Reflections on two weeks in Bangkok

It’s 6pm and our little apartment is buzzing. Third Eye Blind is rocking in the background. I just finished preparing a dinner comprised of a mish-mash of the remaining groceries we had left. Ellie is arguing about whether or not she needs to eat said mish-mash. Erica is running around, if such a thing is possible in an efficiency apartment, diligently packing bags. We leave first thing in the morning.

I decided to stop and take a moment to jot down my thoughts about Bangkok as a city, its people, and some of the more interesting sights, sounds, smells, and flavors. I’ve only been here for a short time, so this is by no means exhaustive or even accurate. It’s just my perception so far.

The Food

An obvious place to start. Every food blogger and Youtuber on the planet talks endlessly about the amazing food in Bangkok. There aren’t any particular restaurants I would recommend, since most of the places we ate at didn’t have names. Oh yeah! Almost forgot, tons of restaurants here just straight up don’t have a title. This was unexpected and makes using Foursquare as a tool to canvas the neighborhood for eats an impossible task. Forget Foursquare. Go outside and walk around. You could do it with your eyes closed and probably hit a good place to eat. Restaurant also often don’t have menus in English, not that I expect that, and many don’t have menus at all. I just walk up, point at a bunch of stuff, and hope I made the right choice.

If you’re looking for a safe bet, the food in Siam Paragon mall is amazing. There’s an endless variety of authentic and delicious asian cuisine. That being said, it’s super expensive. We also discovered a mall in Chit Lom just this morning that had an AMAZING food court with super cheap food. I’m talking $1 to $2 per meal. I ate two lunches, it was so cheap and delicious.

If you want the adventurous option, hit up the street food vendors pretty much anywhere in the city. BE CAREFUL! On more than one occasion I saw cats and dogs in close proximity to raw meat and veg, both in the markets and at street food vendors. Some safety tips: Obviously, only go to vendors that are busy. There should be a line of at least three or four people. If there isn’t, don’t go there. I also found myself saying “This is a new country with a different culture. Strange smells are probably just part of the norm!” Well that was bullshit. Those new strange smells meant bad food on more than one occasion. Trust your nose. Also trust your eyes. The vendor should be cooking the food fresh right there in front of your face. If the meat is just laying out already cooked, keep walking. No matter how good the food looks, there’s another vendor within 100 meters in any direction selling the same thing hotter and fresher.

Here’s something that was really surprising to me. The food here isn’t really all that spicy. Almost every restaurant provides chili peppers in vinegar as well as chili powder and you basically just choose your own heat level by adding it yourself. Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner? I don’t know. That being said, “VERY SPICY!” is one of the first things I learned to say in Thai, and though I used it many times I can say without a doubt, I did not eat one meal that was spicy before I added half the chilis in the whole restaurant to my plate. Next time, I’m buying a shirt that says “If it’s not spicy, I’m not eating!”

Mark Wiens, of Migrationology. Awesome food blogger and maker of this shirt.

My favorite food in order: Pad see ew, Tom yum kung, Buk kut teh, everything ramen, those little fried biscuit thingies in Udom Suk, and Angry Birds dim sum.

The People

What can I say? Thailand is known as the land of the smiles. People here are for the most part very sweet. They smile in good times and bad. I literally saw a motorcycle accident where a lady flew about two meters and landed, sliding an additional meter, on her fucking face. As she came to a stop, her legs fell out of the air to meet the ground. I thought there was a real chance she wasn’t getting up, but to my complete surprise she did, then smiled, and just walked off. More times than I can count, we would be on a bus or a train and both men and women would stand up to give their seat to Erica and Ellie. These people are both resilient, and friendly.

Everyone was happy to help us. My terrible grasp of the Thai language did not hamper us at all. The slightest bit of Thai language and people would smile really wide and then go out of their way to help us.

The City

Overall, I’m not sure how to feel about Bangkok. This is a magical city and I’m grateful to have seen it, but after two weeks, I’m ready to head to the next destination. I’m sure I’ll miss it as soon as we board the train.

Interesting Sites

  • The Grand Palace
  • The Erawan Museum
  • Siam Paragon
  • Sea Life Aquarium
  • Temple of the Golden Buddha
  • I’m sure there’s a ton more that we just haven’t seen yet

Conclusion

I hope to come back to Bangkok again one day, especially now that I have a better picture of where to go and how to get there. Next stop, Chiang Mai!

“I would change myself if I could. I would walk with my people if I could find them.” – 3EB

 

Cultural exchange. Personal failings.

I am a 32-year-old, somewhat affluent, well-fed white man with an out-of-control beard. I have a beautiful wife and daughter. My entire family is close and loving. I can get big hugs and kisses whenever I want. Our home is in a city where the water is the cleanest in the world. It’s plentiful, and cheap. I have a job where I use my brain, not my back, to make a good living. I can work wherever I want. I have no boss but the client. In my home country, I have so much personal freedom it’s outrageous. I can, and do, talk shit about politicians and the police at home and I have broken no law in doing so. I typically buy my clothes used, but they are comfortable and high quality. I can buy more clothes any time I want.

Relaxing on the balcony

Relaxing on the balcony

A sizable portion of my financial budget is set aside for restaurants where other people feed and clean up after me. There’s a machine in our apartment for the sole purpose of maintaining temperature and airflow to maximize our comfort. I could write a hundred pages more just like this. The whole world just bends over backwards to make sure my family and I are safe, comfortable, and well cared for… but I know that when I walk out of the front door of my apartment, I will see a man with no arms, wearing rags, sitting next to a pile of trash, begging for change in an alley. He looks like he hasn’t had a good meal in months. There are hundreds, maybe thousands more people just like him within a few kilometers. They’re living in appalling conditions, with serious health issues, seemingly alone.

I do not know how to reconcile their lives with mine. I simply cannot wrap my head around it. No matter how hard I try, I cannot relate. I guess that’s a large part of why I travel. I need to see the wounds of the world just as much as I need to see its beauty. Sometimes it hurts to look at, but who the hell am I to complain about literally anything? The universe isn’t fair, and the deck is stacked in my favor in a big way. I’m not doing enough to give back some of the goodness I have received. It hurts to even write that sentence, but it’s true.

There’s no intended lesson here. No moral to the story. I’m also not trying to be a buzz kill. Travel is amazing, the world is amazing, people are amazing, life is amazing. I also want the reader to know that Bangkok is a beautiful, modern city, and I’m very grateful to be here. These are just real thoughts that slap me upside the head sometimes. I’m incredibly thankful for what I have.

Turn left on the street with no name.

We were tired. Our circadian rhythm was way off, and we had not recovered. Taking some advice from my man Shane Reustle (@reustle), we decided to visit a mall called Siam Paragon in the Siam district. Personally, I hate malls and avoid them as much as possible, but I LOVE SHANE and when he says a place is good, it’s good. Besides all that, we were desperate for an easy day of recovery, and I simply refuse to recover inside of an apartment when there’s a world out there to see.

Before we dive into the good stuff, I have to say this first: True to my word after writing the “Good morning, Thailand.” post, we left the apartment and decided to go to the markets, which are pretty famous in Bangkok. We were met with the smell of rotting garbage and burning plastic. The stench was so foul, we ran back to the apartment and frankly, considered leaving the city. It was stunningly bad. The smell got into my beard and I kid you not, I nearly shaved it off. I’m still trying to pretend the first day didn’t happen. Went back to the same market today because I apparently have amnesia or some kind of self-loathing complex and happy days, the smell was gone.

So! We went to the Siam Paragon mall. On the way, I finally got to try some street food and it lives up to the hype. Pork satay, fresh squeezed spiced orange juice, meat balls with bad ass hot sauce… They had it all. Anthony Bourdain can kiss my ass. I’m living his show, baby! We eat, but reserve some room for what I’m told are excellent restaurants inside the mall. Well, let me just tell you something here folks, the food inside this mall was absolutely amazing. Maybe it was just our hunger from hardly eating the first day, or the beautiful presentation of the food, or just the kind, warm smiles from all the Thai people, but the restaurant we ate at was simply incredible.

We walked around the mall for a little while like kids in a candy store, and found our way into the grocery store inside the mall. About 20 meters into the store (I’m on metric now, get over it), I tell Erica that we might have to move to Bangkok. The store was huge, and had a selection of meat that cannot be matched by any butcher that I’m aware of in Arkansas or Spain.

Later that night, we decided to head to a restaurant for dinner because again, we’re exhausted, and Erica gets us directions using Google Maps. We’re almost there, maybe a block or two away, and she says “Turn left on the street with no name.” Being the amazing husband I am, I follow her directions to a T. Note, that my daughter is gleefully riding on my shoulders at this moment. As we walk up the street, it becomes quite clear that there are prostitutes, and I mean everywhere. My family and I were surrounded by prostitutes. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty awesome, but this is not a cool place for my family to be. My wife started giving every woman even coming close to me a look that I wouldn’t wish on a broke-dick dog. I looked at the maps and realized it was one more unnamed street over, and we got out of there fast. Trying to ignore the multiple dildo stands in between us and the restaurant my wife had chosen, we finally arrive at our destination. The food was good, but the pitcher of Sangria was better.

On our way back, I got to have a Lao beer at the coolest bar I’ve ever been to, called “Cheap Charlie’s Bar.” If I lived in Bangkok, I would definitely be a regular at this place. Can’t wait to go back.

The following are photos/videos I took over the last couple of days. Enjoy!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOOqysP9zWA]