It is difficult waking up in a new time zone at 9:45am, when your body is accustomed to 10:30pm. The mental grogginess is somewhat overwhelming, and physically your muscles do not move with any type of coordination. Your bed, which is an automatic upgrade from an 18.3-inch wide airplane seat, is incredibly more enticing than it normally would be at home. The air conditioning, which keeps out the extreme mugginess and heat of a Thai morning, makes you even less excited to leave your bedroom.
But, what makes this all easier is knowing that you have a complimentary breakfast at your hotel, which ends promptly at 10:00am. It was this fact that rushed Chelsea and I out of our beds and downstairs to the garden of our hotel.
Our stay at the Baan Dinso Hotel included a complimentary breakfast each morning, something which we made sure to take advantage of. There were three options on the menu: an egg and meat dish (Western option), a prawn soup (Eastern option) and a vegetable spread (Vegan option). Our standard go-to during our stay at the hotel was the egg and meat dish, which was definitely satisfying, though I did try the prawn soup one morning which was still delicious.
We took our time eating breakfast and pulled out our customized Google map on the laptop. While sipping our tea and coffee we strategically planned our morning events, knowing that we would have to move quickly from one place to another to avoid missing any sites before they closed. Sometime during our planning session, we were joined by a seemingly friendly and lethargic cat, who later revealed his unfriendly, food-seeking nature.
As the day was planned and we realized that it was reaching 11:00am, Chelsea and I quickly finished breakfast and readied ourselves for the day. Our first step was to buy a sim card for the mobile hot-spot device that we decided to bring. We asked one of the employees at the hotel where we could buy one and she told us that Khao San Road would be our best bet. We took our packs and off we went.
Khao San Road is a stretch of about four blocks that transforms from an urban market by day to a crazed and well-traveled party spot at night. We experienced the former on our first venture out into Bangkok, and were quickly exposed to possible problems with the language barrier. We entered into a familiar-enough 7-Eleven at the recommendation of the Baan Dinso employee. Chelsea and I desperately struggled to select the correct sim card for our needs, eventually settling on the 8 Day Tourist option. From there, the 7-Eleven employee working with us then began working on registering the card. He rejected the hot spot when we offered it to him, explaining several times in Thai and in English that he needed a cell phone to get the sim card registered. Red in the face and somewhat nervous, we stepped away from the register and fumbled through our day packs for any cell phone. After what felt like hours of trying to get the sim card out of my phone, we returned to the register and offered the device to our hopeful savior. He looked at the phone, then looked at us, and finally rang up the sim card and asked for payment. We gave him the Baht he requested, then he turned to the next customer in line for servicing. Taking our tiny plastic card with us, we decided to get on with our day and figure the technology out later.
Walking through Bangkok as a foreigner is an experience in and of itself. In the land of Thais, Chelsea and I stood out like a sore thumb. Stepping outside of 7-Eleven, we were bombarded with requests for taxis, tuk-tuks, clothing, purses, food… Wanting to be polite, we calmly addressed each petition as it came, as we knew where we wanted to go and how to get there. One man approached us for a tuk-tuk ride, explaining that he could show us all around the city. After our first rejection, he maintained the smile on his face as introduced himself as a Columbian transplant to Bangkok. He wanted to show us how to get to our next destination quickly, and offered to do so for free by foot. Chelsea and I never really said yes, we just continued to walk in the same direction in which we were originally going. He walked quickly ahead of us, turning from time to time to chat quickly about a Wat or our own personal lives. We deviated slightly from the path that we laid out on our map, and he quickly ushered us into a travel agent store before shaking our hands and leaving. A friendly woman greeted us as we entered, and took us to a desk where another smiling woman asked us about our travel plans. With our Colombian guide gone and our first breath taken after entering, we realized that this may be some sort of a tourist scam. We explained that we intended to go to Chiang Mai after Bangkok, and had no plans after that. The seated woman, offering little information, explained that she could help us purchase our tickets to and lodgings in Chiang Mai. My mind raced during this time: what would make a salesman walk 20 minutes with a couple of tourists to a travel agent? Why did this woman offer to purchase something for us every time we mentioned a new thing that we wanted to do? After a few moments, I finally realized that we were most likely in the middle of a scam: the travel agency books tickets, lodgings or events for tourists at higher than normal prices, and our Colombian friend receives a small kickback for his service of bringing the tourists there. “We actually have everything purchased that we need already, so thank you for your offer.” I replied confidently to the woman behind the desk, just before watching her smile quickly turn into a disappointed and misunderstood frown. Chelsea and I quickly made our way out the doors, while the other employees there asked us about our travel plans. We didn’t look back.
We set our sights on a dock called Tha Tien, intending to take a ferry across the Chao Phraya River to see Wat Arun. We wandered through a few tiny streets, eventually stumbling on a checkpoint where we had to show our bags and our passports. We complied, as the guards there were friendly and seemed to want us to go through. We collected our belongings and continued, only to realize that the checkpoint was the way into the Grand Palace compound, the de jure residence of the King of Bangkok. The fortified complex is surrounded by four enormous walls, which Chelsea and I followed until we found the entrance. Once inside the walls, we understood why this was one of the most famous tourist sites in Thailand: well groomed grass, Wat Phra Kaew and its Emerald Buddha, gold statues and monuments at each turn, buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, gorgeous murals, and the palace itself. We spent a few hours in there, reading each of the information placards placed about and even becoming celebrities when another tourist asked if he could take his picture with us!
After the palace, we continued on our way to Tha Tien. A friendly tuk-tuk driver offered to take us to the dock for 10 baht each (about 30 cents) after he takes us to see a giant standing Buddha statue.
We agreed, mostly because riding on a tuk-tuk was on our bucket list but also because we thought it to be a deal. The driver repeated the offer multiple times throughout the trip, eventually throwing in another place to visit: “Thai fashion.” Neither of us knew what that was, though it all made sense after we arrived at a tailor shop. “John” was our guide at the shop, and he took us into a private room and showed us some lovely pictures and fabrics, offering to make suits, shirts and dresses for us. We politely declined everything, slowly making our way back outside to the tuk-tuk driver while John’s smile grew weaker and weaker. Back in the tuk-tuk, the driver was less talkative than before, and dropped us off at a dock that was farther south than Tha Tien. At this dock, we were greeted by several people offering boat tours around the canals Wat Arun. We told the tuk-tuk driver several times that we did not want to do such a tour, though he decided to drive us there regardless. We found a Chinese couple who had the same misfortune, and who were also looking to take the ferry to Wat Arun. They joined our team and the four of us made headway as we rejected every tailor, masseuse, tuk-tuk driver and ferry captain who offered us a “great deal.” The Chinese couple ended up purchasing a bag of mangoes and the ferry tickets for us. We never did learn their names.
From there things were a slight blur. We did Wat Arun, walked down the river to Wat Pho, then headed back to the hotel for showers and rest. We decided to hit Bangkok’s Chinatown for dinner, hearing that they have a wonderful night market on Yaowarat Road. We walked the 30 minutes through Bangkok streets to get there, and the long walk in the hot, humid weather was worth it. We walked up and down Yaowarat Road, eyes opened wide at the multitude of food options available to us. We called it quits after a fried noodle dish, two Chang beers (the large ones), pepper soup (which is as spicy as it sounds), Thai crepes (aka Khanom Buang), and a rice and pork dish.
Our walk back to the hotel was slow and strenuous, tired from the day and groggy from the food. We slept well that first night, excited for our second take on Thailand’s biggest city.