Destination: Bangkok, Thailand
Number of Days there: 4
One thing unexpected: We didn't like it nearly as much as last time...
Times we took the: Bus: 2 Train/Subway: 1 Taxi/Car: 2
Estimated KM walked: 7km
Where we stayed: New Siam Hotel II - 840 Baht/US $22 Somewhat of a chain, with New Siam I, Riverside, and III all occupying most of a city block II was right in the middle both in price and style. Air-con, a small pool, hot water, and decent beds it represents a good value.
Favorite Restaurant: The street vendor specializing in pad thai near Lumphini Park (an absolute steal at 35 baht - $1 with all the trimmings!)
Best of: The very well trodden Emerald Buddha/Grand Palace/Reclining Buddha circuit, Lumphini Park, The sheer abundance of food stalls everywhere - you never go hungry with staples like Pad Thai, fresh curries, and Tracy's personal favorite - Mango Sticky Rice.
Worst of: Cabbies who refuse to use the meter ("Broken" or "I give you better price", sure pal), the temporary political turmoil going on puts a general damper on the spirit of things
Back to where the thought of this trip first originated, we landed in the brand new airport in Bangkok and made our way down to Khou San Road, the heart of the backpacker area. We were excited at first to be back here having such fond memories of all the "Thousand Smiles" that we encountered just over two years ago. Well, a lot has changed in those two years - the Prime Minister, Taskin at the time, was not only removed from power by a bloodless military coup, but at the time of writing this had just been sentenced to two years in prison for a land fraud scheme with his wife. While he is no longer in power himself, his party is still quite "in control" of parliament and there are demonstrations frequently by opposition.
While the political turmoil did not effect us directly, you could tell that it has set the city of 12 million on edge. Just walking the streets and particularly in cabs or one on one situations, you could feel it in the air. Despite how they felt about the situation, the environment it had created left a certain uneasiness and thus they in turn were not as friendly and outgoing as on our last visit. At no time in point however, did we feel our lives in danger or threatened. For all the troubles going on around us, other than the not-so-friendly atmosphere and the usual hassle or two from tuk-tuks and cabbies, Bangkok was still Bangkok. A beautiful old city sitting on the river with majestic Wats (Temples) and the Grand Palace surrounded by the sprawl you would encounter in any major city in the world.
We decided to spend the first day figuring out how to vote abroad. We both had thought about how we were going to vote while traveling and felt that Bangkok would be the best spot in SEA (South East Asia) to do this given the huge number of ex-pats living here. After a short cab ride over to the American Embassy, we arrived right at lunch time so decided to take a stroll around the lovely Lumphini Park and grab some lunch ourselves. The food stalls lining the park on the north side had the best food stalls we have encountered so far....and cheap! Pad Thai for $1, oh my...talk about heaven on earth! Heading back to the embassy and passing though, as you would expect, tight security we did our patriotic duty and voted with surprisingly little trouble. They even mailed our ballot directly to the county magistrate for free (thanks to Fed-ex for making that possible!) Tracy even helped another man spell "Barack Obama/Joe Biden (for the record, he asked us how to spell it, not how to spell McCain/Palin) on his write in ballot. He also asked her if she knew was running for the Senate in Florida...a very informed voter indeed, but hey, at least he put a vote in the right direction in a hotly contested state. To read more about our feelings on this year's election, read our next posting on voting.
Feeling all patriotic, we left the embassy and took a stroll down Sukhamvit road. Home to most of the upscale hotels and shopping malls, Sukhamvit had its fair share of places to duck in for a little air-conditioned relief from the heat (you would think after 3 months of being in the tropics we would be used to it by now, but hot is still hot!). Later that night we met up with another couple from the US, Wandering Shawn and Wandering Dawn, as well as an ex-pat living in Bangkok, Nomadic Matt for a few drinks and story swapping.
The next day, we got up and hit the tourist circuit again, revisiting the Grand Palace, Wat Praw Keow (home of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Po (home of the reclining buddha). Still as impressive as last time, the ornate decorations and shimmering Wats are still a sight to behold, not to mention overrun by every tour group imaginable. Touring in the heat can take its toll so we took the rest of the evening easy by relaxing by the pool at our hotel.
Chatuchak Market is reportedly one of the largest markets in the world, if not the largest. What started out as a small flea market, has moved three times as it has expanded over the years to its present day size. Tucked into small booths and stalls, thousands (literally) of vendors sell anything from furniture, to old books, to clothes, to, of course, countless souvenir buying opportunities. After taking a "free" tour of the old city again courtesy of the city bus (who knew the same bus had a different route going one way than it did going the other??) we spent the afternoon planning our future route and sitting by the pool.
After catching up on some e-mails, and doing some more planning, we got our train tickets for the night train to Ubon Ratachani in route to our next destination - Champasak, Laos.