Saturday, January 4, 2014

Jan 4 2014 - Be careful during your last day in Bangkok!

It's a luxury to have a full week in one city. We are able to explore places a little out of the way, such as the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Bangkok. It was a little too far to walk, so for the first time we started exploring the public transit system. The website was a bit convoluted, so we improvised our own route that involved Skytrain, Subway, Bus, and walking. The walking part of the trip included hiking through a park and along a canal, crossing a crowded highway and railroad tracks, passing derelict houses and a run-in with a few chickens. So yeah the museum is in a bit of a remote part of town. And we had thought it was recommended by Olga's brother Konstantin, so it seemed worth a day's journey.

Very few patrons at Bangkok MoCa

When we got to the museum, we could see it wasn't the kind contemporary arts we'd be interested in. There was a Florentine Sculptor who influenced a generation of Thai art students, mainly it was those artists' works that were on display. A very successful Thai telecommunications businessman had built a huge 6 story "well-lit white-walled" museum to house the collection. They had nice benches and they did let us take photos. That's the nicest thing I can say about it. I did enjoy riding the rails and getting comfortable with the bus system! And in Konstantin's defense, we almost certainly misunderstood his recommendation :)

MoCa is not just empty - it's huge and empty!

We wandered our way back to the center and had a super spicy dinner at Baan Glom Gig that included a spicy Green Papaya salad and Southern Style Curry with Mackerel. When even the Thais warn that a meal is spicy, watch out!!!

One hell of a spicy curry
I finally met my match!!!

Our last day, we decided to take a ride in a Tuk Tuk - a sort of motorized rickshaw motorcycle type jalopy. This was just the beginning of a full day of dodging scams. Olga goes into great detail in her blog - I'll just say that tourist scams take many forms in Bangkok and are very deep and elaborate. In the end, it cost us about $4 and an hour of our time before we figured out what was happening, bailed, and got a ride back to where we had started. Not too bad!

Tuk Tuk ride is fun, even if it is a scam!!!

We also visited the Grand Palace, which itself is not a scam, but hardly seemed worth the time it took to visit. That being said, it is surrounded on all sides by scammers trying to convince you to buy pants they say you need to enter the palace, scammers telling you the palace is closed in order to send you on a shopping trip for gems/silks, and taxi drivers you refuse to offer you a fair price for a ride. In the end, I would recommend taking a well-recommended organized tour if you want to see any of Bangkok's more touristy sites. We only started running into scams (or becoming aware of them) on our last day when we ventured into the touristy areas.

A lot of puzzled map-reading and
head-scratching at the Grand Palace

This being our last evening, with our flight leaving at 7am, we could either wake up at 4am or just stay up all night and get into adventures. Guess which one we took :) Our scam sensors already finely tuned and now slightly oversensitive, we headed to the Patpong red light district. I had heard about the "ladyboy" (trans) go-go dancing shows - and we picked a place that was a mix of (biological) women and ladyboys. The show was super tame, they were essentially wearing bathing suits, sometimes lingerie, sometimes full outfits, and dancing on a stage. That's all we participated in. There was another scene going on where the dancers come over to men, drink with them (or as we witnessed, pretend to drink and pour it out), generally show them a good time. We did see one man go home with a dancer. But the dancing on stage that we came to see was pretty tame. And no, we couldn't agree on which were ladies and which were ladyboys. We also happened upon another alley in Patpong that seemed to have exclusively gay bars and clubs. The ladyboy culture in Thailand is super interesting, and to some extent, unique and specific to Thailand. I wonder why...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Jan 2 2014 - Cycling through Bangkok!

We took it easy on January 1, recovering from a little too much partying, knowing we would have 3 more full days to explore Bangkok. The idea was to spend the last three days doing a bike tour, a walking tour, and a museum day. Early afternoon, we walked our way through previously-unexplored neighborhoods over to Follow Me Bicycle Tours for their Siam Boran historical tour.

the Fish Spa tickles a lot at first!!

McDonald's new delivery service in Thailand??

We arrived at the bike tour a little early and they graciously let us use their Fish Spa. We washed off our feet and placed them in a fish tank where tiny toothless Garra Rufa fish eat the dead and dry skin off your feet and toes. At first it tickles, then it just feels relaxing. We had seen these fish spas elsewhere in Asia and Thailand and it always seemed hokey, but since we had a little time to kill and they offered it for free, we figured why not. Only later did I research and find that 14+ US states and several other countries have banned fish spas due to the (small) risk of infection and because the fish must be theoretically starved in order to entice them to eat dead skin. Anyway it was a very pleasant experience for the few minutes we tried it!

Manual steps of processing ginger
in the Bangkok flower mart

About to board the river ferry!

The bike ride was more of a wild adventure than just a tour - being guided briskly through winding alleys (some that were even too narrow and twisty for Tuk Tuks to drive through), pushed through crowds in Chinatown and street markets, herded onto crowded boats to pass between Bangkok proper and Thonburi so we could visit two Wats (Buddhist temples) on the other side of the Chao Phraya River.

Squeezing through an alley

Beautiful views of the Chao Phraya
riverbank from Ferry via bike

After visiting two Buddhist temples, I asked what was probably the most na├»ve question of our tour guide: We have been hearing about big Buddha statues, why isn't he here? Well, readers, it turns out I had thought Fat Happy Budai was The Buddha. The guide explained that some Chinese people pray to Budai but Thai Buddhists pray to the slender contemplative Indian incarnation of Buddha. I'm sure I'm not the only person confused about that – did you also think the Fat Happy Budai was The Buddha?  We all had a laugh and continued on our trek.

Moments before I discovered this is
The Buddha - and I have a statue of
a random fat happy guy at home!

Bikes, boats, and babes!

Many alleys we passed had young kids excited to say "Hello!" to try the English they had learned. Just as many alleys had elderly folks calling out "Happy New Year!" as we rode by! The tour was a lot of fun, a great workout, and a super way to see a lot of the historic side of Bangkok.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dec 31 2013 - New Years Eve Bangkok Style!

What can I say about New Years Eve in Bangkok... It's a little like The Hangover 2... In fact, it's exactly like The Hangover 2 :)

Star Backs ??
We started out at the mall, because when you have a couple hours to kill and you're staying in the middle of the city, why not have lunch at the food court? Malls in Bangkok are really cool, they are the heart of the city, keeping everything flowing around them. Huge supermarkets - with tons of cute groceries imported from all over Asia - are in their basements. Kiosks of knockoff goods line their hallways (you could get a fake name brand belt or tie for $3), and sometimes you ever find a real Starbucks directly next to a fake Starbucks.

On Loy Nava, pre Mai-Tai

Once we had decided not to get new fancy New Years Eve outfits - and just bought new fancy New Years Eve underwear instead - we set off for the hotel where we were to meet our Finnish friends and be picked up by the Loy Nava Dinner Cruise. It's kind of a long story, but basically the dinner cruise people are really hard to get a hold of, and we thought our friends were staying at this hotel - but they weren't - but we had told the boat people to pick us up there - so we all had to find our way to this random hotel to get picked up :)

Crowd starting to gather outside as we take the
7th consecutive escalator towards the roofdeck

The dinner cruise was super cool, it was on a converted old rice barge, there were 10+ courses of food and we had a great view of the city from the river. They also provided a bottle of wine per couple, one Mai Tai per person, and a glass of champagne for each person (start counting!!) - so we were in the best of spirits when the cruise ended and they dropped us off at our next party destination: Centara Grand at CentralWorld (another one of those malls in the center of the city). The party was on the 56th Floor roof deck - but first we had to meander our way through 55 floors of mall. We were already very very happy at this point, and as we walked through the mall crowds, I noticed many MANY people taking selfies in front of the window showing the crowds lining up for NYE festivities on the ground below. Something about of these selfies made me a little loopy and I must've photobombed about 30 different selfies that night :)

Happy New Year!!

We ended up at the 56th Floor Red Sky Bar at about 9pm, we had a few hours to chat, enjoy the amazing views over Bangkok and fireworks, dance up a storm, and drink-drink-drink-drink (I think 4 more bottles of wine were ordered for the group????) We are completely innocent though, Fins Party Hard!!

Epic conga line on the roof around the entire building
The rest of the night was kind of hazy. As we were getting kicked out of the bar around 3am, we noticed Olga's pocketbook had gone missing. Security had it though, and they had gone through every single pocket, flap, and wallet separator, looking for who knows what. When we caught up with them, they had categorized the credit cards and passports for who knows what purpose. Nothing significant is missing, not even the chocolate bar we keep for chocolate emergencies :)

San Francisco Street Food Truck themed
restaurant under Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok
The four of us piled into a cab to go to our friends' hotel, our phone batteries all drained mid-ride and we were at the mercy for the driver. He got completely lost and took us to the Khao San Road (tourist/bar) District for no apparent reason, at one point I think he said something like he had no idea where the hotel was so he took us there. We had Pad Thai (and I think our Finnish friend ordered a TOWER OF SINGHA BEER??) and eventually found our way to their hotel by 5am. Then they packed up to head home to Finland and we decided it would be wise to see them off to the airport. The next thing I remember we were being dropped off at our hotel as the sun was rising. The Finns did the vast majority of the partying, let me assure you!!

Durian fruit in its protective casing

The next day was pretty low-key. We woke up at 3pm just in time to call my brother and wish him a happy new year at midnight Pacific time. At another local mall, we got massages - the second on this trip - we read that it really takes three 90 minute Thai massages to get the body into shape, and we're pretty serious about seeing it through :)

classic Durian fruit initial reaction
Then we spent a couple hours tasting every free sample in the supermarket under the Siam Paragon mall. We bought all sorts of exotic fruits and took them back to the hotel for munching while we did laundry. After about 8 trips to Asia, I finally tried Durian fruit, which is so pungent that streetfood vendors keep it in a little saran wrap tent. It has a custard-like consistency, a smell of rotten eggs, and taste of onions. Not as bad as I expected! Kicking off the New Year Bangkok style!!