After making my way up the length of Vietnam via bus I booked a last-minute—and surprisingly cheap—flight to Bangkok. I arrived at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Aiport in the middle of the night. From there, a taxi brought me from a wide, empty highway to the lively streets of the infamous backpacker hotspot: Khaosan Road.
The taxi driver couldn’t actually drive onto Khaosan Road as it was blocked off for pedestrians and street vendors selling everything from pad thai and clothes to scorpion-on-a-stick (side note: the scorpion is more to exploit tourists seeking the exotic; it’s not food locals normally eat, so I hear). When I got out of the cab, I wasn’t quite sure where I was in relation to my hostel and asked one of the clothing vendors to help me out. I wound up with an awesome hand drawn map on the back of a scrap of cardboard.
Using this map, I navigated myself away from the lights and noise of Khaosan Road and found the Suneta Hostel. My room was a mixed-gender dorm: the cheapest, and perhaps only, option. I had a lower bunk in the corner of a perpetually dark room. There may have been more lights, but since it was impossible to tell if someone was trying to sleep I never bothered with the lights aside from the lamp in my bunk.
On the first night, I took it easy and stayed in the common area with some Tiger Beer and watched the last ninety-percent of Rock of Ages starring Tom Cruise.
In the morning, I set out with a young New Yorker suffering from an extreme case of Expat Narcissism (i.e., something I just made up to describe people who are more socially confident while traveling in countries with lower GDP than their home country) and a British guy in his mid to late twenties who seemed ready to go home. We didn’t have to go far to find a tuk-tuk with a driver who agreed to take us to several of the big temples.
Immediately, we were brought to a small, not-very-touristy wat with almost no one around. We quickly concluded this wasn’t the temple we asked to see. While that was odd enough to begin with, when we finished taking a handful of photos, the driver was nowhere to be found. It was a few minutes before he turned up again, and I believe he explained his momentary disappearance as a trip to gas up his tuk-tuk.
When we got going again, he started telling us about how he would take us some place that could hook us up with cheap tours. We wound up at some office where several guys tried to sell us on tourist excursions. The two guys I was with feigned interest before declining. I didn’t bother with the charade.
After getting out of there, for no good reason we got back on the same tuk-tuk again. The driver, after already wasting our time, told us he would take us on another detour for a short stop (according to thew New Yorker the tuk-tuk drivers made a sort of commission with these tourist offices in the form of gas cards). Though we told him we weren’t interested, he insisted the stop would not take long and kept going.
I shared a look with the other travelers and told them we should just go, and we did. When the vehicle slowed down, we got off and walked away. The driver didn’t bother calling after us.
After a short debate with the New Yorker about which direction we needed to walk (I was right, by the way), the three of us began our self-guided tour of Bangkok’s temples on foot. Thanks to a handy map we secured near our hostel, we made our way to several temples and buildings of interest. What stood out most on this walk was Wat Saket, a temple on top of a hill.
To get up to Wat Saket, you have to walk a considerable amount of stairs. After our semi-lost journey through the heat, however, we opted for a shrot break in an empty restaurant at the bottom. While we rested, the New Yorker chatted up a young Australian woman who was on her way down from the temple. She had been in Bangkok for a while, living on the other side of the river among more locals than tourists. The New Yorker, surprisingly, did not get her contact information (Expat Narcissism helped him with confidence, but I suppose like most men from ages 13 to 35, he still had to refine his follow-through).
After so much heat and humidity, we took a much-needed break at the hostel before returning to Khaosan Road for street food and copious quantities of beer. I don’t remember the names of any places we went, but there were many.
The next day, the English guy was on a plane back to the British Isles, and I was stuck with the New Yorker. We set off, on foot again, to see Wat Pho (home of the Reclining Buddha) and the Grand Palace. On several occasions, we had to seek shelter from the sudden rains. We kept our heads relatively dry but our legs were soaked by windblown droplets. We made it to both our primary destinations. To get into the Grand Palace, I had to a wear goofy-looking pair of pants over my shorts because you aren’t allowed to wear shorts in there. Sorry, no photos.
On our way back to the hostel we found ourselves somewhat lost because I let the New Yorker lead. Hungry, we stumbled across a restaurant with no other tourists (as far as I could tell) and only locals eating there. Though we couldn’t read the menu at all, I just asked for whatever it was everyone else was eating. We ended up with some rice and pork, and quite possibly the best meal I had while in Thailand.
After a short respite in the hostel again, I left the New Yorker temporarily behind. I took a cab away from Khaosan’s grit, south along the Chao Phraya River, to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. There, in a much nicer area of Bangkok, I met a friend from law school (and her mother) for dinner and a drink or two (after the mother retired to her room). The contrast between my friend’s hotel by the river and my hostel in Khaosan was more than notable.
When I got back to Khaosan later that night, I came across the New York kid again and went with him and two Australian women to grab however many drinks and drop into a club which was promptly shut down five minutes after we arrived. That was the last I saw of the New Yorker.
The next morning, I took a taxi to a bus station to get out of Thailand and go to Cambodia.