Bangkok - Thai New Year!
Sometimes I plan my trips so carefully, and I know exactly what I want to see and what I want to do, but my trip to Thailand was nothing like that. A friend was travelling through Asia for about six months, and he kind of settled down in Thailand. He said he loved it, and he thought I would, too.
I was able to take off two weeks pretty much immediately, and I should mention that this was in March, so I got a flight to Bangkok without doing any research at all. My friend said he would have a hotel – or, more accurately, a hostel – lined up for us, so all I needed was to show up at the airport.
Because of this, I did not realize that I was getting to Thailand right at the beginning of the Thai New Year, which is the coolest national event I have ever seen in my life.
The entire country turns into one big water fight for two days, and some of the country celebrates for an entire week.
In Bangkok, every single person on the street is doused with water, either being sprinkled from the hands, being thrown from buckets, or coming out of water guns. Then other people take a clay paste and wipe it on your face. You say “kap kon kaw” to them, which I think means “thank you” and they say something that means that you are blessed. It represents your last year being wiped away, and starting fresh, blessed. Sometimes the clay is scented like roses or lavender, and sometimes the clay is colored pastel. Basically, you walk around covered with paste and soaking wet… I LOVED it!
When you are in Bangkok, be sure to take tuk-tuks around. Some of the drivers will tell you that a ride costs $20, and another will say $2, so once you take a trip that is a certain distance, keep in mind how much that costs, and just tell the next tuk-tuk driver how much you will pay. Some drivers will leave and try to find more gullible people, but most will take you where you need to go.
Wat Arun – the Temple of Doom – is probably the biggest tourist site in Bangkok. It is really beautiful and stunning to look at, but I do not have a lot of interest in religious sites. It is very tall – I would say maybe 200 feet tall – and at night it looks really cool, all lit up, but I prefer to spend time in parks and walking around busy city streets.
There are some AMAZING markets in Bangkok, like the Chinatown market, so pack your bags very light and be prepared to buy lots of things. I mean, you can do all of your Christmas shopping for the next decade in one night and probably spend $100. You can get really great food there, too. One word of advice: do not eat from bowls or plates that are being rewashed – only use disposable dishes and forks and spoons. If you look behind a lot of the food stands, they are just dipping the dishes and utensils in only mildly soapy water, and that is the only cleaning mechanism… and that includes raw chicken juice, sometimes. My stomach can not take a challenge like that, so I carry around some disposable plates and forks and spoons from McDonalds. Call me crazy, but I do NOT want to get sick!
Nang Leong Market is considered more of an upscale market, I heard, but I would not say that I noticed much of a difference. I still think it is important to be careful. This is obvious, of course, but I NEVER drank water, took ice in my drinks, or ate salad because it would have been washed in water. I also do not eat fruit in third world countries that is not peeled – so I eat banana and pineapple, but not an apple or a peach that is not peeled. Remember that you are in Asia, so you can get Asian pears for a reasonable price. For me, that is a big deal because in America, they cost SO much!!!
I heard that the weekend market - Chatuchak Weekend Market – has some really cool pieces of art, and it is really nice, but I was not in Bangkok for the weekend, so I never got to check it out. I had friends who got really beautiful puppets and handmade knives and specialty stuff like that there. You would have to be careful carrying that stuff home, but it would be really special to have.
One of the craziest things about Bangkok is just how crowded the city is, so I really enjoyed spending time in Lumpini Park. You can take the sky train or the subway there from pretty much anywhere in the city, and you are suddenly finding yourself in an oasis. There are great spaces to have a picnic, take a nap, or walk or jog, if that is how you like to spend your vacations. I almost had a heart attack, though, because I was walking through Lumpini Park, and there was a huge lizard walking through. At first I thought it was an alligator, and it was as long as the walking / jogging path I was on, but now I think it was some sort of lizard. It just walked across the path – and there was a little Thai girl not far from it – then kept walking into a sort of grassy drain. The Thai people saw it and did not seem alarmed, so I guess that is normal!!!
It is worth going to the Grand Palace to see where the Thai royalty lives. It is very gold and tacky, but it does not look like anything you would see in America, so that makes it pretty special. This is in the old city.
Right by the Grand Palace is Wat Pra Kaew, which is the big, famous emerald Buddha. In maybe the 15th century, a huge Buddha was carved from one piece of emerald, and that is actually a really cool thing to see. Take some pictures, this is a Kodak moment!
You have a great opportunity, being in Bangkok, to get clothes made that are tailored especially for you. Go to Sukhumvit Sois 3-11, which is obviously in the area known as Sukhumvit, and just walk into different places to see their material. One of the coolest parts is that not only will these clothes fit you perfectly, but you can choose really fun, wild patterns to go on the inside lining of all of your items. You can even have bright, fun piping going wherever you want.
Bangkok is definitely known for its lady boys, although it is very hard to know one when you see one. Sometimes you might notice that a very pretty girl has something tied around “her” neck, and that is one sign. If you want to be sure, go to Calypso cabaret, which only has lady boys there, and then you will know for sure. I heard Mambo’s is another good lady boy cabaret, but Calypso is the original, so it is the oldest and most famous, and I had an amazing night there. The shows look like Vegas, but it is obviously MUCH cheaper!
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