Arriving in Bangkok signaled the beginning of the end of this trip. I had already been in Thailand’s capital twice during my previous nine days, but this was the first time I’d be staying for more than 15 hours. “Whirlwind” was the only way to describe my trip thus far, especially in getting to Bangkok from Koh Phangan. The ferry-bus combination took about 18 hours.
Upon our 5 a.m. arrival, the girlfriend and I groggily stumbled around Bangkok looking for the city’s dirty backpacker headquarters, Khao San Road. We got off the bus and tried to follow the herd of backpackers, but the group quickly thinned and we were left guessing. It turns out we had walked right past the street without knowing it; the flock of knowledgeable travelers had made a quick left, and we somehow missed it.
After backtracking in a taxi, we checked into the first open guesthouse we saw that had cheap rooms: the Chart Guesthouse and Restaurant. Its bar and restaurant downstairs looked quite nice; the rooms themselves, not so much. I remember the word “shithole” escaping my lips upon seeing the room, but in the end it served its purpose — a place for us to sleep at night. For 350 baht per night, we couldn’t really complain.
I had already spent half a day wandering Bangkok and seeing various temples, including the Golden Mount and Wat Traimit. My second stint in Bangkok consisted of exploring more of the west side of the city — a convenient jaunt from Khao San Road. The girlfriend and I wandered around looking at various things, such as the City Pillar shrine, the Giant Swing (which has no swing), Democracy Monument and, of course, more temples. We also stopped at various food stands to sample meats-on-sticks. That was clearly the best part of my day.
We saved the biggest attraction for our next day: the Grand Palace. The complex, which dates back to the 18th century, used to be the official residence for the king of Thailand. The current king, though, doesn’t live there but at Chitralada Palace instead. Many official and royal ceremonies are still held there. The Grand Palace is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. They know it, too: Thai people can enter for free, but farangs (foreigners) must pay a 350 baht admission fee — rather steep but the Grand Palace is a must see.
We followed that sight of grandeur with a trip to the grungy Chatuchak weekend market, Bangkok’s largest of its kind. The market’s tunnels of vendor stalls (weaving in and out of the sun) quickly became very disorienting. We went there with the intentions of finding souvenirs, but this was a real market with real things that real people buy. It took a bit more searching than we were expecting, but we eventually found appropriate gifts for friends and family.
That evening the girlfriend left to return to Korea, but I had one more day in Bangkok. I met up with my cousin who is studying at Assumption University in Bangkok, a relative I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years when I visited Vietnam. I spent the night with her chatting (and consequently brushing up on my Vietnamese for my next trip). We spent the next day at a couple art exhibits we stumbled across while trying to get to the Jim Thompson House. We actually spent so much time at these exhibits that we never made it to our planned destination.
I really enjoyed Bangkok as a city. Even though it less than half as old as Seoul, it seems to have much more character. Maybe Seoul’s age works against it, especially with the rapid westernization of Korea. The countless wats around the city are a constant reminder to the beauty of Thailand. At this point, though, I was ready to return to Korea, to a place I can call “home.” I had been on the road essentially every two or three days, and it really wore me down. My journey home wasn’t any different than my trips around Thailand: an overnight flight back to Seoul.
Some things never change — except for my scenery, and I enjoy it every time.
[click images to enlarge]