Tag Archives: Travel Tips

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.

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!