Dear Christina // THAILAND: Bangkok City Thrills & Why I’d Always Love to Come Back (Part 1/2)

We like to joke that Christina is our one married friend that doesn’t act married, that is to say, she’s always raring to do some [extreme] activity or other, you’d think she didn’t have a husband to go home to. We worry that he thinks we, her friends, are bad influences because we condone and enable such behavior. It doesn’t help that Christina tricks him into “vacations” with the gang that almost always end up with jumping over cliffs and canyons and water slides, but so far I think we’re growing on him. Haha!

Christina and I (with the rest of the squad) went to Bangkok (and Cambodia) two years ago, and as I look back on those specific memories (and the in-betweens and etceteras and so forths), I realize how grateful I am to have an adventure buddy in her. Her energy is infectious and intimidating, but it is a pleasure to keep up with it (and her) as I’m sure her husband already knows.

I went to Bangkok two weeks ago (July 2017), this time with some girl friends from high school.

Dear Christina,

I was trying to keep my eyes open as the train sped past the Suvarnabhumi Airport to the main city center in Bangkok. We were four girls armed with trolleys and backpacks, and eye bags that gave away the fact that we hadn’t slept the night before (A decision that was made unanimously so we would not miss our 6:00 am flight. Sometimes democracies backfire). This was Day 1 of a seven (7)-day adventure from Bangkok to Vietnam, and we already looked like it was Day 5.

This was my first out-of-the-country trip with my best girl friends from high school. Frankly, since my visits home to Iloilo have been relatively short since I left for Manila, I haven’t really hung out with them past coffee dates and the quick tambay (This is an actual thing in the province where you meet up with no plans and just end up somewhere, somehow. This could happen in Manila if only traffic did not make people want to set fire to EDSA on a daily basis*. But I digress).

* To maybe the [two] non-Filipino readers of this blog, I do not mean to discourage you to visit Manila. Our traffic is bad — there’s no other way to say it — but we get by with a good sense of humor and the saving grace that is the Internet (though our Internet speeds here are also sub par). My honest opinion: pick a provincial destination, preferably by the sea; pass through Manila; and you’re likely to fall in love 10 times out of 5.

My favorite thing about going on adventures with really close friends who have the same spirit and spunk is that you end up just powering through at all cost. “LABAN” (fight) remains the millennial cry of the century and I will gladly live that out for as long as I can (God bless me … with insurance).

So, we dropped off our bags in our hostel, freshened up so we looked as decent as two hours of sleep in the plane ride could afford us, and commuted our way to the city wats/palaces.

This is a diary of old (our BKK trip, September 2015) and new (my trip two weeks ago with them, July 2017) memories of Bangkok, and why it may be one of my favorite city getaways to date.

THe CITY PALACES

I live by an uncomplicated travel rule — do anything at least once, and if you [have to] do it twice, remember: variation (anything past two means you probably just love it, in which case, do what you want). Simply put, don’t go to a billion palaces in one trip or you’re bound to get umay (“to get sick of”).

Wat Pho or The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is one of the Bangkok Travel Guides’ must-do’s if only to see the humongous 46 m golden Buddha lying gracefully on its side (that’s the length of a 15-storey building or three humpback whales!).

TURN DOWN PHO WAT #thailandi #bangkok #travel #wat #citytemple #gopro

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The Grand Palace is a much larger complex. We failed to go in 2015 because of heat exhaustion, but I finally went this time around and it was grand indeed.

The Grand Palace is divided into quadrants. A huge chunk of it still operates as royal offices and residential courts. The area of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew is tourist central, and for good reason. It is a feast for the eyes — gold and glittery with intricate designs and structures that mark Thai architecture. It’s quite magnificent, I assure you, but with that same sentiment I say hydrate and choose your battles erm temples.

TIP: You’re not allowed to take photos inside the hall where the emerald Buddha is situated because it remains a place of worship.

TIP: The dress code in the Grand Palace is much stricter than in Wat Pho so best not to go hubadera, tempting though it may be. They used to offer rentals for cover-ups, which they’ve discontinued. I learned this the hard way. I was in a breezy beige romper which turned out to be a mistake almost immediately as the guards barked instructions to me in Thai (I think he said, “Nice outfit, but no”). I had to make do by borrowing my friend’s denim jacket (It was a sauna inside) and using my pashmina as a skirt (Still a sauna inside).

This is Chakri Maha Prasat or the Grand Palace hall where a century’s worth of Thai kings have ruled. It was cordoned off during our visit as mourners clad in black continue to flock the palace in homage of the late king.

THE (STREET) Food

Bangkok street food has always been enough reason for me to go back. The spicy rich flavors as they burst into your mouth is an almost sensual experience, except that most of the time I prefer to consume them literally by the roadside for that full, authentic, slightly shady immersion. Let’s not forget how incredibly affordable everything is.

Not ashamed to say I hopped on a plane for this. 30 PHP / 0.60 USD for the best iced milk tea or iced coffee (also, these are quite clean as they use mineral water to brew). We pay thrice the amount for knock-offs of this back home in the Philippines.

Mango Sticky Rice deserves a separate photo obviously.

Cheap meal alternative (you’re welcome): pork skewers and sticky rice. Do not be afraid to add Moo Dad Diew (or deep fried pork) on the side.

These food stations by the road were so cheap and delicious, I don’t understand how Thai people keep thin. Shout out to the Pad Ga Pow Moo Kai Dow / Pad Krapow Moo Saap (chicken, pork, or ground meat stir fried in oil with garlic, chilies, and basil or green beans; don’t forget the fried egg, please) which I downed on our way to Ayutthaya (more on that trip on the next letter).

Chinatown

Do you remember Debbie from Holland? We had walked/sat beside her on a boat ride at Chao Phraya River two years ago. We were headed to the city palaces, and she was on her way to Chinatown in Yaowarat Street.

I decided to see what the fuss was about as she had mentioned it was a not-to-miss. This shouldn’t have been a problem except it was raining — I’m sorry — POURING.

Cats and dogs

We were huddled by a dark corner, using our pashminas and scarves as cover. I must admit, at that time, being awake for 24 hours was starting to take its toll. However, it was too late to back out of this brilliant idea, so we continued to walk a few more blocks despite the heavy curtain of rain that was tearing through the city.

Sometimes when this is the view, it’s really okay to tell yourself to give up. Sadly, I don’t function like that #TeamPowerThrough.

And just as we found the main intersection of Yaowarat Street where all the food stalls were lined up with scanty tarpaulins and clear plastic covers to dispel the rain, we saw a bunch of people emerging from the dark in bright-colored rain covers.

Where can we get some of those? And so, 7Eleven saved the night. The high of finding our pastel-colored rain covers gave us a full three-hours of an adrenaline rush as we went from one stall to the next ordering at least one dish until we could no longer.

Wild night at Bangkok's Chinatown // Our Uber driver remarked that it has been raining in the city on most nights. I think he was a little confused as to why he was dropping off four girls from a foreign country in a night street market in ill-advised clothing (I was in a beige romper with only a pashmina for cover). The rain raged on. Yaowarat Street was never in my radar but I remembered bumping into a lady traveler who said she could not leave Bangkok without a visit. So, after purchasing pastel-colored rain covers, we braved the outpour for an excellent range of Thai street food that only cost us 250 baht (total for four!) and the possibility of pneumonia #worthit #bangkok #thailand #chinatown #yaowarat #street #nightmarket #food #foodie #adrenaline #travelhigh

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Mighty morphin’

We get by rain or shine

HIGHLIGHTS: Pad Thai from the well-documented O.K. Pad Thai, Pad See Ew from a stall that refuses for you to take a photo of it, stewed pork leg with rice, noodles in a warm light broth, and various fish cakes you dip in spicy and tangy sauces.

THE Nightlife

Bangkok, as you already know, is in/famous for its nightlife. I remember the nights we had in Khao San Road, Patpong, and that night club complex – each offering a different flavor to this city of endless energy and world-class tourist bonanzas. One could argue that Bangkok is most alive at night.

Remember these photos from 2015?

I regret to say that we barely had any of that again during my latest visit. The reason was a combination of a long weekend that marked (1) the Buddhist tradition of the beginning of lent and (2) the on-going royal funeral rites for the late king. This meant that on the three days we were there, an alcohol ban was strictly imposed throughout the city and merriment was kept at a noticeably lower notch. Pity too, as we purposely planned our stay along the weekend.

Rooftop Bars

But as ever, the correct response is to make the most out of the situation. For us, it meant: rooftop bars!

I’ve been trying to get to Lebua Tower (where they shot Hangover), but arguably, Marriott’s Octave Rooftop Bar is better, a 360 view overlooking the metro.

A storm brewing

THE COMMONS

Somewhere in Thong Lor in Sukhumvit is a creative/collaborative space called TheCommons. I wish we had seen it while the sun was still out, but the fairy lights as they illuminated the space at night wasn’t too shabby either.

It is a three-storey area that includes a food hall, art spaces, specialty shops, and a common area with free wifi and a cool, earthy atmosphere.

Google search finds #hipster #coworkingspace #thecommons #sukhumvit #bangkok #thailand #artspace #citylife

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Lobster Balls

Poke Bowls: Overpriced everywhere in the world

Siam Niramit

My one regret was that I was not able to bring my friends to the Siam Niramit show we enjoyed so much. My friends and I grew up on stage production. Throughout high school, it was mandatory in our school to stage at least two plays each year — one in Filipino (Ibong Adarna, Florante at Laura, and Rizal’s Noli and El Fili) and one in English (Filipino plays, Asian plays like Mulan and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess/Princess Sarah, Shakespeare plays like Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well, and finally World plays where we ended up doing a production of the ’00 Filipino movie Anak and an original based on Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven).

We were so young then. It was a kind of make-believe that made us realize big things were possible together. It was the highlight of our teenage years.

Shopping

In case you’re wondering, of course we went shopping! After a good personal run of avoiding the shops during my HKMacau trip, I relapsed. Not badly, but shopping in Bangkok is the equivalent of a buffet for recovering fatties. Thankfully because of the limited time we had in the city, we only ended up in the Chatuchak Weekend Market. I purposely tired out my friends. Had we ended up in MBK and Pratunam, we’d never get out of there alive.

Oh, look! Candles (or is it soap)!

Postcards!

I’m sorry if I’m becoming a bit of a bore in Manila these days, but I’m sure we’ll figure out some excessive way to make up for it as we always do. As ever, looking forward to more days under the sun.

Until our next adventure,

P.S. No photo of your letter yet as however hard I try, I can’t remember the number of your unit. I’m getting rusty.

P.P.S UPDATE: Mailing your letter!

This is Part 1 of my Bangkok entry. Stay tuned for Part 2 featuring the rural sites of Thailand. Coming right up!

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