Bangkok: Part One (Konichiwa, Chinatown!)

San Francisco to Bangkok in a little over twenty hours. It’s easy to forget that a century ago, this wasn’t an option. We take our leg cramps with all the grace we can muster as we wait in line to take turns pissing down a magic vacuum that seems to feed off human waste. It’s loud but it’s clean.

First flight is a real sleeper. Red-eye to Taipei clocking fourteen hours. We changed seats early on, claiming the front row in the back section. With our legs stretched out comfortably and our earbuds chiming sweet harmonies, we dream intermittently between turbulence.

The Taiwanese stewardesses are as sweet and efficient as a pie factory. They never stop working. We are fed several meals, with our choice of alcohol seemingly without limits.

All these tofu burritos, hard-boiled eggs, and three ounce bottles filled with bourbon clinking in our bags and we don’t need any of it. You’d think we were ready to go off-grid for two weeks with all the supplies we’d carried on. After so many years of flying domestic economy flights in the US, we’d been thoroughly conditioned to the ritual package of peanuts, a cookie, and an eight ounce portion of water every three hours. I’m not complaining- it’s still quite efficient.

We arrive in Bangkok around noon. The currency exchange and customs are easy. Now is the big question: how do we get to our hotel from here? The travel forums discuss Thai taxi’s with ill-regard. We’ve never been accustomed to taking taxi’s anyway, so why start now?

We part a swarm of all shapes and colors of sign-holding airport pick-up men & women. We remember an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George pretend to be the guys on one of the signs. Sierra and I consider this option for a moment. We can’t translate most of the names so we pass onward to the information desk.

It seems like every new place I go, they hand out these neat little cartoon maps of the area. These are never to scale and can be confusing as they are designed to lead you to their sponsors. We accept this challenge and are happy to find our guest house marked on the cartoon map.

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We buy some transit tokens and hop on the airport train. Five stops to our connection and we hop on another light rail train. On the second we meet a silver-haired traveling retiree from Spokane, WA. His eyes are wild and his teeth are symmetrically crooked.

He fills us in on the visa laws in India and China. He says both countries offer a ten-year visa. The only catch is you have to travel in and out of the country every so often. He’s been roaming Asia for the past six months and it doesn’t sound like he has any plans of stopping.

He talks about “back home” with a whistful arrogance,
“And the ATM machines are like magic! You just push buttons and money comes out. Isn’t it a great world we live in?”

I nod my head in slight embarrassment as I notice a few of the locals shooting him a very subtle stink-eye. Thai’s can pay most of their bills at the 7-11.

He’s a nice guy but I’m happy to return to silence as he steps over the gap and onto the platform of his stop. We continue riding until Chinatown.

In the blazing afternoon sun, Sierra retrieves a thin scarf to shield her skin. I see some Australians drinking beer on the sidewalk and get excited at the prospect of no open-container laws. Chinatown reminds me of a casino where the glitter is rust and the slot machines are replaced by colorful Buddhist shrines adorned with leds and seen scattered between shop-windows and sidewalks. In Bangkok, the house wins without a doubt.


We stop in at a 7-11 for some water and beer. I get confused when the Thai gentleman behind the register tells me I can’t buy alcohol. “It’s after 2pm- what is this about?” I wonder. He points to a sign that answers my question: alcohol is not for sale between 2pm-5pm in the afternoon. Bummer.

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We saddle our packs back on after a good drink of water and wander along a canal, crossing over a bridge with floral designs and wet paint signs. We get increasingly confused with our map, taking side-streets and alleys in a general direction that leads us toward the river and the subsequent River View Guesthouse. We pass the Temple of the Golden Buddha on our way. Like most of the Bangkok temples, there is an entrance fee.

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The sidewalks are busy with machine shops and mom & pop factories churning out things like engine parts, steel rods, and spools of cable. The alley ways are constantly buzzing with moped delivery drivers carrying cartons of eggs, piles of electronic parts, boxes of clothing. The sounds and smells clash along to the sound of so many pounding hammers and scraping saw-blades. It’s all at once charging and off-putting. We like it.

We spot a sign for our guesthouse with an arrow. It takes us down increasingly narrow side streets and alleys. The buildings alternate between old and rotting from the outside, and freshly remodeled mansions.

After so many turns, our we find the entry way to the guest house. It is certainly not accessible by car from the way we took. The entry way is very modern-looking as are some of the rooms. The window is the best part of our room.

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Our room is quite large containing one big window, a toilet stall and shower stall, a very firm mattress below a wide ceiling fan, and a small fridge next to little TV set. We drop our stuff and rest awhile, taking in the sounds and smells wafting through the window.

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The Temple of the Golden Buddha is within view, complete with a red blinking light at the top of the steeple so airplanes can avoid it.

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Before sunset we go find some cold beers. We buy one of each kind and try them out. Chang is a solid hot-weather generic beer-drinking beer. All the rest tasted the same.
Sierra and I get some dinner at the top-floor restaurant/bar of the guesthouse and I am crashed out by eight pm.

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7 Comments

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  1. Keep it coming. I’ll get my travel thrills from home this summer!

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  2. I sat by the fire and read your story to Grandma, Leslie, and Mckayla. We loved hearing about your adventure and seeing your wonderful pictures. Keep us posted on how things are going. We love you guys.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. Excited to see where your adventure takes you.

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  4. Very happy to hear you made it successfully! infiltrate the underground and find a local jam band and I’ll come visit.

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