Pad Thai For 2 (Part 1) Why Bangkok was an Unexpected Pleasure

Getting onto the flight in San Francisco, my friend Rachelle and I were giddy with excitement.  It was late and we were ready for a much needed 14 hour nap on the way to our transfer in Hong Kong.  We had planned a 2 week adventure all around Thailand for a couple reasons; we wanted to celebrate Rachelle’s birthday in a big way and doing something new, we wanted to experience the Thai celebration of Songkran (which is like a new year’s celebration for the change of seasons), and finally we both in need of a break in our lives to really enjoy some time to ourselves.  Never forget that last part, self care is so important.

We had plans to do some things with each other, planned some must-do activities, and decided that we are free to split up at any point to adventure on our own.  Realistically, we knew traveling can be rough on any relationship.  All the sudden we are moved in together and discovering each other’s quirks, so it was important to have that understood from the start.  I am so happy to report that we had an amazing trip together and we really did travel well together.  I think the trick was to know when hunger, heat, and allergies started getting the best of us.  Once we could identify that, we were okay.

Arriving in Thailand, our first stop was Bangkok.  It’s always been a city that I’ve wanted to visit, but I have to say, we purposely made this part of the trip shorter than the rest.  I can’t speak for my travel partner, Rachelle, but I like most cities in small doses.  I do feel like with any kind of development, you loose a part of the country’s culture, and that was something I was really looking forward to knowing.  Also, I was in the Philippines in December, and was pretty agravated with the capital city of Manila.  Between the hours of sitting in traffic and finding that most activities were revolved around going to the mega malls of the city, it was not my favorite.  I had similar expectations to Bangkok.  I was really looking forward to seeing the big temples of Bangkok, but that was about all I had on my must-see experiences list.  In my mind, aside from traffic and shopping, there was a nightlife scene and red-light district that I was equally uninterested in checking out.  Since we would be spending Rachelle’s birthday here, I did pack something nice to celebrate with a night out, but otherwise had no plans for night excursions.

The first night was spent walking around the area.  We stayed at a really nice hotel, called the Navalai River Resort.  We chose this because of the proximity to the temples and the Chao Phraya River, and more importantly it came with a beautiful rooftop pool.  In 100 degree temperatures, we looked forward to a dip in the pool after a day of exploring, but were constantly disappointed to find it closes at 8pm.  Most times, we just barely made it back in time to swim.  We found some great walking areas and well-lit parks by the hotel that first night.  The street that it was on was actually a great location for bars with live music, and we enjoyed beers, music, street food, and people watching.  As it turns out, there were a couple hostels in the area so finding other travelers was never a problem.

The next morning we woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to have a great breakfast along the river, figured out where and how to use the water taxi systems, and got see my top two Bangkok temples! Wat Arun (or the Temple of Dawn) was beautiful, but under a bit of construction.  We explored through the various buildings and gardens, and were both impressed by the intricate detailing that adorned everything.  This temple had this mix of old and new, like faded painted doors with bright gold and jeweled columns. The main stupa was closed to visitors, but the other parts of the temple were still impressive on their own.  We took the water taxi back over the river to Wat Pho, one of the largest temples we ended up seeing in Thailand.  It was bright and shiny and incredible!  The temple drew lots of tourists, to the point where it felt crowded.  Everyone came to see the golden reclining Buddha, this figure was long!  One thing we were prepared for is covering shoulders and legs to enter temple buildings, something I had learned in visiting temples in Bali.  One thing we weren’t prepared for was the heat of the day combined with the heat in a crowded temple, and combined with additional layers of clothing. Holy Moly did it get HOT!  It was an incredible start to the vacation.  We got to do all of that by noon, but at that point… it was a different story. The heat had gotten to us and the rest of the day was basically tossed out the window at the first sight of a cold beer in an air conditioned cafe.

We had plans to see the Grand Palace, Dusit Palace, and Vimanmek Palace… but it was just too hot.  We basically walked all the way around the Grand Palace in the mid-day sun trying to find the entrance, and literally melted.  We actually made it into the Grand Palace and basically didn’t want to put our temple layers back on, so we left for food and air conditioning.  Over our first experience of  pad thai in Thailand, we decided to wing it.  We ended up going to another place I had on my go-to list for the next day, the Jim Thompson House, we also decided to cab it there as the tuk tuks (basically small motorized rickshaws) were intent on brining us to places that we didn’t really want to go.  Most of them get a deal with another shopping area or tourist location, if they bring tourists then they get free gas from these companies.  Tuk tuks were trying to charge us more for going to one place on our list than doing that one place PLUS three of their places.  In the end, we didn’t like their pushiness and decided our time was better spent doing what we liked and not what the driver thought was “a great place to see”.  En route to the Jim Thompson House, we met Mr.K.

Mr. K was my age with a young daughter, and pretty good english.  The trip to the Jim Thompson house was re-energizing with him.  We told stories through the traffic and he had offered new suggestions for our day tomorrow.  “Yes!”, we both agreed to some new adventures, and celebrated by all three of us singing in the cab like it was some private karaoke club.

The day went on to experience the art and design of the mysterious Jim Thompson, I had seen this  a little bit of shopping, unfortunately missing the pool closing again, and then a relaxing Thai massage at a spa by the hotel.  We both fell asleep somewhere between the legs and the back.  I couldn’t believe how much we needed that after only one full day in Bangkok.  As much as I enjoyed the temples, I was excited for the change in plans for the next day, which was Rachelle’s birthday.  There’s something so great about impromptu travel plans, there’s always new adventures around every corner, you just need to say, “YES”.

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Arriving in Bangkok and exploring the area around our hotel and the Rama VIII bridge.

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Hot days and nights called for cold beers. Luckily, the whole block was filled with street foods, open air bars, and live band karaoke at night.

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Morning breakfasts on the river with Rachelle.

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Getting pulled over in our river taxi.  Yeah, we apparently did some illegal maneuvering and got caught up.

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One of the many buildings of Wat Arun soon after they opened to the public, you can see from the green tarp that some areas were under renovations and that it was relatively tourist-free that early in the day.

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Handprinted wallpaper slowly peeling from the walls show a sign of how long this temple has been around.

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Always look up… you could be missing something incredible, like this ceiling at Wat Arun.

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Inside one of the temples structures of Wat Arun, yes those walls are all hand painted.

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Finding a “Nang Talung” artisan, who has been hand piercing thin sheets of buffalo and cow skins with his family for generations.  Originally used to create shadow puppets, he also works on larger scenes and animals to sell at the market.

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Air conditioning and Chang beer break. 

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At Wat Pho, the area was so expansive, it was pretty difficult to get great photos of how beautiful it really was.  So many decorative stupas and statues, it was hard to focus on one thing.  Not only a temple, it also encloses a school of thai medicine and massage.

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The Buddha reclining at over 150 feet in Wat Pho with Rachelle.  Covering up in sarongs to enter the temples, we were basically melting.

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Some of the detailing at Wat Pho.

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The wall that went all the way around the Grand Palace, which was basically the wall that we walked along in the mid-day sun and heat for a long… LONG time.  I am getting really dehydrated just looking at this photo.

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One of the many guards around the Grand Palace who sent us away because we weren’t at the main entrance.  This guy was literally sweating through his uniform.

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Frustrated with the heat, we ducked out of the Grand Palace for food, cold drinks, and air conditioning.

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Exploring the outside areas of the Jim Thompson House with Rachelle.  Jim Thompson was an architect that basically revolutionized the fashion and design industry with his marketing of Thai silks to the world.  He kept adding on to his house and gardens which entertained everyone from movie stars to presidents, and mysteriously disappeared one day.  His home is now like a museum of antiques and furnishings and generally showcases Thai culture.

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A break in the tours to enjoy some Thai dances in the courtyards of the Jim Thompson House.

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One of the open courtyards, under the main house of Jim Thompson.  Some antiques are on display, including an old print block used to make bold patterns on the silks.

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Ending the day with Thai massages in what we joked were our prison jumpsuits.  Yes, the walls, along with a lot of the chairs and accessories were all sorts of pink.

 

Featured image: Our “before photo” taken before breakfast. Make up and hair looking so good, it deserved to be documented.  The day basically melted that all away in the first hour.  Our morning routines got a lot easier from that point since we didn’t bother putting in that much effort again.

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