Arrival of the Day, Leanna!
Upon returning to the Shanti Lodge a nap was impossible to resist. When I next awoke, it was to Leanna entering the room. Our Malaysian couchsurfing friend had last been seen in Portland, Maine in February of 2013. She had been working for a four-month stint on a J-1 visa, of which the last two months had been spent gallivanting around the Old Port with us.
With the final member of our eclectic party here, we convened once again in the Shanti Restaurant. Another meal, and a lot of laughter later, Bekka and Heather were the first to retire. Eventually the rest of us made our way up to the third floor as well, leaving the restaurant empty, but for the overnight workers.
What’s Up Next?
Over the course of the evening it was decided that the next day we would leave the morning open for individuals to do as they would. At night, we would check out the Muay Thai fighting at the Lumpini Stadium and afterwards, visit the Night Market.