I woke up on my first day in Bangkok before the sunrise. Jet lag and adrenaline had gotten the best of me for most of the night and I’d hardly slept. I grabbed my camera and peaked through my curtains to do some early morning people watching. No one seemed to mind the crazy lady in the window taking pictures of them at 6am. Three women brought out baskets and sat in a circle tossing peels of something into a giant bowl. Cars, scooters, and tuk tuks slowly started to flood the tiny street. I opened the window and the air smelled like warm fruit and exhaust…decided it was best not to inhale too deeply.
I only had one day in the city before heading to Chiang Rai, so I took the ferry up the river to visit some of the temples. With some helpful advice from the hotel staff, I was able to avoid the ticket booth with the giant english sign BUY TICKETS HERE, and pay a third of the price for the local boat. I felt a small [giant, huge, did a dance] victory at outsmarting the other tourists on their fancy boat.
After twenty minutes on the river, I got off at my stop and made my way to the entrance of the Wat Pho Temple, home of the famous Reclining Buddha. It is very large, very gold, and very relaxed, just as you might imagine. It’s also impossible to take a picture of in its entirety. So the picture to the left is of a different set of more photogenic statues.
After a few hours of exploring, I had to head back to my hotel to check-out. For my final night in the city, I stayed with my neighbor’s Thai niece Nicole. I’d never met her, but she offered to host me and show me a bit of the city.
By the time I got through Bangkok’s infamous traffic jam to her condo, I was hungry, grumpy, and generally rundown from jetlag. But Nicole wasn’t having any of it. She gushed over how happy she was to meet me. Her enthusiasm instantly won me over and I couldn’t believe I’d found such a warm person to make me feel at home so early in my trip.
We headed out downtown to a place called Soul Food and ordered eggplant, curry, and samosas. Not exactly what Americans would think of as soul food, but delicious just the same. While we ate, she answered all my questions about how to avoid embarrassing myself in Thai culture. She told me not to be offended when Thai people laugh and smile while answering a question. “It’s how we deal with nervousness. No one is laughing at you!” If only that were true in every culture…
Since she’d never been, we decided to go to the infamous backpackers’ hangout, Khoasan Road. I loved the idea of seeing one of the most touristy places in Thailand through the eyes of a Thai person.
The area is a little bizarre. It seems to be where tourists come to say they’ve been to Thailand without interacting with any Thai people. Bars, clubs, and restaurants line the street. Each shop’s blaring music blends into the next as we walk down the road. Backpackers drink cocktails out of actual buckets (advertised as: VERY CHEAP, VERY STRONG) and vendors selling skewered bugs charge 10 baht just to take a picture.
Nicole was more than willing to embrace the touristy atmosphere. We bought a grilled scorpion, but couldn’t work up the nerve to take a bite. We ate coconut ice-cream out of a coconut and wandered down the endless street lit by neon signs advertising beer and dancing. Finally, we came to an outdoor massage area offering ½ hour foot massages for 120 baht ($4 dollars). I knew the night was coming to a close and I couldn’t think of a better ending.
We sat down in padded recliners under giant fans mounted on the ceiling. As my eyes closed, the neon lights and pulsing street music dimmed ever so slightly. I asked Nicole if Thai people usually get foot massages in the middle of the night. She laughed and said no, that’s just when they give them to tourists. Once the massage began, I didn’t care how touristy it was. Getting a foot rub at 2am is probably the best idea ever.