I had my post-Christmas vacation all mapped out. After leaving Urumqi on the morning of the 26th, I was supposed to have a layover in Shanghai, fly into Bangkok that night, spend the night at the airport, and fly into Koh Lanta first thing in the morning to enjoy two days at a beachside bungalow.
China Eastern airlines had other plans for me. My flight was delayed for more than five hours. By the time I arrived in Shanghai that night, I had missed my flight to Bangkok, and thus would also not make my flight to Koh Lanta. It was peak beach season in Thailand, and there were no affordable or reasonable alternatives to getting there on a different flight. I had to cut my losses and move on.
The next flight to Bangkok wasn’t until noon the next day, so they put me in a hotel for the night. A security guard from the airport rode the van to the hotel with me, which I thought was a kind thing to do. He also gave me a ‘stranded passenger’ care package consisting of bottled water, ramen, and a sausage.
The next morning they sent a shuttle to take me to the airport. While driving there, I realized that the last time I was in Shanghai was in 2008 — more than a decade ago. I can’t even begin to fathom how much it must have changed.
At Pudong airport I had some Shanghai-style xiaolongbao, bamboo shoots, and a glass of this truly refreshing grapefruit milk drink. And then I was off to Bangkok.
My first impression of Suvarnabhumi airport was that it was SO. CROWDED. and SO. HOT. It was wild going from Urumqi, where I had to wear my aunt’s insulated puffer coat every day to go out in the snow, to a place that consistently hit the high 80’s and 90’s every day in December. The A/C wasn’t working in much of the airport, and I could feel the sweat dripping down my back as I stripped down in the bathroom and changed into a T-shirt and sweatpants.
Outside Exit 7 I found the S1 bus, a special line for tourists that goes between the airport and Khao San Road, which is approximately where I was staying. After boarding, we sat there idling for about an hour, I’m guessing waiting for the bus to fill up with more passengers. The ride cost only 60 baht, or about USD $2.
I got dropped off near the Democracy Monument, pictured above. My hotel was just on the other side. At first I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of cars, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks that were always zooming past. It took a few days to become more comfortable with jaywalking; honestly, in a lot of places there aren’t any pedestrian cross lights and you just have to grit your teeth and go even if there’s a car in the distance speeding towards you.
The next morning I had to check out and go to a different hotel because there weren’t any rooms available that particular night at the first hotel. This actually led me to discover one of my favorite places that I’ve stayed at in my entire life — Remedy Stay, a cute little B&B on the banks of a canal, just steps away from the Phan Fa Lilat bridge pier of Bangkok’s public boat transit network. I think it only had three rooms; here’s the one I stayed in.
I was excited to take the Bangkok public boat for the first time. When the boat pulled up, it caught me by surprise because it was parked like two feet from the pier, swaying unsteadily in the water, and there wasn’t anything to, like, help you get on the boat. You just had to grab a rope hanging across the top of the boat, hoist yourself across the water, and make a leap of faith. Getting off is even more tricky because there’s absolutely nothing on land to grab on to. My first time getting off, I was so obviously terrified that the guy selling tickets stretched out his hand and helped yank me off the boat.
Speaking of — the people selling tickets on these boats are badass. Because they have to go around and collect fares from passengers after boarding, they literally just walked around on these narrow wooden ledges on the sides of the boat, with one arm hooked casually around the rope for balance and counting money without a care in the world. It’s a difficult job with way too much exposure to the elements: the sun was always blazing, and whenever the boat picked up speed it sent up huge splashes of water. Hats off to them.
I got off a few stops later at Sapan Hua Chang pier because I wanted to check out the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. It was an impressively large, open and airy building. Lots of art, photography, cafes and stores. One of the Thai princesses had a photography showcase there, and there was also an exhibit on renewable energy in Thailand.
In the art library downstairs, there was a whole table of books dedicated to the late king. Including comic books.
There was a super cute store on the first floor selling eco/sustainable products. I picked up a linen tunic for 900 baht since I needed some conservative clothing for visiting temples. I loved this store so much that I tried to return two days later to buy more stuff, but they were already closed for new year’s.
Speaking of modest dress — I got SO many stares on my first full day in Bangkok. I can usually pass for a local in any Asian country, but this was not the case for Thailand: everywhere I went, people’s eyes were on me, benign but still unsettling. I eventually figured out that it probably had a lot to do with the way I was dressed. The first day I had worn a sleeveless little black dress that went to mid-thigh. The second day, I wore the linen tunic above and long black jeans, and the stares went down by about 70%. The third day, feeling rebellious, I went back to a short T-shirt dress, and the stares returned.
Anyway, the Bangkok Art and Culture Center was across the street from three different malls, each larger and more intense than the next: Siam Discovery, Siam Center, and Siam Paragon. There was a pedestrian overpass with some funky modern decor.
That first day I just stopped by the Sephora in Siam Center and bought some makeup that would have been way too expensive to purchase in Switzerland. Then it was back to the pier for the boat back to old town Bangkok.
I walked around Khao San Road, the famous backpacker hub, for a few minutes, but have no pictures of it because it was one of the most underwhelming tourist destinations I have ever seen. Every vendor was either selling pants with bright, swirling patterns or massages. The white tourists seemed to be very into it, though, so I think I just wasn’t the target audience.
Afterwards I stopped for an iced coffee break and ran into this stray cat. There’s a ton of them in Bangkok — all very skinny but not afraid of humans.
Another funky thing about Bangkok, and I guess Thailand in general, is the amount of shrines and signs in public dedicated to the royal family. There were pictures of the king everywhere. In the photo above, there are three shrines featuring three different royals.
After resting at the hotel for a bit, I headed out in search of dinner. It was nice to just walk through random neighborhoods alongside the canal and get a feel for how people live every day. Life here seems to be centered around openness and community: a lot of people will sit outside on stools and chat, or they’ll sit on the floor inside their homes, but with the doors wide open so that you can see straight inside with one glance.
The next morning I went to the famous Wat Phra Chetuphon, the temple with the giant reclining gold statue of Buddha, Wat Pho. I took the #12 bus, which dropped me off right near the entrance. Buses in Bangkok are a fascinating beast. The one I took wasn’t air-conditioned, but the breeze from the window sufficed. There was also no door — you’re expected to hop on as the bus comes closer and slows down.
The entrance fee to Wat Pho was 200 baht, or just over $6.
I accidentally got into a line for monks to spray holy water on people, thinking it was the line to see the reclining Buddha. When I realized it wasn’t the right line, I tried to hide behind other people, but the monks didn’t want me to miss out and went out of their way to douse me with water, so, uh, thanks monks. Appreciate u.
I don’t have any actual photos of the reclining Buddha, not because photography wasn’t allowed, but because the room was extremely crowded. I have mild claustrophobia and when I’m in these situations, the only thing I can think about is “oh my god, if a fire breaks out right now, we’re all fucked.” But I can confirm that the Buddha was very large and very reclined.
After seeing the Wat Pho, I walked for 15 minutes to the Grand Palace nearby. Again, I have no photos because I cannot emphasize enough how blazingly hot it was, with no trees and no shade along the walls of the palace. At certain points I thought I had died and passed on to the next life. I bought a lemon tea at the 7-Eleven across from the palace, downed it, and entered the palace, only to find out that it was even more crowded than Wat Pho, so I turned around and left.
I walked another 15 minutes to the nearest MRT station. The MRT is the subway; Bangkok also has another rapid transit system, the skytrain, or the BTS. I rode for about half an hour on the MRT, then transferred to the skytrain, where I had to purchase a separate ticket because apparently the two are not in the same ‘system’. The skytrain was way more expensive — around 23 baht for two stops, whereas the MRT was 35 baht for 9 stops.
I got out at Thong Lo station and again thought, “Huh, this place is a lot like Japan.” And then it hit me — I was literally in Japantown. The Sukhumvit district of Bangkok is home to a large, diverse expat population, and there happens to be a vibrant Japanese community here. There’s even a place here named Ginza, after the fancy shopping district in Tokyo.
I was here because I had booked an afternoon of self-care for the first time in my life. I started off with a private onsen experience at Kashikiri Onsen and Spa, a cute little Japanese spa retreat that does onsens, massages, facials, the whole package. They even had a Japanese dog who barked at me aggressively from the entrance until the staff came and restrained him.
The staff was super nice. They had me change into bamboo clogs at the entrance and then into this beautiful spring-inspired yukata set once inside.
The onsen was 630 baht ($20) for 45 minutes, which was totally worth it. I didn’t even need the whole 45 minutes; after soaking in the hot water for a few minutes, you start to feel stuffy and heavy around your chest, so you’re supposed to get out and take a cold shower every 10 minutes to make sure you don’t pass out from the heat. I did this three times and by that point felt ready to leave.
After the onsen experience, I went to get my hair cut at 106 Hair Studio, a Japanese hair salon. They took really good care of me: it took at least 15 minutes to thoroughly wash my hair and give me a scalp massage, and they put a little towel in the shape of a circle on my face to keep the water from getting in my eyes. Then they brought me a couple of thick Japanese fashion magazines for me to point out which hairstyle I wanted. The haircut was perfect and came out to 1000 baht ($33) — 1/3 of how much it costs to get my hair cut in Switzerland.
It was truly the most relaxing afternoon ever. I left feeling calm, rejuvenated, and ready to face a new year.
My last day in Bangkok, I went to the mall for a few hours before heading to the airport. This time I checked out the two other malls, Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon. The former was definitely worth a visit. There was a Japanese stationery store called Loft, which had an entire section dedicated to shiba inus, my favorite animals in the whole world. You know I had to get in on these stickers.
I also came across this eco store in the middle of the mall promoting a bulk refill model for cleaning products. The ironic thing was that right next to the sign, they were selling reusable straws… each wrapped in plastic.
I have no photos of the Siam Paragon mall because it was a lot. Truly, it was too much mall. All I have is this photo of a scary plastic surgery advertisement next to the elevator.
All in all, here’s everything I bought in Bangkok. Clockwise, from top left: an eyeshadow palette; a facial setting spray; a reusable water bottle; two teak wood soap dishes and teak wood chopsticks; a shiba inu pillow; shiba inu stickers; and a pack of 30 sheet masks.
Thailand is now one of my favorite countries. When I was in Bangkok, I caught myself thinking, “Huh, I could see myself living here for a year.” Which is not a thought I’ve had about a lot of places — so far, I’ve only had this reaction to Tokyo, Medellin (Colombia), Jerusalem, and Queenstown (New Zealand). Who knows? Maybe I will end up here one day. I think that would make me happy.