Preface: it was the night before my 11-day trip to Southeast Asia. This trip had been in the works for the past half year, and I was getting really excited for the adventures that lay ahead. Since it was a Tuesday, I played pickup basketball in Chinatown SF after work. The games were going well, at least until I sprained my ankle. My upcoming trip just got a lot more interesting.
Fast forward to the next morning. After furiously icing and taking some Ibuprofen, I hobbled out of the apartment and made it to the airport to meet up with my travel buddies Jay and Soham. We had some time to kill before the flight and thankfully both Jay and Soham had access to the United Gold Lounge with plus-one options. We enjoyed a nice hearty breakfast and relaxed before boarding our flight.
The flight to Bangkok turned out to be a journey and was the longest one I’d ever taken. It took close to 24 hours from start to finish, including a three-hour layover in Tokyo. The United Lounge at the airport saved us. It was a huge area with buffet-style food (sushi, soba noodles, corn cream soup), serve-yourself alcohol and wine, and the coolest beer dispenser that tilted the glass while pouring icy cold Sapporo. So the layover didn’t turn out bad at all, and after another flight we made it to Bangkok around 2am local time.
After crashing at a hotel next to the airport, the next morning we took a taxi into the city center to check into our hostel and begin our Bangkok travel activities. We arrived at NapPark Hostel right by Khao San Road, the famous backpackers’ mecca in Bangkok. It was around lunchtime so we strolled along the streets, which had a crazy mix of street food carts, cars, motor scooters, and tuk tuk taxis, before settling for the most touristy-looking food cart called I (Heart) Thai Food.
The pad thai was pretty good but we added a barbecue duck rice plate from another cart to make it a meal for the kings. We washed it all down with coconut water from freshly chopped coconuts. The total for two entrees and a drink? Less than $4. I knew it right then and there – this was going to be a wonderful trip!
After lunch we ventured out from Khao San to explore the big attractions in the area. Our first stop was the Grand Palace, which was built by the Thai king in 1782 and houses some famous temples and buildings. The area was absolutely breathtaking, with all the buildings and temples laced in shimmering gold, gleaming from the sun. We admired the very traditional Thai architecture and took off our shoes to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
The one aspect I enjoyed the most about the visit was the sheer amount of colors the designers and builders used for all the buildings. The best comparison I can make is that the colors were similar to those special-edition US Mint coins that are colored in with bright and vivid shades, then laced with gold around the outlines. I couldn’t help but appreciate the visit and how nice it must have been for Thai royalty.
We continued south and reached our next stop, Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), which housed a gigantic golden statue of Buddha reclining on his side. I’m not exaggerating when I say the statue was massive, and the gold made it all the more transfixing. This specific pose represents Buddha during his last illness ready to enter parinirvana, and his calm face gave the place a peaceful vibe. By now it was late afternoon and we took a ferry to cross the river for our last stop of the day, Wat Arun.
Wat Arun is a temple famous for its sunrise and sunset views and option for people to climb to the top tiers. Shaped like a narrow pyramid with a resemblance to the pyramids at Chichen Itza, Wat Arun was a sight to behold. The steps leading up were so steep that they disappeared when we looked back down. The view at the top was incredible, with golden-hour views of the river, the surrounding buildings, and all the shenanigans happening in this chaotically wonderful city.
By now it was hitting sunset so we took the ferry back across the bridge and walked through a street market. Jay and I tried out fried grasshoppers, a traumatic but fun experience, with locals staring at us staring at these gross-looking bugs and trying to figure out how to eat them. The texture wasn’t that great and there’s not a lot of meat, but at least they were somewhat flavorful!
Our fast and furious tuk tuk driver got us back to the hostel in record time, casually weaving in and out of traffic all the while chatting with us and being a generally awesome dude. We caught snippets of his conversations in between honks and crazy traffic maneuvers – the guy was obviously very skilled and made the ride an adventure in itself.
Khao San Road is where it’s at during evenings. We enjoyed Thai massages ($10/hour!), more street food, and the large Chang beers while strolling amidst crowds of backpackers, tourists, and locals. Everywhere we looked there were restaurants with live music, bright lights, and people enjoying the relaxing breeze. What a perfect day, and the perfect introduction to Thailand!