Jan 20 – 25 (and several other times)
Since I didn’t get much sleep my last night in Hanoi, I arrived in Bangkok exhausted.
I took a taxi from the airport to my guest house (Teawez Guest House), ate some curry, then took a long nap. I wasn’t really in a huge hurry to do anything – I kinda just felt like I was killing time until Miguel arrived. When I woke up, I wandered through the market and chatted with a guy selling Chinese tea. He gave me the rundown on all the scammers in Bangkok and circled places on my map that I might want to visit.
Teawez Guest House turned out to be a big disappointment. I had called them from Hanoi because I wanted to book a room for 3 nights so I wouldn’t have to relocate. It was a confusing conversation, but they assured me that my room was reserved (even though they took no payment information over the phone). When I arrived and referred to my reservation, they had no idea what I was talking about. But they had a room available anyway, so I stayed (letting them know again that I wanted to stay 3 nights). The next morning, the woman didn’t give me any explanation but told me that I would have to switch rooms. It was annoying, but no worries – I switched. But then the next day, she made me switch rooms again! Apparently a repeat customer was staying that night so they were kicking me out of my room to give it to him! I ended up leaving and moving to the place next door, Sawatdee Guest House (a much better option with a really sweet, quirky lady running the place).
It turned out that my friend Michael (who I met in Perth) was also in Bangkok. So he stayed at Sawatdee Guest House as well. We had a nice few days together.
We walked around downtown.
We wandered around by the Chao Phraya River.
And we went to a bar called The Common Ground, where we watched a great Thai Ska band perform (when I remember their name, I’ll post it here. I really really liked them.
We even got to witness how sketchy some of the tuk tuk drivers can be. This guy told us he’d take us wherever we wanted to go, but he just had to stop for gas first. We fell for it and got in the tuk tuk. As we passed by a suit shop, I jokingly said to Michael “and now he thinks it’s time for us to by suits.” I was kidding…but sure enough, he stopped in front of the suit shop and said “Only 10 minutes. You looking.” The deal is, these guys get a commission for every person they bring into the shop (whether they buy anything or not). So if you want to get a cheap ride in the tuk tuk, and you’re not in a hurry, you may as well just stop and look for 10 minutes so everyone is happy. BUT, I still think it’s annoying when they don’t tell you their plans up front. On principle, we refused to get out until he drove us where we wanted to be. And seriously. He should learn to pick his target audience better. We definitely don’t look like the type of people who would want to buy suits! The tuk tuk driver said “Sorry sorry. Misunderstanding.” He dropped us off near-ish where we wanted to be (for no charge) and he had us write a note explaining his deal so that he can be more clear with the tourists next time. It was kinda funny.
Our days were pretty low key. Neither of us were too in the mood for sightseeing. We had both been traveling for a long time and just kinda wanted to relax. We found a park and sat in the grass until it got dark and mosquitoey. A big group of boys were break dancing. I retaught Michael how to crochet with plastic bags. He gave me a brief ukulele lesson. Afterwards, we ate at a place near the park. I ordered masamun curry.
And the cook shaped my rice into a bear!
We thought it was hilarious and of course took lots of pictures of it. They thought it was hilarious that we were so amused by it…and of course took lots of pictures of us.
The first day I was in Thailand, we ate at restaurants more geared towards tourists (with English menus and comparably more expensive prices, like 80 or 90 Baht for a meal). The second day, I was feeling more adventurous and I had practiced a few of my new Thai vegetarian words. We walked up to a street stall and I said “mangsawirat” and “jey” (basically “vegetarian” and “vegan”). The man said “yeah yeah” very unenthusiastically and plopped a bowl of soup in front of me. It had tofu, wheat gluten, and some oddly textured white mushroom. It wasn’t all that great, but it was cheap (30 baht). Well, at least I tried it.
Two days after I arrived in Bangkok, Miguel arrived!! He was using my old backpack (which was way to small for him), he had just gotten off a terribly long flight, and he looked exhausted! It was so exciting to see him!!
He arrived around 1 in the morning and we stayed up pretty late, so both our schedules were all off the next day.
The first morning we walked to Wat Po, the Temple of The Reclining Buddha. It’s really common for taxi touts to walk up to you, call you “friend,” and then inform you that whatever temple you are going to visit is closed for “Buddha day” or whatever other religious holiday they can make up on the spot. Then they’ll kindly offer to deliver you to a different temple on the other side of town. Never believe them. I guess this ploy must work on some people, because all these guys try it on you. Anyway, we had about 4 people come up to us, solemnly shake their heads, and say “Oh friend. I’m very sorry but Wat Po is closed today. People inside are praying.” We decided to try anyway, and of course it wasn’t closed.
The temple was really shiny and glittery.
And it had lots of cool animals statues outside. I thought most of them looked like zombie versions of the animals they were supposed to be.
And my favorite…Zombie monkey
I also liked these guys.
It was super hot and sweaty outside, but we walked around all day anyway. We also stopped by the amulet market, a few other temples, and the Grand Palace, but didn’t end up going inside (too expensive!)
Poor Miguel was sooo tired (he hadn’t really slept for about 2 days).
After all the walking, we stopped to rest at a new bar on Samsen called tuktuk. The owners are really friendly and mellow and they have live music most nights. Like everywhere else in Thailand, it’s pretty much all cover songs….but its impressive how well they master the cover songs. At this particular bar, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” was a popular one (“These songs of fleadom….”)
I had really been wanting to take a cooking class in Thailand and May Kaidee’s is a popular vegetarian restaurant on Samsen road that also offers cooking classes. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money and was going to think about it a few more days. But as my luck would have it, we were sitting at the Tuk Tuk Pub that night and a guy randomly wandered up to ask if we wanted to head over to May Kaidee’s that evening and take a FREE cooking class. Apparently an Israeli film crew was in town to do a feature on May Kaidee and they needed more people to participate in the cooking class that evening.
So….our first day in Bangkok, we ended up on TV! I don’t know what the show was called or where it was broadcast, but perhaps somewhere in Israel we are famous.
Four other ladies were also in the class. And although we were all picked out randomly (from the same guy who found us at the bar), it turned out that we were ALL vegetarians. So cool!
May Kaidee’s cooking class is normally 3 hours long. And we were supposed to pretend as if we had been there all day – going to the market to buy ingredients, chopping up all the vegetables, preparing many different dishes. But since our class was for the sake of a TV show, we didn’t actually learn all the recipes that May Kaidee teaches in the real class. Instead, we learned one recipe – Tom Yum Soup. And all our veggies were precut and put in little bowls for us. During our Tom Yum Soup lesson, the film crew was video taping us the whole time. And sometimes they stopped the tape and made us redo certain sections of the “class” to be how they wanted them to be. It was interesting to get to observe how staged (and messy) the world of TV can be.
May Kaidee is really cute and charming. And she always incorporates singing and dancing into her cooking classes. I was never able to find our video, but a quick search shows quite a few videos of her Thai cooking classes that other people posted online. May Kaidee is certainly not shy – she can often be found dressed like a princess, sitting on the back of a tuk tuk pasing out flyers on Khao San Road. She has several restaurants (3 in Bangkok, 1 in Chiang Mai) and a steady stream of customers – either there to take a cooking class or just to eat her wonderful food.
I really didn’t like the film crew we worked with. You could tell how excited May Kaidee was to have them there. But rather than doing a sincere documentary on her cooking school, it was more like a sensational food show with a really annoying girl as narrator. For one thing, they weren’t vegetarians…and their tone throughout the entire show was kinda mocking (Like when the girl said in a very loud TV voice, “WOW! All this food you guys have prepared looks sooooo wonderful!! I’ll probably NEVER eat a stake again!” Then she turns around to the camera and delivers a very over exaggerated wink). At one point in the show, she asked us all if this cooking school was really going to convert us to being vegetarians. When we all said we already are, I could tell she didn’t really want us to answer that way. She quickly started talking again about how she probably wouldn’t ever be able to give up certain carnivorous habits.
After we filmed the cooking class, we were given a short break before we had to return for the rest of the show. Some of the women came back with their husbands and we all had a grand feast. This was obviously my favorite part. Even though we didn’t actually make all the food on the table like we pretended we had, we still got to eat it! Yum.
And after we had eaten heaps of brown rice, green curry, tom yum soup, fried seaweed, and spring rolls with peanut sauce, May Kaidee and her uncle played some music. My favorite part was when her uncle played the leaf! I have a video, but can’t seem to post it here. Since Miguel and I were closest to the front of the table, they brought us up to dance.
Miguel and I ended up returning to Bangkok a few times (either to catch buses or to relax for a few days before heading someplace else). It’s tough to write about anything in a particular order, so I’m just going to list some stuff.
After a terrible night with mosquitoes (I had to drape my tent over my face as a mosquito net), we ended up moving out of Sawatdee Guest House and finding a better place: Siri Baan Thai on Samsen Soi 3. These people were so sweet and helpful. And for what you get: good location, huge clean room, hot water, free wifi, use of kitchen, free tea and coffee and toast, comfortable mattress (a rarity in Bangkok), it’s an awesome price (300 – 400 Baht per night).
We even had our own desk where we could pop open our laptop, drink a beer, and live out our “modern travel lifestyle.”
Miguel had the grand idea of skateboarding while hanging on to the side of a tuk tuk. Sometimes it worked well.
Sometimes he fell down.
We also went to lots of parks. Bangkok has the most amazing parks – and they’re huge! Our favorites were Chatuchak Park, Lumpini Park, and the park off the Chayo Phraya River (I’m not sure the name of it, but its on the other side of the big bridge). The city seems to place a big emphasis on health. So all the parks have lots of free workout equipment scattered around.
I discovered a free aerobics class at one of the parks – every day from 6 to 7. Over 100 people attend this class regularly. And the instructor stands in front of them on a platform, dancing to the beat and screaming instructions into the microphone. I went to it a few times, but since it was all in Thai, I only managed to get through the first half of the class before it got way too complicated for me.
And some of the parks have monitor lizards roaming around.
We peeked at some of the canals (notice the monitor lizard on the log).
And we walked around downtown.
During our visits to Bangkok, we fell in love with the food! There are tons of vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok and I definitely didn’t get a chance to try them all. Actually once we found a great one, we just kept going there over and over and over.
Here are some of the ones we liked:
Ethos is a cozy little place with free wifi, nice curries, and fresh juices. It’s a tiny bit pricier than some of the other veggie places around…but if you’re near the Khao San Road area and you want a quiet little vegan oasis to hang out in for a while, this is a good choice.
They also have a good selection of western food (like spaghetti with “meatballs” and homemade veggie burgers).
And of course, as I do everywhere, I made friends with a cat.
This place is located two doors down from Ethos. The food is tasty and cheap. And out of all the veggie restaurants on this little strip, I think it’s the best.
We of course also ate at May Kaidees restaurant. Many days, I ate at May Kaidees for lunch and her aunt’s place (Chiaya’s) for dinner.
I was hoping to have tried everything off the menu by the time I left, but I never managed to do it. I did try most dishes – and everything was wonderful. One of my favorites was the Amok (a heavy veggie curry made with coconut milk and served on a bed of lettuce).
Chiaya’s is my favorite veggie place in Bangkok. Chiaya is May Kaidee’s aunt (and the lady who taught her how to cook). Her curries are spicy, flavorful, and huge! And she’s sweet, friendly, and enthusiastic! And if she’s in a really good mood, she may even sing and dance around the room as she serves you your food. She also doesn’t skimp on the vegetables. Whether you order Red Curry, Green Curry, or Masmun Curry, she packs every single vegetable she can into the bowl (carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn, green beans, chick peas, peanuts, mushrooms, tofu, pumpkin, etc.) Her portions are giant, so unless you’re starving….you can usually just buy one bowl of curry and split it between two people. Both Chiaya and May Kaidee serve brown rice instead of the white rice typically served in Thai restaurants.
This place is more expensive than most of the others, but the food is great. They also have free wifi, delicious coffee, and interesting recipes. I popped in here a few times to eat a snack – like the pomelo salad, or the veggie sausage. yum.
This is a cheap veggie place that we found one day on accident. I don’t remember exactly where it is or what it’s called (although it really may be called something as simple as “Vegetarian Restaurant”). It’s a little street that runs perpendicular to Samsen Soi 3. You pay around 30 Baht and get to choose between the various dishes they have laid out in their steam tables.
Jok Pochana is a place we found when it was midnight and all our regular places were already closed. It’s not a vegetarian restaurant at all – actually they have nothing veggie on their menu. But we requested “spicy vegetarian curry with no fish sauce” and the cook made one of the best curries I’ve had in all of Bangkok. I went there a few other times and it was always consistently delicious. And you can’t beat these guys’ enthusiasm. The guy standing next to me is hilarious! When he isn’t taking orders, he’s directing traffic with his whistle (so unnecessary as it’s a tiny little uncrowded alley, but very amusing to watch).
Mr Yim Vegetarian Food is a place on Rambuttri (a street near Khao San Road). The food is cheap and delicious. And while Mr Yim is not friendly at all, it’s fun to watch him make the food. He’s good (and fast) at what he does.
If you’re going to the Chatuchak Weekend Market (which you should), you must go to Asok – Chamlong’s Vegetarian Restaurant. It’s not easy to find the first time, but it’s worth the hunt…so don’t give up. Sometime I’ll post step by step directions to it on my Vegan Thailand page. Also be sure to get there early in the day when all the food is fresh and you still have lots to choose from.
Anyway, our first time looking for this place, we had to ask quite a few people before we finally found it. And I’m glad we did, because this place is like a dream come true! It felt like a giant warehouse full of happy little worker elves cooking up some veggie goodness.
Basically there’s a long buffet counter full of various vegetarian creations (each costing around 15 Baht). You buy as many coupons as you want from the guy at the counter, then you exchange your coupons for whatever yummy things you want to eat.
The first time we ate there, we got carried away and bought 100 Baht worth of coupons (about $3). This was far too much food – even though we were splitting it. Now you get the idea of how cheap and wonderful this place is. Ever since then, we learned our lesson and only bought a few things at a time. You can always buy more coupons if you’re still hungry. But even if you don’t finish all your food, they’ll give you little baggies to take it home in.
This place even has a small market attached – full of mock meats and other veggie delights.
Sometimes when I go camping with people and they whip out their little cans of tuna fish, it makes me wish theres a veggie version – some soy protein that I could just pop out of a can and eat. It turns out, this market has exactly the thing – Soy Fish in a Can! This was the first time I’d ever seen that before and I was thrilled!
- The tuk tuk is definitely the funnest form of transportation in Bangkok – and usually the fastest and cheapest. While taxis get stuck in traffic jams (costing you extra Baht each minute you sit and wait), tuk tuks can move more freely between the cars. And since they aren’t on a meter, there’s no worry that they’ll drive you around in circles for the sake of charging you more. They can still rip you off obviously (and they will try), you just have to ask a few locals how much your journey should cost. That way you know how much you should be paying and can set the price with the tuk tuk driver before he leaves.
- Elephants are considered to be sacred animals in Thai culture. But ironically, many Thai people treat them really badly. It’s not uncommon to see baby elephants being paraded around in the middle of Bangkok traffic. Don’t ever buy peanuts from the handler to feed the elephants or you’ll only be supporting their business and showing them there’s a market for mistreating animals. Instead, make a big point of letting them know how horrible you think their actions are. If nobody supports these people, they’ll stop doing this and realize they need to find other means of making money.
- Khao San Road is kinda like a zoo. It’s a long street packed with tourists, people trying to sell things to tourists, and bars selling buckets (literally a bucket filled with alcohol and a bunch of straws). Sometimes there are street performances, sometimes there is live music, and always there is some drunk person getting ripped off or robbed. There is sooo much more to Bangkok than Khao San Road, but I really think some tourists actually never leave this street. If you’re in Bangkok long enough, you’ll probably end up there at some point (as this is where you’ll find some good veggie restaurants, used book stores, other travelers, and lots of travel agents selling cheap bus tickets). It is worth stopping by this street and taking a look, but you should definitely not spent all your time here. Most taxis bringing you into town from the airport will assume this is where you want to go. But there are many cheap guesthouses in the Khao San Road area (but not actually on Khao San Road) that are much more preferable.
- There are two meat memories of Bangkok that stick out in my mind. Sadly I don’t have photos of either. My first night in Bangkok, I walked back through the market to get to my guest house. It was probably around midnight. During the day the market was a fairly clean, bright looking place. But during the nighttime it was a different monster all together. Since this was a day market, the market was actually closed and everyone was busy preparing for the morning. I watched in horror as a man hobbled around with 3 pig carcasses stacked on top of each other and wrapped over his shoulders. They were split down the middle and all their guts were coming out. More pig carcasses and various other animal parts were scattered on all the surrounding tables waiting to be hacked up. They call it the “fresh market,” but I can testify that it’s not really all that “fresh.” By morning, you can guarantee everything has been sitting out all night unrefrigerated while at least a couple cats (and probably rats) stood over the carcasses picking at the meat. Another day, I was walking with Michael and we saw a woman sleeping in a chair outside her shop. She had a huge butcher knife in her hand, a big slab of meat in front of her, and she had fallen asleep in the middle of cutting! WOW!
- The streets of Bangkok are full of vendors selling food. Some sell spring rolls, some sell pad thai and various other forms of fried noodles. Some sell all kinds of weird food in plastic bags. Like this green rice with coconut shavings (tasted like playdough).
Or these little taco things (from a distance they look like they’re filled with rice, cheese, and sour cream…but it’s really sugar, coconut, and heaps and heaps of butter. ew.)
They even sell pink eggs. I’m not sure why they’re pink.
- It’s not always easy to find a place to pee in Bangkok. Even the darkest little corners of alleys are usually already occupied by someone – someone begging, someone washing dishes, someone selling something, someone already peeing. Often I’d find the perfect spot and then see a guard hovering nearby. But what they were actually guarding, I have no idea. Once Miguel and I spent hours walking around downtown looking for a place to pee. We passed endless blocks of perfectly peeable bushes, but they were all being watched by guards. Oh – we also watched a few minutes of a Chinese opera in Chinatown (which is why I’m posting this picture here). But mostly I just remember having to pee.
- This is what your feet might look like if you walk around Bangkok while wearing sandals.
- The traffic in Bangkok can be pretty brutal. It’s best not to be in a hurry. But if you happen to need to get somewhere fast, And depending on where you are and where you need to be, you may end up having to take many different modes of transportation (taxi, tuktuk, canal boat, lightrail, walking), hopping out of each and switching to a new type when the traffic gets too bad.
- Thailand has some of the best food in the world (for really cheap prices). So it baffles me why anyone would ever want to eat at McDonalds. But quite a few people were eating in the McDonalds the time I took a peek. And Ronald McDonald can be found outside welcoming everyone with a traditional Thai greeting (called the “wai”). Creeeepy!
But not everyone in Thailand thinks Ronald McDonald is sweet and innocent.
- Bangkok has the most amazing t-shirts. Good places to find them are around Khao San Road (although you’ll pay more here), the Chatuchak Market (you have to bargain pretty hard), and at and around Pratunam Market (they’re the cheapest here: 80 – 100 Baht).
- Many Thai women seem to have funny taste in clothes. They like really frumpy, colorful things. So do I. Maybe that’s why we get along.
- You know you’re in Thailand when you can go to the convenience store and find all kinds of bizarre chip flavors – like Crab Curry and Hot Chili Squid. They even had Texas Barbeque chips.
- These pictures are quite nice.
- Most guest houses in Thailand make you check in with your name and passport number. Sometimes they keep this info in a book.
- The traffic lights in Bangkok give you a count down so you know exactly how much time you have to cross the street.
- Thai people love to keep birds in tiny cages. Don’t ask me why. You’ll see caged songbirds hanging outside food stalls and people’s homes. Sometimes you’ll even see some hanging in the bright sun on the side of a dirt road or on a street corner (with no people even there to notice or enjoy them). I’m not sure what the purpose of this is, but it’s very sad.
- Thai people seem to have trouble using the word “sit” in the appropriate context.
- My absolute favorite thing about Bangkok is all the street vendors selling cheap, fresh squeezed orange juice. I really really miss that!