First of all, Bangkok is enormous. It’s the biggest city I’ve ever been in, I think. Or at least, it looked the biggest, and I’ve been in some enormous cities- Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Madrid (Madrid was big, but it was 15 years ago I was there and I wasn’t paying that much attention).
We took a cab from the airport to our hotel, about a 45 minute ride in traffic.
Skyscrapers and billboards jutted up everywhere, stretching in every direction for as far as we could see, for the entire ride. I kept expecting to maybe hit some suburbs or something, but we didn’t. Just city.
Unlike Singapore, the buildings were not well kept. Many- even some of the high rises- looked abandoned, or extremely run down, and lots were under construction. There were some newer looking ones, too, sprinkled throughout the city. The architecture of some of the high rises was incredible. This was one of my favorites:
Billboards advertising cell phones and toilets and medicine tower over the freeway.
I was surprised to see a billboard for a toilet. You generally don’t see stuff like that in the US, but there it was, large as life with a smiling woman standing next to a porcelain throne, happily flushing it. I thought it a little weird, but the whole bathroom experience has been different for me here, come to think of it.
Every bathroom I’ve seen in Asia comes with toilet paper on one side and a hose on the other, like a spray hose we have in our sinks to spray down dirty dishes.
I had some idea what the hose was for, but couldn’t have properly used it if I had needed to. They’re actually called bidet showers, or sprayers (or bum guns), and I’d never seen one or used one, but they’re super common here. There’s a technique to use it, to keep from getting water and shit everywhere. I don’t know what it is, but I’m told it exists. I was reading a forum about it (I just had to know the hose technique, you guys), and one dude said he thought it was disgusting that Americans wiped without washing their butts. He said if you get feces or urine on any other part of your body, you’d wash it well, not just wipe it off and call it a day. He also said that when he visited western countries, he literally peed his pants a couple times because western sit toilets were so weird to him.
So there it is. Billboards for toilets.
Many people recommend traveling with toilet paper if you’re a westerner traveling east. It sounds like a good idea, although I haven’t been carrying my own TP, and I haven’t had a problem. It’s not like the stone ages or something- there’s a just a hose next to every toilet, a cultural difference I had not even considered before coming.
Anyway. Back to Bangkok.
There are also billboards telling people not to use Buddha’s image as a tattoo or on statues.
“IT IS WRONG TO USE BUDDHA HEAD AS TATTOO OR DECORATION”
“USING BUDDHA IMAGE AS DECORATION OR TATTOO IS AGAINST THE LAW”
“RESPECT IS COMMON SENSE. NO BUDDHA TATTOO.”
Oddly, right outside of the temples we visited there were plenty of vendors selling Buddha statues and images, as well as tons of vendors at local markets we visited. (This is considered inappropriate unless those statues are going to be used for worship or educational purposes, but it’s also understood that it’s human nature to try and make a quick buck where possible).
At customs coming into the airport, there are signs regarding Buddha as well. According to what I read, If you try to take a Buddha statue out of the country, you’re most likely going to have to explain yourself to the customs agents, and it might be confiscated from you. People can bring Buddha merchandise out of the country (as long as it’s an entire Buddha, not in parts, like just a Buddha head or something), but it involves a lot of paperwork and permission from the Thai government.
Crazy, right? Can you imagine if we had regulations like that regarding images of Christ in the US?
Not far from our hotel was a road called Silom road, which is a famous road in Bangkok for its markets, shopping, restaurants, and hostels and hotels.
We ate dinner at a place off Silom called “Eat Me”.
Ha! It was really called that.
I happened to just see it on Google maps and thought it sounded interesting. The reviews were really good so we headed over for dinner.
Man, I had no idea what we were getting into. Like many places in Bangkok, the entrance was tucked into an alleyway off the main road. It seemed very unassuming from the outside, surrounded by tuk tuk drivers and street meat vendors, but once we were inside, it was a whole other story- this place was nice. We were seated in a dimly lit dining area by a waiter wearing a suit. The menu consisted of fancy (mostly French sounding) dishes prepared in ways I couldn’t pronounce. I hoped it was good, because we had been largely disappointed by the food we’d had in Singapore.
Other diners came in, usually couples, dressed in suit jackets and evening gowns. Joe and I looked down at our jeans and T-shirts, me in my dirty sweatshirt jacket and him in his sandals, feeling a little sheepish.
“I think we’re a little overdressed”, Joe said, which got me giggling and relaxed a little.
I ordered lamb chops, mashed potatoes, and a carrot confit salad to start, because it was the only salad I could pronounce, and that was only because I have watched Chopped more than the average bear.
Chopped fans know what time it is
The food was amazing. It was maybe one of the best meals I’ve ever had at a restaurant, and no one gave us a hard time for our lack of class.
Me, waiting for somebody to say something about my sweatshirt
The food in Thailand is fairly cheap. For our dinner at that place, we paid less than what we usually pay at the Cheesecake Factory for a dinner out. Hotel accommodations are a bit cheaper than the US as well. From what I noticed when booking, you can probably stay at any hotel for about 50%-75% of the price of the same hotel in the US, and if you can find a deal somewhere, even better. Cab rides are super cheap, an hour long cab ride will cost somewhere from $6-10, depending on whether you set the price before you go and whether your cab driver hauls ass or takes his time and deliberately drives in the slow lane.
We had heard a lot stuff about living like a king for next to nothing in Thailand, but so far hadn’t seen anything that extreme. Stuff was cheaper, sure, but Thai merchants aren’t idiots and if Westerners don’t speak Thai and aren’t in the know, they’ll probably end up paying a Farang (foreigner) Tax a little bit.
Most streets, even ones that are not hot spot markets, have vendor carts and small tents selling food and cheap goods on them. Silom road is filled with them. On the way home we bought some chocolate cookies for $.60 and an apple the size of Joe’s head for a dollar, before turning in for the night.
The next few days we spent watching fights, and cruising around markets and temples. We never did end up making it over to Khao San road, or Soi Cowboy, two other famous streets in Bangkok. By the time we had time, we’d had our fill of Bangkok tourist traps, and decided to skip them altogether.
There was much more to see and do in Thailand, like going to watch Muay Thai fights, exploring, and eating 🙂 all of which we did, and then some.
More to come, stay tuned!