Tag Archives: Thailand

Temples, Tattoos & Karaoke

We’d settled on a time of 10:00 for Harriti to meet us at the Shanti. The idea was to tour an older section of the city, but when the time came, Harriti was feeling under the weather and needed to rest a bit more before catching up with us later in the day.

It was after noon when we finally bestirred ourselves and decided upon taking a ferry towards our intended destinations. Thirza had spoken to the Shanti staff about getting to China Town and they had communicated that the older section of the city that we were looking for was in the same vicinity. Armed with that knowledge and a map we prepared to leave.

Harriti was in the process of moving from the neighboring hostel in to ours for her last night in Bangkok before flying back to India as we pulled ourselves together. We sent a slew of cheery good wishes her way and moseyed down to Thewet Pier.

Cheap Fares on the Chao Phraya River

It’s fairly impossible to traverse Bangkok’s streets without taxi and tuk-tuk drivers calling out to you every other moment and the waterway piers are no different. It’s more of the same “where you going?” or “I’ll give you good deal, cheap price on private river tour.” They give new meaning to the word persistent, sometimes past the point of reason. One gentleman, as we arrived at Thewet Pier was obstinate in his insistence that we take a private river and canal cruise with him for a few hundred baht…each. There seemed to be no way of persuading him that we had not only no interest in going with him, well out of our way, and especially not for such an exorbitant cost. He came at us more times than I can count.

While this went on, the boats that we had seen coming and going were doing so at a brisk pace. There was very little time to try and nab one of the workers to ascertain which of the separate pier walkways down to the river was the appropriate one to wait on until Travis spoke with a girl wearing a coast guard uniform that confirmed it was the Orange boat-line we wanted and we should watch the left of the pier.

The Chao Phraya River Express Boats are a cheap way to travel in Bangkok to many points of interest that are located along the Banks of the Chao Phraya River. If you can jockey for a spot with a view, either standing or sitting, the boats also offer a different perspective on the city landscape. It’s definitely worth catching a ride For the visuals if nothing else.

The last stall of the pier sold fish snacks, that’s snacks FOR the fish, as the water surrounding the pier was teeming with them, large mouths opening and closing in expectation. They obviously knew it was only a matter of time till something came their way. A furious flurry of movement stirred the water each time food was dropped in, which in turn caused the dozens of birds who watched them hungrily to become agitated and fly around our heads.

As we continued to watch the water for signs of the boat headed our way, we deemed it prudent to stay under cover from the heavy air traffic that resulted from the fish feeding.

It was fifteen baht each, that we paid once on board. Our stop was Rachawongs, after the memorial bridge. There was a steady flow of tourist and commuter traffic at each of the stops, keeping you close, but generally not invasively so, to the other passengers.

Here’s an example of the first segment of the river boat ride.

It took approximately 15 – 20 minutes for us to reach our stop. We avoided making eye contact with any of the stall vendors and people hanging around the pier and bee-lined it towards the street.

Bangkok’s China Town

Travis had taken charge of the map and said we needed to take a right once we reached the first intersection. The next half hour or so was spent wandering the side streets and alleyways that were lined with yet more shops, stalls and restaurants, very few with anything we hadn’t seen a dozen times before. Our meanderings found many of the side street businesses closed or closing for the day, while the main roadway had no lack of driving and foot traffic. One thing we noticed, that seemed out of place from other market areas we’d been in, was the vast amount of jewelry stores on every side of the street selling gold-crafted items. Later we would find out why (I’m getting there), but in the interim we passed by the storefronts where the shiny metal dominated the shelves.

As our progress was slow along the busy section and no one seemed to be very enthusiastic about the current surroundings, I made an executive decision to turn on to a new street that lead away from the waterfront and the posse came along. We ended up in front of a temple that said it housed Bangkok’s largest golden Buddha. The collective was low on baht and there happened to be a currency exchange open so most of us traded in some USD. We could hear the sound of a religious ceremony going on and debated whether this was a place we were interested in investigating or not. While most of us hemmed and hawed about going in, Bekka quietly ducked out of the discussions and bought six tickets, she’s decisive like that sometimes. So, in we went!

Phra Maha Mondop – Home of the Golden Buddha

There are multiple levels to the building. After proceeding up the stairs and entering the exhibition on the first level you’re asked to put your shoes in one of the bags provided and carry them while inside, returning the bag as you exit back into the open air. The same procedure will be repeated on the next level.

Phra Maha Mondop, Golden Buddha

2nd Floor ExhibitYaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center – Here there are life size replicas of Chinese people in scenes from when their history began to intertwine with that of Thailand.

The history behind the numerous shops with gold was also explained.  Yaowarat Road has been a hub of gold and gem trade for centuries and is tied in closely with the mixed cultural heritage of the area.

Yaowarat China Town Heritage Center exhibit

3rd Floor Exhibit Phra Buddha Maha Suwanna Patimakorn Exhibit – The story of the Golden Buddha’s origins, from its construction to how it was encased in plaster to hide it during a tumultuous period in Thailand’s history, to its rediscovery can all be found here, both fact and speculation..

4th Floor ExhibitGolden Buddha Statue – In all its glory, the Golden Buddha statue sits in the center of the room, dwarfing visitors. Roped off, to remind people to keep a respectful distance, the base of the statue has an altar area in front where practicing Buddhist visitors leave small offerings, light incense and pay homage. Meanwhile the rest of the tourists snap photos of both the statue and the people at prayer.

Before entering the fourth level, there is a station where shrine attendants will remind the ladies to cover up appropriately or they won’t let you in. If you’re wearing at least a t-shirt that covers the first few inches of your arm below the shoulder or a scarf you’re all set for your upper half. For the bottom half, if you’ve got tight pants or any sort of skirt or shorts above mid calf, they’ll offer you a sarong to wrap like a skirt. Men have a more relaxed dress code by far which Travis had no problem rubbing in, jerk.

Golden Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand

After grabbing a few snacks for the road, we made our way back to the pier. At this one you could prepay, and as it was a peak time of day the cost was a few baht more, but still better by far than any other means of transportation available.

Instead of just walking straight back the way we came between Thewet Pier and the Shanti, we crossed the small footbridge and wended our way through a makeshift market. The floor was a mix of hard-packed earth and concrete, littered with refuse from both vendors and visitors. The roof was mostly wood, some fabric and also tarps. If you looked up at the ceiling there were small small rays of light peeping through the many holes as well as drippings of water from the last rain storm…at least that’s what we hoped they were. The smell was a strong mix of body odor, the kind you get from being in hot, dry spaces, mingled with cooked meats, garbage and more. Large buckets of water held live eels, frogs and fish, and the mosquito population heads their presence known in the confined space. Beyond just items of consumption you could buy a variety of the same style of wares that saturate all the Thai markets. While Thirza and I found the experience interesting at least visually, most of the others had a slight gently different perspective by the time we emerged back on Thanon Sam Sen.

Naps and showers were in order before we reconnected with Harriti for our evening out.

Jenny Restaurant

We would have two vegetarians out with us tonight, Heather AND Harriti. Harriti took change of the situation and referred to an app she swears by called Happy Cow. It provided a list of veggie-friendly restaurants and she chose a likely one in our vicinity. We arrived out front of the establishment (whose name is eluding me), to find them…closed on Sunday’s. Option number two was a bit further down the road on a side street that we almost missed.

Jenny Restaurant, Thai Food, Vegetarian Restaurants

Jenny Restaurant looked to be a hole in the wall, like many others we’d walked by during our time in Bangkok. It had a small outside seating area and just enough tables inside to push together to accommodate our party of seven. While there may have been some skepticism going in, everyone was more than pleased with their meals once they arrived, with the exception of Bekka who had a little too much heat for her. Once our meal was finished, it was time to split up!

Leanna had heard from a friend about a tattoo parlor with some exceptionally skillful tattoo artists, B.K.K. Ink and she was keen to get her first piece of permanent art etched into her skin. Heather was also more than happy upon hearing about Leanna’s plans to join in and add to her own ever-growing collection of body art. They headed off as the rest of our party, now five, hailed a cab to R&B Karaoke across town.

Private Rooms at Bangkok’s R&B Karaoke

We had initially booked s larger room with the assistance of Happy, the Shanti owner, in expectation of our whole party going, but as our numbers were reduced, we were able to go down to a smaller room size and price tier,

R&B Karaoke in Bangkok

Harriti, Travis, Bekka, Thirza and I filed into the room and one of the attendants showed us how the remote operated karaoke system worked before taking our drink orders. Harriti was the only one who had done this style of karaoke before, when she was going to school in Geneva. All the places where the rest of us have previously participated in karaoke have been in venues where it’s a more public spectacle.

Let me just say that of all my karaoke experiences, and there have been a considerable amount, this was by far the most laugh out loud and entertaining of them all. We started out with sing-a-long classics like “We Are Family” and progressed to numbers like “Soulja Boy” (with the dance), and some personal favorites. Thirza pulled out a number that we think was supposed to sound romantic, but instead the lyrics came across as a bit cheesy and extremely awkward. It’s from the 90’s and by a band called Az Yet, the song title, “Last Night.” It didn’t start off as much of a crowd pleaser until Travis put his own spin on the tune. Drum roll…

This video has since brought us many hours of mirth and I wish I’d caught it from the beginning. You can’t help but hear Thirza in the background who was laughing the loudest and longest of us all and who is also the one who requested the most often that I replay the video. That was a hard number to top, but we kept the music coming until after midnight when we and one other group had the power turned off in our rooms As a not so subtle hint that we all needed to skedaddle.

Show Me Your Tattoos

Heather and Leanna had made it back from the tattoo parlor only moments before us and we waited for the tattoo reveal. Heather is already a tattoo veteran with a half sleeve on her right arm with lyrics and the corresponding musical notes twined from shoulder to elbow and a cluster of stars on one foot. Leanna, the tattoo virgin, decided on a quote for her first time, “I go to seek a great perhaps,” which comes from Francois Rabelais, who was a Frenchman best known for his various literary works.

Temples, Tattooes and Karaoke

It was Harriti’s last night in town and she didn’t think she’d be up before we left to run errands in the morning, so we said our farewells, just in case, and turned in for the night.

Travel Tips for Bangkok and Thailand at Large

Paying For Your Ferry Fare: Make sure you have small change, not the thousand baht bills the ATM spits out, as a courtesy to the fare collectors.

Currency Exchange Open on Sunday: If you find yourself in need of a currency exchange on a Sunday, as opposed to getting money out of an ATM, there is one that is open Sunday’s on the grounds of the Golden Buddha Temple.

Don’t Drink the Water: We weren’t aware of this until Harriti told us, so I’ll pass her tip on! Instead of throwing down hundreds of baht on a new bottle of water every few hours, there are fresh water machines all over the city where you can spread one, two, five or more baht and refill existing bottles. There is one directly across from the Shanti Lodge.


New Friends and Muay Thai Fights

The More, The Merrier

Saturday morning was an opportunity for everyone to recuperate from our long flights. Well, everyone that is but Leanna who had only had a two-hour flight from Malaysia. Rough life.

While Travis introduced Leanna to Khao San Road, Thirza, Bekka and Heather spent their mornings primarily in our rooms upstairs.

I spent the better part of the morning in the open setting of the Shanti’s first floor restaurant going back and forth between rereading Mooncalled, writing, and catching up on some correspondence.

The previous night I had gotten an email from our new Californian buddy from the Qatar flight to Doha, Jeff, and replied with an invite to join us in the evening. It was agreed that he would meet us at the Shanti around 3:00 PM where he would be introduced to the rest of the gang and we could coordinate transportation for what would then be a party of seven (yikes) to the Muay Thai fights.

It was late morning when a girl strode confidently through the front entrance of the Shanti, slung her bag down on the bench across from me and asked if I minded her sitting down. I was caught off guard initially by her query. I was one of the only restaurant occupants, and there were plenty of open tables available, but then realized it’s the sort of thing I do myself when out and about at home or traveling as a firm believer in the saying, “the more, the merrier” so why not someone else?

Harriti, as she introduced herself, was staying at the hostel next door, but had been scouting for somewhere to grab lunch. She’d walked towards the end of the block, turned around to retrace her steps, and then come inside the Shanti when she’d seen me sitting by myself. She is from the states as well, the D.C. area, but has been in India working for some time and was on a two-week holiday in Thailand, most recently from Chiang Mai. Over lunch she shared some inspiring photos from the time she spent at her favorite attraction in Chiang Mai, the Elephant Nature Park and highly recommended the experience. That location believes in following more humane practices in handling the elephants, rather than utilizing the chains and hooks of many others, and offers a variety of ways for visitors to interact with the elephants during your visit. There was an impassioned animation when she spoke and she expressed that she wanted to go back and do a longer volunteer stint at Elephant Nature Park in the future because she enjoyed her time there so much.

When she heard that Bekka and I were planning on taking a cooking class while in Thailand, she had some excellent advice on that as well! A place called Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School, which operates just outside of Chiang Mai, has an organic farm on premesis to utilize produce from when taking a cooking class there. Sammy’s classes are rated top notch on numerous blogs and sites, so that combined with her personal  testimony did it for me.

Fast forward a few hours and Harriti has been introduced to the crew. She’s a good sport for repeating over and over, everything from her current travel and job history, to the correct pronunciation of her name (which is with more of a roll of the tongue on the R’s), that we mangled many, many times. Coincidentally, Harriti is also a couchsurfer!

We invited her to come watch the Muay Thai fights with us too, but that held no particular allure for her.  She was interested in the Night Market though. Thirza got her phone number so we could drop her a line when we were en route to the market later. I decided it was a good time to leave the group downstairs to keep getting acquainted and catch a few zzz’s before our night out.

One of the gang came to wake me up when Jeff joined the group. We thought we had our plan together, so we found a cab that could accommodate our increased party size and set off.

Lumpini Stadium Muay Thai Fights, Bangkok, Thailand

Apparently there is an old Lumpini Stadium and a New Lumpini Stadium. Luckily our taxi driver was friendly AND efficient and he eventually guided us to the right one after what was a serious comedy of errors and conversations amongst us all.

Upon arrival were pounced on immediately by two women who worked at the venue who said we could only use baht if we wanted the seats in the stands. Since we had planned on using cards for the most part to save baht for smaller purchases, we had to grab ringside seats. Very likely a ploy, but as we were already later than anticipated, we didn’t press the issue and followed one of the women in to buy our tickets which were another surprise as prices were significantly higher than they’d been listed online. I take full responsibility as I should have taken more screenshots and dickered overpricing, but hindsight is 20/20.

Back home, while many people these days turn to Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu for a break from reality, Bekka has a subscription to the WWE network that she watches religiously on her iPhone. She and Travis also regularly gather at a friends house when there are more high-profile matches scheduled, so they were the most keen of our group to watch the fights. Before anyone starts chastising me because they’re not the same, the level of athleticism, dedication and spirit of competition it takes to participate in either sport CAN be compared, and there are many people who enjoy a mix of these types of sporting events, that’s all I’m saying.

I’ve seen quite a few wrestling matches myself when I was a kid and in school, some martial arts competitions, and more recently the Lucha Libre in Mexico City, so it was more of a point of cultural interest for me. Leanna had watched MMA in the past and Thirza had expressed her own avid interest in viewing the fights. Heather, on the other hand, had been distracted and only half listening when the rest of the group had been chattering away about Muay Thai fighting, because she was appalled when she sat down and realized what was actually going on. Part of the way through she exited the stadium to wait and read a book outside, leaving the rest of us to our cheers, jeers and Chang beers. It was at some point during the evening that Jeff introduced us to the term “changover,” which is a hangover resulting from drinking an excess of the beer brand called Chang, the equivalent of an American Budweiser.

Chang Beer, changover

As they entered the ring, the Muay Thai fighters here were much younger than we expected, all in their late teens to mid-twenties. To say they’re fit would be an understatement as there were six-packs and lean, wiry muscle on just about every one. All the fighters entered over the ropes as opposed to between or beneath them. I found out later why this is.

Most Muay Thai Fighters enter the ring wearing a headpiece called a Mongkon, or Mongkol, which is considered sacred, and after each fighter performs the Wai Kru and Ram Muay rituals it is removed and put in their corner for luck by their coach. The head is also the most important part of the body in Thai culture, so you do not go between the ropes with this sacred headpiece on. This is a very abbreviated version, but you get the gist, right?

Before each match, the opponents perform a ritual called Wai Kru, which is to show respect to the fighters Muay Thai teachers/coaches. The next phase of the tradition is know as Ram Muay, or a boxing dance. The ones we saw performed before each bout were fairly basic, but there are Muay Thai fighters who perform their Wai Kru with more elaborate moves which is a way you can gauge the fighters strength and control. These can garner a strong level of appreciation and applause from audience members.

Most of the matches we watched had a great amount of grappling embraces between the youngest fighters that had to be broken up, while the more experienced fighters circled each other warily, trading more frequent and powerful kicks and strikes to each others bodies. More than one participant had a hitch in their step, at the end of their match.

It was interesting watching reactions and listening to shouts of the coaches and other attendees, even if we couldn’t understand what they were saying. Cheering on their favorites or trying to yell advice – and there are always ones that get so into the action that they start to unconsciously mimic the moves of the fighters blows as they’re happening, as if they can absorb some of the impact. I’m going to skip anything resembling a play-by-play as it would be inadequate.

Muay Thai Fighting at Lumpini Stadium

There wasn’t any of the soap-operatic theater and bravado that goes along with fighting matches like wrestling, Lucha Libre fights and other more glitzy sporting entertainment from these fighters and they all seemed to come together and part amicably in the end. My description of the events won’t do them justice, so if you get the opportunity to watch the athletic prowess of some of these folks, take it! There’s a beauty and a raw power that can’t be denied.

As we prepared to leave the fights we found Heather waiting on the steps outside, engrossed in her book, AND a torrential downpour. This was not good for us, but very good for the taxi drivers, because they KNOW they have you where they want you when it comes to haggling about the price in such weather. The best we could find was a smug cab driver who wouldn’t go below 600 baht for his van, and no two smaller cabs were less, so we paid twice as much going as we did coming, but you can’t win em’ all I suppose!

The weather also put the kibosh on the Night Market as the idea of sloshing through the streets seemed much less appealing. Jeff went with us back to the Shanti and then on to his own hostel in another part of town. Harriti wandered over from the hostel next door and finished the night with us in the Shanti Restaurant as the rain didn’t let up for a minute. We made plans to meet in the morning to see more of the city and eventually hit the hay.

**At some point in the near future I will be able to add the videos and more pics from this particular day, but they’re not immediately accessible, so apologies for the sparse visual cues!

Next up, China Town, the Golden Buddha and private booth karaoke!


The Shanti Lodge & Khao San Road

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.

Shanti Lodge Welcome Drink

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.

Bangkok Shanti Lodge Rooms

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.

Shanti Lodge, Shanti Restaurant, Bangkok

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!

Bangkok Shanti Lodge Restaurant Lunch

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.

International Reunions

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.

International Reunions

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.

Leaving on a Jet Plane to Thailand

Leaving on a Jetplane

After months of travel planning, our departure day was finally here! Bursting with anticipation for the impending evening flight, the daylight hours were spent in wrapping up the mundane details of cleaning, bill paying and packing.

Travis was being transported to the Portland Jetport by his family, while Bekka, Heather and I were utilizing the services of Abbey Road Taxi.

A rapid check-in at PWM, and a round of pre-flight brews at Shipyard later, and our journey was underway. The weather conditions had delayed the JetBlue flight somewhat, and did nothing for the physical constitution once aloft. I experienced my first-ever, brief bout of motion sickness on a plane and regretted the beer instantly. Travis fared the best out of our group and was solicitous when we exited the plane in a hurry at JFK, (John F. Kennedy Airport), to catch our first connecting flight.

Time Difference Between New York.and Bangkok

Hurry Up and Wait

We navigated the terminals at JFK, Heather and Travis in the lead, playfully racing each other along the moving sidewalks as Bekka and I brought up the rear. As we jumped in the sinuous line that had formed to board the Qatar Airways flight for the next leg to Doha, we heard our names over the intercom. Apparently they’d been hailing us well before our previous flight had even arrived. Once at the desk, our seats were soon arranged and after dickering about baggage weight, the flight attendant finally sent us off to rejoin the dwindling line.

We happened to strike up a conversation with another passenger in line, Jeff, from California who was also en route to Bangkok, Thailand. One bag and a ukulele were his only luggage and, he informed us, he was preparing to move there for an entrepreneurial business venture. We traded pleasantries for a while as we boarded the flight, and  made our way to the assigned seats.

A good number of the other passengers were of Arabic descent, single men and families, whose conversations were incomprehensible to us. Their modest clothes, in comparison to those worn by the many American travelers, stood out in stark contrast.

The plane was far from full capacity and while Heather had a window seat, with Bekka in the middle and Travis on the aisle, I enjoyed a full, middle row with three seats to myself, after ousting a seat interloper. There were plenty of in-flight amenities including multiple meals, snacks and beverages at no additional charge. The visual entertainment included a wide variety of music, video games and strangely, the Tom Cruise movie collection.

Announcements were made in both flowing Arabic and the crisp syllables of British-accented English throughout the flight, informing us of anything from an upcoming meal service to the progress of our flight.

Jet Blue Flight from PWM
Travis and I, after boarding the first flight at PWM

Bekka was the only one who didn’t manage to catch a few zzz’s during the next twelve hours to Doha, which if you knew her, you’d find highly unusual. At home, she is known for her ability to sleep through entire weekends, coming out of her hibernation only to forage for food.

This flight had also been slightly delayed, so in preparation to book it to our next segment, we grabbed our bags from the overhead compartments early and were in the aisles to disembark the moment the seatbelt lights were turned off. We were stymied by the movements of the passengers and found ourselves next to Jeff again as we waited for the line to make any forward progress. As we were all going to be in Bangkok for a few days, I gave him my card to reach out when he arrived to coordinate a meetup. His next connecting flight was hours after ours, as he had initially intended to go to Europe first, but missed the departure at JFK, so he decided to make his transition to Thailand a week earlier.

We made time through the terminal to get to our next Qatar flight, and ended up with some time to spare before boarding. A mix of languages from Europe and the North American continent dominated the air here. On board, yet another passenger had decided to keep my aisle seat warm for me, and the others were together in the middle row. This Qatar Airways flight was as full of amenities and hospitality as the last. There were two ladies from Poland seated next to me, who made some small talk, but mostly only deferred to me as an English dictionary when they didn’t understand one of the announcements or written forms.

Bekka was still unable to drowse, while the rest of us drifted in and out of slumber between reading, watching a flick, or some such seated activity. It was light out as we landed and the lines moved more quickly to exit the plane.

Arriving at Suvarnabhumi-Bangkok Internaional Airport

Before heading to the immigration line, we stopped to get our bearings and visit the currency exchange. The current rate was $100 USD to 3240 TBH (Thai baht). I took map screen shots on the iPad of our route to the hostel and  we made our way to the immigration line. For the number of travelers passing through the terminals, it surprisingly only took us about an hour to get through the line.

Travis had taken care of the arrangements regarding accommodations for our stay in Bangkok. A place called the Shanti Lodge, upon recommendations from friends at home, so all we needed to do was find the best means of getting there.

The Shanti Lodge website recommended using the Express Line, which would cost 150 baht each, but we found it was closed for the week. It was just as well, as the City Line Sky Train was only 45 THB each and got us to the same place, the Phaya Thai Station.

Bangkok City Line Train Token
Bangkok City Link Sky Train token

Instead of taking a taxi the final 2.3 miles, we decided to take the scenic route and hoof it.

A View From the Bangkok Sky Train
A view from the Bangkok Sky Train

Move It or Lose It: Crossing the Street

According to the map, it was a straight shot down Thanon Si Ayutthaya. Our most short-legged and travel weary companion, Bekka, ultimately set the pace.

The wide, tree-lined avenue, and all the connecting streets we passed seemed to have an unceasing flow of cars, trucks and motorbikes, all in a rush to get to their destination. They drove dangerously close to each other, swerving past the large number of tuk-tuks and idle vehicles that crowded along the road and crossed lanes without blinking an eye. This made crossing the streets, even narrow ones, an adrenaline inducing experience.

Speed Limit Sign in Bangkok
A lull in Bangkok traffic. Posted speed limit sign.

We must have just missed a large celebration of some sort, as there were dozens of brightly colored tents and staging being taken down at one of the larger intersections.

It took us close to an hour to finally reach what would be our haven of serenity for the next few days, The Shanti Lodge!

Travel Planning Tip: Layovers

Whenever I travel and have connecting flights, I always assume that there is going to be a delay. I’m rarely disappointed in this respect. I won’t book connecting flights unless there is at least a two-hour layover in between, even for domestic. This served us well on this trip, because if we had booked any of the shorter layover connections, we would have likely missed at least one flight, if not more.

So, my travel tip is to consider your itinerary carefully when booking segmented flights and give yourself a time buffer!