Bangkok is a wild place – a place where energy runs high, happenstance and coincidence rule, and truly anything, anything can happen.
Because it was Sam’s 21st birthday and the flights were cheap, we hopped on a plane to Thailand late Thursday evening with nothing more than a hostel reservation to count as our “plans”
This free-form style of travel was, well, freeing. We woke up each morning and sat with our Thai tea and decided what we felt like doing that day. We had no jam-packed to-do lists, no exhausting itineraries, just our whims and our fellow travelers to guide us through this electric city.
On the first day we took a cooking class. We tuk tuk’d to a street corner where our instructor met us and our fellow classmates and then guided us to a market where she had us sniff lemongrass, Thai basil, and “burnt-eye” pepper. She then babied us through preparing a five-course meal, the likes of which I have never before tasted.
Tom yum soup, pad thai, mango salad, green curry, and mango sticky rice were all on the menu. It was essentially three hours of cooking, chatting, eating, and getting relentlessly teased by an expert Thai chef who couldn’t believe how much a little burnt-eye pepper was actually making our eyes water.
We left the school full to the gills and rocking some stylish food babies. The plan for the night was to hit a few bars on Khao San Road, a backpacker haven that had been recommended to us, but we still had a fair amount of time and wanted to see more of the city. At breakfast, a veteran backpacker who had just arrived for his seventh visit to Thailand had recommended going to the malls and watching a movie – odd suggestions for travel, maybe, but he assured us it would be a cultural experience.
We walked to Central 21, an enormous mall complex with an IMAX theater. On the 45-minute trek we drank in the sights – the omnipresent street food that managed to tempt us even after our 5-course meal, the women who practically chased us down the street offering us massages, the shrines to the king and queen on every block, the belching rickshaws and motorcycles careening perilously around bubblegum pink taxis and lumbering trucks. We were already falling in love…
…and then we found a Sephora and our hearts were well and truly won 😉 (Try not to judge our excitement too harshly, we’ve been abroad for over a month, okay??)
That night, back at the hostel, a few of our roommates asked us to join them for cards and beers downstairs before venturing out. I had never stayed in a hostel before and for some reason hadn’t even considered how social the arrangement could be. I expected a cheap and convenient crash pad with snoring. It ended up being more luxurious and private than our flats back in Hong Kong (not that that’s a stretch 😉 ) and we met some amazingly fun people who added a jolt of energy (and ~intrigue~) to the entire weekend.
I had learned on the flight over that one of the Hangover films was set in Bangkok, so I should have expected the zoo that was Khao San Road, but it is something you can’t be prepared for. There are hawkers coaxing you in for racy “ping pong shows” and more who want to sell you laughing gas (which our new-found companions insisted on trying). The street is lined with bars whose menus blatantly brag that they do not check IDs, and “bucket cocktails” with entire bottles of liquor dumped inside.
And, best of all, there’s dancing in the street.
We did not sleep. We did not regret it.
The next day, after buckets of coffee washed down with more buckets of Thai tea, we explored the Chatuchak Weekend Market with some friends from the summer who just happened to be in town, because that’s Bangkok for you. This market is famous and for good reason – it is absolutely enormous and overflowing with anything you could want (and plenty you never would.) And, like everything in Bangkok, it is all so cheap.
Once we had finished our wandering, we went to pay to get stepped on for an hour.
A Thai massage is an experience every visitor must have. Massages are much more affordable here than any other part of the world I have been, and they are also a bit more intense.
We were led into a darkened back room and exchanged looks of alarm at first, but any unease was immediately put to rest. It was a visceral, physically challenging experience. They really do not go gentle, kneading out the kinks in your back like taffy and crackling your spine by twisting you around by your wrists.
We left, shoulders oddly warm and tingly, but loose and refreshed and ready for another night of exploring.
That night we went to Moon Bar on the 60th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel for a stunning 360 degree view of this glowing city, and equally stunning 630 Baht drinks. It was the only not-cheap thing we consumed all weekend and the view was well worth it. Plus, they served us unlimited wasabi peas with only limited judgment. Hard to beat.
For the next hour we sat and looked out over the lights of Bangkok and marveled at the state of our lives. This is travel – experience heightened. That night, literally.
Sunday, our last full day, we took an 8 baht ($0.23!!) canal ride to the Golden Mountain. From there we strolled a good hour down the road to the Grand Palace. We needed no guidance or direction – enormous photos of the Queen through the ages guided us down the street like regal bread crumbs.
The palace charges 500 baht per admission (~$15 USD) and you must remember to dress modestly. That means long pants – it also means LOOSE pants. I made the error of wearing leggings. Fortunately, they do lend out sarongs for a refundable 200 Baht deposit, and I think I looked pretty stylish in mine 😉
The palace was absolutely stunning. Overwhelming. Blinding. There was so much color and dancing light it became hard to look at, but it was just as hard to look away.
We walked over to the Wat Pho temple (home of the great Reclining Buddha) just a few minutes up the road for a peaceful retreat after the hum of the palace. We were able to listen to the monks chanting and amble through yet more stunning architecture.
That night, our last night, we had yet another massage, then sat on the street and ate pad Thai that cost us $0.57 and drank Leo lagers that cost $0.50, and then we crammed five bodies into a tuk tuk for the exhilarating thrill ride of a lifetime.
We parted from our hostel (via one last tuk tuk ride, for old time’s sake) and boarded our plane, buzzing. It had been a hell of a good time, an amazing three days, the best weekend… ever? Right now, in the direct aftermath, it feels like it was truly the best weekend ever. The most unadulterated fun I have had in a long time.
We could not stop giggling.
We didn’t do everything, and we will have to go back, but honestly I think that is what made it such an amazing trip. If you try to do everything, you might not enjoy anything. Do what you want, be open, and be willing to see what happens, and you are sure to have a banging good time. You just may learn something, too.
- We used Skysanner to book our flights and hostelworld to book our hostel. Both yielded amazing results.
- BED STATION was incredible. For about $10 USD we had spacious, pristine bunks with curtains and a private light that made it feel like we had our own rooms. The bathrooms were luxurious, and they serve a simple free breakfast each morning until 10:30. The evening atmosphere is convivial and the friends we were able to make helped the trip become something special.
- There are a lot of cooking classes available in Bangkok, but Silom Cooking School is the one we went to. It was affordable (~$30 USD), informative, fun, and delicious.
- The canal ride we took was essentially a river bus and it was mostly locals on board with us. It was a little tricky to find the station below a bridge but it was just 8 baht, so it is worth asking for help to find it. We talked to people who had paid 500 baht each for a ride down the river.
- Tuk tuks are Bangkok’s rickshaws and they are everywhere. They are also so much fun to ride around in, but because they are more for tourists they are actually more expensive than standard (and safer) cabs. They are, however, still extremely affordable, as long as you establish the fare with the driver before you get in.
- Masseurs are some of the few people you are expected to tip in Thailand! Make sure you remember to do this!
- Buddhism is a religion, not a tourist attraction. We saw many signs warning tourists that the Buddha is not for decoration. Buying a Buddha for a paperweight or tattooing the Buddha on your body is the height of disrespect. Don’t do it.