On the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
On food in Bangkok. I recognize that this subject is over done, Thai food is good and it generally photographs well, you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think so. Below is a photo essay of the food and drink I consumed in Bangkok.
On my first week and a half in Thailand. I didn’t do too much posting in Thailand, whereas I had expected to jump in full force on arrival. In a way I did…my WordPress Dashboard is full of unpublished/unfinished blog entries, but the fact is that Thailand wasn’t the inspiring and exciting experience that I thought it was going to be. I recognize that this is in part to external factors and rushing my goal of one day visiting Thailand. I was rereading this incredibly detailed account of my first week and a half in Bangkok and it’s worth sharing. My time in Thailand did certainly have entertaining, lucky and interesting moments that should be put out there.
Getting to Thailand:
I flew for 12 hours from LAX to Beijing on Air China, the most budget of budget airlines. The flight itself was quite an adventure. At the check in counter I asked if they had a window seat available, they didn’t, but they had an seat in the emergency exit row, which always means extra leg room, so I was happy. Extra leg room was an understatement, you could have fit my entire bathroom in Seoul in the space between me and the seat in front of me. I’m not exaggerating. As far as the other parts of the flight go however – the plane was super old, the food was white rice and questionable fried meat in airplane food form and the flight attendants spoke limited English (my problem, not theirs). There was free beer on the flight, although the older woman stewardess shamed me for asking for one and then on my second (5 hours later) she took it away when I was only half finished.
There was no beginning of the flight instructions and most of the movies were in Chinese. I spent most of the flight listening to my list of backlogged podcasts including the highly recommended episode of This American Life called Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory. It was a really unsettling to be sitting on a flight to China, listening to this podcast on my iPod while the Chinese man to my right was playing with his iPad and the Chinese man to my left was listening to something on his iPhone 4s and reading the biography of Steve Jobs in Chinese (no joke).
After we landed I had two hours to get through the transit customs (which included a red stamp in my passport) and find my terminal. This process took about 45 minutes which meant that I had time to kill. Naturally, I was inclined to use this time to check various social networking sites. This of course was a problem as I was in China and they were blocked. Eventually we loaded the plane and arrived in Bangkok 5 hours later – at 2:00am.
Arrival in Thailand:
The customs line was full of Koreans escaping winter. It didn’t take long to get through. I was mildly worried because although I had a 60-day tourist visa, I had no return ticket. From what I had read [online] an onward ticket is required, but it wasn’t a problem (also read [online]).
Thailand really had been the smoothest travel experience I have ever had.
After getting through customs I arrived at the luggage conveyer just in time to grab my bag and head out to the taxi line outside. While waiting in line I asked the Swiss kid in front of my if he was going to Khao San Rd. He was super friendly, but said that he was going to a different part of town. After being approached by a French man (going to Khao San) he agreed to share a cab with us. This is the best way it could have worked out. We split the 300 baht cab ride (plus two 45 baht tolls) among three people.
After getting to the infamous Khao San Rd. at about 3:00am, I quickly found a room, dropped my bag and went out for a beer. This is when everything hit me. Within seconds of walking out onto the street I watched a ladyboy push a very drunk Westerner so hard that he tumbled down and the hit the concrete hard and tried not to watch a very drunk Thai woman strip down to nothing before the cops got her to cover herself. I saw a group of Americans dance together in the street to some cheesy mix of one of those songs that are played everywhere at that point, “Move like Jagger” or “Sexy and I Know It”. This is when I had my first “WTF?!” moment.
Makin’ it Happen in Thailand:
The next day, Tuesday, I woke up and felt encouraged and ready again. I had come to Bangkok to get a teaching job and spend some time and I was gonna make that happen. I took my Macbook to a cafe with WiFi got some muesli and yogurt and emailed my CV to all the schools I could find via popular teaching job websites. I also walked around the neighborhood trying to get my bearings. That afternoon I went to the Amulet Market, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Wednesday, my second day, I found a new guesthouse on Phra Athit, a quieter area across the street from the river, but still very close to Khao San.
I got a sim card (after seeing how easy it was I should have done this day one). I just walked into 7-Eleven and got a DTAC sim card for my unlocked iPhone and was set with minimal data, but a good amount of minutes. After spending an hour at a market near by, I spent time at a cafe sending emails and calling schools.
I braved the Bangkok bus system in the afternoon and headed to Siam Square, an area of Bangkok with a high concentration of language schools and handing out my CV.
As I sat down with a Thai Iced Tea I got a call about working at a camp for a few days starting Thursday. That night I headed out to Ramkhamhaeng, for a job interview. The interview never happened as the school was in the middle of nowhere. Although the person with whom I had scheduled the interview was very, very friendly and helpful I never did find the school and none of the people around that I asked knew of the place, so I eventually was so frustrated that I wrote it off pretty sure that I didn’t want to work in the middle of nowhere. To add to my frustration I hopped in a cab that smelled like it had been washed in whiskey, more likely sangsom. and the young greasy haired driver continued to talk about how he was new and didn’t make a lot of money as a cab driver. I decided rather quickly that I did not want to be in that cab and when he finally pulled over (after I had asked him a number of times) he quickly stated that he didn’t have any change, luckily for me I had exact change. I walked the two kilometers back to the bus stop and eventually caught the bus back to my guesthouse.
Thursday, day 4, I woke up at 5am, packed up my backpack, checked out and grabbed a cab which I took to a school/meeting point for the camp. Before getting the courage to go inside the wat at the 7:00am meeting time.
I stopped for a can of coffee at a street vendor. A very nice man immediately started asking me friendly questions about where I was from and what I was doing. As I asked how much the canned coffee would be the vendor told me 20 baht the friendly guy said something to the vendor and then turned to me and said that it was 15 baht for locals, so I paid 15 baht. It made my day.
The camp was supposed to be 3 days, but they liked me so I was offered a spot for the next camp starting on Sunday. Before the end of that camp I was offered a job substitute teaching starting Wednesday. When I got back to Bangkok one of the other farang teachers from the camp helped me get a place at his guesthouse for 200 baht a night, again near Khao San and showed me the bus I would need.
Wednesday, day 9, I started the subbing job.
After school I went to visit the apartment of another one of the farang teachers, so see about renting a place. It wasn’t really what I was looking for so I hopped on the BTS to the MRT to On Nut to look at places there. I walked around for about an hour before finding exactly what I was looking for. I found an inexpensive studio apartment with character not far from the On Nut MRT and the On Nut market down a road that looks like a little village in a huge concrete city. The owner speaks very limited English, but she agreed to rent to me regardless. The building was right next to a yard with about 6 roosters and a rowdy, hilarious bunch of motorcycle taxi drivers.
Thursday, day 10, I subbed again then headed to the apartment to get my key and sign the contact.
Friday, day 11, I packed up, checked out, hopped on the 2 bus and essentially moved into my apartment before work. The school that I have been subbing at is two MRT stops away from my new apartment.
After work I went to the office of the company that runs the camps to pick up my salary and was informed that they had a contract job for me starting in May. That evening I got some apartment stuff from the Tesco across the street from my place. Places like Tesco are always such a weird experience. Just like E-Mart or Homeplus (owned by Tesco) in South Korea, once I walk into one I feel like I might as well be in a Target back home in the States. Everything is sterile and prices are markets on little printed tags. The air conditioning is always full blast, the employees wear name tags and there are familiar brands. Meanwhile, as soon as I walked outside, I was back in Bangkok, it was very hot, crowded, there was traffic, I didn’t understand the chatting around me and there were new, nonstop, overwhelming smells.
This was my first week and a half in Thailand.
On potato chips in Thailand. I’m always interested in trying snack and chips from other countries. This became prevalent when I studied abroad in Salvador da Bahia and found these:
I tried a lot of snack foods and chips in South Korea, but never blogged about it out of shame, but the selection in Thailand was so varied that I indulged and documented.
On my trip to Koh Samet. A month ago I was able to take a long weekend and visit Koh Samet, also romanized as Koh Samed, an island relatively close to Bangkok. That Thursday morning I hopped on a 8 baht city bus from my studio apartment in On Nut and went to the eastern bus terminal in Ekkamai and then got a one way ticket to the Ban Phe pier. While sitting in the fanned waiting room I realized that I had forgotten my passport at home, so I hopped on a motorcycle taxi and ran home to get my passport. By law I am required to have it with me at all times, but I did not show it once. I told the driver and ever other motorcycle driver in the area that was staring at me, that I needed to go to On Nut BTS, he nodded his head, proceeded to take me down Sukhumvit then made a weird turn that I wasn’t familiar with, I thought he may know a faster way, but after a while it became clear that he had no idea where he was going. As I was pressed for time this was annoying and I had to tap him on his helmet and use hang gestures to get him to go the BTS station, this was an awkward dealing, but he didn’t seem to mind. After getting my passport I went to the motorcycle taxi stand right outside of my apartment and told the driver that I needed to go to the Ekkamai BTS, he was younger and spoke more English, which made things much easier, we negotiated a price, he handed me a helmet (which was a first for me, but apparently required by law) and quickly got me to the bus terminal where thanks to the fact that Thailand (like many other countries and cultures to be fair) operate slightly behind schedule sometimes, I was able to hop on the air conditioned bus and sit there for another 10 minutes before we actually left the terminal.
After arriving in Rayong I made my way through the tented market to the pier. There were tables where rather pushy kathoey agents were making sleeping arrangements for tourists. Although it might give some people peace of mind to make arrangements before getting to the island I found that it wasn’t necessary. I have read that the island fills up quickly on weekends, but I was a bit early. The price for the ferry was 100 baht roundtrip, but there was an extra 200 baht farang entrance fee as Koh Samet is a national park.
After waiting for the required amount of people for the ferry to take off (20 people, regardless of time) we went across the sea to the island. After everyone was on the boat, another one pulled up beside us, the Thais on the ferry started to get on the other boat, one of the men was kind enough to tell me that the boat we were on was broken, so I got on the other boat.
I stayed at a place called Sea Breeze Bungalows. I felt that the location was great, the price was moderate, but the bungalow was a bit on the gross side. Now let me preference this by saying I was looking for cheap accommodations and so I didn’t expect too much, but the room was pretty gnarly. On a side note the man working at the counter in the mornings and afternoon was super nice and helpful, where as the woman working there wasn’t friendly.
After dropping my stuff off and inspecting the place for bed bugs, I went to check out the beach closest to my bungalow, I hadn’t eaten all day and was pleased to find a women selling noodles on the beach.
Koh Samed for all intents and purposes had nice beaches. The island seemed to appeal to folks living in Bangkok to come on the weekend to hang out by mellow waters and sit in a 100 baht rented chair (with an umbrella) for a day or two to escape city life. All the beaches are within walking distance of each other and don’t differ much though and I found that 4 days there was overkill considering that I didn’t do any diving.
The early mornings were the best times on the island. There was a nice relaxed, clean vibe. However, by the early afternoon when I witnessed other foreigners begin their topless sunbathing (which isn’t cool in Thailand where people swim fully clothed), or getting completely naked and changing into their swimsuits right on the beach (seriously?) I was a little put off (a common theme so far with my time in Thailand).
My trip was additionally tainted by an experience that I had been mildly dreading for weeks in Bangkok. One early morning I was walking along the jungle road back to my bungalow and two dogs on the side of the road jumped on me (perhaps playfully, but unprovoked and really aggressively) one of them was showing his teeth and growling and he bit my leg. Not hard and it didn’t draw blood just a pink scratch, but it was worrisome. They didn’t stop until I rather sternly yelled to the owner, who was watching from 300 meters away. I yelled out “HEY!” and the owner called them off (in English). She then told me “it’s okay, they are friends”, as if to tell me to play nice with her dogs. Her casualness to the whole thing really shook me. I was physically fine, but a little emotionally beat up. Because of the scratch I did end going to the Red Cross in Bangkok and get the rabies vaccine. It wasn’t too expensive and ironically it was right next to the school that I had been working at, it was just real, real.
All bummer ‘tude aside there were a few things that I found joy in while on the island. I did find a nice quiet little beach spot to hangout on that was quite enjoyable. I had to walk a bit to get there, which meant that it was less crowded. This beach seemed to attract families – all kinds of families and I found it a good beach to people watch.
Another thing that I quite enjoyed was the time I had breakfast at Jep’s Bungalows. It was pricey and the food was not amazing, but they were open early, the tables were right on the beach and they had both Thai and Western breakfast foods, it was more the atmosphere that I enjoyed.
Speaking of food I did in fact eat at two really good places while I was there. They were both expat owned places that I thought were pretty unique. I had dinner on Friday night at a place called Red Ginger, a Canadian/Thai owned restaurant. I was curious about this place because it boasts a goat cheese salad, that’s quite rare in these parts, so I wanted to give it a try.
The other place I was stoked on was Restaurant Mali. A place owned by a Swedish and Thai couple. I had a really good sandwich there, the woman owner was friendly and their little boy was adorable.
Saturday evening had a really fun vibe as loads of expats and folks from Bangkok arrived for the weekend. The place really came to life.
On Sunday I was joined by a Thai acquaintance that I met through working at the English camps in Bangkok. Her trip was short though and we both had to get back to Bangkok for work on Monday so we swam in our clothes, Thai style, grabbed a Chang and then hopped on the last ferry back to the mainland and took the 2.5 hours air-condition bus back to Bangkok.
On Food in Chiang Mai, Part 1. I have been in Chiang Mai for thirteen days after two months in Bangkok working as a substitute teacher at a government school and working a few English camps (more on this later). I will return to Bangkok tomorrow to find out my fate (more on this later). My experience in Thailand had been a bit rocky (more on this later), but for now one thing about Thailand that did not disappoint was food in Chiang Mai; street food and other. Everyone has had Thai food and many folks with boast that it’s their favorite type of food. I hadn’t been overwhelmingly impressed by most of the food I had in Bangkok, specifically on the street, Chiang Mai is a different story. Staying true to form I took photographic evidence of pretty much everything I consume. This is a story in 2 parts, as two weeks in a city of food means lots of photos. Anyway, on with it…
Restaurants: Mostly hole in the wall joints, with the exception of Free Bird Cafe (which is amazing!) or Libernard Cafe (the curry there was really good and the service stood out as very good)
On the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว) in Bangkok. Within a few days of being in Bangkok I took a break from job hunting to actually experience something unique to the country, its temples.
As I was staying near Khao San Rd. at the time it was a nice walk from my guesthouse along the Chao Phraya River (แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา) and through the amulet market. The 400 baht ticket got me entrance to the grounds of the Grand Palace and entry to the temple. Less interested in the Grand Palace, I spent the majority of my time wandering about the temple.
Aside from observing the debauch that takes place on KSR, this was my first leap into tourist Thailand. The day was hot and muggy and I wore bad shoes (in an attempt to not wear flip-flops). Almost every photo I took was came out overexposed due to the bright sun. I also observed some weird behavior on the part of some of the other tourists (like, seriously). I saw a older man strip down to his underwear to put on long pants. I saw a young-ish dude wrap a sarong around his waist as if it was a towel to cover the fact that he was wearing shorts, which really irritated the guard and later I saw a lady sit down in front the Buddha with her legs stretched out in front of her like she was doing morning exercises (holy smokes, read a guidebook OR if you can’t be bothered, look at how every other person in the place is sitting with their feet behind them OR read the sign with the picture posted out front that says “Don’t point your feet to the Buddha”).
The whole experience wasn’t incredibly pleasant for me, but the architecture of the temple was absolutely extravagant and decadent and everything I had expected.
The significance of this temple is that it is the home of the Emerald Buddha. You wont see any pictures of the Buddha here however, because you can’t take pictures inside. It really was quite magnificent though. It was, for all intents and purposes, a tourist attraction temple and I knew this going in. Aside from the occasional monk sighting I felt that there was very little culture to be observed here other than the culture of how tourists (from all over the world) behave when visiting Thailand. A bit of a false start for me in Thailand…