One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thailand: Part One: Bustling Bangkok

Back from Thailand! And a what a wonderful trip it was! I flew back to Korea yesterday and was greeted with snow on the ground. This feels wrong. My bathing suit is still wet.. my back pack is rubbing my sunburn.. (Mom, I swear, I wore sun screen. One of my parents' mutual soap boxes: wearing sunscreen. I like to tell this story because I think it's so darn funny.  My beautiful, and yet very fare skinned red-headed sister was made to wear a hat and shirt IN the public pool when we went swimming as kids.  She was easy to spot. I can still see her jumping into the pool, one hand on her red 101 Dalmatians hat, the other on her nose.)  SO why, oh why am I in freezing weather and not still wearing my flip flops and reading on the beach?  It was undeniably hard to get on the plane leaving from Phuket, knowing that in 24 hours time I would be 2300 miles away from this paradise.

It seems to me that every country has it's own pull for visitors-- something that can, if not make you fall in love with it, then certainly entice you to do so.  That pull is particular to each wandering traveler.  The key: allowing yourself to experience it.  So easily we (myself included) slip into a tendency of simply sight-seeing for the sake of having said that we've seen it.  It's easy to miss the essence of a country and its culture and really the people that make a country what it is because we have a list of destinations that need tending.  I had a friend wisely advise me to really "experience" Thailand.  That became my goal. There were times, as I'm about to explain, where I slipped away and when I did I tried to slow it down. 

My trip preceded in three segments. Part One: Bustling Bangkok.

I guess I should actually start with the flight down, which was longer than expected. In total, it was about 6 hours in flight time, but I spent 7 hours in the Beijing airport.  That was a long connection in a fairly empty airport.  It was made easier by an acquaintance that I made with a fellow English teacher, Norma Jean.  I suppose after 7 hours she became something more than an acquaintance.  Conversation wandered from our families, to traveling abroad, to future plans, etc as we watched planes land and take off from the runway.

I got in late to my hotel the first night, slept in the next morning, and made day one designated to seeing 3 major temples and had no real plans for day 2 in Bangkok.  I didn't want to fit too much into a single day, so I planned on seeing the 3 big ones: The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha (they are in one complex, and while you can take pictures within the Grand Palace, you can't take pictures of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (also known as the Reclining Buddha), and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn).  Wat in Thai signifies any place of worship.  Thailand is a strongly Buddhist country, in fact, I saw countless monks walking down the street.

Here are just a few photos of these temples, but I've uploaded a whole album of Thailand pictures on Flickr. There's a link on the right side of this blog.

This is a Pagoda within the Grand Palace.  I heard from a one of my guides later in the trip that each King adds a new outer layer to the pagoda, making it larger with each new king since King Rama made Bangkok the capital city of Thailand.

I was standing behind the camera view, waiting for this man to finish taking this shot, when he saw that I saw standing there and motioned for me to join him.  I handed the photographer my camera to take a photo with my camera too. I don't know if you can tell in the picture, but he's holding my hand.. haha!

Wat Pho also known as the Reclining Buddha

When I walked into Wat Pho, the first thing I noticed was a tinking sound coming from behind.  It was this. You pay about 1 USD to get a cup full of coins and then put one coin in each bowl as an offering. I did it.. touristy.. I know, but I thought it was cool.

The Grand Palace

This is a picture of Wat Arun, Temple of the Dawn from across the river. The boats are long tail boats,a traditional Thai method of transportation. People used to live just along the river.

Wat Arun: you can climb to nearly the top of this temple, which made it my favorite. It has a really great view from the top, but be careful! These steps are very steep.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun: From the top. I spent about an hour and a half on the top overlooking the city. I met a guy from CA, Mike, a Korean American who had been in the Marines and was now contracted by the government and was on vacation for 3 weeks in Thailand. He had been over most of Bangkok and down to Phuket too so he was able to give me some pointers. 

What made Bangkok really attractive to me were the vibrant colors- not just within the temple complexes, but along the streets.. in the clothing, in the monk's orange robe,  in the tropical flowers, and flower offerings, in the fruit that was displayed by street vendors. 

Oh! The food! I love trying new food and I lOved Thai food, which is quite spicy, but always fresh. You can get some pretty excellent street food for dinner for merely 1 to 3 US dollars.  You can get a more elaborate meal for roughly 7 US dollars. Food is cheap! I tried to stop at places where I saw the most Thais congregated. That was typically a good indicator of the superior places to eat. Some of my favorite foods? Papaya salad (shredded green papaya in a spicy lime dressing served with peanuts, tomatoes, and green beans- sticky rice on the side. It was delicious!), green curry, and, honestly, the fresh mango, pineapple, guava, and watermelon that you could buy cut up in large bags and served with a skewer. On many a hot day, I savagely (and without qualms) devoured a bag of fresh fruit while walking down the street.

I was so entranced by the vivacity of Bangkok that I let myself be pulled by my impulses.  Bangkok had a life about it that I think I could have tried to fight by making a list of things to do and checking them off, but I think that would have only misrepresented a city of it's type and ultimately it would have been to my own disadvantage. So I stopped to eat when I passed food that smelled good. I sat in a meditative yoga position in the shade at Wat Pho for a half hour because it felt right. If something looked interesting, I'd wander towards it with no real agenda. I sat in Lumpini park during sunset, writing and people watching.  I bought a pretty flower offering and wore it as a necklace for a day just because it was pretty. And when I got tired of wandering, I stopped for a Thai massage.

Here is the flower offering that I wore as jewelry for a day. I ended up giving it to my taxi driver at the end of the day. I saw that he had a picture of Buddha on his dashboard and already had one flower offering around his rear view mirror. We had an interesting conversation the the way to the hotel that went like this: Driver: "You have baby?" Me: "No baby. No husband." Driver: "You are young." Me: "Yes. You have children?" Driver: "No. No. No Lady." Me: "No lady! Why?" Driver: "I am young." We both laughed. Driver: "No money, no honey! Good money, good honey! You know?" Me: "haha! Yes, I know" 

This was a sign I saw in the same taxi driver's cab. No Rams? No guns. No sex. No dogs. No alcohol. No bombs. No smoking.  Shoot! my ram had to stay at the hotel

These are some of the colors I was referring to. Those are long tail boats.

This was the spot at Wat Pho where I sat in the shade. It was nice. I'm sure I got looks, but mine were closed.

Suan Park: I spent some time here the first evening.

Thai massages are of a different nature than western massages. Small Thai woman, or in my case, Thai men, who weigh no more than 75 pounds, jump on top of you, twisting your limbs and rubbing sore muscles. It feels great, but there is a degree of pain to every Thai massage. They are also incredibly cheap. One hour costs roughly 7 US dollars, 2 hours costs about 14. 

I learned a valuable lesson during one said massage. Never open your eyes while getting a Thai massage! It breaks your suspended disbelief.  This small Thai man had positioned my legs into a butterfly position while I was lying down. I felt an uncomfortable about of pain as he was pushing my knees to the floor and I'm sure that I was grimacing.  I heard an "Are you okay, Miss?"  I opened my eyes to find his eyes meeting mine and his body perched on top of mine (mind you, my legs are spread in a butterfly position!) The blatant sexuality that this position evoked made me laugh.  So here I am laughing as this man is on top of me, which, I'm sure made him feel awkward, but the more I tried to stop myself from laughing, the harder I seemed to laugh.  I did regain my focus, but not without a struggle. I did leave feeling rejuvenated and ready for more wandering and exploring in Bangkok city.

Thailand Trip To be continued in blogs 2 and 3...


  1. Sawadee cup, Jessie! VERY VERY AWESOME. Can't wait to read the next one! I'm sorry you couldn't have sex with your ram in the cab and then shoot it like you can back in America!!! Haha I was warned about those thai massages, apparently they get cha while you're at the urinal if you don't tell them no beforehand!

  2. I'm glad you got to relax and stop and smell the roses while you were there :-) Can't wait to read installments 2 and 3!!

  3. I couldn't stop laughing after I enlarged that photo of you holding hands with that strange man. Your face is priceless!! Thailand seems incredible.

  4. I love reading your blog! You are some storyteller :) I laughed really hard at the picture of you with the man. Even more so when I noticed the somewhat pained look on your face. Sending love from the us!

  5. I can imagine that laughter you broke into upon opening your eyes..must be priceless!!