Saturday, February 20, 2016

Chelsea in Bangkok (Part I)

Success! I've arrived safely in Thailand!! I landed around 9:30pm local time yesterday, Thursday February 18. But let me back up a bit...

My flight to Seoul without issue. What a long haul! I was really thankful to have a little extra room, since the seat next to me was technically empty (despite the guy on the other side hogging it). I got a 2 hour nap, a maybe a few more zzz's near the end. When we landed in Seoul, it hit me that I still had another 8 hours till I would be able to sleep. Insane! I'd already been traveling for 15 hours or so. (One of the Korean flight attendants told me that route, IAH to ICN, is the longest flight in Korean Air's schedule; phew!!!) I only had an hour layover, and I wasn't sure if the flight to Bangkok would serve food, so I grabbed some ramen before I got to the gate. As I was standing at the counter, eating my ramen, I checked my email.

One of the emails I got was from, confirming a hotel stay... in Koh Lanta. We are not going to Koh Lanta. Uh-oh! One big red flag that this was a huge mistake was that it was from I used to use this site before I discovered the amazing rewards program at I knew that all our hotels were booked through for this stay in order to collect the nights. So this was a big "uh-oh!" I finally realized that this was a reservation that I made around 7 months ago, when we were thinking about going to the Thai islands. I had made the reservation back then since it was free cancelation and they had limited availability. I guess I had forgotten to cancel it when we decided not to go to the island. I immediately emailed them back and asked to cancel (that day was the last day to cancel without penalty). They told me I had to call, so I did. told me I had to talk to the hotel, but when I told them I had and that the hotel referred me to them, they were super helpful and offered to contact the hotel on my behalf to confirm that they won't charge my card. Yay!

I hung up with them (yay for Skype calls on wifi!) and immediately after that, boarding for my flight began. I had another aisle seat, but this time I had a Korean guy right next to me. I was one of the first to board my flight and watched everyone stream onto the plane and find their seats. I noticed that so many of the passengers were male; I think it was about 80% male. I couldn't help think of a statistic that I learned when I lived in Korea: that the single biggest demographic of sex tourists in SE Asia were Korean men. I couldn't look at them without disgust. I realized that I was being super judgmental, so I tried to clear my mind. THEN, homie next to me started hacking. up. a lung. And then the guy across the aisle starting having a coughing fit too. I seriously put my entire face in my sweater and tried to breathe as shallow as possible. Yay for 6 more hours of this!

Thankfully, I was able to get some sleep on the plane. I slept about 3 hours in total, which was really nice. I knew I'd be going to sleep after I got to Bangkok, but I couldn't help it! Plus it made the flight go by faster. We landed and since I was near the front (of economy), I got out quickly. Also, self-five for taking a backpack; I was able to pass nearly everyone in my flight on the way to immigration. I got through within about 5 minutes, and after a quick stop at the loo, headed out to the arrivals area. 

Jessica, whom I think of as my travel-protege, found a car pick-up service for transfer from the airport to the hotel for about $19. A taxi would have been about $13-15, so it was a bit more expensive. However, I was so glad that I got it! I found the sign with my name on it and a very friendly and smiling young woman, probably 23 or so, greeted me with a traditional Thai wai. She asked if I needed the restroom, but I said that I actually wanted to get a SIM card for my phone. She suggested True mobile, and the counter was very close. I went over and in about 5 minutes I was all set up with a Thai SIM and 2.5 GB of data (for around $10). Score!

The girl led me out to a waiting car and put me in. The drive confirmed my destination (Siam@Siam) and we were off. A that point, I texted with Danny for a few minutes then just completely zoned out and watched the buildings pass by. We got to the hotel in about 30 minutes and I got to the room easily. Jessica was there, albeit half asleep, and we caught up for a few minutes before both going to bed. We were in a hostel, but in a private room with a en-suite bathroom, and I was so happy we had spent more to get the privacy!

I woke up a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 6am. I got up after checking my email and started to get ready for Day 1 in Bangkok! We had a personal, private tour guide booked to meet us at the hotel lobby at 8am, as today would be our main day of "sightseeing". 

LouLou, our guide from Tours with Tong, met us promptly at 8am and took us outside to a table to discuss our itinerary. She was a bit difficult to understand at first, but as soon as I got used to the accent, it was fine. She was very quick - both in speaking and in walking. We set out for our first destination: Wat Traimit in Chinatown. We took a bus across from the hotel and got there in about 20 minutes. LouLou was very good at explaining the history of the Wat, even though I don't remember much. This wat's name means 3 friends (I think), and she explained that it was originally build by 3 Chinese businessmen, but has now been upgraded to a royal Wat. 

Jessica and I put on our sarong wraps around our legs and we went into the Wat. It was interesting, especially because LouLou explained much of the symbolism and Buddhist meanings for each detail. She also told us some of the history of Thailand (or, Siam at the time). We quickly noticed that LouLou was very devout in her religion, and a staunch rule-follower. She barked at several clueless tourists who were not wearing the appropriate attire for the shrine, and Jessica and I giggled as we watched.

After that, we took a bus to the Flower Market. I had expected something bigger, but it was very interesting. LouLou explained the different flower color meanings, the way the flowers were arranged and their uses, and made sure we knew not to smell the flowers, as it would render the bloom useless for what it was intended: a religious offering.

After the Flower Market, Jessica and I begged to stop for a bite to eat, as we hadn’t eaten any breakfast. LouLou found a street cart making noodle soup and ordered some for each of us. It was absolutely DELICIOUS. I felt much revived after a meal (up to that point, I’d only had a bottle of water since getting into the country 12 hours before). We then walked a few blocks to another temple: Wat Pho. This complex was 20 acres of stuppas and gold Buddhas abounding. LouLou was again reliable with her anecdotes about stupid foreigners who lean on and touch the Buddha statues, the meanings behind the different hand positions of the Buddhas, and the colors associated to the different stupas, which corresponded to colors for the days of the week. In fact, she did a sort of Buddhist “reading” for us – apparently, I am was born in the Thai year of the Snake (I am a Horse in China), and as I was born on a Wednesday, my lucky color is green, I should wear yellow, and my lucky day is Monday. She also told me Danny’s information – he is a Dragon and his lucky day is Wednesday. She said that Snake and Dragon are a great match because they are the same species, and that we are each other’s lucky days. Fancy that!

We wandered around the complex a bit more taking photos and dodging tourists. Our next stop, LouLou warned, was the Grand Palace and there are many many more tourists there. It was also 3 times the size of Wat Pho, which I already felt was big! We left Wat Pho and took yet another bus (each bus being around 12TBH or ~$0.40) to the entrance to the Grand Palace. Jessica and I decided not to pay the 500TBH to go into the main complex, but instead took a photo in front of the building. We saved our $15 and headed to get lunch. We went to a restaurant near the temple, and had a nice (air conditioned) breather. I ordered spicy chicken soup and Jess had Pad Thai. They were both delicious!! I also had a Thai Tea, which was fantastic. I hadn’t had one since I worked at Baybrook in 2011 or 2012. Yum!!

After lunch, we walked over to the river pier. I couldn’t believe how choppy the water was! The pier was going up and down so much I was surprised not to see anyone lose their lunch. We waited and watched all of the tourists pay 1000TBH ($30) for the river tour, then caught our public boat for 13TBH (less than $1). Woohoo! We had a nice (albeit crowded) little cruise down river for about 20 minutes. We learned our lesson in keeping our mouths shut while the boat is flying through the water. The brown river tastes pretty terrible!!

When we disembarked, we decided to go to a massage place LouLou recommended to relax and escape the chaos of the tourist sites. We bid LouLou adieu, and each got a body scrub and aromatherapy massage for 2 hours. It was about $50, but WELL WORTH IT!! It was one of the most relaxing massages I’ve had!

It was funny because we shared the room, which was otherwise private. Between the scrub and the massage, we each had to rinse off in the shower in the room. The ladies giving us the scrub/massages gave us these thin mesh panties to wear, so between all that, there were no secrets between any of us!! Jessica commented that I am one of the people who has seen her naked most; between our jimjilbang experience in Korea and now this!

Well, we thoroughly enjoyed our spa day and left feeling so refreshed! We walked to the SkyTrain to head back to the hotel. It was extremely easy to find and to navigate (thank goodness!) and we got back to the hotel without issue. Once we got to our room, we had a snack and decided to take a rest before heading out for dinner. I started looking through photos from the day, and Jess decided to take a cat-nap…

Fast-forward 4 hours and we are both waking up exhausted from serious REM-powered naps and wondering where our night went. We were both so tired and sore; walking five miles plus an intense massage is a cocktail for exhaustion. Our bodies were aching and we were hobbling rather than walking.

After I woke up a bit, I realized that I was quite hungry, and I always get nauseated when taking Advil on an empty stomach. As I was in serious need of Advil, so I resolved to head out to the main street near our hotel to find a quick bite. Most of the street food vendors we’d seen earlier that day had gone home, so I popped into the 7-Eleven and got a ham and cheese sandwich, which they heated up for me in an actual sandwich maker (instead of a microwave). It was really good!

My main observation from the day is how ridiculously cheap everything seems. Water – 10TBH or around $0.30, and a meal can be almost just as cheap! My sandwich tonight was 27TBH, less than $1. I am really excited because I am trying to keep an accurate budget of our total expenditures as well as breaking it down daily. I had an estimated budget, and its weirdly fun to look at it as I reconcile it.

I am really looking forward to tomorrow, as Jess and I will have time to go at our own pace (LouLou was a speed demon), take photos as many times as we want, and get off the beaten path. But for now, I think it’s time for bed.



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