November 13-19, 2018
One of our biggest goals for this trip was to push ourselves and the girls outside of our comfort zones by immersing ourselves, slowly, in different lands, languages, people and cultures. Thankfully, when it comes to being different, Bangkok rates WAY up there.
There are two ways to deal with what you discover here in Bangkok – You can run away and hide in a hole (or resort) or you can embrace it, hold on tight and enjoy the ride. Not being ones to hide, we decided to flex our new travel muscles and embrace the crazy as best we could. The first few days were exhausting but exhilarating. Jetlag made sleep difficult (as did our rock-hard hostel beds), the humidity and temperature made exploration almost impossible and every meal was an emotional minefield. Simple things took five times longer and hard tasks were ignored because we lacked the capacity to deal with them. Our hostel (the first of our trip) cared for us kindly (except for the rock hard beds) during these first few days, supplying us with free coffee, milk tea and cookies, a pool table, AC and a laundry. The Express Hostel became our refuge of sorts and gave us the time our bodies needed to acclimate and let the haze lift before the true epic-ness of Bangkok came into focus.
“Everything is different!”
“Whoa look at that!”
No doubt about it – we were the outsiders. For the first time ever the girls found themselves the racial exception rather than the rule. It was nice to watch their initial timidity and discomfort morph into a deeper understanding of what being a minority actually means, and more importantly, how it feels.
Also neat was after visiting Christian church after church after church (in between castles of course) in Europe, we were all getting our first taste of a majority Buddhist country. We were enthralled. I’ve never seen the girls take so many photos as they did the day we went to Wat Pho and got to see the amazing Reclining Buddha.
As you know by now we like to torture the girls by hiking/walking/running whenever possible wherever we are. In my honest opinion there is no better way to experience a city than moving slowly on foot. When it comes to walking however Bangkok presents some serious problems – it is NOT a walking city. Its more a non-stop, urban assault course. Its brutal and unforgiving and if you dare look up while walking you risk serious injury or possibly even death. I’m joking but not joking. With the 12” high curb stones, crazy traffic, exposed re-bar, live cables hanging like jungle vines all over the place, potholes bigger than Crater Lake, exposed drains and almost no crosswalks, walking in Bangkok is most definitely NOT for the faint of heart. Add to these physical barriers the environmental barriers – air pollution and humidity – And you’ve got yourself a non-stop sensory overload of exhausting dirty dangerous awesomeness.
The big problem of course is that to see some of the real Bangkok you really do need to ditch the tuk tuk, pull on your big-girl/big-boy pants and head down the first scary looking alley you see. You’ll find single room homes, working garages, food stalls, markets, parks, playgrounds, schools and temples. You’ll discover quickly, like we did, that a polite hello spoken in Thai to a concerned, curious man woman or child produces the widest grins and warmest welcomes that turn the scariest looking backstreet into a welcoming neighborhood in a matter of seconds.
But of course, you can’t walk everywhere all of the time – and that’s okay because Bangkok has no problem moving people. Bangkok is, in fact, really, really good at moving people, but it’s definitely different than what we’re used to. Tuk tuks, scooters, cars, trucks, even bicycles zig and zag through pedestrians and traffic at breakneck speed with a confidence (and skill) I can’t fathom. Capacity rules seem optional (a family of four on one scooter is common) and helmets are rare. Sidewalks are used by scooters when road traffic is at standstill and crosswalks allow nervous pedestrians (us) just three seconds to cross four lanes of traffic. It’s madness BUT somehow it all works.
Our favorite way to move in Bangkok became the “Orange Flag” Express boat that ran more like an express train up and down and across the Chao Phraya River. It cost 60 Thai baht (less than $2 US) for all four of us per trip, and it was the fastest, and funnest, way to go north or south along the river banks. Most people on the boat seemed to be daily commuters, even the monks.
Boy oh boy the food! Bangkok Street Food is no joke. Near our hostel, every street and alley seemed to have cart after cart after cart of some kind of food being prepared and sold. Sliced and bagged fruit, meat on a stick, coconut everything, different types of curries, noodles, soups in a bag, whole fish, buns and bugs. Every conceivable color and smell you can imagine. With street food so fresh, cheap and convenient on the way to and from work, it was easy to see why grabbing most meals on the street is such a big part of Thai society and culture.
As newbies, we stepped cautiously into this new culinary world, choosing only safe foods we recognized. Christiana did a food tour with a local guide who picked everything out for her for a few hours, and me and the girls comforted ourselves with snacks from one of the three million 7/11’s you can find all over SE Asia. But slowly, as our confidence grew, we started pushing our limits (recognizing of course that we all had different limits :)) and we tried some new foods, even if we didn’t necessarily know what it was or how spicy it was going to be.
What was the same? There were many malls with lots of shopping. There was Starbucks, which strangely always seems to be able to bring the girls out of a funk. There were tons of schoolkids in uniforms with smoothies and food-on-sticks hanging out with their friends. And there were kind people everywhere who pointed us in the right direction, helped us find our way, and served us delicious tasty meals.
We did hide out in a resort – for just one night, to escape the heat and avoid having to choose our breakfast from an assortment of things we didn’t recognize on a smoking cart or in the 7Eleven. It was a heavenly 24 hours with a fancy pool, cloud-like beds and the most amazing breakfast buffet we’ve seen to date. Everyone needs a break from the crazy…
We were all definitely anxious about our transition from Europe to S.E Asia. We knew how different it would be, and we knew how comfortable we’d become in Europe surrounded by people we related to and foods we recognized.
The girls are slowly learning that different doesn’t have to mean scary, and that a smile and common curtesy is the simplest kind of international language you can learn. They’re also learning that a Thai iced tea with your Thai manicure is the best kind of manicure you can get.
Thank you Bangkok! You opened the new-things-are-scary door just a little wider for us and made us realize that although you’re different than what we’re used to, you’re also very much the same same.