We rolled into Bangkok road weary, battered, bruised and suffering from a range of maladies: food poisoning, bed bug bites, mosquito bites, a cold and lots of scrapes and bruises from canyoneering. We had a week’s worth of laundry to do and were in much need of an internet connection.
Bangkok is our gateway to Southeast Asia proper and we were only in the city a few days, heeding online advice to focus our time on northern Thailand. We stayed in a trendy area near the Rama 9 metro station in a high rise condo. Many of the AirBnBs in Bangkok are located in buildings where AirBnB is not allowed, and we picked one that was sanctioned, or so we thought. Upon receiving the checkin instructions, we were told to register as “friend” and list the fee as “free” – so clearly we were not staying in a sanctioned AirBnB. We had a few checkin challenges but overall it was an awesome place. I think the front desk people just look the other way because, based on people hanging out in the lobby, we are one of many caucasian “friends” that clearly liked to visit often.
We spent the first 24 hours resting and getting caught up on internet, bills, laundry, etc. We tried getting out to explore the city, but only made it as far as booking a bike tour for the following day and seeing the Golden Buddha. We planned to see the highlights the following day, which included the Imperial Palace and several large temples. It was Christmas Eve so we concluded our day of rest and indulgence by exploring the trendy Terminal 21 mall and watching Aquaman. The movie is classic mindless action (and rather awful) and we all thought the best part was the Thai previews as well as the obligatory standing prayer to the Thai monarch while watching a great propaganda clip. It’s kind of like the national anthem before a football game, but different.
The next day we had great plans to get out early and see the city, but as you all know by now, we don’t go anywhere fast. The morning was consumed by many random but important activities: walking the local market, getting thai iced coffee, working out, shopping for shorts, shipping more things home that we don’t seem to be using, having lunch, etc. As a result our plans to explore the city were curtailed to an afternoon biking tour. We took Co Van Kessel, the oldest bike tour company in Bangkok founded by a dutchman, on a winding two wheeled exploration of the city’s sites and smells. Here’s a video that gives you a sense of that experience.
After a night of relaxation and packing, Marian and I got up early and headed out to see the sites we never managed to see. We jumped in a Grab (the Uber of SE Asia) and fought morning rush hour to visit Wat Pho, home of the Reclining Buddha. It was two hours of commuting for 15 minutes of sight seeing, but we had a flight to catch. Like every other place we’ve visited so far, we needed “just one more day” to see everything we wanted to. We rushed home, grabbed the kids and our gear, and headed to the airport for our flight north to Chiang Mai.
The last few days marks the end of the beginning of our trip. We have now been on the road for 33 of our planned 99 days. This is also where things start to get a little fluid: the flight to Chiang Mai is the last flight we booked prior to departing Seattle (except our flight home on March 2nd). We will be in northern Thailand until mid-Jan and then go to Laos for a while. We still want to visit Cambodia and Vietnam before concluding in Bali (our flight home is from Bali), but the exact route and mode of transportation is still TBD. It’s been great to stay in touch with everyone via social media and we look forward to seeing you all soon.
Travel Tips and Reflections: Here’s some more lesson’s learned from on the roard.
- Internet: Traveling in foreign countries without internet is really challenging. You use cellular data for navigation, planning, translation and research. It’s taken us a month but I think we’ve finally figured out the right system for having connectivity while in SE Asia. International data plans worked while in Korea and Japan because wifi was ubiquitous and insanely fast. You could visit a corner coffee shop (even just stand outside) and get connectivity to check something. However, in the Philippines it was non-existent (unless you had a local Philippine phone number that you were willing to surrender to a spam bot). When we landed in Thailand we bought a cellular sim card and unlimited data plan ($25 for 30 days) and installed the card in our cellular wifi hot spot. We charge the hot spot each night and take it with us in the backpack during our outings so everyone has connectivity. It saves a ton on international roaming and even allows us to call home easily via AT&T wifi calling.
- Transportation: We started using Grab in Thailand and it has been awesome. We tried a few cabs but they don’t want to take foreigners because of the language challenges. Grab is just like Uber but you can pay cash, and they also have a built in translator so you can communicate with the driver via text. The metro in Bangkok is awesome and feels very “Korean”.
- Bike Tour: It was an awesome way to see the city. Despite the chaos on the road you feel safe riding around this big city. Highly recommend it as a way to get your bearings as well as see the local sights, sounds, smells and culture.
- AirBnB: We’ve had mixed experiences so far. The ones in Seoul and Busan were great. The one in Bangkok, other than the checking experience, was good. We struggled a bit with the ones in Kyoto and El Nido. The takeaway is “you don’t know what you don’t know” going into a foreign country and city for the first time and there isn’t enough info via AirBnB to fill in the details.