I thought I was a world traveler, but I was wrong. This is my first trip to Asia!
I had been to many places in the United States. I had been to, barely, Canada and Mexico. I had even been to Europe, seeing the majestic cities of London and Paris and Rome. I was proudly a world traveler.
My sister bought me a framed map where you could put push pins into all the places you travel. I excitedly hung the map on the wall, and eagerly put pins in all the main sights I had visited.
I stepped back to admire my map. Instead I saw a concentration of pins in the United States and a few in Western Europe, and nowhere else. My map looked almost devoid of little red push pins. After, at first, being excited about my map, I was now disappointed. I was no world traveler. I decided I needed to expand my horizons and began planning a trip to Asia.
Off to Thailand – Trip to Asia
Wow! That was a lot of flying – a 3 hour flight; 3 hour layover; 12 hour flight; 1 hour layover; 7 hour flight. I was getting pretty tired of sitting for so long. On the 12 hour flight, I read for a little while and then watched two movies. I figured I had a lot more flying to do, so I would try to fall asleep (even though I rarely can sleep on a plane). I closed my eyes. I fidgeted around for a while because I couldn’t get comfortable (partly because my knees were jammed against the seat in front of me). I tried minutely different positions. Finally I gave up and opened my eyes…and saw the girl next to me eating ice cream. You’ve got to be kidding! The flight attendants were already gone.
The rest of the trip was long and cramped, but uneventful.
The Bangkok airport was very new and clean, and, more importantly for me, had plenty of signs in English. I easily found my way through the airport and to the Airport Rail Link train.
For about $1 USD (35 baht) I got a ride on a very new, clean train into the center of town. I transferred to the Metro, and for about 60 cents (26 baht) got a crowded ride to the station nearest my hotel.
Trying to find the hotel
I exited the station into a very urban environment.
Holy cow! It is hot and humid. It reminded me of something I read on the plane in the Bangkok travel guide: “Bangkok has a tropical monsoon climate and holds claim to being the hottest city in the world.” I am not surprised. It is now winter here, and it feels like Florida during the summer.
After exiting the Metro station, I knew I had to make a right on a big road, and then another right on another big road. I headed right, and immediately passed some food vendors selling all kinds of street food. The smell made me hungry, especially since I kept reading about how awesome the Thai food is. I walked and walked not knowing exactly where I was because most of the signs were in Thai. Finally, something didn’t feel right, so I turned around and started walking back toward the metro station, only to have a bird poop on my head. Welcome to Bangkok! By the way, it must have been a pretty big bird.
I returned to the Metro station, and turned right at the big road on the other side of the station. Now that I know my way around, I realize that I first came out of an exit of the Metro station that put me on a different road than the one I thought I was on when looking at the map.
Finding the Hotel
I finally made it to the Holiday Inn Express Sukhumvit. The hotel is pleasantly surprising. It felt very modern and clean. They even play American music in the lobby.
Since I arrived so early, breakfast was still being served, so I casually snuck into the breakfast room and sat down. In addition to the usual breakfast fare, they served lo mein, fried rice, and pork-n-beans.
After fueling up, I headed to the desk and asked if there was any way I could get into my room. They didn’t have my queen size room available, but they did have a room with two twin beds, if I wanted it. I took it. The rooms are very modern and clean. The mattresses are very new and comfortable. Though I had not slept, I didn’t want to take a nap for fear of sleeping now and being awake all night. I wanted to get on Thailand time as soon as possible. So, instead, I cleaned the bird poop out of my hair and headed out for a day of sightseeing.
Sightseeing in Bangkok
I walked from the Holiday Inn Express back to the Metro station, and took a ride to the main train station. I wanted to find my hotel for tomorrow night, while I wasn’t carrying a heavy backpack. I exited the train station and couldn’t miss the hotel – a Soviet-Communist-era-looking monstrosity directly across the street. But the Krungkasem Srikrung was next to the train station and only $25 so I didn’t mind.
Now that I knew where my hotel was, I decided to walk through Chinatown down to the river. I was looking forward to walking down colorful streets and past restaurant after restaurant selling delicious, authentic Asian food. Instead I walked past stall after stall of shops selling what looked like motorcycle parts. This wasn’t a few shops mixed in with other shops; rather every single 20 foot wide stall looked the same to me. Instead of the smell of delicious Asian food, I smelled motor oil. After the motorcycle shops, I came to shop after shop selling cheap, plastic furniture. The next block had shops all selling something else.
I rounded a corner onto the next block and…what the heck…an amazing Thai temple
A beautiful, gleaming, white temple with shining golden towers stood before me. I took a few pictures. There was an open gate heading into the complex. I was apprehensive to enter. What are the rules here? Are these open to tourists? I don’t want to get in trouble and end up in Thai jail. Finally I walked just inside the gate and immediately looked around for signs of tourists to see if it was all right to enter.
To my relief, I saw some people walking near the top of the temple (yes you could climb it) and gawking and taking pictures like a tourist would. I saw a sign with an arrow and the word “tickets”. I wanted to climb the temple too. Two things prevented me – the thought of my wife getting mad for going inside without her, and the fact that I couldn’t actually find the booth or shop where they were selling the tickets.
I cautiously walked around the complex outside of the temple. The smell of incense was overpowering, yet somehow gave the complex a more authentic feel. A rather large monk in an orange robe, sat cross-legged on a table, looking oddly similar to the golden Buddha statue next to him. I studied him from a distance, and came to the conclusion that I think he is there for the tourists, requesting a few baht in return for getting an authentic blessing (or whatever they do).
What happens on my first trip to Asia
There was so much more to see in Bangkok, so I left the temple complex and walked a little farther. I checked my map. I took a right turn. A canal should be on my left behind these buildings. I walked and walked, trying to find a gap to see the canal and get my bearings. I eventually realized that I hadn’t seen any tourists in a long time. I continued to walk; finally a street to my left, and water. I walked to the water’s edge.
This canal is huge!
This is how big I expected the river to be.
This doesn’t seem right.
Wait a second.
I checked my map; I checked landmarks. I saw big ferry boats on the “canal”.
No way. This is the river. Where the heck am I?
What happened was that I found the river I was looking for, but much farther south than where I was originally trying to go.
Little did I realize that I was walking in the wrong direction as soon as I left the train station.
Ferry trip down the Chao Phraya river
So, here I am on the river, far south of where I wanted to be.
Fortunately, I had read online that there were Express Boats that ferried people up and down the river, so I figured this was a perfect chance to try it out.
I wandered down to the water and saw a lady sitting at a table with a sign that said, “Buy tickers here”. No I did not misspell that. That is what the sign said. I bought my ticket (or should I say ticker?) for 13 baht. For the equivalent of 36 cents I got to experience a Thai “river cruise”. Compare that to the 16 euros ($18) that it takes to use the water taxi in Paris.
With the wind whipping through my hair, I got to see Bangkok from the river.
I finally exited at stop 9, which is near where I had wanted to go in the first place.
Thai Royal Palace
I walked inland a few minutes and came to the Thailand Royal Palace. They let us (a huge crowd of tourists) into the courtyard, but to get into the Palace, one had to pay 500 baht. I figured I would save that for when I came back with my wife. Though we could see the palace, we were separated from it by a huge grass field, so my pictures show the palace but from far away. The main building, crowned by a huge gold stuppa, stood out.
After spending time wandering the grounds, I headed out. Since I was in the heart of the tourist section, I kept getting pestered to buy stuff, from food to trinkets. Tuk-tuk drivers kept approaching me – “Mister. Where you go?”
I walked around the Royal Palace walls, to the other side, and came to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. (I went into the courtyard, and got a glimpse, through a window, of the Buddha’s legs. This statue was gigantic.)
The temple looked equally fantastic, and comparatively was a bargain at 100 baht. But again I decided to save going inside until I returned in the near future with my wife.
I left the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and used my map to head to the Golden Mountain (sounds pretty cool, huh?). Along the way I walked through neighborhoods, again passing blocks of shops all selling the same thing.
My favorite were the ones selling giant (maybe 5 or 6 feet tall) golden Buddhas. With all the shops, these statues must be very popular. As I walked, I even saw a pick-up truck drive by with two giant Buddhas strapped into the truck bed.
I eventually came upon another temple. This one had a sign outside announcing tickets for 20 baht. If they are selling tickets, there is no need to be scared of going inside, right? So for about 56 cents, I decided to go inside and look around.
I walked into the courtyard, and the first thing I noticed was that the entire courtyard was surrounded with hundreds of golden Buddhas, like the ones I had just seen in the shops.
After circling the courtyard, I decided to enter the temple. There was a pile of shoes outside with a sign requesting us to take off our shoes. I obliged and went inside.
I was blown away by something that was unlike anything I had ever seen.
The walls and ceiling were painted solid with pictures like those you would see on Japanese screen panels, depicting scenes from every day life, or at least telling some kind of story.
At the front of the room was a GIANT golden Buddha, at least 20 feet tall.
In front of the Buddha, a monk, in his orange robe, was preaching to the congregation, who all sat cross legged on the floor.
Trying to find my way back to the hotel
After leaving the temple, I walked to where, on the map, it said was the Golden Mountain. I looked around. No Golden Mountain.
Oh no. I think I am lost again.
I turned right, and eventually was on a street that looked like a giant block long yard sale, with people selling all kinds of things. The two things that stand out to me were the guy selling old worn shoes, and the guy with a table covered in little medallions. After walking for blocks, I also realized that I had not seen another “tourist” in a long time.
Yes, I am lost again.
Somehow, I managed to find myself near a monument I saw on the map, and got my bearings again (I was actually going along a canal parallel to the one I wanted to be on). From there I did find the Golden Mountain. It was another temple; this one on the top of the only hill in this part of the city. How did I not see it before (probably because it was blocked by all the buildings)?
This was the thought process that cycled through my head the entire day.
It’s hot out.
It’s run down here.
It’s dirty here.
I think I am lost again.
Oh my gosh. This temple is amazing. This is awesome.
Food and Drink
I came across a few more temples and checked a couple out. Believe it or not many are free. For one of them, I had the entire complex to myself; I didn’t even see any workers. Either that or it was closed and I wasn’t supposed to be in there.
I was hot and thirsty (I had drunk my water already), so when I saw a street vendor selling smoothies I stopped. For 10 baht (28 cents) I got a huge, ice cold smoothie. For comparison, there is an Au Bon Pain down the road from my hotel selling smoothies for 120 baht.
The smoothie hit the spot on my way back to the train station, especially since I got lost one more time.
No worries. I eventually found my way back to the train station, and took the Metro back to my hotel.
On the walk back to the hotel I passed a food cart with tiny tables and small plastic chairs.
I ordered a pad thai for 50 baht (about $1.35). Amazingly delicious!
Wrapping up my first trip to Asia
Tired, I went to my room, and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. I fell asleep around 7:00 and didn’t wake up until 4:00 in the morning.
It’s time for another adventure!
Spend Less; Travel More