Southeast Asian Adventure Part 1: Bangkok

Our three week adventure to southeast Asia (Thailand and Laos) is underway and so far we’re doing pretty well. We’ve now checked off Bangkok and checked into the Apsara in the welcomely chill town of Luang Prabang, set along the Mekong River in central Laos.

Sunday / Monday: The 24-Hour Crossing

Our trip started on Sunday when we departed Seattle. Our full day journey began with a quick hop to Vancouver, a fourteen hour not so quick hop to Hong Kong (where at some point Sunday morphed into Monday), finishing with a sleepy three hour flight into Bangkok. Given that this was my longest trip to date, I was a little worried about surviving the flight to Hong Kong in particular, but the food, drinks, naps, magazines, Lonely Planets, Kindle, laptop, iPod, and in-flight video (lots of Modern Family and a trashy Canadian food competition reality show) kept us entertained and made the trip tolerable.

After clearing customs in Bangkok, it took some time and some phone calls to sort out what I thought was the pre-arranged ride to our hotel, but eventually a driver with a sign reading something like “SITZGERALG” showed up, and we were on our way downtown. We arrived at our hotel, Sala Arun, around 11pm and promptly crashed.

Tuesday: Touring Ancient Wats

Given the time change, we both slept fairly well, and woke up on Tuesday morning to a nice riverside breakfast overlooking Wat Arun, a Buddhist temple across the river from our hotel. The two cups of coffee were especially delicious and we hoped to serve as a antidote to any impending jetlag weariness.

Wat Arun

After breakfast, we wandered around the neighborhood aiming to get our bearings as well as trying to acclimate to the non-Pacific-Northwest heat (about 95ºF). We stumbled upon Wat Pho, one of the “must sees” in Bangkok. It was quite impressive. The “Reclining Buddha”, at 46×15 meters, was truly something to behold.

We then continued our tour of ancient sites and made our way to Wat Phra Kaew and the Royal Palace, arguably the most famous site in Bangkok. It was an enormous temple and substantially more crowded than Wat Pho. We walked around, soaking in the atmosphere of the ornate temples and statues. The most notable temple here was the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – what it lacked in size compared to the ginormous reclining Buddha it made up for in greenness. Sadly no pictures were allowed in this one.

Several hours of walking around in the heat was starting to get the best of us, so we cut that visit a bit short and headed east a few blocks for lunch at Chote Chitr. My fried white fish and Meagan’s curry were both tasty, but the highlight for me was the mango sticky rice I obtained across the street for dessert. It’s my favorite Thai dessert, and when I inquired of the restaurant’s owner whether they had it, she said no, but pointed me to the neighboring fruit stand and told me I could bring some back. That made my afternoon.

Fully satiated, we walked back to the hotel, and grabbed a pre-dinner drink and appetizer at the waterfront hotel down the street, the Deck by the River at Arun Residence. Well, it was supposed to be a pre-dinner drink, but when our pre-dinner naps turned into an extended 10pm snooze, it turned out to simply be a very light dinner. So much for defeating jetlag, but our first full day in Thailand was a good one.

Wednesday: Camera Troubles and Thai Cooking Class

With our super early bedtime, we had high hopes of waking up early on Wednesday to make a pre-dawn river ride to the northern market of Nonthaburi, but the torrential thunder, lightening, and rain didn’t bode well for a boat ride and outdoor market. Bummer. We instead made our way downstairs for breakfast and contemplated our options for our last full day in Bangkok. Walking around Chinatown in the rain didn’t seem super appealing either, and I was ho-hum on doing a museum, so we called around to a few cooking schools and booked a 4pm class.

In the interim, I was preoccupied that my camera had a spot on the sensor, and since Bangkok was the last and only major city on the trip, I was fixated on seeing if I could get that taken care of. Given the weather, it seemed like a reasonable option and Meagan was a good sport. I actually tried to make a run to the Nikon store the night before (post-drink, pre-nap), but completely underestimated the distance to the Silom district and the nightmarish Bangkok traffic and basically made a two hour, round-trip cab ride between our hotel and the what would end up being closed Nikon store. Oh well – I chalked that up to “fully experiencing the culture”.

This time, a little wiser for the wear, we decided to take the River Express south and connected to the Skytrain. This trip was much more pleasant and uneventful and we made it to the Nikon store in about an hour. Unfortunately, the sensor wasn’t so much “dirty” as it was “scratched”, which isn’t possible to fix on the spot and which will likely set me back some good coin when we return. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be affecting the images too badly.

Done with this errand, we grabbed lunch nearby at Khrua Aroy Aroy and then checked out a Hindhu temple, Sri Mahariamman, next door. We then returned via the Skytrain + riverboat to the port of Tha Phra Athit. We walked through the neighborhood of Banglamphu, grabbed some coffee, and eventually made our way to the major backpacker thoroughfare of Khao San Road. This was a different version of chaotic Bangkok. After soaking up the international tourist scene, we walked into the D&D Inn, enjoyed some pre-class beers, and then headed to class at Khao Cooking School.

The cooking class was definitely the highlight of the trip so far. Ning and her mom Kobkaew, a well known Thai chef and instructor, were super friendly and awesome, and it was cool to have the class to ourselves. It was fun to learn more about Thai ingredients (like Galangal) and technique (like how to make a proper Panaeng curry by extensively crushing Thai chilis and lots of other ingredients in a mortar and pestle).

My favorite part of the experience was when Ning realized I was pretty comfortable in the kitchen and undertook a certain focus while behind the wok making my Phad Thai. “Ohhh…so relaxed before but now so serious!”. When I cracked an egg into the Pad Thai with a certain amount of flair and authority, Ning commented to Meagan: “Wow, your husband knows how to cook – you should keep him!”. Totally made my day!

We made three dishes in total: Phad Thai, Tom Yam Goong (Spicy Prawn Soup), and Panaeng Curry -  all delicious. By the end, we were stuffed, and whatever hopes we had of a final dinner in Bangkok went out the door. But it was well worth it, as much for the cooking lessons as it was for meeting Ning and Kobkaew. After class, we walked back through the backpacker maze and grabbed a cab to the hotel. Jetlag was catching up again, so we called it an early night and packed up for our early morning flight to Luang Prabang.

The cab ride was more entertaining than anticipated. Our friendly driver played a Bee Gee’s DVD while enthusiastically singing along the entire way. Awesome. While having a minor dispute over the fare (which we pre-paid through the hotel), another cab driver plowed into another cab, whose momentum carried it into ours. Fortunately no one was hurt and everyone seemed more amused than annoyed. A quick phone call settled our dispute, and we grabbed our bags and headed into the terminal, humming “You Should Be Dancing” inside our heads.

Our time in Bangkok flew by quite quickly – it’s impossible to do the city any amount of justice in only two days, especially when it’s your first stop on your first trip to Asia. But I’m glad to have had the introduction, and hope to return someday.

More pictures to be posted later, and more adventures to come!

Leave a Reply

jf’s blog